In most states, spouses are allowed to sit on the board of the same nonprofit as long as the board meets the Internal Revenue Service requirements for nonprofit corporations. However, having spouses serve on the same board can raise a number of problems for the organization unless both spouses are careful to avoid the potential pitfalls.
The IRS grants tax-exempt status to nonprofit organizations to help them act in the public interest, not the interests of a particular board member or family involved in the organization. IRS regulations for granting 501(c)(3) status through Form 1023 require the board of directors of any nonprofit to be composed primarily of people who are not related to each other. If spouses both serve on the same board of directors, the board must include at least three other members who aren't part of the same family. This way, if the spouses team up to vote for a project the other members don't feel is in the spirit of the nonprofit's mission, the other three can outvote them if needed.
Laws and regulations for nonprofit corporations can vary from one state to the next. For instance, New Hampshire Statutes Title XXVII Chapter 292 section 6-a requires nonprofits to bar members of the same family by blood or marriage from serving on the board of directors at the same time. Although most states do allow spouses to serve on the same nonprofit board, consult the laws of the state where the nonprofit is located to be sure.
The potential advantage of inviting spouses to serve on the same nonprofit board is that both of them are a lot more likely to remain focused on the nonprofit's mission when they can attend board meetings together and share their enthusiasm for the nonprofit's goals. With only one spouse involved, the other spouse may not always make it easy to devote as much time and attention to the nonprofit. In addition, the nonprofit gains access to the professional and social resources of both partners when both of them are on the board.
The problem with having both spouses on the same nonprofit board is that the organization can suffer if they don't get along or even if they get along too well. If the spouses start to have marital trouble, then any divisive issue discussed by the board can turn into an awkward marital spat during the board meeting. If the spouses function as a perfect unit, the effect is much like having one board member with two votes. Spouses serving on the same board can only avoid these problems by being conscientious and as objective as possible.