Can Board Members Be Paid for Their Work on the Board?

I have had this question asked a number of different ways.  The questions are worded differently, and involve different fact scenarios, but all come down to the same core question: Can we pay our board members?  This article will look at the legality of paying board members, as well as some of the pros and cons of such action.

Some people believe that board members should be paid as the position is one that can take up a great deal of personal time, requires making decisions that affect a large number of people, and entails the creation and oversight of a large budget.  Conversely, others argue that by paying board members you encourage people whose interest is more in collecting the payment than helping the association.  Of course, there are other arguments for and against payment.  I find that people have very strong opinions on this issue and I will attempt to provide helpful information no matter which way you decide to proceed.

As I have explained in prior editions of this column, associations in Minnesota are nonprofit corporations and are governed by the Nonprofit Corporation Act (NCA), Minn. Stat. §317A.  Nonprofit corporations are allowed to compensate board members, subject to the limitations in the association’s articles of incorporation or bylaws. ((Minn. Stat. §317A.211)) In addition, many associations are also governed by the Minnesota Common Interest Ownership Act (MCIOA) ((Found at Minn. Stat. §515B)).  However, MCIOA does not directly address the issue of paying board members for their services.

If an association’s articles of incorporation or bylaws prohibit payment to board members, then such payments would not be allowed.  If the documents are silent on the issue of compensation, then the NCA would allow payment for service on the board.

Once you determine if board members can be paid under your governing documents, the issue becomes, should they be paid?  What would be a reason not to pay your board members?  One of the biggest reasons is liability.

The NCA provides a certain level of immunity from civil liability to board members.  However, this liability is only provided for volunteer board members.  Specifically, Minn. Stat. §317A.257 states that a “person who serves without compensation as a director [or] officer . . . is not civilly liable for an act or omission by that person if the act or omission was in good faith, was within the scope of the person's responsibilities . . . and did not constitute willful or reckless misconduct.”  Compensation includes anything of value received for services rendered, with the exception of reimbursement of certain expenses.  Therefore, while the NCA does allow board members to be compensated, doing so removes the liability protection that is otherwise afforded under the statute.

Whether or not your association decides to pay board members, there are some things to keep in mind.

  • If payments exceed $599, the association may be required to issue a 1099 form to each board member receiving the payments.
  • Repayment of out of pocket expenses is not considered payment for board service.  For example, if a board member takes a flyer to be photocopied for an association newsletter, the cost of the copies can be reimbursed.
  • Waiver or reduction of assessments for board members would be classified as a payment.  In that regard, if your association Declaration states that all assessments must be levied equally among the units, an amendment might be necessary in order to allow for an exception for board members (if they are being paid).
  • Granting an existing board member a year of free dues after they leave the board is still payment, even if it is not realized until a future date.

In summary, the short answer is “Yes, in Minnesota it is legal to pay board members, provided your association documents do not prohibit it.”  However, doing so can remove protection from civil liability and can introduce various complications.

A version of this article first appeared in the "Ask the Attorney" column (written by Nigel Mendez) in the Minnesota Community Living magazine published by CAI-MN.