Future of Philanthropy

3 Ways to Become an Exceptional Foundation Board Member


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Foundations and other nonprofit organizations are a powerful force of good in the world, but without a steady backbone of leadership and guidance from high-quality board members, they risk losing focus and becoming far less effective.

While board members oversee a wide range of purposes and responsibilities at organizations with a diverse array of missions, they’re typically charged with establishing strategy, ensuring ethical and legal standards, and generally moving the foundation forward.

As a board member, you are most capable of fulfilling these responsibilities when you go beyond your basic duties while always showing sound judgment and passionate involvement. Your question now may be, What are the best ways to go above and beyond that will make the biggest difference at my foundation?

Begin the transformation from an adequate board member to an exceptional board member with these three strategies:


Managing a foundation’s assets, budget, and expenses is a noble duty, and board members should treat it that way. It goes without saying: be legal and be ethical, but remember that some faults occur by accident. Stay diligent in your work for the foundation, and don’t assume you’re above making mistakes. Also remember that good ethics extend past simply staying legal. Great board members are loyal to the organization and put its interests above personal ones. That means abstaining from voting when a conflict of interest may be present and not trying to influence others’ votes.


The level of involvement in tasks such as grant approval will vary with the size of an organization, but board members are a valuable source of strategic insight, and that wisdom shouldn’t be wasted. Board meetings should be less focused on transactional processes, such as approving small grants, and more focused on answering essential questions, such as “Why does this process look the way it does?” “Are we investing in the right areas?” and “What went wrong with that approach?”


Sometimes, “experience” in a board member can equate to “resistance to change.” But foundations need to thrive in the modern world, and that means staying up-to-date with what today’s technology offers — and actually using it. The right tools allow board members to access the necessary data to make informed decisions — at any time and from anywhere — and gain a closer connection with the nonprofits that the foundation funds.

Foundations advocate for those who would otherwise be silenced, create opportunities in education, support research, and foster spaces for cultural expression, among other critical functions in our society. But the world doesn’t just need foundations — it needs effective, principled, and ethical foundations. Being an exceptional board member is vital to ensure every dollar donated and every minute of effort invested goes toward making making good on your mission.

For four more strategies to become an exceptional board member, read our latest white paper: 7 Strategies for Exceptional Foundation Board Leadership.

Click here for the complete paper.

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