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Should youth serve on nonprofit corporations board?

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Should youth serve on nonprofit corporations board?

There seems to be a trend toward allowing underage juveniles to serve as voting members of nonprofit boards of directors. Our state nonprofit law was amended to allow one 15-year-old to serve on a board as a voting member. We have a split opinion among our adult directors about inviting a juvenile. If the board is sued, is the juvenile held liable or are his or her parents/guardians? When the 501(c)(3) board enters into contracts must the juvenile recuse himself/herself since juveniles cannot enter into binding contracts?

I think you are correct to be concerned about juveniles serving on nonprofit corporate boards, in part because I don’t think anybody really knows how to answer your specific questions about personal liability, recusal and a whole bunch of other issues.  You might want to ask the state legislators who passed the law to see what they had in mind on these questions. If you get any answer at all, my guess is that it will be some version of “I dunno.”

A bill to allow nonprofits to appoint juveniles to their boards was proposed in Pennsylvania several years ago, and the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (where I am one of the directors) opposed the measure. Besides the legal questions you pose, the incongruity seemed to be epitomized by the situation in which a person too young to enter into a binding contract would be in the position of casting the deciding, tie-breaking vote to shut down a 100-year-old social service organization.

Ultimately, the legislature passed an amendment to the Nonprofit Corporation Law that allowed nonprofits involved with youth recreation or delinquency prevention to appoint 16- and 17-year-olds to an advisory board.  That wasn’t really necessary since they always had the power to do so, but it did put an official sanction on involving young people more formally in the governance of the organization and getting their advice, while not giving them controlling power or fiduciary duties. I thought that made a lot more sense than permitting them to serve as full members of the board. I would be interested in comments from readers.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


My comment is that some legislators don't have the common sense of a stick. --V. via email.

AMEN! (to both your 10/4/11 answer and V's prior comment...)

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