3 Reasons to Extend the Terms of Board Members

Effective board members are precious. There is a cost to having a good director rotate off the board too soon. According to the 2010 BoardSource Nonprofit Govenance Index, 71% of nonprofits have 3-year terms for board members. A majority of 59% permit two consecutive terms. Many boards require that once a director rotates off the board, he or she is not eligible for re-election for one to three years. The 3-year term works well for the individual and the organization.

For the individual, three years is a reasonable commitment. For the organization, three years allows for a learning curve with plenty of time for in-depth contribution. For both the individual and the organization, three years is long enough to know if the match is a good one, and if not, to allow for a graceful exit.

3 Reasons to Extend the Terms of Board Members

As rare as the need may be, here are three reasons to extend the terms of board members:

A limited number of people care about the mission: Among the non-negotiable criteria for selecting board members is an affinity for the organization’s mission. For some nonprofits, the focus of the mission is very narrow. If there is only a handful of people who care enthusiastically about your work, then that reduces your options for new board members.

Limited access to qualified directors: Some organizations find themselves in locations where the need for services is as great as the population is small. Directors may cycle through more frequently, and the board to be smaller than usual.

The board requires specialized skills that are in short supply: In very rare cases, a board may require specialized skills in one or more of its directors. These skills may not by readily available in the community, so directors that possess them may be asked to stay on for additional terms.

A Word of Caution

When considering extended board terms, be starkly honest. Each of the four rationales offered here are uncommon. Don’t compromise the effectiveness of the board by allowing a board member to serve an unusually long term without strong justification. In most cases, even rare skill sets that the board may require are available as needed through consultants or advisory panels.

10-minute Board Discussion

Does our term structure make it easier or more difficult to attract and keep good board members?


Image courtesy of iStockphoto.com/Yuri_Arcurs

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