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An Important Window into the Foundation Boardroom

Posted by Anne Wallestad, President & CEO, BoardSource on May 16, 2019 12:09:03 PM

Looking in large windows of meeting room with board meeting taking placeWhat are some of the challenges that can emerge when trying to build a strong board–staff partnership? And what is the state of this important partnership at foundations? These are some of the questions Anne Wallestad addresses in a post appearing on The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) blog. She ends by encouraging foundation CEOs and board chairs to complete the Leading with Intent survey so that we may learn more about what is taking place in foundation boardrooms. We summarize the post here but encourage you to read the full piece here.

Anne Wallestad HeadshotLast week, I had the pleasure of helping to lead a discussion at CEP’s biennial national conference about the critical partnership between foundation CEOs and boards. Important themes emerged:

  • A trusting and productive partnership between the board chair and the CEO is the starting point for a good board-staff partnership, and that requires a culture of honesty, candor, and “no surprises.”
  • Established governance processes are a helpful way to ensure that board practices are well thought out and guided by best practices, but culture often trumps process and boards and executives should be cautious about establishing “bad” processes as a way to address an isolated or specific issue.
  • The board chair’s role is essential in helping to guide and facilitate the board’s work — and the relationship with the CEO. This includes addressing challenging issues or behaviors within the board itself, which cannot effectively be addressed by the CEO themselves.

Leading With Intent LogoWe also tapped into some of the insights gleaned from BoardSource’s 2018 report, Foundation Board Leadership: A Closer Look at Foundation Board Responses to Leading with Intent 2017. The findings from this study were illuminating, but the truth is, when it comes to a body of evidence on foundation board leadership and the relationship between boards and executives, there’s still much that we don’t know:

  • Are the dynamics that were visible in our relatively small sample of foundation responses to Leading with Intent 2017 representative of the broader foundation community?
  • Are there aspects of board leadership that matter more or less based on the type of foundation — private, community, family, or other?
  • Is there evidence of positive progress in foundation board leadership as it relates to adopting essential practices such as CEO evaluation, board self-assessment, and diversifying board composition?

With that in mind, I invite you to participate in the next Leading with Intent study. Foundation boards are making high-stakes decisions about where and how to invest resources to address some of our most pressing social issues. Who they are and how they operate matters — in very real ways. But windows into what’s really happening within the foundation boardroom are limited. That’s why research on foundation board leadership is so important. And why your foundation’s participation in the next Leading with Intent study is so appreciated.

Learn more or complete the survey at leadingwithintent.org.

Read the full CEP blog post here.


Topics: Leading with Intent, Foundations, board-chief executive partnership

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