Change isn’t easy. Whether it’s a family business or the family foundation, a change of leadership can expose vulnerabilities, bring long-simmering controversies to the surface, and endanger stability—even as it brings a fresh perspective and perhaps even badly needed improvements. Family foundations carry with them many of the same interpersonal dynamics found in family-owned businesses that unfortunately do not often survive as they pass from generation to generation. While for-profit companies and nonprofit private foundations are different kinds of entities, each can be impacted, positively or negatively, by how well changes in leadership are managed.
François de la Rochefoucauld famously noted, “the only thing constant in life is change” and well-run foundations must plan for this inevitability. This article will explore how private foundations can plan for changes in leadership in order to weather the transition as a cohesive, effective unit.
A change in leadership, such as one necessitated by the death of the foundation’s principal donor and founder, is often a critical juncture for board members. It can create generalized anxiety about the foundation’s future and insecurity for each person about his or her future role within the family foundation.