Many nonprofit organizations contain term limits in their by-laws for members of their Boards of Trustees. Some of the Boards on which I have served have different provisions. One provided for three year terms, with no more than three consecutive terms before the member was required to take at least one year off the Board. Another provided for annual terms, with no more than five years on the Board. Another allowed a Board member to serve for no more than a total of three terms of two years each.
There are a number of good reasons for these provisions. They encourage new points of view, different mixes of ideas at the table, and expose the organization to more individuals within the community. However, there are also challenges that must be addressed when there are term limits, most having to do with the ongoing process of nominating qualified people to the Board. If nonprofits use the checklist below, they will make the job of replacing Board members more efficient and more beneficial to fulfilling the mission of the organization.
1. Form a nominating committee. When there are too many people contributing to the selection, the process becomes encumbered. It is much more efficient to select three Board members to prepare a list of candidates to the entire Board for their selection.
2. Look for talents that are missing on the Board. Think about selecting an attorney, or an accountant, for example, to be able to have their expertise as part of the Board decision-making process.
3. Look for diversity. Every nonprofit Board must account for the makeup of its constituency, and provide adequate representation on the Board. Select on the basis of fulfilling gaps in gender, race, age, economic circumstances, and geographic location.
4. Find people who are truly committed to the success of your organization. There are a lot of people who compile a list of their Board positions as if they were applying for a job. Make sure your candidate has a proven record in supporting the purpose of your nonprofit.
5. You must decide on whether you want to have a “rubber stamp” Board, or one that thrives on acrimony. There are places for both, and one is not necessarily preferable over the other. It is a matter of evaluating the strength of your Executive Director, and deciding whether you want to provide support for their policies, or give them the benefit of contending with alternate points of view.
6. There are some good arguments for selecting people who will likely become or are significant financial contributors to the organization. However, selection on the basis of honoring their support is no substitute for evaluating their potential contributions to the decision-making process.
7. There should always be an “A” list and a “B” list. The “B” list should be arranged in order of preference. It is used to provide alternates in case any of the invitations to the “A” list are not accepted.
8. Institute an orientation program for new Board trustees. It is a daunting task for someone to acclimate themselves to the culture of your Board, and giving them the opportunity to become familiar with your history, your facilities, your staff, and your current issues, will be very beneficial for them and make them productive in shorter time.
9. When inviting a person to come on your Board, be very clear that yours, like most nonprofits, consider fundraising an essential function of each Board member.
If you adhere to these nine points, you will fulfill your nonprofit fiduciary obligations, as well as keeping your Board vital, active, and effective.