Do we need formal policies on trustee selection, orientation, and evaluation?

Although there are no legal requirements, commitment to responsible trusteeship includes ensuring that such policies and procedures appropriate to the size and nature of the board are in place. For many foundations, this may mean nothing more than a mutual understanding between two spouses or siblings that review and evaluation of one another’s actions as trustees is appropriate when needed. For foundations who do select new trustees on occasion, clear criteria for selection will help ensure responsibility through time.  Orientation to new trustees –whether family members or not– is easily overlooked but quite important to enable the new person to contribute knowledgeably. Evaluation of trustee “performance” can be a delicate matter among family members.  However, failing to establish an objective, agreed-upon way to evaluate the board periodically makes it even more difficult to resolve a problem with an individual trustee when it arises.

NOTE: This Ask the Center is reprinted with permission from Michael Rion’s book, Responsible Family Philanthropy: A Resource Book on Ethical Decisionmaking for Family Foundations, originally published in 1998 by the Council on Foundations. While the book is no longer in print, you may be interested in watching the replay of NCFP’s August 2015 webinar, titled “Passing the ‘Mirror Test’: Ethics and Family Philanthropy.”