One of the building blocks of a strong not-for-profit organization is an active Board of Directors who can support the organization in many ways – financially, with their time, and with the skills the members possess, both personally and professionally. While organizations should take full advantage of the resources their Board provides, they must also recognize that those resources won’t always be available. Many boards impose term limits on their members to assure the organization gets a steady infusion of fresh thinking in its governance. Even if you don’t have term limits, Board members will, at some point, retire from their Board service.
This fact can also pose a challenge for organizations, in that there is a need to plan for the succession of your Board members. The strongest boards are often well diversified both in the types of people who serve on them and the skills the members bring to bear. Organizations need to plan for the loss of those skills as people rotate off the Board.
For example, assume your organization wants to have an attorney as part of its membership, and you know that the attorney currently on the Board will be rotating off next year. You might want to start recruiting an attorney to join the Board now. That way, the incumbent attorney can spend some time introducing the new person to the types of legal issues that have been encountered during their service, and make the transition smoother.
The succession issue also applies to the officer positions. These positions often rotate, with people gradually moving up to assume an officer position over time. If your organization does have term limits, this will mean that someone who becomes, for example, Board President, may only have that position for one or two years. Part of the responsibility of the officers is to consider the skills of their fellow Board members and help select, and then mentor and train, someone to succeed them in their role.
Of course, most people who serve on Boards also have busy personal and professional lives, and you both want to be respectful of their time and use their time to the fullest. Allocating some of that time to planning for an orderly succession when your current Board members are no longer serving can be key to keeping your organization strong over the long haul.