From Founder-Led to Family-Centered Foundation

Navigating a Critical Phase of Foundation Transition

A family foundation often follows the same life cycle trajectory as a family business. It originates with an individual or married couple who run the foundation in much the same way that they run the business—with clarity and authority that brooks no opposition. While other family members may serve on the board, they are likely to be deferential to the founder’s vision and decisions. After all, the family might reason, the founder created the wealth.

[callout]The “founder knows best” model of governance may serve the foundation well for years, but time has a way of revealing the fault lines in an organization.[/callout]

The “founder knows best” model of governance may serve the foundation well for years, but time has a way of revealing the fault lines in an organization. When the founding individual or couple is no longer leading the foundation, the board might be ill prepared to move forward. In many cases, even though there are other family members who serve on the board, moving from a founder-led model to a family-centered foundation can prove challenging because they are accustomed to deferring to the founder’s vision and way of doing business. Without the founder to drive the agenda, the remaining board members are forced to chart their own course and learn to work collaboratively.

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