Center for Effective Philanthropy Blog: Family Foundations, Family Ties & Good Governance

Inspired by the Andrus family’s governance practices, we approached the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) to identify common practices of good governance that have sustained and nurtured Surdna and other long-standing family foundations that approach their social change work from the perspective of justice, equity, and inclusion. CEP spoke with CEOs and board chairs from six family foundations, in addition to Surdna: the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, the McKnight Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. These conversations are detailed in the recently released CEP publication, Family Ties: Multigenerational Family Foundation Board Engagement.

The publication spotlights several common practices and structures that all seven multigenerational family foundations have embraced to maintain productive family involvement; select, orient, and engage family members across generations; and keep the board and foundation focused on impact. Common practices identified include:

  • Creating formal governance structures that ensure continued family engagement and influence over time, including examples of bylaw provisions that maintain family control while also allowing boards to function as a group of equals;
  • Planning for specific processes to select new family board members as the number of family members grows across generations, including examples of sister foundations or junior trustee structures that help new family members join with a full understanding of the responsibilities and expectations of effective board members;
  • Recognizing the importance of non-family members on the board and having trusted professional staff that bring additional expertise, diversity, leadership, and connections to issues and communities;
  • Spending significant time and effort on practices like site visits and grantee presentations that connect board members to the experiences of grantees, beneficiaries, and communities; and
  • Valuing the legacy of benefactors and earlier family generations, which helps drive long-term commitment to important work — including work on advocacy and policy, with marginalized communities, or focus on social justice — that from the outside might seem likely to polarize board members or be controversial.

Click here to read the complete blog.