In the philanthropy and nonprofit field, training and development for boards of directors has traditionally focused on basic, fundamental roles and responsibilities. Common topics include: the duties of board members; legal compliance; providing strategic direction; hiring and evaluating staff leadership; and running efficient and effective meetings.

Until recently, Exponent Philanthropy, a national association that serves grantmaking foundations with few or no staff, centered trainings on these fundamental skills and roles. Our members represent over 10,000 foundation board members across the nation, but we’ve adopted a new approach. So, what compelled this change?

Over the past 12 years, Exponent observed how a number of our members across the country achieve impact far beyond the size of their assets and staff. Most Exponent members focus their philanthropy locally, and many leverage non-dollar assets, such as a deep knowledge of their communities, relationships with local leaders and convening power.

We also learned that the boards of these creative, impactful foundations engage in activities and roles that extend far beyond the scope of what we assumed. In addition to overseeing the compliance and operations of their foundations, these boards engage with staff and family members to exert leadership and community capacity building.

In 2011, we launched an intentional, long-term initiative to discover how small foundations make an outsized impact. By interviewing dozens of these members and following their work over time, we saw a clear pattern emerge in the mindsets and practices of these high-impact funders, or what we call catalysts.

Catalytic funders work to meet immediate needs, as well as trying to solve the systemic problems facing the communities they serve. They employ activities and roles that go beyond traditional grantmaking such as convening, commissioning research, capacity building, advocacy and mobilizing community members.

Read the full article about training foundation board members for leadership by Andy Carroll at Exponent philanthropy.