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What does 'ex-officio' mean?

The widely misunderstood term 'ex-officio' means “by virtue of another office held” and simply means that the person automatically becomes a board member because of some other position they are in.

Those who serve ‘ex officio’ are not voted on, do not resign and are not subject to terms of office, as they are in when they are in the (other) office, and out when they leave. Please note that the “ex officio” status does not mean that they are non-voting on the board.

If anyone (the CEO, the CFO etc.) is appointed to the board ex officio and the board wants the ex officio board member/s to be non-voting, the founding documents will need to specifically provide for this.

However, we advise that you think through this carefully. Our view is that it is inherently unfair to put someone in a position of responsibility and then not give them the tools they need (their vote) to carry out the responsibility.

If the execs at the board meetings are not to vote, then we would rather suggest entrenching in the founding document a provision that certain specific (or at least one/two senior execs) attend all board meetings (except the parts of them where their service and performance may be discussed) but stop short of having them appointed to the board.

Executives are appointed by and report to the board and will, if they are also on the board, often struggle with the switching of hats required by these dual roles.

The trend towards including executives on boards ex officio can be traced back to the King governance codes, which support the ‘balanced board’ idea, meaning that there is an equal number of management and non-executives on the board. In our view, this is appropriate in the for-profit environment, where all directors are appointed by shareholders and the directors often are shareholders themselves, but careful thought should be given to the issues of accountability and responsibility before applying this principle of King IV to a non-profit.


Nicole Copley | NGO Law

Nicole has consulted to the NGO sector since 1993. She is an admitted attorney (non-practising), has her Masters in the tax exemption laws and is a Master Tax Practitioner. Nicole developed her drafting skills while working as a business lawyer, and she has a pragmatic problem-solving approach to all the work she does. Her depth and breadth of experience over many years and her work with government and a wide range of clients, give her useful perspective and insight. Nicole also lectures and trains on various topics of importance to the NGO sector. She is author of ‘NGO Matters: A practical legal guide to starting up’, and publisher of the series of NGO Matters handbooks.

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