It’s the middle of summer and, hopefully, you’ve taken some vacation time or have a week or more in August blocked out. Our study of family foundation CEOs revealed that few regularly plan vacation. I hope the same is not true of trustees and fund advisors. Given that almost all of you do your philanthropic work as volunteers and in your “free time,” the concern that you might work on charitable giving during vacations is probably well founded.

Renewal is critical. It reenergizes your commitment and revitalizes your sense of purpose. It can help you see a new solution for an old situation. The same is true for revitalizing your foundation or fund. Here are a few tips for planning your philanthropic renewal – from the simple strategy to a more comprehensive process:

  • Get your paper in order. Do you (or your attorney or fund manager...) have all your key legal documents in an accessible, up-to-date format? The infamous caution, “if the IRS visited your door today,” is true here. Incorporation papers, bylaws, governance policies and updates to policies, personnel policies, board meeting minutes, and more should be handy. Do you give an orientation manual to new trustees or donor advisors? This is a great time to update that as well. Trustees can only carry out their legal duties if they’re aware of the policies they are there to uphold. You can only make sure your policies serve you well if you dust them off occasionally.

  • Revisit your goals. Most of you tell us you have – written or not – goals for your accomplishments in any given year. You might have goals for program achievements, staffing, family involvement, or investments. Before you realize it’s New Year’s Eve, take a look at where you are in realizing your goals and take comfort in the fact you’ve got five more months!

  • Plan a board retreat. The jam-packed docket of most board meetings doesn’t allow for review and reflection. Perhaps you want to consider what you’re trying to accomplish – for both family participation and grantmaking impact – and see how current strategy measures up. Perhaps you want to think about priorities for your next efforts. Maybe you’ve got new board members or plan to add more soon. All of these can set the stage for a dynamic and rewarding investment in a retreat.

  • Plan a staff retreat. If you have staff, the same is true for them. Most staff teams are small but, rather than a reason to skip this step, it is actually more of a reason to take a break. Staff also run on too much to do and too little fuel to sustain great performance. Some time thinking about demands and creative ways to meet those demands can be a very useful investment.

  • Find a program or colleague group. As I watch the registrations come in for our Trustee Education Institute this fall, I marvel at those who are not just content to do the work, but want to make sure they do it very well. Making time for such a program can provide a boost that lasts for years. Many regional associations and community foundations offer professional development programs, issues briefings and access to colleagues – all with extraordinary potential to enhance your effectiveness.

  • Get everyone on the same page. Maybe it’s time for a foundation self-assessment. How are you doing? Does everyone agree on what you do well and what you wish you could do better? Where are the incongruities and where are the shared priorities? NCFP offers the only self-assessment process that includes the family relationships component. Based on solid research and tested over several years, the Pursuit of Excellence Self-Assessment Tool, is easy to complete and incredibly practical. You fill out the online survey, we process it for you, and your own consultant facilitates a discussion of what you can learn and how you might move forward. We are so excited about giving families the benefits of this process that we are offering our Friends of the Family (annual fund supporters) the use of the tool and our analysis/summary for free through January 31, 2015. ($2500 value) If you prefer, several organizations offer services for program and organizational evaluation – including grantee assessments. For donor advised funds, your fund manager will likely be happy to sit with you and talk about your activities and opportunities to increase your satisfaction with your giving.

If you have a favorite activity for boosting the energy and quality of your giving, please share it with me. I wish you all a very happy August. May the weather and the traffic cooperate and may you return after Labor Day ready to take on the new school year – for your children and your philanthropy!

Ginny