To better serve the needs of our Globcal International membership programs we are analyzing different legal methods (legal relationships) to create, develop and engage more diverse "membership" programs for the donors, sponsors and volunteers of our initiatives.
Private Non-Profit Corporation (Charitable Foundation)
Here we are today analyzing corporate private charitable organizations with no legal members that have huge honorary member following of quid pro quo donors and volunteers. Two such corporate organizations that I have personal experience with in are the National Arbor Day Foundation (NADF) and the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels (HOKC) which have identical honorary membership donor/volunteer programs that do not create a legal member relationship and both have created a branded identities using their trademarks. Both are focused on the specious control of intellectual property they did not originate that is part of the public domain "Arbor Day" and the "Kentucky Colonel".
I was a member of the NADF from 1976 until 1996 when they sued me for celebrating Arbor Day and leaving them out. Likewise becoming a Kentucky Colonel in 1996 during that lawsuit, I considered myself a member of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels from 1997 until 2020 when I was sued less than one month after receiving a new membership card in 2020 signed by HOKC Generals.
In both cases (which were dismissed with prejudice) I discovered that honorary orders and private foundations do not normally have membership bylaws, which means that there are no rules or regulations governing membership, no fiduciary obligation and members have no legal recourse to file grievances with the organization's board. This is because honorary memberships are considered program activities that are not real or legal membership. Honorary members are not legally responsible for the organization's actions, and the organization is not legally responsible for the actions of its honorary members.
The lack of membership bylaws can be problematic for honorary members. For example, it can be difficult for honorary members to know what is expected of them and what rights they have. It can also be difficult for honorary members to hold the organization accountable for its actions as members.
Here are some other things that can be added about honorary memberships:
- Honorary memberships are often used to reward donors and volunteers.
- Honorary memberships can also be used to attract new members and supporters.
- Honorary memberships can be a way to show appreciation for people who have made significant contributions to an organization.
- Honorary memberships can also be a way to build relationships with key stakeholders.
It is important to note that honorary memberships are not without their critics. Some people argue that honorary memberships are undemocratic and that they give honorary members undue influence over the organization. Others argue that honorary memberships are simply a way for organizations to raise money and that they do not offer any real benefits to honorary members.
Overall, honorary memberships can be a valuable tool for organizations, but it is important to use them wisely. Organizations should make sure that honorary members understand the very limited rights and responsibilities of an honorary membership. Organizations should also make sure that honorary memberships are used in a way that is consistent with the organization's mission and values.
The regulations we need to understand are the Volunteer Protection Act, the power of the private board in a non-profit corporation over honorary members without legal rights, privileges or responsibilities.
Non-profit organizations with honorary members often rely on volunteers to help them achieve their goals or a sophisticated ideal of presence and pride. The Volunteer Protection Act (VPA) provides important protections for volunteers in these organizations.
The VPA protects volunteers from personal liability for harm caused while properly engaged in volunteer work. However, the VPA does not protect volunteers from liability for willful, malicious, criminal conduct or intent as an honorary member. Likewise, as we know in the trademark case with the HOKC does not protect a member or volunteer from retaliation for exercising their civil rights.
The private board of directors of a non-profit organization has a great number of powers (all of them), including the power to:
- Set the organization's mission and goals
- Oversee the organization's day-to-day operations
- Hire and fire staff
- Manage the organization's finances
- Make decisions about the organization's programs and services
The private board of directors also has a fiduciary duty to the organization, meaning that they must act in the best interests of the corporate entity. This duty includes making sure that the organization is properly managed and that its resources are used wisely. In the context of a non-profit organization with honorary members, the private board of directors has a number of responsibilities, including:
- Ensuring that the organization complies with all applicable laws and regulations
- Protecting the organization's assets
- Making sure that the organization's programs and services are effective and efficient
- Overseeing the work of the organization's volunteers
The private board of directors also has a responsibility to honorary members. This responsibility includes:
- Making sure that honorary members are aware of the organization's mission and goals
- Providing honorary members with opportunities to participate in the organization's activities
- Provide the member with a sense of belonging using an annual membership card
- Treating honorary members with respect and dignity
It is important to note that honorary members do not have the same rights and responsibilities as regular members in a non-profit organization. For example, honorary members do not typically have the right to vote on matters before the organization or to hold office. However, honorary members should still be treated with respect and dignity because they are the organization's life blood as donors.
The following are some legal analogies and comments about honorary memberships:
- Honorary membership is similar to a gift. The organization is giving the honorary member the title of "member" but not the same rights and responsibilities as regular members or legal members. Honorary memberships are generally granted based on a person making an annual donation each year to renew the relationship.
- Honorary membership is also similar to a contract. The honorary member is agreeing to support the organization in some way, and the organization is agreeing to give the honorary member the title of "member" and return favor based on his/her tribute.
- However, honorary membership is different from both a gift and a contract in some important ways. First, honorary membership is not a legal right. The organization can revoke honorary membership at any time for any reason. Second, honorary membership does not create a fiduciary relationship between the honorary member and the organization. This means that the organization does not have a legal obligation to act in the best interests of the honorary member.
It is important for honorary members to understand the legal implications of honorary membership. Honorary members should not expect to have the same rights and responsibilities as regular members or members with rights. However, honorary members should still be treated with respect and dignity.