Embracing Boldness and Discomfort: How Foundation Boards Can Support Big Visions


Foundation leaders often have ambitious goals. But achieving them requires the support and engagement of their boards of directors.

In a recent conversation, a group of foundation leaders discussed strategies to ensure board engagement while pursuing a bold vision. Here’s what they shared:

1. Set Clear Goals and Communicate Them

Be transparent with your board about your vision, whether it’s a billion-dollar foundation or a significant impact in a specific area. Clearly define the strategic plan and the capabilities needed to achieve your strategy.

2. Embrace Discomfort

Aiming for ambitious goals means getting comfortable with discomfort. Recognize that growth and change can be challenging. Encourage a culture where staff and board members can openly discuss their fears and concerns.

3. Foster Trust and Open Communication

To create a strong foundation, and build trust between the foundation’s board of directors and staff. Encourage open lines of communication and create a culture of candor, where people feel safe discussing their concerns and sharing their thoughts.

4. Encourage Boldness and Adaptability

Support the idea of taking risks and being open to course correction. Help trustees understand that not everything will go according to plan. It’s important to learn from setbacks, embrace previously unanticipated opportunities, and adjust as needed.

5. Establish Regular Check-Ins and Monitoring

Keep the board informed about the progress of the strategy by having regular check-ins and reporting on successes and challenges. This will help the board maintain confidence in the team’s ability to manage the foundation effectively.

6. Clarify Roles and Responsibilities

Ensure that the foundation board of directors is clear on its domain of oversight and fiduciary responsibility, and the responsibilities of the CEO and staff in executing the strategy. This will help avoid confusion and micromanagement and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.

7. Create a Strong CEO-Board Chair Relationship

One of the top indicators of a healthy foundation (or any nonprofit) is a strong relationship between the CEO and the board chair. Make sure this relationship is nurtured and maintained throughout the foundation’s growth journey.

8. Provide Professional Development Opportunities

Invest in the ongoing professional development of both board members and staff. Offer training, workshops, strategic advisement, and coaching that will enhance their knowledge and skills in governance, philanthropy, and relevant subject areas.

9. Ensure Board Diversity and Inclusivity

Promote diversity within the foundation board of directors, ensuring that it represents and embraces diverse experiences and expertise, especially those whose lived experience reflects the issues they are trying to address and the communities they seek to help. Fresh ideas and unique perspectives can generate more innovative, effective, and equitable strategies.

10. Celebrate Successes and Learn from Failures

Acknowledge and celebrate the foundation’s accomplishments, big and small. This will keep the board engaged and motivated. Equally important, openly discuss and learn from any setbacks or challenges. By fostering a culture that values both successes and learning opportunities, the board and staff will be more resilient and adaptable in the face of change.

Embracing boldness and discomfort is essential for foundation boards of directors to support big visions. By implementing these strategies, foundation leaders can cultivate a culture of openness, adaptability, and trust among their board members. Remember, achieving ambitious goals requires collective effort and engagement. If you need assistance in implementing any of these ideas or navigating the complexities of foundation governance, I encourage you to schedule a call with me. Together, we can work towards realizing your bold vision and making a meaningful impact in the communities you serve.

P.S. — Don’t miss out on the opportunity to attend my Simplified Succession Plan Workshop! Secure your spot today and gain practical strategies for seamless leadership transitions. Register now and empower your organization’s future success!

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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