The National Center for Family Philanthropy is a DC-based nonprofit that helps family foundations understand and meet their governance and management needs. To further this mission, they have recently published a four-part series of reports designed to help CEOs of family foundations do their jobs more effectively. They also provide guidance for families in hiring and evaluating their leaders. I’ll describe the reports here, and also cite some other related material on family foundation management.
The Family Foundation CEO: Crafting Consensus Out of Complexity written by Virginia M. Esposito, founder and president of the National Center, is based on input from executives and attempts to create some consensus on topics such as how to conduct a successful leadership search, the qualities of an effective leader, the ideal relationiship between the board and the CEO, and other leadership issues. Apparently there is a need for such standards, as the report states that about 80% of CEOs had no orientation to their new position, the field, or the board and family. Esposito also talks about the family member as CEO and special circumstances attendant to family staff leadership, such as the difficulty in conducting a review of family members. Another helpful chapter reveals the “board chair point of view” and outlines five themes for CEO effectiveness, such as the ability to understand family culture and dynamics.
The next three reports are written by Susan Crites Price, former V.P. of the National Center. The first, Help Wanted: The Complete Guide to Hiring a Family Foundation CEO examines the search process more in-depth, and tells how to form a search committee, conduct interviews, and compose job descriptions. Price reveals that one topic that is often “tiptoed around” is family culture and dynamics. Trustees want to put their best foot forward and don’t want to say “our family doesn’t play well with others.” Talking openly about this topic with individual board members during the interview process, including nonfamily members, is quite helpful.
The First Year: The Complete Guide for New Family Foundation CEOs and their Boards of Directors focuses on the initial year of a CEO's tenure at a family foundation, and offers practical advice for a smooth transition. Price discusses how to develop strong board/staff relations, suggests ways to learn about the foundation, the grantees and the community, and emphasizes that the top priority of any incoming CEO is getting to know the family. She stresses that a CEO “can’t make a single move on program until [they’ve] done that.” Price also recommends that incoming leaders "check egos at the door," explaining that many executive directors “flame out … [when they place their] ideas, passions, and needs before those of the family.”
Lastly, Performance Review: The Complete Guide to Evaluating the Family Foundation CEO shows how boards can effectively evaluate their chief executives. This volume is more of a workbook, and includes board review documents and evaluation worksheets, as well as a year-long goal setting plan for career development. The centerpiece is the Career Development Plan provided by the Knott Foundation, which is very detailed with specific goals, action plans, metrics, and timetables that can provide structure to the incoming CEO’s first year on the job.
Taken as a whole, all four guides (found under call number 514 in all Center libraries) should be enough for any family foundation to familiarize themselves with the process of hiring, orienting, evaluating, and keeping a good CEO on board. Other works at Foundation Center libraries targeted at family foundations include the popular Family Foundation Handbook (CCH Incorporated, 2011) and the bimonthly periodical Family Foundation Advisor at the New York Library. Both give advice on a host of legal, administrative, and financial issues.
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