Mission and Charitable Purpose

Q:  What is the mission of Seed Savers Exchange?

A: Conserving and promoting America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

Q:  What is the vision of Seed Savers Exchange?

A: Seed Savers Exchange will lead and expand the heirloom seed movement.

Q:  What is the Seed Savers Exchange's Organizational Values?

  • We respect nature and the environment, recognizing the importance of conserving diversity in all species.
  • As stewards, we believe that our network of members and our Collection are the most important components of SSE.
  • We believe in educating the public about the importance of genetic and cultural diversity and strive to protect our garden and food heritage.
  • We recognize, support, and appreciate the work of our members.
  • We believe in collaboration and working toward a common goal.
  • We believe in the importance of creating a responsible business plan for all SSE activities to ensure a financially stable operation now and in the future.
  • We value our employees, nurture opportunities for their professional growth, and provide them with a safe and respectful workplace.
  • We believe in operating our organization in a way that is environmentally sound, aesthetically pleasing, and sustainable.
  • We strive for excellence in all we do. 

Q:  What is in the Collection at Seed Savers Exchange?

A:  Seed Savers Exchange has records on and maintains thousands of varieties of open pollinated  vegetables, herbs, flowers and plants, making its Collection one of the largest non-governmental seed banks in the United States with the goal of making varieties available to the public. SSE believes in participatory preservation involving SSE members and gardeners and maintains a seed bank on-site at 890 acre Heritage Farm, located 6 miles north of Decorah, Iowa.  Many of the seeds in the Collection were donated by its members, whose families have grown and saved seeds for generations.

Q: Where does Seed Savers Exchange store the seeds in its Collection?

A:  In keeping with international genetic preservation standards, SSE stores its seed collection in several locations. Our principle storage facilities at Heritage Farm consist of underground freezer vaults and laboratory grade chest freezers, which are maintained at -18 Celsius. Back-up samples are maintained off-site at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation at the USDA in Fort Collins, Colorado and at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. The deposits made by SSE at Fort Collins, as well as at Svalbard, remain the property of Seed Savers Exchange and cannot be distributed to third parties. In case of damage to or loss of any of the seed in our storage facilities at Heritage Farm, back-up seed samples can then be returned to SSE.

Q:  How does Seed Savers Exchange maintain its Collection?

A:  Each year, Seed Savers Exchange selects a number of varieties in our Collection to be grown in the field to regenerate seed.  The seed is selected either because it exists in our Collection in limited quantity or because its germination rate is decreasing.   SSE also conducts plant variety evaluations on the material in our Collection, in hopes of increasing distribution and utilization of the Collection. 

Q:  Part of Seed Savers Exchange’s mission is to share heirloom seeds.  How does the organization accomplish this?

A:  Seed Savers Exchange offers approximately 600 varieties of heirloom and open-pollinated varieties for sale to the general public through its free catalog found at seedsavers.org and also mailed to anyone interested in growing heirloom varieties.  You do not have to be a member of Seed Savers Exchange to order from this catalog, which supports the non-profit mission of SSE.  In addition to the catalog, each year SSE members offer thousands of vegetable and fruit varieties to other members through the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook.  Similarly, the Flower & Herb Exchange offers member listings of heirloom flowers and herbs for exchange with other members.  These participatory preservation efforts are at the heart of SSE’s mission of collecting, conserving, and sharing heirloom varieties.


Q: What does it mean to be a “member” of Seed Savers Exchange?

A: Members are the backbone of Seed Savers Exchange. Members believe in and support fulfillment of our mission and operations through annual or lifetime memberships. Members receive the annual Yearbook and three editions ofThe Heritage Farm Companion (Spring, Summer, Harvest, and Winter), monthly e-mail newsletters and our annual catalog of commercially available seeds. Members receive special shopping discounts for attending events at Seed Savers Exchange, including our Annual Conference & Campout, which is held each July at our facilities near Decorah, Iowa. Seed Savers Exchange currently has over 13,000 members. To become a member of Seed Savers Exchange, click here.

Q: What is a “Listed Member” of Seed Savers Exchange?

A: “Listed Member” is a special sub-group of Seed Savers Exchange members who allow Seed Savers Exchange to publish their personal contact information and lists of seeds they are willing to make available for exchange with others in the annual Yearbook. While any member, listed or non-listed, may get seeds through the exchange, listed members enjoy a reduced rate when requesting seeds from others. Seed Savers Exchange currently has about 700 listed members offering more than 12,000 varieties of rare vegetable, fruit and grain seeds each year. Neither listed nor non-listed members have corporate voting rights.

Q: Does a Seed Savers Exchange annual membership run on a calendar year?

A: No, an annual membership in SSE is comprised of the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook and The Heritage Farm Companion series (Spring, Summer, Harvest, and Winter editions). You can join at any time of the year, and your membership will start with the most recent publication. Once you receive all five publications, you'll receive a notice to renew your membership. In your first year as a member, you may get a renewal notice before a full calendar year has passed. After that, your renewal notice will always come at the same time each year. Learn more about becoming a member.

Q: I don't have any seeds to share. Can I still be a member of Seed Savers Exchange?

A: Yes! We have two types of members: Listed Members and Non-Listed Members. Listed Members are those who list their seeds in the annual Yearbook. Non-Listed Members don’t have seeds listed in the Yearbook. All members—whether listed or not—directly support our mission. As a nonprofit organization, we depend on member support to fund our ongoing preservation efforts.

Q: I have seeds I want to share. How do I do that?

A:  By becoming a member you can list your seeds in the Yearbook. Information for current SSE members who have not listed seeds before is mailed in September. Members who have listed seeds in the last two years will receive paperwork in the mail in September that they can fill out with their seed varieties. In either case, the paperwork must be returned to our office by early November. The information from everyone's listing forms is compiled into the Yearbook, which is mailed in January each year. Also, members can access the online yearbook and/or update their listings online by clicking here.

Q: How do Seed Savers Exchange members order seeds from me?

A: If members are interested in ordering your varieties, they will contact you directly by using one of the Seed Request Forms provided in the back of the current Yearbook and with the online Yearbook. 

Corporate Governance

Q: What are the duties of Directors (who together, make up the Board) of a charitable/non-profit corporation?

A: The Directors of Seed Savers Exchange are unpaid volunteers who have a fiduciary duty to the corporation, which sets the standard of conduct for Directors. Fiduciary duties of Directors of a non-profit organization are further broken down into three general categories: the duty of care, the duty of loyalty, and the duty of obedience. To fulfill the duty of care, a Director makes decisions and oversees operations of the organization with reasonable attention (ordinary care), good faith, and adequate information. To fulfill the duty of loyalty, a Director puts the corporation’s best interests first, does not engage in self-dealing, and does no harm to the corporation. The duty of obedience is special, in that it only applies to non-profit/charitable corporations, and not to for-profit corporations. To fulfill the duty of obedience, a Director carries out the mission and charitable purposes of the organization, insures required filings are made, and complies with governing documents (i.e., articles of incorporation and by-laws). 

Q: Do SSE board members have term limits?

A: No. SSE has a self-perpetuating board, which means that the board nominates and elects its own Directors, including re-electing current Directors.  Self-perpetuating boards are normally used for non-profit organizations. Since its incorporation, Seed Savers Exchange has always had a self-perpetuating Board of Directors.  To meet the directors of SSE’s board, click here.

Q: What is the purpose of having By-Laws in a non-profit corporation?

A: By-laws are an important and legally mandated document of corporate governance. They are the general rules and framework of a corporation. By-laws give an organization structure, insure continuity of the organization, delegate and determine financial and contractual powers for the organization, and establish relationships between and among directors, members, boards, committees, and other important groups. Unlike for-profit corporations, charitable non-profit corporations (such as Seed Savers Exchange) must explain their charitable purpose(s) in their by-laws. To see Seed Savers Exchange’s current By-Laws, click here.

Q: Are contributions to Seed Savers Exchange restricted to a particular use?

A: Some contributions and grants made to Seed Savers Exchange are restricted for a particular use by the donor or the granting entity, but most are not. Seed Savers Exchange complies with all restrictions on contributions and grants it receives. In addition, Seed Savers Exchange complies with all requirements on grants, which often include auditing and/or reporting requirements.

 Q: Who monitors how Seed Savers Exchange spends its money?

A: The Board of Directors provides direction and has ultimate oversight responsibility regarding how money is spent. The Board Treasurer takes a lead role in this, including working with staff and chairing the Audit & Finance Committee. The Executive Director/President of SSE, the Corporate Treasurer and other staff to whom duties may be delegated, are responsible for carrying out the Board’s direction on a daily basis and reporting financial status and activities to the Board. Seed Savers Exchange is audited annually by a CPA firm.  

Q: Where can I get financial information about Seed Savers Exchange?

A. Seed Savers Exchange annually publishes audited summary financial information each summer in its membership magazine. Seed Savers Exchange’s fiscal year coincides with the calendar year. Because it takes several months to finalize year-end accounting, complete the annual audit, and prepare reports and tax returns, financial information on the most recently completed fiscal year is not usually available until the summer of each year.


 Q: What is an “Advisor” of Seed Savers Exchange?

A: Advisors of Seed Savers Exchange are persons with expertise in individual subjects related to our purposes and objectives, who assist us on a volunteer and as-needed basis. Advisors are not an organized group or body of Seed Savers Exchange and do not have voting rights. Advisors have been identified and selected for their expertise and volunteer to serve a term of three years, which is renewable by mutual agreement.  The following people are SSE advisors:

  • Suzanne Ashworth

  • Dan Beard

  • Clive Blazey

  • Dave Ellis

  • Joel Girardin

  • Jim Henry

  • Lindsay Lee

  • Craig LeHoullier

  • Beth Lynch

  • Deborah Madison

  • Laura Merrick

  • Phillip Sponenberg

  • John Swenson

  • Lee Zieke

  • Special Advisor: Amy Goldman Fowler


Last Revised: August 2012