Why Board Term Limits Help Trade Groups

Jim Luff
Posted on May 7, 2019
When a group of people lead an association, it's important for new blood to be given a chance to lead. (Photo: Unsplash user Campaign Creators)

When a group of people lead an association, it's important for new blood to be given a chance to lead. (Photo: Unsplash user Campaign Creators)

[Editor's Note: This is an opinion piece by LCT contributing editor Jim Luff]

BLOG COMMENTARY: I have spent the better part of my adult life working with non-profit charity groups, with two stints as the PTA President when my kids were in elementary school as well as serving on many boards as a director or trustee. I now serve on six boards, including holding a seat on the Arizona Limousine Association board and I am involved with several other state and regional associations served by Chosen Payments. This gives me a bird’s eye view of how associations are operated or should be operated.

One common document that guides all boards is bylaws. The bylaws are a legally required document of every bonafide nonprofit entity. Bylaws state the purpose of the organization, as well as the management structure, such as having an executive board consisting of a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. In some cases, the secretary might also serve as the treasurer.

One of the most important components of bylaws is term limits. I have seen many creative ways to handle that transition of power as the organization conducts business. Term limits are set for executive board members and regular board members just like we have in many government positions. This allows others a chance to serve and ensures a continual fresh outlook for the future.

As an example of term limits, there is a reason why our United States President is only allowed to serve a maximum of eight years. I realize our federal government isn’t a trade association and mention this only as a reference point to why we have term limits in politics. In many of our industry trade associations, you see the same people serving on the board year after year after year. Perhaps this is because the membership votes these same people in year after year and they like it that way. Or, perhaps no one else is willing to serve.

I recently resigned my position as president of a children’s charity after serving for fourteen years. No one wanted to take the job. Ultimately, we had to beg someone to step up. Perhaps the existing leadership has so much clarity in their vision the membership feels they should continue to serve to achieve the vision of the association. One thing we know for sure is all of the board members donate their time and energy as all serve on a voluntary basis.

In some non-profit groups, serving becomes an expense. For instance, I have to pay for my travel to board meetings in Arizona, my hotel room, food, and still pay dues. On the other hand, you might enjoy being on a board that provides a hotel and travel allowance. Each board is different in their operating standards, and perhaps the volume of travel and location of meetings warrants assisting directors with travel expenses as opposed to boards that meet in the same city for each meeting. In some boards I sit on, the cost of an iced tea is my responsibility, whereas other boards pick-up the tab for lunch or dinner meetings. There really isn’t a right or a wrong way to do it.

If you are willing and able to serve your industry on a board, you should volunteer to do it. You should let your voice be heard and represent others in presenting their goals, ambitions, and desires for their trade association. You might be the fresh blood a board needs for a course correction, and every board I belong to is always looking for fresh volunteers who are willing to roll up their sleeves as opposed to sitting on the sidelines.

When a board continually follows a mission solely decided by the same board, membership can level or drop off as people lose interest. At this point, we call that a “club” instead of a trade association.  

But when a board continually follows a mission that has been decided upon by the general membership, either through membership discussion or casting votes, it generates plenty of synergy and passion toward the same goals.

Related Topics: industry leaders, industry regulations, Jim Luff, LCT blog, leadership, limo associations, networking, regulations

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
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