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Foundation Board Governance: Overcoming Communication Barriers

Kat Rosqueta (Founding Executive Director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy) discusses overcoming communication barriers between the board and the executive director of a foundation. Doug Balfour (CEO of Geneva Global) discusses how to build a foundation or pooled fund’s board to ensure success. 


Ron: I think the first issue that Oliver raises is there seems to be an inherent tension between him and the foundation’s board. Do you have any ideas how to reconcile that tension? How to improve communication?

Kat: One question I had for Oliver is does he have a sense of why there’s resistance to the international grant making? Here’s one reason – it is easier to have confidence that what you’re doing is working if you can actually visit the nonprofit. And you can see the beneficiaries and it can be kind of scary to give to a place that maybe you have never visited. So some of it is really understanding why the resistance. Because once you understand the why then you might be able to find partners, tools, et cetera like some of the examples that Doug gave that can help people feel more comfortable with something that they’re are less familiar with.

Audience Member: Doug, you made the comment about taking your investors and making them board members so that they had the ability to watch what was going on in the company. I wonder if there are conditions under which you would recommend that not be the case and instead fill the board with people who can pave the road or open doors or navigate or advise on things like you were talking about like investing in early stage or things like that. People who had the specific skill sets to help the success of the mission rather than filling it with people who are direct investors. Because I could see how direct investors does have some advantages but are there conditions in which you’d recommend against that or some sort of hybrid model.

Doug: I didn’t mention all the components of the ecosystem you try and create in a pooled philanthropic fund so whilst actually having the donors essentially being the decision making board which allows that transparency. And also allows, it allows a character to actually come get people to join and invest significantly and be a founder or be a major donor in that context. We have 2 other checks and balances. One is typically a technical advisory team that works with the board either specifically as individuals or as a group to provide all sorts of technical advice. Everything from in neglected tropical disease context you’ve got some of the world’s best scientists in terms of parasitic diseases and our board is in that context taking a lot of advice and is being willing to listen and think hard about what those types of people are actually suggesting they do or don’t do or such like. And then the other piece is you have a 3rd party organization that acts as a facilitator who actually is also having quite a lot of influence in terms of the recommendations that are coming up, the types of ideas that are being brought forward to the board. So I totally understand your reticence about letting donors go crazy in terms of an issue that maybe they don’t understand fully but essentially you can actually buttress that and reduce that risk.