“You need to get out and kick the tires,” is one of two key phrases our founder, Stewart Kean, used frequently when advising his board at the 1772 Foundation before he passed away in 2003. The other was, “I want you to have fun.”

By way of kicking the tires, our five board members are active participants in sites visits, convenings, and research trips. Guest speakers, usually at least three, are invited to each of our quarterly board meetings, which move around the country to coordinate with visits to funded projects. For 6-8 full days each year, our board travels and learns together, as a team.

For instance, an expert in farmland mapping recently spoke to our group and gave a preview of their soon-to-be-released publication. Our board members were able to ask questions and make observations about his work and how it might apply to our own farmland granting program.

The mechanics of this approach—bringing in guest speakers and traveling to sites—does bring challenges. There is cost, scheduling, late trains, and bad weather. But, we embrace these difficulties. Like basic training, being on a sports team, or working on a campaign or a group project, the shared experience of learning and travel makes us much stronger. It turns a board into a team who can reference trips we have taken and people we have met, and connect the dots between those experiences.

This approach not only keeps us in a “beginner’s mindset” but also shifts the focus from the individual to the group. We believe that our shared experiences help us trust each other as teammates and creates a more cohesive and risk-tolerant approach to our grantmaking.

Read the full article about strengthening board members teamwork by Mary Anthony and Dan Ely at Exponent Philanthropy.