Retaining good volunteers, particularly board members, is a perpetual struggle for most nonprofits. When we find a good volunteer, we want to retain that individual for as long as we can keep him/her. However, very long-term service is seldom healthy for either the individual or the board.
Defining -- and enforcing -- term limits for board members are essential. Term limits should be spelled out in the board’s by-laws/policies; cumulative service of no more than four to six years is optimal.
Your board may want to consider a clause that allows a new term of service after taking a minimum of one year off. Requiring a break from board service accomplishes two things: it guarantees a systematic way to infuse the organization with new ideas and perspectives, and it provides the board member with a rest. (Rotating terms also allows the board a graceful way to “retire” inactive members.) Look for meaningful new opportunities for retiring members to serve, perhaps developing projects they didn’t have time to implement while on the board.
Rotation also applies to your leadership. Make a point to shift responsibilities for committee and board leadership across your membership. Give everyone an opportunity to contribute in a leadership capacity.
Newer boards – Build term limits totaling no more than six years into board by-laws. Include an option to renew only if a break in service is required.
Veteran boards -- Enforce your board term limits policies. If desired, identify more targeted volunteer roles for retiring board members who wish to continue service to your organization. Find ways to approach inactive members to explore whether board service is right for them. When appropriate, find less time-consuming ways for them to contribute.
Some questions to guide discussion:
• What are realistic terms for board members?
• What are the greatest obstacles to completing a board term?
• How do we deal with inactive members?
• How do we encourage leadership across the organization?
• How can we enhance these processes?