Engaging boards authentically and productively in the development and oversight of philanthropic strategy remains one of the more challenging dimensions of leading a foundation. Board members and chief executives agree this is a desirable goal, but as BoardSource’s Leading with Intent 2017demonstrates, there remains a gap between aspiration and reality.

I was struck by this comment in the report: “Board meeting time should be considered a precious and limited resource that must be leveraged strategically.” Having led two foundations over the past 14 years, I can attest to the importance of being intentional and strategic about how to organize a board’s time. Here are three ideas to address this critical need:

  • Organize board meeting time for optimal engagement: Foundation board meetings—indeed any board meetings—can easily be consumed by routine reports and business matters that divert the board’s attention from larger strategy considerations.
  • Provide accessible board materials and frame discussions at the right level: Sometimes the volume of these materials can be overwhelming, not just to those of us who produce them, but to those obligated to read them. Similarly, board sessions are often heavy on presentation and light on discussion. While presentations can be informative to board members, they may not encourage the kind of desired engagement described above.
  • Broaden the board’s understanding of the foundation’s context and work: A common critique about boards is that they “drop in” intermittently without the benefit of living the foundation’s work every day. That, of course, will not change, but one way to address this legitimate concern is to devote some of the board’s time to deepen members’ understanding of the context for the foundation’s work.

Read the full article about strategic engagement with board members by Jim Canales at BoardSource.