Giving Compass' Take:

• Phil Buchanan at The Center for Effective Philanthropy speaks from his own experiences inside foundation boardrooms and discusses five questions that will allow board members the time and attention they deserve. 

• How can you best utilize this advice? How can you build on successes and improve weak areas?

• Here's another article on lessons learned and lessons shared from donors themselves. 

My CEP colleagues and I have seen the inside of more foundation boardrooms than just about anyone. It is, perhaps, a dubious distinction – though some boardrooms have amazing views that are definitely worth seeing. But it does give us a little insight into what is, and isn’t, being discussed in those hallowed halls.

We’re usually in those boardrooms because we’re presenting results of our assessments, including Grantee Perception Reports (GPRs) and Applicant Perception Reports (APRs), often for an hour or two. Regardless of how long we’re in the room – I was once given six minutes by an impatient and irritable board chair – we’re often able to sneak a peek at the full agenda. While I am impressed by some, I am struck by how often the agendas seem pro forma. Too many seem a cut and paste job from past agendas – in September we always do this, in February we always do that – packed with items but not necessarily focused on the most crucial issues of the moment.

That’s too bad, because there are pressing, strategic questions raised by the current context and environment that every foundation board should be grappling with. Let me suggest five in particular.

  1. What should our response be to a decline in individual giving?
  2. How are we getting feedback on the internal climate and, more broadly, the performance of the CEO?
  3. Who isn’t in the room who should be?
  4. What does the current political moment mean for how we operate?
  5. How are we hearing from nonprofits and other key stakeholders – including those we seek to help?

Read the full article about questions every foundation board should be discussing by Phil Buchanan at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.