How long do I have to do this?

How long do I have to do this?

When a volunteer considers joining a non-profit board, one of their first considerations is the length of the term. A board term is the set length of time the volunteer holds a position as a board member before having to run for re-election or leave the board.

For a potential nominee considering joining the board, the term length will help them determine if they will be able to meet the expectations of being a board member for that length of time, or if they will have too many other commitments.

How many years is a board term?

Board members have a big learning curve to understand their role, to learn about the organization, and to feel comfortable with the governing style of the board. When deciding a board term, a non-profit weighs the difference between a term that is too short and a term that is too long.

Consider how long it will take for a new board member to feel comfortable enough in the role to be able to draw on their learning and experience to make a real contribution to the organization. When a volunteer board member has built that knowledge, the non-profit might not want them to leave too soon and might seek out a longer board term.

Contrast that with a problem board member who isn’t contributing to the board team, hasn’t taken the time to learn their role, or behaves like a bully. When a volunteer board is damaging the board dynamic, the non-profit might not want to keep that board member around and might be grateful for a shorter board term.

Which is better? A short term or a long term?

There is no hard rule for the length of a board term. It is a balance of one that is long enough to build volunteer knowledge, but not so long that there are no new ideas being brought forward.

Review term lengths prior to the AGM.

Non-profits will choose a board term within the first year of operation but what works well in the early days isn’t always a good fit as a non-profit grows and gains experience. It is important for the board, and executive director, to review the policy on board terms every few years.

Since the board term policy is likely part of the organization’s bylaws, this review might be scheduled to happen in the months prior to the annual general meeting (AGM). The AGM is the meeting where a non-profit typically makes any changes to bylaws because approval is usually needed from the membership.

Schedule a review every few years.

The policy review will draw on the experiences of current and past board members to provide insight into how long it took to learn the role and feel they were really contributing, contrasted with when they began to feel burned out and were ready to leave. The board will take what they’ve learned and decide what they feel is the perfect length of a board team.

A non-profit that schedules the time to review board term lengths every few years, will be well positioned to select the board term that is the right fit for the organization at its current age and structure.

How to get started.

To get started with a board term policy review, schedule a short agenda item for two consecutive board meetings. Plan backwards from the date the material for the AGM will be prepared. Two board meetings prior to that date, the board, and executive director, will have a conversation about how current board members feel about the length of a board term. The short conversation will identify if there are former board members whose opinion needs to be collected.

One board meeting prior to the date the AGM material will be prepared, the board has a second conversation to review the comments collected from former board members and check in with current board members who may have changed their views on term length, having thought about it for a month or so.

That final conversation will determine if any changes are needed to the bylaws. If so, the executive director will prepare the material for bylaw changes when the rest of the AGM material is prepared. Don’t forget to check your local regulations for rules about changing bylaws or board terms.

Build a non-profit board that fits the needs of the volunteers.

If your non-profit decides to review board term lengths, I’d love to hear how it worked for you. Please use the form on the right side of the page to let me know. If you have questions about board term length, or other non-profit topics, I want to know that too!


Hi, I'm Christie Saas, current Executive Director, past board member, and non-profit volunteer. I remember well, those early years when I lacked the training, the confidence, and the work-life balance to focus on becoming the best non-profit leader I could be.

Fast-forward past many bumps in the road, lessons learned, and you’ll find me still in the trenches, but a little wiser, a little calmer, and a whole lot happier. I love my work and I want to help you love yours too.

I created so non-profit leaders never need to feel alone. I’m here to help. If you’re a brand-new non-profit leader, or a little more seasoned, someone who’s looking to make a meaningful contribution and still have time for a full life away from the job, you’re in the right place.

© Christie Saas 2023 All Rights Reserved

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