What a wonderful month to have Family Giving News focus on the practice of discretionary grantmaking!  Highlighting our new edition of Passages on this topic, this issue explores the reasons for and the cautions involved in offering this privilege to board members or others. It also includes the best practices that can ensure this is a healthy, effective policy that adds to rather than siphons the energy off the shared mission of the foundation or fund.

The month of gift giving is also a great month to take stock of the year.  In my recent interview study of family foundation chief executives, I learned that most foundations and funds find it difficult to evaluate – whether that evaluation is of the CEO, the board, the grantmaking, or the foundation more generally.  For those that experience the awkwardness of these helpful practices, an easy way to get started is to schedule a conversation among board members and perhaps among staff members if you have them.

Ask what the memorable accomplishments of the past year are.  What are you proud of?  What might you do differently or what might you begin to do in the New Year to advance your work?  What external influences affect your charitable work?  Are there internal circumstances that have changed or might be changing?  Such a conversation may not have the metrics of some evaluation processes, but it is a great way to be more conscious of where you are in relation to where you want to be.

The difficult challenges of 2011 are well known and certainly experienced by the National Center both directly and through our support of your work. A highly volatile economy and great, great need certainly top that list. But I will think of this year with much more positive energy and enthusiasm than I might have expected.

Our CEO work – the studies, the symposium, and the retreat held last week for family members who serve as CEOs – have added dynamism to our program agenda and opened us up to countless new voices of inspiration. We couldn’t be happier with our partnership with Bank of America Merrill Lynch that has provided sponsorship money to take this work to scale and to you.  We have recently entered into a partnership with the Council on Foundations to offer a CEO seminar as a preconference activity of the Family Foundations Conference in February in Miami Beach.

This March 22 – 24 we’ll be realizing a long held dream of mine: a national three-day educational event for newer and prospective family foundation trustees.  If you’ve joined a family foundation board in the last couple of years, expect to join a board in the next few years, or just want a refresher; please plan to be with us for Governance Essentials, this exciting new program.  Some of the nation’s most thoughtful experts and leaders will join us for a program you won’t want to miss.

We also introduced a valuable Issues Committee. Chaired by National Center board member Claire Costello, this committee keeps us informed on trends in the field, shares potential programming ideas, and vets our program proposals. More great volunteers make for even stronger resources.

But the 2011 excitement was not only programmatic. We’ve added a record number of new Friends of the Family and had some of our most loyal and generous funders really step up to strengthen the financial bottom line – and that just means all those great programs continue.  We’ve added three amazing philanthropic leaders to our board: Julie Fisher Cummings; Adrianne Furniss; and Kimberly Myers Hewlett.  Our Board is one of the National Center’s greatest treasures.  Their commitment to philanthropy, their ideas, intelligence, humor, and their support of the staff team are remarkable.

On the staff, we celebrated Susan Price’s decision to return to independent writing (with a little more free time for travel and family), but we also kept her in the family – Susan has been authoring the forthcoming CEO guides and has hosted a few teleconferences.  I could not be happier that Karen Green, formerly managing director of the Council on Foundations’ family foundations program and more recently, president of a Washington-area foundation, has succeeded Susan and is already providing so much energy and leadership. We’ve welcomed Lauren Hasey, a recent IUPUI program on philanthropy master’s recipient, to our team and this week confirmed that Kirkland Hamill will join the staff in January to lead our development and outreach work.  There will be more on Kirk next month.

It has truly been a wonderful year.  I never take for granted how incredibly lucky I am to be doing work I love, for a community of donor families I admire, alongside an extraordinary team of staff and volunteers.  That you all are so willing to support this work with your time, talent and grants is also never taken for granted.  We take great pride and yet are very humbled by every gift of every size.

On behalf of the Board and staff, I wish you the very happiest of holidays.  May the New Year bring you joy, peace and wonderful grantmaking.