Making the Case for Term Limits for Nonprofit Board Members

Throughout my career I have remained unyielding in my support for term limits on nonprofit boards. With that said, I appreciate why instituting them (or even discussing them) is so hard to do. The prospect of losing one or two of your very best board members and launching a recruitment process to replace them can certainly seem daunting.

As a former chief executive of a nonprofit, I had board members I did not want to lose, and as a board member I’ve struggled with the reality of losing some truly extraordinary colleagues and leaders. It is hard to say “goodbye” to good people, and it is especially difficult to see a really superb board leader replaced. Still, there is no question in my mind that boards and organizations are healthier when there is an orderly succession of board members and board leaders.

So, if you are struggling to get on board with term limits (or to get others on board), here are six reasons to consider adopting them:

Share the opportunity – One of your goals should be to continually involve more and more people in the organization, get them to know what you do, turn them into advocates, and increase your base of support. Board service and regular turnover helps accomplish this.

Build leadership – I think it should be part of the mission of every organization to help people develop their leadership skills. Board service done right is a tremendous way to develop leaders who can continue to have impact throughout the community. Don’t limit this to just a few.

Benefit from fresh perspectives – We should be looking for a continual flow of new ideas, different perspectives, and innovative solutions to the problems we face. The approaches we’ve taken in the past aren’t always the same ones we’ll need in the future.

Add to your board’s skill-set – As you look to the future, or think about the challenges your organization is facing today, it is likely you’ll need a different skill-set than what you have around the board table today. Be strategic as you recruit to get the skills you need today, or for the future, and not to simply replace what you are losing.

Increase your opportunities – New people mean new contacts, new relationships, and new connections. Take advantage of the opportunities that come with new board members at the same time as you strategize on how to keep your departing members engaged (committee service, leading a task force, or serving on an advisory council).

 And new board members might be better than what you’ve got now – It may be hard to imagine, but even the best board members are not irreplaceable, and you might be very surprised by just how wonderful that new board member or leader will be!

Yes, it is hard work recruiting new board members, and there is always the fear that you won’t find replacements—good replacements—but don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from doing what is right. You can always put a provision in your bylaws to allow you to bring a board member back after a year away, but I’ll bet that you will rarely, if ever, use it. Done right, healthy, planned, and predictable turnover on a board has multiple benefits for your organization and also treats your volunteers with respect.

This blog post, written by Jeff Wahlstrom, is an example of the kind of governance advice you’ll find by visiting the blog section of our website: You can contact Jeff, or any member of our consulting team, by using the contact form on our website. We stand ready to help you.