Association Board Term Limits: Blessing or Curse? |
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Association Board Term Limits: Blessing or Curse?

I’ve heard of many associations with no term limits in place and others who simply ignore the limits they’ve set because they are inconvenient.  Not having set limits or having a disorganized approach to enforcing them does a disservice to your board, staff and your members.  Taking the plunge and instituting these policies initially takes a lot of courage and sticking to them takes some planning – but it’s all worth it in the end if you want a welcoming, evolving, growing community of engaged members.

Here are four reasons why your association should institute term limits – and stick to them:

#1. Burnout.  I’ve seen board members who have served in some capacity on the same association board for decades.  Remember, these are volunteers who don’t get paid a dime for the work they put in.  Yes, they often have a passion for the organization and they certainly have wisdom and institutional knowledge that benefits you and the group at large.  Without term limits, dedicated board members can feel compelled to stay on if no viable replacement appears and let’s face it – after years of putting in time and effort folks deserve a break.

#2. Brand Identity.  Associations are made to bring people together from across an industry or field, and if your association has become synonymous with the names of board members who have served for very lengthy periods you may be alienating prospective members.  Competitors – and even friendly colleagues – of your long-term board members may see your organization as “so-and-so’s” group instead of a welcoming community of all members of your industry or field.

#3.  Differing viewpoints.  Instituting term limits will force you to find new blood and those new board members will have new ideas, different priorities and likely, alternative skillsets.  Staff will have to adjust to these changes and modify work styles accordingly, but the benefits of bringing in fresh ideas and viewpoints far outweigh the costs.  While the association’s overall mission and goals will likely remain steady, new board members can help find new ways of getting things done and contribute a different perspective that can energize the entire team.

#4. Membership Growth.  With no term limits in place and long-term board members, current and prospective members may see no opportunities for growth in your organization.  If professionals in your market don’t see the opportunity to move into a board seat – and don’t see their peers moving onto the board – they may not join or renew a current membership.  Show your membership and the community that the board is truly representative of the entire membership and that opportunities arise often to volunteer.

Instituting term limits and sticking to them can be scary.  The biggest obstacle you will face is fear – fear that you can’t replace your board members and fear that new folks won’t be as committed/talented/knowledgeable.  You need to be prepared with a volunteer pipeline and in some cases, non-board volunteer roles for those long-term board members who want to remain engaged in a lesser role.  Some long-time board members certainly leave big shoes to fill and the contribution of some of these volunteers may leave a lasting legacy.  But your industry is full of promising, brilliant, creative, hard-working professionals who have time and talent to offer your group as well.

Usually, doing the thing that takes more effort brings the most reward.  Setting and sticking to board term limits is no exception. Get board buy-in, fill your volunteer pipeline via committees and you’ll be glad you did.

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