Knock, KnockIt's the Foundation Board Calling
Combining regularly held board meetings with grantee site visits helps inspire one corporate foundation's trustees.
For a while, the board and staff of the New York City-based Liz Claiborne Foundation kicked around the idea of having board members go on grantee site visits when staff did evaluations. With busy, conflicting schedules, it didn't work out. But four years ago, one board member, new at the time, suggested the board hold its regularly scheduled meetings at a grantee's site.
Since then, for one of its five scheduled board meetings each year, the 11 members of the Liz Claiborne Foundation board head out in a van to one of its grantee's offices in New York City.
Board member Jerry Chazen, a founder and former chairman of Liz Claiborne Inc., the apparel company, says the board accepted the idea because, "We've always been a hands-on foundation. And we'd previously been telling the foundation's professional staff to visit as many of the grantees as possible before they bring items to the board."
About the visits he says, "You get a feeling of being connected to the grantees. You ask questions, you meet grantees' constituents, and you can see more by being at the site. You feel part of the process in terms of what they're trying to do."
"A visit inspires board members and really renews their commitment to their work," says Claiborne foundation Director/Trustee Melanie Lyons, who is also Liz Claiborne Inc. vice president for philanthropic programs.
The most recent grantee the board visited was Project Superwomen, a collaborative of three nonprofits that trains women who've experienced domestic violence for nontraditional work, such as plumbing, carpentry and construction. The board members were able to see the scope of the collaborative's work, to see classes taking place, and to get a sense of what a client's day is like.
Says Lyons, "These visits don't add a lot of time to the meeting. We schedule two-and-a-half hours for them, and though occasionally we go over, we don't go over by very long."
Some other things the foundation takes into consideration, says Lyons:
Darlene M. Siska is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania and Washington, DC, specializing in nonprofits and philanthropy. She can be reached at DSiska@aol.com.