Selecting a Foundation Board Dream Team

By Betsy Chapin Taylor

With hospitals and health care systems increasingly turning to philanthropy as a strategic revenue source, more and more attention is being focused on foundation board performance.

Having a committed, purposeful and effective board is critically important to the overall success of your foundation...and the ability of the board to be a transformational resource is driven - or limited - by the individuals chosen to serve. Unfortunately, most boards put little time in reviewing or refining their selection process. Too often, board members nominate friends or those they know from other boards regardless of interest in the mission or fitness for the role. Or, they depend on outdated, one-size-fits-all board nomination matrixes packed with arbitrary rather than strategic criteria. The reality is...this is how it has been done for generations. Yet, the team you build today will define your success tomorrow.

There is too much at stake here to simply accept the status quo. Boards must proactively define the qualities of an ideal board member and select based upon those competencies, expertise, experience, behaviors and circles of influence—and within the context of the foundation’s priorities, strategy, opportunities and challenges.

The foundation governance committee champions the identification and screening of proposed members. Nominees are fed into the process not only by the governance committee but also by the larger foundation board, the VP of philanthropy and, sometimes, the health care CEO. Typically, the philanthropy executive identifies those who are already engaged as active donors, while the CEO surfaces candidates with key organizational relationships and/or an understanding of the organization’s opportunities and challenges. Once the governance committee makes initial decisions on proposed candidates, the committee brings a slate of proposed names back to the full board for consideration and acceptance, since the ultimate responsibility for new member selection lies with the board. As you select new members for the board, your first consideration should be to identify those who bring the competencies and connectivity needed to help the organization thrive.

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