Startiing with our own... from The Chronicle, written by Rick Moyers
1. Raise the issue.
Foundations can send a strong message that they believe boards are important by simply asking a few questions about the board during the application process or during face-to-face meetings. This may seem rudimentary, but many grant makers don’t do so or they ask only perfunctory questions.
2. Lose the checklist.
Asking thoughtful questions about the board and governance does not mean whipping out a clipboard and running through a checklist about compliance with “best practices.”
While checklists have their place—and do demonstrate a level of due diligence—they generally fail to illuminate whether the board is actually doing a good job. Having a conflict-of-interest policy, term limits, or a governance committee doesn’t automatically produce a high-performing board.
A few probing questions tailored to the organization, its stage of development, and its most pressing challenges will yield better information than a one-size-fits-all checklist.
3. Communicate high expectations.
Foundations need to do much more than talk about boards. We should have high expectations of the boards of grantees, and we could certainly do a better job of being clear about what those expectations are. If we expect 100-percent board giving, for example, we should say so. If a weak board was a factor in turning down a funding request, we should provide that feedback—and in specific rather than general terms, if possible.
4. Consider governance when making funding decisions.
Talking with grantees about their boards helps elevate the importance of boards, and communicating high expectations helps grantees understand what the foundation is looking for.
However, if board issues go unaddressed after many conversations, or if the problems are too big, foundations may need to discontinue funding. This can be particularly difficult, since some grantees with weak boards do good work and have charismatic and persuasive staff leadership.
Foundations need to consider carefully the circumstances under which a weak board might lead to a grantee losing its funding. Foundations that profess to be committed to building strong boards while supporting organizations with weak boards that are making no effort to improve undermine their own credibility and risk creating the impression that they are only paying lip service to the need for stronger boards.
5. Strengthen our own boards.
The medicine we so freely prescribe for grantees should also improve the health of foundation boards, which have the same basic responsibilities and face many of the same challenges. It’s unreasonable to ask our grantees to do things we’re not willing to do ourselves.