Just a few years ago, the Jewish Agency for Israel amended its governance documents to, among so many other things, enacted term limits for the first time in its history. A year or so later, one prominent philanthropist among many Board members received a letter from the Board Chair advising him/her that his/her service on the Board (and, as it happened, on the JAFI Executive). That leader accepted that he/she would no longer serve on the Board but demanded that his/her service on the JAFI Executive continue -- apparently forever. So it came to pass, that, a few weeks later, the Secretary General sent this leader a letter confirming that his/her service on JAFI's most important deliberative body would continue -- the letter expressly stated, without any legal basis, that service on the Executive was in personam.
I liked that rationale very much and, so, inasmuch as I, too, had been cast off because of Term limits from the JAFI Board and Executive, I wrote the Secretary General asserting that I, too, would continue to sit on the Executive. No, the Secretary General wrote back essentially stating: that this other leader was special, you're not. I couldn't disagree with that excellent legal argument.
I merely note that Term Limits at JAFI appear to apply only to North American Board members -- my friends from Keren Ha'Yesod, among them so many exceptional leaders, continue to serve on the JAFI Board in perpetuity it appears. (I could also note that KH is raising/allocating almost no significant funds for JAFI but given the dismal state of federation allocations to the Agency, that probably wouldn't be fair -- accurate, yes, but unfair.)
I suppose that were Board service to include a sense of obligation to the organization rather than to personal aspiration or to fealty to those lay and professional leaders in power, I might feel differently about Term limits. But, what we have seen, in too many places, is the opposite -- those who know better doing their worst in pursuit of ingratiation with the powers that be or in pursuit of higher office or in the desire to be seen as a "team player." "Team player" in this context means responding to a leadership demand to "jump" with a "how high?" response.
For an exc ellent discussion of Term Limits, see: https://www.forpurposelaw.com/charity-board-term-limits-best-practice/
And, it's not just lay leaders who ought to debate their own Term Limits; they should be debating chief professional term limits as well. From 45 years of practicing zoning law, I came to the conclusions that municipal professionals should be limited to five years of consecutive service after which they should be required to take a one year hiatus to work for those who require municipal approvals. What they would learn!! (Of course these musings were going on only in my head.)
I, as you, recognize that non-profit professionals represent organizational continuity, as they should, But this reality should not restrict constant evaluation at the very least, and annual Board-adopted goal statements against which that continuity must be measured.
My great respect for non-profit professionals notwithstanding, I have seen what can happen when some -- a relative handful to be sure -- have been in place for what turned out to be too long. I remember way back when visiting a community with a long, long serving CEO. I met with the lay leadership and when I told them of $100s of thousands in unpaid allocations, they were shocked, knew nothing about it. Then, just last year the St. Paul federation board members were unaware of a similar unpaid debt to JAFI and JDC hidden from the laity by a CEO who had recently retired. Over the last decade, some local communal agencies in New York City -- most notoriously, FEGS -- discovered huge losses were likewise occasioned by long-time professional "leaders" and Boards failing in their agency oversight responsibilities.
in this season of introspection, Term Limits should be a discussion among all non-profits.
It won't be.