“The family foundation CEO is more likely to share fundamental values and feel a deep, personal connection to a donor and family.  The result is often mutual affection and a deeply satisfying job situation.  Those same bonds can test the professionalism and boundaries of those relationships, yet perhaps explain why family foundation CEOs so often hope to remain in, even retire from, these positions.”

- The Family Foundation CEO: Crafting Consensus out of Complexity

For almost fifteen years, the hallmark of the National Center for Family Philanthropy has been our special sensitivity to the interests and circumstances of donors and donor families.  That hallmark is at the heart of our mission and has been critical to the development of all our research and resources.  We are unabashed advocates for family philanthropy.  We believe that donor families who engage in this work and are committed to doing it well find that both their communities and their families are enhanced.  In every study, program, or publication, you will find we’ve applied the lens of family.  We support the work of donor families so that they, in turn, can support the causes, communities and institutions they care about.

Two years ago, we turned our attention to the critical partnership between the donor family/board and their executive leaders.  We believe it is important to healthy foundations to learn how CEOs are taking advantage of all the opportunities their positions afford as well as how they are managing their unique challenges.  We developed a body of knowledge and experience through three separate research studies.

Earlier this year, we released a comprehensive report of those findings, The Family Foundation CEO: Crafting Consensus out of Complexity.  We also published three guides highlighting early themes from the research: the guide to hiring a CEO; the guide to the CEO’s first year; and the guide to assessing the performance of CEOs (interviewees pointed out this latter topic as a particular challenge).  We’ve offered a national symposium for CEOs as well as a two-day workshop for CEOs prior to the Council on Foundations’ family foundations conference in Miami Beach.  Numerous regional sessions explored the research and gave chief executives a chance for highly-prized conversation time.

Our work hasn’t stopped with these three themes.  We’ve already held a special retreat for family members who serve as CEOs of their families’ foundations.  We’re in the early stages of understanding the special opportunities and challenges for CEOs of spend down family foundation.  When your foundation has a limited lifespan, how do you set and meet program objectives, manage investments for both return and liquidity, and retain a quality staff team?  We look forward to hearing about your experience as we build our knowledge and resources on both topics.

We will continue to shed new light and support new, family member, and spend down CEOs.  However, we can’t overlook a couple of critical findings from Consensus and Complexity:

  • Many family foundation CEOs stay in their positions across generations of a single philanthropic family.  They develop a level of respect, trust, and even affection that grows over time.  They also develop particular challenges.
  • The largest majority of family foundation CEOs hope to retire from their current positions.  In interviews, most actively sought ways to ensure their tenure is productive and successful.

Given these findings:

How do veteran – or “seasoned” – CEOs keep governance and grantmaking effective and energized over changing times?

How do veterans advance the leadership of senior family and board members while encouraging and engaging younger generations?  How do they create a truly multi-generational (and better) experience for all, while also developing important relationships with future family leaders?

Finally, and perhaps fundamental to success in all other areas, how does the seasoned CEO personally stay passionate, vital, and fresh?

Taaffe House at dawn. Photo credit: SWoo on flickr

These questions and more will be explored at the National Center’s Seasoned CEO Retreat, November 12th to 14th, at the Taaffe House Conference Center in Los Altos, California.  Taaffe House is the former family home of philanthropists David and Lucile Packard.  In this beautiful and inspiring setting, veteran CEOs are invited to come together for a highly interactive exchange.  I’m delighted to announce that the president of the David and Lucile Packard Family Foundation, Carol Larson, will be among the leaders participating in session conversations.

To ensure a genuinely collaborative program, retreat registration will be limited to 20 veteran CEOs of family foundations.  Of course, priority will be given to our Leadership Circle and Friends of the Family funders.  After a priority period, remaining slots will be available to other veterans.  You can expect more information on the program and registration in the next few weeks.

Whether or not you are a veteran CEO, I hope you find some special time this summer to keep yourself refreshed.  You might take time for a favorite hobby, read that book you’ve been promising yourself, hike in the mountains or relax by the beach.  An investment in yourself is important in itself; it’s also important to the work you do.

Enjoy your summer and stay cool!


Virgina Esposito President, National Center for Family Philanthropy