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.
Next issue: Blue Ribbon Nominating Committees
From past issues:
- A Fresh Look at Diversity and Boards
- A Board Member “Contract”
- What to Do With Board Members Who Don’t Do Anything
- Blue Ribbon Nominating Committee
Hi, I really like this idea but am wondering how you would word your bylaws to account for this type of term of service. We are considering it for our organization and would find this info very helpful. Thanks! — Karen in Va
Most boards don’t just “ditch” board members after 6 years, many allow them to move to an “advisory council” status, or allow them to go off for 1 year and then come back on “new” and repeat their 6 year max. Not too many repeat six years, but it does allow for great continuity. And really, only those that are passionate about a cause do two stints. The ones that create havoc on your board that you really don’t want back…. typically in that one year off the board…. find another place to wreak havoc.
I personally think 6 year terms are too short. For one, it means there is very short term memory on the board, which gives more power to the staff. Also, with only six years on the board, it becomes necessary to put people into leadership positions faster than I think is healthy for the organization. I don’t think boards should plan term limits based on getting rid of people, I think they should plan them to keep the best people around. I like 9-12 year terms. That way you have the best board members around long enough to make a significant difference and if people don’t want to serve that long, that is fine too. And, for bad board members, figure out a way to get rid of them via some other method (like through by-laws), rather than having board terms revolve around them.
Couldn’t you get the situation where no one wants to serve more than one term, and you turn over the entire board at once?
Good point! We use three 2-year terms with 1/3 of the Board turning over each year. www.pctn.org.
I like the idea a lot, although 6 years of board service is more than what we prefer. "Superstars" become officers and others step down and can continue service to the organization via our committee structure.
Great. idea. Taking it immediately! In past we have had terms that lasted three years, but we never have all our potential slots full, so we might slot a board member we’re not sure of into a term that will end in one year. Of course the worst board member we ever had—the most destructive one—was someone who had been actively helpful and seemingly very sane until 6 months into her 3yr term, so you never know…
I like this idea a lot! As an organization that has found “what’s typical” to be a underwhelming strategy for excellence and impact, we have been exploring a range of possible alternatives to board terms to maximize members contributions and to keep our standards for board service very high. This sounds very appealing..and maybe something we will try. I’ll keep you posted.