The roles of foundation board trustees and foundation staff must radically change

The roles of foundation board trustees and foundation staff must radically change

In the past few months, there [has] been some critical feedback for philanthropy. The criticisms are not new. Over the years have been many articles, often written by former program officers, with the same heavy criticisms pointed out by Edgar Villanueva’s Decolonizing Wealth and Anand Giridharadas’s Winners Take All. The difference this time is that it seems philanthropy, to its credit, is taking things more seriously. The issues are brought to plenary level at philanthropic summits, whereas in the past they may have been a poorly-attended workshop at best.

Still, there is the danger of intellectualizing, when foundation leaders spend endless amounts of time reflecting and talking (usually within “safe spaces”) about How We Can Do Better, without actually changing anything of substance once the conference is over. This is not for lack of trying. I know many program officers who are just as frustrated as nonprofit leaders are, who are also beating their heads repeated against walls in support of vital, research-backed practices like multi-year general operating support.

The biggest challenge that program officers bring up for why things don’t change is that foundation board trustees have all the power. Trustees make the final decisions on who gets funded, how, in which priority areas. And the power dynamics between program officers and board trustees mirror the power dynamics between nonprofits and program officers. This means it is incredibly difficult for program officers to give honest feedback to their boards, the way it is hard for nonprofits to be honest with program officers.

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Source: Nonprofit AF


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