From the Archive: Avoiding Avoidance—Managing and Addressing Conflict in Family Philanthropy

NCFP’s From the Archive series highlights resources from our Knowledge Center that have stood the test of time and continue to provide valuable guidance for the field. 

While conflict is a natural part of any relationship, it can be particularly apparent in a family philanthropy context. Funders must manage conflict well in order to ensure their internal dynamics do not become a barrier to external impact. In this issue brief from 2015, Elaine Gast Fawcett outlines best practices for managing conflict. She shares common conflicts that families tend to steer clear of and typical ways that avoidance appears in governance. Gast Fawcett also provides tips for setting yourself up for healthy and productive dialogue, including: 

  • Setting clear and written expectations for board members 
  • Implementing board term limits 
  • Creating board meeting norms that promote safe, open spaces  
  • Socializing outside of the boardroom and finding time to build personal relationships 
“Avoiding conflicts might keep the status quo for the moment, but it ultimately stifles the growth of both the individual and the family relationships. For families who work together in a foundation setting, the stakes are even higher.” 

While keeping the peace often seems like a clear and necessary priority, a space that allows for a variety of opinions, respectful disagreement, and open and honest conversation will promote more effective governance and, ultimately, greater impact in your grantmaking. And, developing policies and practices that support the type of boardroom culture you want will provide guidelines and a shared understanding of expectations for all participants.  

Read the full publication to explore tools to help you address and manage conflict more effectively.  

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