Deciding who should sit on your board

Should donors ever sit on your board?

This headline to a Nonprofit Quarterly blog asked the oddest questions I’ve seen in a long while. “Who else would you want on your board?” I muttered to myself.


With the gold standard for giving by board members set at 100 percent of the membership, there shouldn’t be anyone BUT donors sitting around the board table. Ergo, the answer to the question as headline is a resounding “yes.”

But wait. Upon clicking through to the article, I discovered a thesis question very different from the one I had answered. A more true-to-the-text headline is something like “Should a foundation interested in assisting your organization in a ‘turnaround’ be granted a seat on your board?”

To which the Nonprofit Ethicist (the wise one to whom the question was directed) responded with “no,” along with the suggestion that the better way to bring about a turnaround would be for “the foundation to work with the nonprofit on board development.”

The temptation when building a board is to humor well-intentioned major donors, sometimes even the misguided. However, as the Nonprofit Ethicist stated, such funders “would perform a valuable service by proposing names for board membership who are neither employees nor trustees of the foundation.”

So there you have them: two answers to one question, both worthy of board builders’ consideration.

Should donors ever sit on your board?

  • Yes. In fact, all who sit should be donors.
  • No, if the sitting assumes undue influence. In fact, there’s a term for this — conflict of interest, which is always to be avoided.

When rounding out your board roster, look for folks whose generosity exceeds their biases. That’s who should sit on your board.

For more on building a strong board, see:

To be a difference maker, volunteer for the board development committee

Board Ts and Ts

When building a board, look for the helpers

What's your take on this topic?

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