On Term Limits – Take 2

On Term Limits – Take 2

About a year ago, I posted this blog on term limits. In it I argued that an organization with term limits should not eliminate them – even temporarily. Since then, I’ve been asked by a number of people for term limit models – what works in a best practices sense?

I’ve seen a lot of “takes” on this subject, and my opinions are strong while not necessarily rigid. My favorite model is three terms of three years each, with a tenth year allowed for an emeritus Chair, should the situation arise. Board members continuing to be involved after ten years could come to meetings as a non-voting member, or continue to serve on committees, but their board service would be exhausted.

That said, my opinion is not about term limits as an isolated issue. In the ideal sense, a director might spend the first three years learning – getting familiar with the organization from top to bottom. S/he could spend the second term of three years doing – taking on small projects, being a “standard bearer” or conducting board-level research to keep Standards and Practices fresh and present for everyone else, and/or representing the land trust in public. And s/he could spend the third term leading – chairing a standing committee or holding one of the officer positions. Leaders also serve as mentors for those in their first term. If s/he were to be Chair in her/his ninth year, s/he could stay on the board for another one-year term as Chair Emeritus.

There’s a catch of course: The three terms should not be guaranteed. If someone is not showing signs of getting progressively more involved after the first term, they may not be asked to stay for a second. If they are unavailable or incapable of taking a leadership position with the land trust after six years, they may not be asked to serve a third term. This implies a strong culture of accountability and leadership support. It also implies an active cultivation and board recruitment program that is bringing in 2-3 new members each year.

But what about all the talent and institutional memory you needlessly lose each year? Great question, but one that is more related to what happens to former board members than to what happens to current ones.

As previously stated, former board members could stay involved in any number of ways including serving on committees (without necessarily needing to fundraise!) or attending meetings as a non-voting participant. You could form an Emeritus Board with some limited authority and/or responsibilities.

One of the most important places to plug former board members in is Strategic Planning explicitly because of their institutional memory. You could even host an annual “homecoming” event for former board members each year.

Your comments are welcomed here.


Photo Credit: Landscape Arch, courtesy Walt Kaesler

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