Several Blue Avocado readers responded to our query about unusual board terms, and we were intrigued by comments from Jeanetta Issa, CEO of Child Abuse Prevention in Kansas City; we talk with her here:
Q: What are the board terms in your organization?
Jeanetta Issa: The initial term of office is for one year. Then based on the activity level and commitment to the organization, they can be asked for a second term of three years. After that they can be asked for a third term, for a total of six years of service. So it's 1 – 3 – 2.
Originally, in a past organization [where I worked], the board wanted to make it easier to turn over non-productive or even destructive board members. One time we had such a destructive board member, totally attempting to draw our organization into her own agenda, that for a whole year we talked about almost nothing other than her!
Nobody wants to be the attendance police. And even if someone has missed three board meetings, it's hard for someone to say something to them. It's easier to thank someone for their time and effort after a year of less-than-stellar participation, than it is to try to kick off a board member with a three-year term who wants to stay on, but not actively participate.
So there are other benefits to this term structure as well?
Yes! It's been much easier to recruit some really great board members who wouldn't have wanted to make a three-year commitment right at the start. Most people don't want to commit three years anyway; this way they say, I'll do it for a year and then I'll see. People are much more willing to come on for a year, and if it works for both of you, that's great.
How did you make the switch from your old system?
Our old system was that board terms were three years long, and a person could serve two consecutive terms. Well, first we just changed the by-laws. Then we just added new board members under the new system. Board members who were already on the board kept their terms. The new system automatically staggers terms.
Are there any downsides to 1 – 3 – 2 year board terms?
Not that we can see over many years. It's a common-sense idea once people start thinking out of the box about what their board terms should be, rather than just thinking they have to do what's in the bylaws.
Any other thoughts?
We used an idea we heard Jan Masaoka give in a workshop — for a Blue Ribbon Nominating Committee — to recruit new board members. It worked great!
Jeanette Issa is CEO of Child Abuse Prevention Association in Kansas City (childabuseprevention.org) and board president of Reconciliation Services, an interfaith organization serving homeless people. One of Reconciliation Services' programs helps people obtain the documentation they need (such as birth certificates) to obtain other kinds of assistance. Her background includes work with the elderly and community mental health, and she is a leader in the St. Macrina Society at St. Basil Orthodox Church.
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