Governance challenges for living donors

In the presence of a living donor, personal relationships and board members’ expectations and assumptions about their responsibilities may have significantly more impact on donor intent than they would after a donor has passed. Living donors must take this into account when selecting board members and establishing policies and procedures for their philanthropy.

It is your responsibility to articulate, on a regular basis, your preferred operating style, your goals for your philanthropy, and what strategies you prefer. The more closely you work with your board members, the better they will understand your thinking around the issues that concern you.

Regarding governance, a living donor must address these questions before selecting and convening a board:

  • What is the role you wish to play in the governance of your philanthropy? Will you join the board? Chair the board? If you don’t chair the board, what sort of relationship will you maintain with the board chair?
  • Will all board decisions be subject to your approval, including grant and investment decisions? Will this allow other board members to fulfill their legal and fiduciary duties? Can they participate effectively in a wide range of decisions between the extremes of rubber-stamping or overriding a donor’s intentions? What do you expect your board members to bring to the table in terms of giving advice and making decisions in order to enhance and advance your donor intent?
  • If you choose to share governance with your board in a structure where all votes are equal, then what precautions must you take to ensure that your donor intent is honored and not frustrated, both during your lifetime and afterward?