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Family foundations are such a critical part of the philanthropic community. Originally set up as tax havens for philanthropists, they are now much more than that and making considerable, positive changes in our local and global communities. This is due in large part to an increased focus on nonprofit transparency, greater sophistication in philanthropy, and an unprecedented number of generations engaged in family philanthropy. And this is why best governance practices are more important than ever for family foundations, and especially so when multiple generations of family, money, and grantmaking intertwine.
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An important component of success for any nonprofit board, and especially family foundations, is a strong healthy orientation process. Because family dynamics play a unique and critical role in successful governance and grantmaking, all members need to be knowledgeable of the foundation’s history and culture.
Board leadership needs to understand everything from setting an engaging meeting agenda to establishing an inclusive culture to capturing the family legacy and individual legacies. Orientation to the foundation’s bylaws, policies, job descriptions, and more are also critically important to leadership success.
In multigenerational family foundations, it is especially important that there are meaningful ways for every generation to participate in board meetings, which might mean that there are options for participating virtually. To better engage and include all board members, family foundation boards often need to adjust their approach from “the way things have always been done.” This will help to foster a stronger culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion while meeting mission and grantmaking goals.
A final recommendation is to connect incoming board members with their peers or tenured board members. This will allow incoming board members to have a sounding board for their individual questions and increase their confidence in governance. Some boards use board buddies, and there are even board chair peer groups around the country.