Term limits are something too many not-for-profits across Aotearoa are reluctant to instate or enforce.
The recycling trap
Instead, come the AGM trustees and officers all too often agree — sometimes awkwardly or unenthusiastically — to roll over to another term or worse yet assume they are indispensable and take on another one, two, three year or even longer term. I’ve worked with many boards that have had some trustees for over twenty years.
The reason most often given is that these trustees have a wealth of historical organisational insight that is critical to retain and keep. But in reality it seems to me that we don’t want to offend and simply don’t know how to call time and say enough is enough.
We hope the hints will be taken and our long serving trustee will draw their own conclusion to move on. But the result is tired thinking and habitual decision where the same old strategies prevail, personal protection before organisational needs creeps in, new skill-sets are not incorporated and trustee diversity is lacking.
Term limits are essential for the health and well being of both the organisation and the trustee. Term limits serve everyone.
A term limit prescription
My suggestion is that there should be a term limit of 12 or at the very outside 15 years trustee service requiring a mandatory stand down minimum of at least one term.
When talking terms I think that three years is a pretty good rule of thumb. When terms are staggered and overlapping governance continuity can be kept with little or no disruption.
Retaining executive knowledge though rollover
There is no doubt that long serving trustees often have a wealth of history and experience that is valuable to the organisation. They also often have key donor relationships. I’d like to suggest that a non-voting emeritus status be awarded these former trustees. They can if they wish stay vitality connected to social and volunteer activities, support fund-raising and may be called upon to provide non-binding advice.
Term limits rejuvenate – they keep your organisation’s governance current and ensure its ongoing vitality and relevance.