Term Limits for Nonprofit Boards

The debate on term limits has been waging for decades, if not centuries.  So, there is no “settled” answer to this question.  But my own answer is very firm:  term limits—both for board members and officers—are a must.  My reasons underlying this answer are simple, and take into account the arguments put forth by those on the side of no term limits…

1.     If you are doing all the work you are supposed to be doing as a hard working board member—in other words, if you are truly assuming the full array of your board member responsibilities—you get tired.  And after six or nine years of service, and two or three consecutive terms of two or three year terms seems to be the norm, you should be a very tired board member in need of a vacation.  But unless we give board members permission to take that vacation, the hard working ones won’t, despite recognizing their own fatigue.  (Guilt is a powerful emotion.)

2.     Boards need new blood, energy and, perhaps most important, perspective and ideas if they want their organizations to flourish.  Which means boards need new board members.

3.     What an organization needs on its board in terms of expertise, connections, demographics, and intrinsic qualities is not static.  The needs of an infant organization are very different from those of a mature one;  what it needs during a growth spurt may not be what it needs during a period of stability.  This requires that board members rotate off and new ones come on.

4.     Just because a board member rotates off the board after serving one to the maximum number of terms allowed does not mean that you are throwing that board member away, saying good-bye and good riddance.  Quite the contrary.  Smart organizations have ways to keep those good, hard working board members engaged once their term limit is up.  Folks can continue to serve on committees; they can be put on some kind of auxiliary board, such as a Friends Board or Advisory Board; they can become special ambassadors or mentors to future board leaders, and so much more.  If people are committed enough to your mission to have served as a board member, they are committed enough to execute other roles that will support that mission.  By changing roles within the organization we provide former board members the opportunity to gain a different perspective on the organization so that should they return to board service down the road they have a broader understanding.

5.     Institutional memory should never reside in the memory of one or even several board members.  Possessing the institutional memory is the worst reason for keeping someone on a board, as frequently that is all that person is able or willing to bring to the table.  Institutional history should be documented and in a format that is easily shared with others.  Do not mistake important institutional memories—times lines, milestones in an organization’s history, key leaders, etc—with the minutia that generally gets titled institutional memory.  The kind of Institutional memory that too often resides in peoples’ minds is more often than not used to hold organization’s back, not propel them forward.

6.     Boards must avoid the pitfall of dismissing ideas with “We’ve tried that before.”  Trying something  10 years before is not the same as trying it today, when neither the organization nor the environment in which it is operating should be the same.  Boards populated by individuals who have that institutional memory to remember what was tried—or dismissed without trying—10, 15, 40 years ago—hold organizations back.

7.     All of what has been said above applies equally to board officers.  They get tired, leaders need to be innovative, aware, calculated risk takers, etc.  I’ve seen too many board presidents who have been in office for too long kill the enthusiasm of boards, hold organizations back, squash new ideas.  Being a good board leader, particularly the president, requires hard work.  Burn out can come quickly to a board president with vision, who wishes to accomplish things, who wants to move the board and the organization forward.  What an organization needs in its key leadership positions varies depending upon its strategic priorities.  A very different kind of board president is needed as an organization launches into a capital or endowment campaign than when the organization is recuperating from such a campaign.

Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director The Nonprofit Center at La Salle University

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Sublime Digital Marketing Group


About Ken

Ken Henderson is a seasoned entrepreneur and digital marketing professional, presently serving as the CEO of Sublime Digital Marketing Group, a respected marketing agency located in Rancho Cordova, California.


Boasting over two decades of industry experience, Ken has cultivated expertise in numerous facets of digital marketing, such as website design, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), copywriting, communication, CRM systems, and advertising on platforms like Facebook and Google. As a certified Google Partner and Zoho Partner, Ken’s knowledge is both extensive and cutting-edge.


Alongside his marketing abilities, Ken has delved into automation and artificial intelligence applications, integrating them into his collaborations with businesses and non-profits. His work with a wide array of clients, including non-profits, law firms, property managers, political campaigns, private schools, and small to medium businesses, has aided them in achieving their marketing goals.


Beyond his business accomplishments, Ken is an active community leader. He sits on the board of the Rancho Cordova Chamber of Commerce, contributing to the shaping of the region’s economic outlook, and is also a special advisor to MLK365, a group dedicated to making positive impact in communities. Moreover, he is a graduate of the prestigious Rancho Cordova Leadership Program and also a Certified GENEIUS, attesting to his remarkable leadership qualities.


Ken’s speaking engagements provide valuable insights into digital marketing, automation, and artificial intelligence and creative finance for businesses. His goal is to encourage others to embrace innovative marketing strategies and utilize technology for business growth.


Social Venture Partners


About Brad

Brad brings over 20 years of executive leadership in both the for-profit and non-profit sector. As a technology entrepreneur, he has helped to launch several enterprise software startups, one of which he led as Co-Founder and Vice President from 2002 through to its exit in 2016. He brings a people-centered style of leadership that leads to healthy organizational culture. He enjoys developing systems, strategy, and structure that set the foundation for organizations to scale and grow. Brad is considered a purpose-driven person and always seeks to “start with why” in everything he gets involved with. 
Beyond the enterprise technology roles he’s held, Brad was also instrumental in launching several community-based social entrepreneurship endeavors. He is the founder of the Orangevale-Fair Oaks Food Bank, Orangevale Food Bank Farm, HART of Orangevale and Fair Oaks, and the Big Day of Service. He also served as President of the Orangevale Chamber of Commerce from 2018-2022 where his impact led to a re-energized business and nonprofit membership community. Under his leadership, the Chamber secured $10M funding from SACOG for Greenback Lane streetscape improvements, 3x membership growth, 5x budget growth, formation of the Orangevale Community Council, and a more vibrant culture throughout the community. Brad currently serves on the boards of several other nonprofit organizations in the Capital Region. 
Brad currently serves as the Executive Director for Social Venture Partners of Sacramento, an organization seeking to build nonprofit connections and capacity by bringing together leaders from the business and nonprofit community. He oversees partnership growth strategy, daily operations, portfolio engagement, and major events such as the annual Fast Pitch social innovation program.
In 2018, Brad and family also launched a 10-acre u-pick flower farm called Heirloom Acres Farm. Thousands of people visit their farm all summerlong for flower u-pick events, and they also host a holiday barn market and have Christmas trees available in December. 
Brad’s superpower and life mission is about bringing people together for a purpose. He believes our community will be stronger when leaders are connected and engaged. 




About Debbie

Debbie is the founder and Executive Director of Health Education Council. Her two primary areas of expertise are cross-sector coalition building and reducing health disparities in diverse low-income communities.




About Michelle

Michelle Odell is the Director of Public Affairs for Kaiser Permanente in South Sacramento, where she oversees all aspects of Public Affairs including community relations, government relations; community health and community benefit planning; and internal and external communications, including media relations.

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Kristi Rolak is Sales Director in Sacramento for One Workplace, a full service commercial interior furnishings company headquartered in Santa Clara and serving greater Sacramento.