1 Mistake Family Foundations Should Avoid


Pushy SalesmanA new, large family foundation is about to hire its first executive. The foundation board thinks “any manager”, a bank executive, or a business consultant would be perfectly qualified for the job – no philanthropy experience necessary. Sound familiar? Too often smart and talented people are extraordinarily successful in business, and then fail to apply their smarts to their philanthropic giving.

I advised them to ask the following three questions:

1 – What is the business that allowed the donor to create so much wealth that he or she could start a foundation? Whatever it is, how successful would it have been if they had handed the role of CEO over to a banker or “any manager” with no experience in that industry? If they can’t imagine doing that for their business, then they shouldn’t consider doing it for the foundation.

2 – How much time and money do they want to spend on the banker or “any manager” to have a steep learning curve about philanthropy and running a foundation? Wouldn’t they rather hit the ground running?

3 – Are they willing to risk the foundation¹s reputation on someone who has no experience doing this job? Often the foundation’s name is the same as the donor’s name. The banker/”any manager” could fumble a lot before getting it right.

In any industry it’s great to bring in fresh ideas, perspectives, and talent. And philanthropy has a lot to learn from other sectors on topics such as customer service, innovation, and technology. But don’t disrespect the power of philanthropy by hiring unqualified people to lead it.

Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a philanthropy expert and consultant. For more ideas and tips on grantmaking and philanthropy, please read Prepare for the Expected: 5 Grantmaking Challenges You Will Experience and How to Avoid Them, or From Ingenuity to Implementation: 10 Ways To Shape Your Foundation’s Newest Grantmaking Initiative.

© 2014 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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