Giving Compass’ Take:
• The Wilson Foundation shares lessons from its board succession planning process and how to prioritize tasks that would benefit the philanthropic community during a time of transition.
• What are the main challenges for foundations when board leadership transitions?
• Read more about how to embrace leadership transitions.
The Wilson Foundation was started in 1963 by Joe Wilson, founder of Xerox Corporation, and his wife, Peggy. When the foundation began its most recent strategic planning process, the board represented three generations with 24 members spread across the country.
We embarked on strategic planning to revisit our giving priorities, but we quickly realized our impact goals are successful only if we have the proper governance structure. In this blog, we share our board succession planning process, but understand that it did not live in a silo—it was all related to our overall impact strategy.
Board governance conversations are more challenging for a family foundation because they are personal, so we hired a facilitator. That helped take any perceived ownership of the process or recommendations off the staff and board chair. We convened a smaller work group that set clear objectives.
We started by asking ourselves a lot of questions:
- What do we look like compared to the field—e.g., size, expenses?
- Is board service a right or a privilege?
- Should we keep discretionary grants for board members?
The work group was aware that family members would raise concerns about proposed changes to our governance structure. The foundation has played a significant role in bringing the entire family together to encourage the respect, love, and service to the community instilled by the founders. The board has always felt strongly about passing those values on to the next generation.
In developing the proposal, we tried to anticipate concerns and, at the same time, emphasize both our fiduciary and philanthropic duties to the community. For example, we were aware that, without participation on the board, some family members would lose interest in the foundation’s activities. Yet, given the size of the board, paying too much money to bring the family together did not seem appropriate.
Read the full article about board succession planning by Katie Ensign, Deirdre Garton, and Megan Bell at Exponent Philanthropy.
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