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Should board offer seat to major donor?

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Should board offer seat to major donor?

I'm a major donor to a nonprofit. I have expressed interest in being on their board of directors but several of the board members won't even reply to my emails. I feel slighted and snubbed after my generosity to their cause. I'm genuinely and sincerely interested in being part of their cause. My only intention is to add value to their cause. I believe they value my money but not me as a person. Their ethics don't align with mine. What advice can you give me?

This is an interesting question that we answered from the board’s perspective a few years ago.  (See May funder demand seat on the board?).   The donor/director relationship is a voluntary one and has to be satisfactory to both sides to make it work well.  There is a natural hesitation on the part of a board that may be suspicious about the intent of a major donor and the possibility of undue influence or bossiness. 

You don’t say what kind of relationship you have had with the organization other than as a donor.  There is a difference between “demanding” a seat on the board and expressing an “interest” in a seat on the board.  Maybe you could volunteer to provide help with their program first, or to serve on a committee. Ask the CEO if there would be a willingness to consider this opportunity.  If they realize that you are sincerely interested in being a part of their cause and not intending to take it over or to impose your will, they may warm to the idea of including you on the board.  It is often hard to find good people who are willing to commit the time and skill (and treasure) to be productive.

If you run into continued resistance, it would probably make more sense to find another organization that would be receptive to your help, particularly if you think your ethics don’t align with these people.  You could still continue to contribute to this organization — or not — as you deem appropriate.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023


The Board's response to this donor needs to be managed more professionally. Overall, the Board needs to determine an overall appropriate Board response including an indication that individual Board members will not respond. That the individual Board members have simply ignored a major donor rather than letting him/her know that individual members do not communicate separately on overall Board business is not professional/adult/wise.


     I agree that the donor should not be ignored, but I do not necessarily agree that individual board members should be prohibited from talking with the donor.  Individual directors can obviously decide that they don't want to talk about the situation, but other board members, perhaps those who learn of the situation for the first time when the board. talks about it, may think it is part of their fiduciary duty to the organization to explore the opportunity.  I am always suspicious when some directors tell other directors they can't do things that the other directors believe are necessary to fulfill their fiduciary duty.  —Don Kramer


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