Foundation Leader

Building strong leadership at the board level is critically important to the success and resilience of your grantees.

Without strong board leadership and governance, they are vulnerable to a wide range of challenges and dysfunctions, which can significantly impact their ability to achieve the short- and long-term goals that you share.

As a grantmaker, you can make a real difference by starting a dialogue with your grantees about their board leadership strengths and challenges, and providing focused support to help them build and strengthen their performance. In the foreword to the resource, “Grantmakers’ Role in Advancing Good Governance” — produced with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund — foundation leaders Linda Wood and Anne Mosle wrote: “Some things we do as grantmakers get more attention than others. They are easier to explain in a press release or in a short conversation with community members, colleagues, and friends. Supporting good governance is not one of these things. This is silent and sometimes invisible work. But it is critically important to the future of nonprofit organizations and the sector as a whole.”

BoardSource partners with grantmakers to design and implement board development programs that meet grantee organizations where they are and that help them identify and achieve aspirational goals for their board’s performance. We do this in a variety of ways, including the following:

Resources for Foundation Leaders


Stand for Your Mission Foundation Discussion Guide for Boards

Foundation leaders have a unique opportunity to serve as powerful champions of their missions. If you want to learn more about unleashing your full potential to advocate for your mission, download our guide.


10 Things Every New Foundation Board Member Should Know

This resource is designed as a basic guidebook for the new foundation board member, providing an introduction to tools and knowledge essential in the first years of service on the board.


Ten Essential Responsibilities of Foundation Board Chairs

This primer is designed to increase your understanding of the role by presenting a brief introduction to nonprofit governance and foundation leadership. It lists 10 essential responsibilities for board chairs, practical tips for carrying them out, and recommended reading.


Benchmarking Foundation Governance

Benchmarking Foundation Governance shares data and infographics on crucial topics related to foundation governance — including composition, member expertise, structure, involvement, and characteristics of meetings.


Four Questions about the Data on Foundation Boards

Based on data from Benchmarking Foundation Governance, Phil Buchanan at the Center for Effective Philanthropy identifies four questions about foundation governance.


Who Cares About How Foundation Boards Govern Themselves? I Do, and You Should Too.

Anne Wallestad weighs in on the Benchmarking Foundation Governance study, outlining three reasons why it is important how foundation boards and trustees are governing themselves.


Reflecting on the Unique Importance of Foundation Boards

Nadya Shmavonian adds her perspective to Benchmarking Foundation Governance, discussing the positive findings from the study as well as areas of improvement. She also suggests improvements for subsequent research.


Data Point: Why Aren’t Foundation Boards More Involved in Assessing Performance?

A desire for more foundation board involvement in assessment is one area in which research has shown little change in surveys over the years. The Center for Effective Philanthropy examines reasons why.


Family Ties: Multigenerational Family Foundation Board Engagement

Commissioned by the Surdna Foundation, includes perspectives from BoardSource board member Phil Henderson

Based on interviews with CEOs and family board chairs at seven large, multigenerational family foundations, this publication spotlights the governance practices and structures that these family foundations have created to maintain family involvement; select, orient, and engage family members across generations; and keep the board and foundation focused on impact.


Who’s at the Board Table?

‘Coastal elites’ dominate trustee rosters at most of America’s largest foundations, according to analysis from the Chronicle of Philanthropy. What does that mean for grant making?


The Challenges and Opportunities of Family Foundation Governance

Family foundations are a critical part of the philanthropic community, making best governance practices more important than ever, and especially so when multiple generations of family, money, and grantmaking intertwine. Read this blog post from Emily Davis, BoardSource senior governance consultant, to learn more.


Foundation, School, Association, and Credit Union BSA

Although the principles of good governance are similar in many ways to those for public charities, there are significant differences for many organizations. BoardSource adapted its core board self-assessment tool to meet the needs of foundations, schools, associations and credit unions.

Investing in Your Grantees’ Board Leadership

Building strong leadership at the board level is critically important to the success and sustainability of your grantees. As a grantmaker, you can make a real difference by starting a dialogue with your grantees about their board leadership strengths and challenges, and providing focused support to help them build and strengthen their performance.