Leadership will be a prominent theme this month here at the National Center. It is a complex and sometimes sensitive topic in the field of family philanthropy. Who is the leader? Is it the family or the board? Why do so many boards embrace and others are more cautious about staff leadership? How do donor families support the ability of grantee organizations to lead? Who determines what effective leadership is?

I’m really looking forward to digging into these questions and many, many more. We want to do this in the way you’ve come to rely on us for: in a constructive approach that is both fact- (research) and story-based. You can count on us to be sensitive to the circumstances of family participation and to the equally sensitive and always respectful partnerships families have with boards, staff, grantees and others. Finally, you can look forward to relevant, practical resources that build on our work.

I believe that the greatest leaders are those that work in service to communities and causes. Some may think that leadership and service are counter-intuitive. I think the perfect expression and description of this dynamic can be found in the writings of Robert Greenleaf and others on servant leadership. It is certainly in our efforts to be of service to family giving programs that the National Center seeks to be a leader in advancing understanding and excellence in family philanthropy.


Our current program priorities pay special attention to the leadership of chief executives of family foundations. These CEOs have a special platform both for individual leadership and for leadership that builds bridges among their communities of concern: between family and board members; among family, board and staff; between all those involved in the foundation and their grantees; and between the larger foundation family and their hometown(s), the field of philanthropy, and society at large. Our CEO Initiative includes a number of component projects and, we expect, will be part of our work plan for some time to come.

Later this month, early results of three significant studies of CEO leadership will be released. Together with the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, we have been conducting an online survey of hundreds of family foundation CEOs. Over the last few months, I have conducted some 60 personal, always remarkable, interviews with CEOs. National Center Senior Fellow, Alice Buhl, has been conducting a complementary study of board leaders and their attitudes and reflections on staff leadership.

The early findings will be released first at the CEO Symposium on March 23-24. A distinguished and enthusiastic advisory committee has guided the development of this program. Many of the issues raised by the committee and the research will be explored throughout the Symposium – a rare opportunity for family foundation CEOs – both family and non-family – to gather together and share experiences and perspectives.

I look forward to sharing with all Family Giving News readers the results of our studies and our plans for more work to come.


The National Center has always been fortunate to have strong volunteer leadership and to rely on a group of very talented, experienced staff members. Beginning this summer, one of our staff members will be making a transition in how she will continue to provide very special leadership for the field she cares deeply about.

Susan Price, National Center vice president, will be downshifting (she tells me that’s the current term!) and returning to the freelance life she led for 18 years before she discovered family philanthropy. I am very happy to announce that Susan will take on a new role as Senior Advisor to the Center, allowing her to continue to work on several of our projects going forward. This will be an exciting time for us both – I will get to work with Susan in this new capacity knowing her commitment to the field and the National Center is strong and she’s going to have a bit more free time for her personal passions, including exotic travel! I know you join me in being happy for her new adventures (and for knowing she will continue to be a special leader for the Center and for you).


Virginia M. Esposito


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