Governance Board Terms

Recently, I have been asked by clients and boards that I am a member of about term limits for board members. While there are no legal requirements for term limits organizations, many governance experts believe that term limits for board members are best practice. Term limits create space for new members and facilitate diversification efforts; bring new members with fresh perspectives; offer a democratic way to refresh the board; make it easier to transition unproductive or disruptive members off the board; allow board members to step down gracefully; facilitate succession planning with a mix of board veterans and newcomers; and deter stagnation and procrastination.

Term limits have value, but so do former board members. When considering term limits, organizations need to consider: (1) the length of terms; (2) the number of consecutive terms permitted; and (3) options for board members to stay involved, such as advisory boards and committee work. In order to ensure that former board members stay engaged, some organizations form advisory boards to address the negative aspects of term limits. Advisory board membership allows former board members to continue to contribute to the organization. The purpose and function of an advisory board depends on the needs of the organization and should be set forth in an advisory board charter. Typically, advisory board members assist with fundraising and share their experience, knowledge and expertise with the board and provide advice and counsel, when requested to assist the board.

Each organization must determine what is best for the organization based on the organization’s current needs, taking into consideration recommendations for best practices. Because an organization’s needs can change over time, boards should periodically review the organization’s bylaws and term limits to ensure that the bylaws and term limits continue to meet the organization’s needs.