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Can paid staff members serve on a nonprofit's board?

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Question: Can paid staff members serve on a nonprofit's board?

Generally, it is not a good idea to have a paid staff member on the board and may even be limited by your state's nonprofit laws.

Answer:

The chief reason staff do not usually serve on a nonprofit's board is risk of a conflict of interest.

That said, some nonprofits have at least one staff member on their boards, especially in small nonprofits where the founder might be on the board. In other organizations, there are only volunteers, who might do the work and serve on the board. Sometimes state laws do permit staff to serve on nonprofit boards, with California being the prime example.

The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance suggests that a nonprofit board should include no more than one paid staff member. It is recommended that if a staff member does serves on the board, that he or she not be elected board president, so that important decisions about the organization are not too influenced by that person.

The new IRS Form 990, the tax return for nonprofits, requires more disclosure of potential conflicts of interest, so make sure that having paid staff on your board does not set up any problems. Also check with your state office that governs nonprofit incorporation to see what rules, if any, govern paid staff serving on nonprofit boards.

Resources:

  • Nonprofit Kit for Dummies, 3rd Edition, Stan Hutton and Frances Phillips, Wiley 2010.
  • Starting and Managing a Nonprofit Organization: A Legal Guide, 5th Edition, Bruce R. Hopkins, Wiley, 2009.

Back to FAQ's About Starting a Nonprofit Organization.

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