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Which nonprofit boards are the hottest to serve on? And which are not so hot?

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A nonprofit-board seat isn’t an honorary position. There’s a saying when it comes to sitting on such a board: “Give, get, or get off.” For most boards, there’s a recommended minimum donation—up to $35,000 a year at the Aspen Institute—and you either give it personally, raise it, or give up your seat. In rare instances, organizations decide that an individual’s name recognition is credit enough, but usually, as Puff Daddy would say, “it’s all about the Benjamins.”

While there are hundreds of local nonprofits, only a handful, including the National Gallery of Art and the Kennedy Center, count as prestigious; some seemingly prestigious boards, as at the Smithsonian, are more serious than fun, involving lots of work and oversight.

Boards go through hot and cold phases. Under Septime Webre, the Washington Ballet has become a hot board, whereas Arena Stage is waning. The White House Historical Association isn’t high on the power meter—one of its main responsibilities is the annual White House holiday ornament—yet with board members such as Mike McCurry and Michael Beschloss, it’s high on prestige.

Here’s a guide to some of the area’s top nonprofit boards.


Board Boldface Names Big Givers What to Know Old or New Money? Hot or Not? Prestige Factor
Aspen Institute Madeleine Albright, Fred Malek, Queen Noor Leonard Lauder of Estée Lauder, venture capitalist John Doerr This think tank has lots of cool events, especially its summer
Colorado retreats
Both old and new Hot *****
Smithsonian Dick Cheney, Thad Cochran, Shirley Ann Jackson Robert P. Kogod, CEO of the Charles E. Smith Companies; Roger
Head of the board, at least titularly? Chief Justice John
Corporate, not social, climbing Not ****
Shakespeare Theatre Lady Sheinwald (wife of the British ambassador), Abbe Lowell,
Walter Pincus
The newer theater building is named for trustee Sidney Harman, who
gave $20 million
Probably the most intellectual board in Washington New Hot ****
Kennedy Center Jean Kennedy Smith, Adrian Fenty, Bob Barnett, Condoleezza Rice,
Ted Kennedy
James Kimsey, Joe Robert, Stephen Wynn, Donna Marriott, David
The board is appointed by the President, so there can’t be an
explicit gift amount attached—but you’re supposed to give $50,000
Old Hot *****
Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts Marvin Hamlisch, Laura Bush, John Engler Tech leader Bobbie Greene Kilberg, headhunter Nels Olson If you’ve ever wanted to serve on a board with Tony Bennett, this
is your chance
Mostly corporate Hot ***
Ford’s Theatre Wayne Reynolds, Linda Daschle, Rhoda Glickman, Paul Berry, Carly
Fiorina, Kathleen Matthews
GM Foundation’s Debbie Dingell, Pepco’s Vincent Orange Its big event is at the White House, so it’s able to collect
corporate contributors interested in an evening with the President—one
reason its annual board gift is “just” $10,000
Old Not ****
Washington National Opera Senate spouses Marcelle Leahy and Catherine Stevens, Franco
Nuschese, Kenneth Feinberg, Lucky Roosevelt
James Kimsey, Jane Lipton Cafritz, John Pohanka The midwinter gala is one of the city’s biggest events—one reason
each board member is expected to pony up $25,000 a year
Old Hot *****
Sidwell Friends Maxine Isaacs, Ron Dozoretz “If your sole goal is power,” says one society observer, “nothing
beats a private school”
Old If you want your kid to go there, it’s hot ***
SEED Foundation School Robert Livingston, Ann Bucksbaum Friedman (wife of Tom) Mitchell Rales, Donald Brown Cofounder Rajiv Vinnakota has turned this charter school’s board
into one of DC’s hottest
New Hot ***
Venture Philanthropy Partners Ted Leonsis, Raul Fernandez, Russ Ramsey, Mark Warner, David
Bradley, Steve Case, Jeong Kim
Everyone on this board has deep pockets By and large, backers of this local nonprofit investment group
don’t do the board circuit—this is their area of giving
New Hot ****