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Nonprofit Board Member Term Limits Spark Debate

nonprofit board

Nonprofit boards often spark debate among people.  There are some who believe that board members should be paid, while others think that is exactly the wrong thing to do.  Board term limits are also a hot button topic in the nonprofit sector.  These limits are discussed at great length in the latest issue of The NonProfit Times, using two opposing viewpoints on the role of nonprofit governance.

The first of these views comes from Richard Buery, president and CEO of Children’s Aid Society.  His organization has instituted four, three-year terms for board members this year.  The vote for this change was unanimously approved by the board.  Buery believed this was the right change to be made because it helped limit the size of the board.  He thought that in order to have critical conversations about the future, you “can’t have 50 people in the room.”  This point was backed up by research that showed that when there are more than seven people in a room, the conversation will start to lose focus.

Children’s Aid Society is not alone when it comes to imposing term limits on boards: 70 percent of nonprofit boards have them, according to the BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index of 2010.  That doesn’t mean everyone thinks they are a good idea.  Bruce Hopkins, a partner in the Kansas City, Kan., law firm of Polsinelli Shalton Flanigan Suelthaus, believes that nonprofits should be able to manage themselves without forcing people out:

“Limits can force new blood on a board, which can be a good thing but sometimes organizations lose people who are competent, who can serve and want to serve, but can’t.”

What do you think?  Are term limits for boards a good idea, or are they unnecessary?  Feel free to chime in below.

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