August 21, 2012

Should Komen Let Nancy Brinker Serve as a Lifetime Trustee?

Now that Nancy Brinker is stepping down as chief executive of  the charity she founded, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, her critics are agitating for her to quit the charity's board.

She doesn't want to go, and the charity's policy of letting some people serve as lifetime board members means she is not required to. That could pose a big challenge in the next few months as Komen conducts its highest-profile fundraising races.

But is it a good idea for any charity to offer lifetime membership to people on its board?

Many governance experts don't think so. About 70 percent of groups have term limits, says BoardSource, a nonprofit that works to strengthen charity governance.

And in nine states, charities are required to have such limits, BoardSource says. Those states follow the Model Nonprofit Corporation Act, a measure that the American Bar Association has recommended be adopted everywhere.

Texas, where Komen was founded, hasn't adopted the law, so it doesn't affect the charity.  Even if it had, the law includes exceptions that allow charities to state in their bylaws the names of people who can hold lifetime memberships.

Ms. Brinker holds that status, says Andrea Rader, director of communications at Komen's national headquarters in Dallas.

Nonetheless, some experts are questioning the appropriateness of a lifetime role.

"Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's a good idea," said David Styers, a senior governance consultant at BoardSource. "You can get entrenched. Flexibility is more desirable than rigidity."

Send an email to Holly Hall.