1. Assuming success in philanthropy is as simple as success in business. A failure to recognize that philanthropy is, almost by definition, working on the toughest challenges — the ones that business and government have not solved – leads to all kinds of problems.
2. Not doing the hard work of overall foundation performance assessment. Boards often ask unrealistically for a single ratio by which to gauge programmatic performance — failing to recognize that no analog to share appreciation or profitability exists in philanthropy.
3. Living in the “foundation bubble” by failing to create feedback mechanisms. Any approach to assessment needs to include candid, comparative feedback from grantees and other key audiences so boards don’t live in the bubble of praise that almost inevitably forms around those affiliated with large foundations.
4. Believing their foundation’s resources are vast relative to the problems being addressed. Almost inevitably, a foundation’s resources are slim relative to the problem being addressed. This makes both focus and collaboration key if goals are to be achieved.
5. Not learning from history. Ignoring past successes and failures benefits no one except perhaps the burgeoning field of philanthropic management consultants — too many of whose business models are built on selling “new” frameworks and approaches that are, in fact, demonstrably very old.
6. Believing it is the board’s fiduciary responsibility to discuss and approve every grant. Grants get discussed in the absence of clarity on goals and strategies, and, ironically, more resources are wasted than if the board delegated more grantmaking authority to staff — but with greater clarity about the criteria and logic that should guide them.
7. Over-managing and over-scripting meetings. Collegiality gets valued over debate — indeed, the Chair and CEO often try to pre-wire everything such that no real dissent or debate occurs at the full board meeting. This leads to board meetings that add little value and, incidentally, are also utterly dull.
Read the full article about ineffective foundation boards by Phil Buchanan at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.
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