The Foundation Board's Role in Strategic Planning

Setting strategic direction is a basic governance role of the foundation board. The board is responsible for determining the mission, vision and values that are the bedrock of the organization’s strategic framework. The board represents stakeholder interests, so it serves a valuable role in sharing community perspectives and expectations to guide planning. The board must ensure the organization’s goals position it to fulfill the organizational mission and to advance its vision. Yet, beyond these core governance roles, there is often debate about the role of the foundation board relative to the role of foundation management in the foundation strategic planning process; there are also unique considerations for alignment between the foundation and the supported health care organization.

Fostering Alignment A dynamic unique to the health care foundation is the foundation board’s essential task to ensure organizational alignment with the supported health care organization. The health care foundation is generally a nonprofit in service to another nonprofit—and the foundation often exists solely to secure philanthropic support to advance the health care organization. Whether the foundation is legally structured as a public charity or as a supporting organization, alignment with the health care organization is essential—and the health care organization’s strategic framework is often the umbrella under which all foundation planning unofficially but effectively exists. This means the foundation board must be keenly aware of the mission, vision, values and strategic imperatives of the supported health care entity to ensure there is alignment and a shared vision for collective impact as the foundation formulates its own mission, vision, values and strategy. Further, the foundation board generally works with health care organization management or the health care organization governing board to understand health care organization strategic priorities for which philanthropic investment is needed. This allows the foundation to set its own strategic-and-synergistic course to secure, manage and deploy philanthropic support for the health care organization’s most compelling priorities.

Representing Stakeholders The foundation board is charged in its governance role with ensuring input from stakeholders who have an interest in or are affected by the foundation’s ability to effectively fulfill its mission. In this realm, foundation board members not only represent the community at large but also represent special segments of the greater population including foundation donors, health care organization patients, health care organization executives, physicians and more. When it comes to planning for the foundation, the board must exhibit sensitivity to the proactive inclusion of various stakeholder groups that could bring different perspectives, knowledge, interests and concerns to the planning process. Ensuring a diversity of thought and opinion ensures the plan is balanced and reflective of stakeholder needs and expectations.

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