Nonprofit board term limits

I’m a fan of term limits for nonprofit boards. When you’re a part of a volunteer board for a mission-driven nonprofit, you’re there to help ensure it can change the world in some way.

But without a ticking clock, it’s easy to look over at a beautiful mission statement, pour yourself a drink, and admire that beautiful thing. And especially as a volunteer board member, it’s easy to take a leisurely approach. It’s your free time you’re volunteering, after all. So maybe let’s not rock the boat too much and just take it easy. And without that ticking clock that a term limit represents, who is there to judge?

What a terrible attitude. If you’re joining the board of a nonprofit to do anything other than help take it to the next level, you owe it to everyone involved to think twice.

As with any corporation, there is enormous variation in terms of nonprofit mission scope and demands on its board and leadership. But a great nonprofit with a great mission is going to demand your time, your money, your connections, and potentially all three.

I think 12 years is a perfect ceiling on nonprofit board service, with 6-9 years probably being ideal in many cases.

It’s both more rewarding and more challenging to substantively impact a nonprofit than it seems, and so even relatively modest changes can take many years to be successfully engrained into a nonprofit’s organizational culture.

If you take a nonprofit where board members serve 3-year terms, you can approach your commitment sequentially, like four quarters in a game. How many points are you going to score in the first quarter? Can you build on that lead in the second quarter? Is there a plan for stretching that lead in the second half? Do you have a plan for the fourth quarter, or are you going to limp through the final minutes?

A proactive, relentlessly positive, and strategic approach for volunteer nonprofit board service from a single member can transform a board and equip a nonprofit for significant impact.

Run onto the field with intention and keep an eye on the clock.