Cultivating the Next Generation
How to prepare young family members for board service
Picture a family sharing Thanksgiving dinner. Think of the dynamics of having two or three generations in a room together. Now move that family into the boardroom and ask them to make important decisions about how to spend their money based on dearly departed grandma and grandpas wishes.
Unless a donors intent is solidified in the mission statement, the grantmaking priorities and the trustee document, the family members that make up a foundations board may struggle to be responsive to the current environment while honoring the founders wishes. To alleviate the family dynamics inherent in a family foundation board, the next generation can benefit from understanding the history of the foundation and the founders intent. Establishing a set of shared goals and priorities helps the transition from the original organization to the current one.
Regardless of their personal relationships, people from different generations have varying styles of communication and perspectives.
The question of who will be represented on the board is always a tough one. A successful family foundation has to integrate multiple generations of family members without merely expanding the board to fit them. So, how do you achieve the smooth integration of several generations on a board? Do you allocate a certain number of seats for each branch of the family? Do you rotate members of the second generation so everyone has a voice?
For many family foundations, the next generation of trustees are members of Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1979. Because our society has become significantly more mobile in the past quarter-century, Gen-Xers are likely to be living all over the country, away from their family, and so, perhaps may feel less ownership of the community in which their family foundation operates. One result could be that they may be less available for committee meetings than their parents generation, many of whom viewed their board service as a career, even if they were working full-time as well. Another reason this next generation may feel less connected to the original mission of the foundation is that they may not have known the founder personally or well.
Nonetheless, if the opinions and behavior of Gen-Xers hold true generally, many of them feel more of a connection to their grandparents than to their parents, and thus, may be more likely to return to traditional values. So, while their preference to communicate by e-mail and mobile phones may indicate a reluctance to sitting through long meetings, the next generation of board leaders still feels a commitment to being thoughtful grantmakers.
A Few Ideas
Some family foundations cultivate social values and philanthropic involvement among younger generations in creative ways well before they are old enough to sit on the board. One family foundation set aside a certain amount of money with which the younger generation could make funding decisions. Another family foundation created a junior board, which all family members automatically join when they become 21, thus providing an opportunity for training and transition.
The junior board has its own funds allocation and makes its own decisions, which are then ratified by the regular board. Five members of the junior board, who have demonstrated ability to serve and who represent each branch of the family, also have seats on the regular board. Other foundations have had young people participate in sessions at annual meetings that help them learn about the foundation and its work.
Other educational opportunities include having teenagers accompany trustees on site visits to grantees. Children of all ages can participate in volunteer projects related to the foundations grantmaking. Then, when family members reach a certain age, they are already familiar with and connected to the work of the foundation. At that point, they are more involved and better prepared to become trustees.
Some family foundations establish strict requirements for younger family members to join the board. For example, the Marion I. and Henry J. Knott Foundation in Baltimore established a trustee candidate program to help prepare family members for board service. To become a board member, a lineal descendant or the spouse of a lineal descendant who is at least 25 years old must train for a year. During this period, the individual must attend 75 percent of grant committee meetings, two board meetings, a training session given by the executive director, and accompany board or staff members to at least two site visits and write reports of their visits. Only then, can family members be nominated for seats on the board.
The training was part of my matriculation onto the board, says Kelly Harris, vice president of the Knott foundations board and a board member for seven years. Harris says that giving trustee candidates the opportunity to go on site visits is crucial to their success as trustees. There is a quite a bit of training necessary before youre comfortable to do that by yourself.
Harris also points out that since the founder is no longer alive, new trustees come on board who never knew Mr. Knott. This training is important, she says, because it instills in new trustees the sense of responsibility that Mr. Knott instilled in the original trustees. The training allows us to define the donors intent.
How do you prepare the next generation of board members, taking advantage of their new perspectives without abandoning the traditional values that ground your family foundation? The answer lies in thoughtful planning and communication, communication, and more communication. In this way, family foundations can achieve their goals and still honor their past by acknowledging the realities of the present in preparing for the future.
On the Docket
There are resources in the field to help you think through the issue of cultivating the next generation. Here are a few of them:
If you have questions on this or other board-related topics, contact Ellen Bryson, Council on Foundations director of Governing Board Programs, by phone at 202/467-0438, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Sandra R. Hughes is executive governance consultant at BoardSource (formerly known as the National Center for Nonprofit Boards) in Washington, DC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.