Who Takes the Lead?

Our foundation’s board of directors is preparing to hire a new CEO to replace our retiring CEO, who has been with the family for nearly 20 years. As we talk with applicants, what are the most important topics we should discuss in terms of appropriate board and staff roles?

In the transition between CEOs, Boards should discuss specific leadership roles and decide which areas they wish to lead on and which the CEO will lead. The Board’s thoughts should be shared with final candidates and reviewed annually, as their thoughts and priorities may shift over time. Issues to discuss include whether the Board or CEO takes the lead on:

  • Intellectual leadership
  • Developing vision, mission, operating principles, core strategies
  • The grantmaking chain including strategy development, identifying new grantmaking areas, recommending grants (or not), and deciding on grants
  • Promoting the foundation and its programs in the community
  • Investments
  • Working with the next generation
  • Identifying new board members
  • Negotiating family differences related to the foundation
  • Regional or national volunteer leadership roles for the CEO

There are no inherently “right” or “wrong” answers to these questions; what’s important is that both board and staff have clarity, comfort, and the skill sets required to oversee and carryout these activities.

Adapted from The Family Foundation CEO: Crafting Consensus Out of Complexity.