A married couple, or other closely related persons, can serve together on a nonprofit board provided that no higher authority prevents it. However, you will want to think deeply before proceeding to do this. Here are some considerations to take into account.
Does a higher authority prevent married couples from serving together?
If you are a chapter or unit of a larger organization, there may be rules that prevent married couples from serving together. Some churches, for example, don’t allow this. Be sure to check state law and any authority documents that apply to your organization. And of course, if your bylaws prohibit this, then you can’t do it.
What does the IRS say about married couples?
The Internal Revenue Service looks closely at board composition and conflict of interest on nonprofit boards. A “conflict of interest” occurs when an arrangement, or a transaction, might benefit the private interest of an officer or board member, or their relative. In general, it is best to avoid possible conflicts of interest.
You can read more about this in Greg McRay’s excellent blog post, Avoiding Conflict of Interest on a Nonprofit Board of Directors, published on the Foundation Group’s website.
Jurassic Parliament also addresses conflict of interest more generally in our article Conflict of interest can be complicated. This is a complex topic and as always, nothing in our materials constitutes legal advice. You may want to check with your attorney.
Married couples can affect the quorum
One important point from the parliamentary procedure perspective is that if you have closely-related individuals serving on your board, it can affect your quorum. The quorum is the minimum number of voting members who must be present for business to be done. (Read more about quorum here.) According to IRS rules, In a nonprofit setting, the quorum will be the minimum number of unrelated board members who must be present.
Is it wise to have married couples on your board?
Allowing married couples to serve on your board has consequences, both good and bad. I serve on a choir board where a married couple are stalwarts of our organization. Their joint involvement and commitment have been a strength to us for many years. On the other hand, I worked with one nonprofit board that had two married couples serving, and this resulted in a certain degree of polarization and faction within the board.
This article from Charity Village does a fine job of laying out “pros” and “cons”: Should family members serve on the same board?
There is nothing in Robert’s Rules of Order about this topic. Before moving ahead, however, be sure to study your circumstances clearly, and determine that the benefits outweigh the potential disadvantages.
Have you had experience with this issue? Let us know!