Limit Your Board Not Your Org

 In Boards, Foundations, Friends

Determining Board term limits for your fundraising organization can be tough, and you may find yourself asking questions to which you do not have the answer. How long should term limits be for your Board? Are you forcing good Board members out of your organization? What’s the benefit of Board turnover?

These questions certainly are tough, but term limits exist for an important reason.


Term limits are a vital component to Board recruitment for any fundraising organization. Even when you recruit the best and brightest individuals to your Board, whom you hate to see leave, it’s important that you do allow for individuals to leave the Board after serving a certain number of years. Without term limits, it sends a message to the community that this is an organization that does not embrace change. It gives a message that you are only interested in keeping the current level of talent and connections that you have without tapping into other areas of the community. This isn’t a message you want to send about your organization. It would say to individuals of influence that this is not an organization where their input and ideas would be welcome. With fresh Board members, you are not only capturing new ideas and philosophies on improving your community’s library. You are also seizing opportunities to recruit new donors, advocates, and figures of influence by tapping into your new Board members’ various personal and professional circles. It is true that your organization may be losing a great member after years of service, but how do you know who your next great Board members will be if you don’t recruit them?

So how long should limits be? The truth is that there is no magic to the number of years you select. Some organizations have two-year Board terms and allow Board members to serve two or three two-year terms. Other organizations have three-year Board terms and allow their Board members to serve either two or three, three-year terms. There is no perfect number of years, but looking at other organizations in your community would be a good guide to what makes the most sense for term limits. Many organizations say that when an individual has served the full number of years, if they leave the Board for a year, they can be recruited back after that year off the Board. This, again, is an individual decision for your organization and one that should be thought out very carefully.

It’s important to remember that just because a Board member’s term is completed, doesn’t mean that their role with your organization has to be as well. There are excellent ways to keep former Board members involved in the organization without actually recruiting them back to the Board. You might consider an annual event to which all former Board members are invited, such as a dinner as part of your annual Board meeting each year. These are individuals who have served your organization well and deserve to be kept informed of what’s happening after they’ve left the Board. You may also wish to develop an email group of your former Board members and send periodic updates on organizational activities. It may also be wise to have them serve on a standing committee. Everything you can do to keep this group of individuals committed and involved with you is extremely important.

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