This post was written by Shelley Heil, who has been interning at the Charities Review Council this summer. Shelley is pursuing degrees in Sociology and Spanish at Wheaton College in Illinois.
Individual board members can be passionate and effective, everything your organization needs, or they can be focused on one, limited objective and a source of frustration. How can nonprofits make sure there is some turnover of leadership (but not too much) and a fresh flow of ideas, without losing long-term vision and consistency?
This Standard is one that has received some of the most responses so far. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for organizations to face Founder's Syndrome. At the Council, we have interacted with nonprofits that are led by charismatic founders who are so strongly tied to the organization that donors think of themselves as giving to the individual, rather than the nonprofit. Some founders become so attached to their project that they become resistant to change and other’s input. They do not allow the organization to develop away from their original ideas and when they finally do leave, the organization is left to flounder.
The main idea behind the Standard is that organizations can avoid Founder’s Syndrome by bringing on new board members with fresh insights. Re-election appears to be the best way to determine who goes and stays while retaining the most effective contributors and not enabling others to stay on needlessly. According to the Standard, the number of consecutive board terms is not limited, thus, it is possible for a director to serve on the board for three, even four, decades. Such long-standing board membership has the potential to bring both good and bad results. It can be especially helpful in rural communities where recruiting a new batch of committed board members every few years can be a heavy burden. We hope that re-election prevents the board from becoming stagnant and allows the most valuable members to stay on as long as possible.
Do you think there is good reason to cut off the amount of time even really great and effective board members can serve? In other words, do you think there is a risk in making the number of terms that an individual can serve unlimited?
Next at bat: Board Orientation