Donors *already* have voting rights

An interesting post and conversation at Tactical Philanthropy wonders out loud whether donors should get to vote for nonprofit board members, much as shareholders get to vote in publicly traded for-profits (discovered through Donor Power Blog). The premise is that a proxy vote, and a real say in the organization’s governance structure, would lead to greater engagement and a sense of ownership.

Beyond the complexity of allocating such a voting privilege (Is there a minimum gift? Is the proxy power based on percentage of overall income contributed? Is there a cost to managing such a vote that would consume a large percentage of the funds contributed?), the conversation misses one essential truth: donors already vote for the strategy and outcome goals of a nonprofit, just as consumers vote for products or services with their discretionary income.

While the marketplace for philanthropic cash and capital works by different rules than the commercial marketplace, it’s still a market. Nonprofits compete for attention, favorable policy, and charitable gifts. Those organizations that connect over time with compelling narrative, results, and connections will get more contributions. Those who disconnect or cannot effectively tell their stories will eventually lose those contributions. (To be fair, Sean at Tactical Philanthropy is already aware of this truth…it just doesn’t show up in this particular conversation.)

If a nonprofit is not creating a sense of ownership, responsibility, and connection among its donors, and its other essential constituents, it has problems larger than a change in voting rights can resolve.


  1. Kate says

    I don’t know Andrew… donors are to shareholders as patrons are to customers. Seems to me that giving donors an opportunity to vote on board members would be a great idea – and an even better way to diversify boards and perhaps improve transparency.

  2. says

    I don’t really see why most donors would care to vote for Board members. The few donors who would care are probably already within the inner circle. Donors should get special treatment, such as special receptions, etc. But if a donor feels slighted, I’ll bet that that donor isn’t really as big a donor as he or she thinks. If you want to play with the big boys and girls who run the show, then you really have to make an effort, financially and personally. There just aren’t enough resources to make everyone feel special.