Vice President’s Message: Returning to Family Philanthropy (October 2011 FGN)


Karen Green, Vice President,  National Center for Family Philanthropy

Karen Green, Vice President, National Center for Family Philanthropy

As my professional life in family philanthropy resumes, I contemplated metaphors for return.  Springing first to mind were bad pennies, prodigal sons, recurring nightmares, boomerangs – scarcely inspiring.  My goodness, I worried, are our cultural associations with return so negative?

Fortunately, the far more apt (and obvious) metaphor followed quickly – family reunions!

And that’s just how coming back to the field feels.  What a pleasure to be reunited at the National Center for Family Philanthropy with my long-time colleague and inspiration Ginny Esposito and former co-workers Jason Born, Tina Dokken and Michael Goodman.  What a pleasure to reconnect with the dedicated trustees and staff devoted to family philanthropy, to catch up on both new children and new challenges. What a wondrous field this is that truly combines work and family.

Six years ago I transitioned from Managing Director of Family Foundation Services at the Council on Foundations to director of their governing boards program.  Two year later, I took that knowledge to serve as the first CEO of the $50 million Healthcare Initiative Foundation, working with the board to create the foundation’s policies and processes and transitioning it from anonymous to public.  How helpful to have this second stint as a grantmaker (the first was in Massachusetts in the ‘90s).  How humbling to be reminded rather forcefully that the advice we give so freely at philanthropic associations like this one is so much easier said than done.  For CEOs to engage trustees meaningfully, help (rather than hinder) grantee organizations in performance monitoring, forge partnerships with fellow foundations and local government – it’s all tough stuff.

So I return with great empathy for family foundation CEOs who are responsible for the governance, grantmaking and management of their foundations, community relations, family dynamics and so much more.  It’s a complex and fulfilling role – all the more so if you are a family member serving as CEO of your family foundation.

On that note, I’m really looking forward to my first substantive gathering December 5 – 7 at a first ever retreat specifically for family member CEOs in Los Altos at the Packard estate (Taaffee House). Sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the event will kick off with two former family CEOs who will speak frankly about their experiences and the lessons the learned along the way.  Participants will then have better than a day of facilitated discussion on much of what confronts those in the dual role of family member and CEO: How do families choose their leaders?  How does this affect how the family behaves toward the family member CEO?  How do these issues affect the work of the foundation? See below for a special invitation from NCFP Board member and Meadows Foundation President and CEO Linda Evans.

Have a look at the meaty program and please join us in December. I’m looking forward to a reunion with many of you and to getting acquainted with the rest – and in the mean time please drop me a line to say hello!

Until then, best regards,

Karen Green
Vice President, National Center for Family Philanthropy

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