Why Your Board Needs Term Limits


Is your board reluctant to enforce term limits?why your board needs term limits

If so, the board is in danger of becoming stale and set in its ways.

And when that happens, your entire organization may be at risk – sooner than you think.

This is a very, very dangerous place for any nonprofit in today’s wildly shifting environment.

Five Boards Gone Down the Wrong Path

Here are the stories of five boards gone wrong:

1. The Martyrs.

This board is full of hard-working martyrs. They kill themselves with work – doing things that staff could or should be doing.

They complain:

“We work SO hard and we’re SO burned out. Woe to us.”

The irony is that this board worked very hard to enlist “diverse” members.

But when the highly valued new members saw this group’s attitude and what was expected, the new members fled.


Martyr boards are no fun. They drive new people away.

The worst thing is that this board will not be able to develop new leaders: a very serious problem for the future.

2. The Social Club.why your board needs term limits

This board is really, really comfortable and “clubby.” Getting together for the board meetings is social time for a group of friends. They say:

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“Implement term limits? Why on earth would we want to kick out one of our friends? That would be rude.”


Governance becomes a low priority, and any serious work about the organization’s future is at the bottom of the list.

Worst of all, no one wants to rock the boat. Difficult discussions never happen.

Would you want to join this group?

They may have fun but they don’t get anything done. Does this organization have a future?

3. The “Frozen in Time” Club.

This board is full of the same people for years. Their mantra is:

“We’ve always done it this way.”

New ideas? New ways to implement their mission?

Innovation? Close out a nonperforming program? Fire nonperforming staff?

Not a chance.


Jack Welch said it best:  why your board needs term limits

“If the rate of change on the OUTSIDE exceeds the rate of change on the INSIDE, the end is near.”

Who would want to hang out with this crowd?

Does this organization have a future?

4.  “We Own This Organization” Club.

This happens when the sense of ownership becomes so deeply ingrained that people think they literally own the organization.

A few people call the shots, and that’s it.

Their opinion is all that matters, because they are so smart and have so much information. And they have all the power.

They start to feel entitled to the position.


They will drive out or ostracize any new members who will simply feel excluded.

The rest of the board is disengaged.

AND they are pushing out new board members with connections to community leaders and funders. They are cutting off potential fundraising opportunities.

Someone said to me last month:

“If we are ever going to get serious about raising money, we’ll HAVE to have term limits.”

5. The Lazies.why your board needs term limits

This group is so comfortable with itself that innovation and hard work go out the door.

This board does not want to be a working group. They are stale as last week’s bread.

Are they interested in a learning experience? Stimulating discussion? Strategy discussions? Nah.


Aesop said it best:

“When all is said and done, more is said than done.

Who would want to join this group? What’s the future for this nonprofit?

Term limits are absolutely essential to good, smart governance.

Rotating more community members through your governing body can only broaden your influence and connections your community’s leadership.

Welcome new board members, and you’ll get fresh thinking and innovation – that you need!

Which type of board have you encountered in your career? How did you overcome it?

Thanks for your comments!