I would like to continue sharing some of the things I learned at the Boards in Action (BIA) Leadership Academy workshop I mentioned in my previous blog. As a newbie to the workings of nonprofit boards and organizations, I am finding that many longtime board members are unaware of vital and helpful information available or where to find it. Indeed, as Eric Schmall Director of Consultation for the Center for Nonprofit Excellence writes in a March 22, 2010, article for the Courier-Journal, “Without having any exposure to ideal board practices, what chance does any well-intentioned board member have of knowing and advocating a better way?”

One ideal board practice is to implement term limits to your bylaws. CoreStrategies has advocated extensively on the subject, however at the risk of redundancy, let me try to illustrate it as Chuck Loring did to the crowd at the BIA Leadership Academy.

Loring said, “Fundraising is the best case example for term limits.” Let’s look at why. But first, let’s assume that all board members are responsible for fundraising—another best practice and more accurately described as an imperative!

Take a moment and think about where you meet and know people and we will call that your sphere of influence. For instance, friends and acquaintances are made at church, one’s children’s school, neighbors, work, etc. So board member A has a sphere of influence, as does B and C. Over time, those spheres will begin to overlap, however with founder-led organizations the spheres probably overlapped considerably from the organization’s inception. Over time, board member A, B, & C end up occupying the same spheres of influence and the people in those spheres are repeatedly solicited for donations, year after year. The donor base becomes stagnant and does the donations.

Now consider a board with term limits. Each board member (not the ED/CEO) year around must actively look for potential new members. With term limits, the board is required to actively recruit new members. What happens is every 3 to 5 years more and more spheres of influence (X, Y, and Z) begin to develop and the organization’s donor base widens (see my very crude and technology challenged drawing below, taken from Mr. Loring’s flip chart).

I am not saying that former board members should be put to pasture. Good board members conduct exit interviews with outgoing members and ask questions such as, “What would you like to do now?” Your board must have a plan that keeps former board members engaged. Creating an honorary council (not board) is one idea, however, do not make it in name only, include with that designation some duties!

If your bylaws do not include term limits, please implement them soon. Do not take my word for it, however,  Engage your board in some research and as always, please respond with your thoughts.

By Patti Hansen