Exponent Philanthropy developed resources and programs to empower more leanly staffed foundations to make catalytic impact. We shifted our board and governance training to incorporate catalytic principles, and we try to nurture the following leadership qualities among our members’ boards:

  • Strong, trusting relationships among board members
  • Passion and connection to an issue and the community; a feeling of ownership and responsibility
  • Inquisitiveness and a culture of constant learning, informed by listening and direct engagement with grantees and community members
  • Understanding systemic racism in America, and how it manifests in their community and the focus area the foundation has chosen
  • Vision and ambition; the desire to set sights higher and catalyze transformation, rather than accept the status quo
  • A sense of common purpose where every board member identifies with the foundation’s vision and goals, and commits to them

Foundation boards need time and a framework to develop these qualities. We encourage foundations to create a 12- to 24-month learning agenda for their boards—one that centers on direct engagement with nonprofits and other stakeholders in the community, and on equity training. We map out several ways foundations can structure these agendas, with people in different roles serving as drivers and facilitators—from board chairs to executive directors to individuals within the board, staff or family who might step up.

As foundation boards engage with grantees and develop an understanding with staff of community needs, they prepare and position their foundations for catalytic work. The foundations they serve will be able to:

1) Focus on one or two specific, well-defined issues and articulate the specific change they want to catalyze

2) Understand the ecosystem of their issue, and identify specific roles for the foundation within the larger system

3) Commit to a disciplined, focused course of action for the time required to catalyze desired outcomes—over several years, or a decade or more

We are also in the process of developing trainings for board members to engage in the community and take on roles such as educating local and state legislators on needs; serving as spokespersons and ambassadors to raise awareness of issues and elevate the work of nonprofits; and developing relationships with other foundations, community organizations and business leaders to nurture collaboration.

Read the full article about training foundation board members by Andy Carroll at Exponent Philanthropy.