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990 Policy Compliance Series - What is an Independent Board Member?

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Insights  <  990 Policy Compliance Series - What is an Independent Board Member?

On the 990, the first questions regarding the governing body are how many voting members are on the board and how many of those members are independent. A member of the governing body is considered “independent” only if ALL of the following four circumstances were applicable at ALL times during the organization’s tax year (fiscal year):

  1. The member was not compensated as an officer or other employee of the organization or a related organization (simply put, any entity that is a parent, subsidiary, brother/sister, supporting/supported organization to the filing entity at any point during the year – see Schedule R instructions for more complete definitions). The member also was not compensated by any unrelated organizations for services provided to the filing entity or to a related organization. There is an exception for receiving compensation as an agent of a religious order (there are specific conditions that must be met).
  2. The member did not receive total compensation exceeding $10,000 during the tax year from the filing entity and/or a related organization as an independent contractor (not including reasonable compensation for services provided in the capacity as a board member).
  3. Neither the member nor any of his or her family members was involved in any transaction with the filing entity which is reportable on Schedule L (Transactions with Interested Persons – see IRS Schedule L filing tips for more detailed reporting requirements).
  4. Neither the member nor any of his or her family members was involved in any transaction with a related organization that is reportable on Schedule L.

The IRS specifically states that the following circumstances do not indicate a lack of independence as a board member:

  1. The member is a donor to the organization.
  2. Religious exception (as discussed above).
  3. The member receives benefit from the organization by being a member of the charitable or other class that is served by the organization.

Further, the IRS expects the organization to engage in all reasonable efforts to obtain the necessary information in order to determine whether members are independent. A good conflict of interest policy can help with this effort. Stay tuned for a future blog post on effective conflict of interest policies.

Read other articles in our “990 Policy Compliance” series:

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