A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Growing Into a Board Member Role

By Diana Tyler Heath and Molly Tarrant, Arabella Advisors

One of the most rewarding elements of advising families is watching their engagement deepen and their family bonds strengthen, often through the addition of next generation board members who are passionate about making an impact and who bring new skills and perspectives. As we’ve seen with many of our clients, when done thoughtfully, introducing young family members to philanthropy can help shape their worldview, develop their professional skills, and bring them great personal rewards.

Peter Lischick, current treasurer and member of the board of directors of The Palmer Foundation, is one such next generation board member. The Palmer Foundation turns 25 next year and has been in existence nearly all of Peter’s life. Like many family foundations, its early structure was relatively informal and reflected the annual giving and interests of its founders, Peter’s great-grandparents. When the foundation’s assets were fully vested, his grandmother took over leadership of the foundation and his mother and other members of her generation joined the board. They set out to involve the next generation at a young age.

When Peter was nine or ten years old, he joined his two brothers and a cousin on a junior board. “I served as the vice president by virtue of being the second oldest of the group. Our parents kept the board very structured, and taught us about Roberts Rules of Order, sourcing and evaluating grant proposals, and conducting discussions in a respectful and productive manner,” he says.

With the guidance of their parents, the junior board made grant recommendations. Two of these early grants still stand out in his memory: Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Habitat for Humanity Guatemala. “Having grown up on the eastern shore of Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay grant was meaningful since it was in my backyard,” says Peter. “The Habitat grant is particularly memorable because our family took a trip to Guatemala and worked side-by-side with the family members who would be occupying the house. That trip exposed me to deeper levels of poverty than I had ever seen, and it was an enlightening experience.”

As other cousins became old enough, they also joined the junior board. Arabella has worked with them annually to source and vet grant proposals, review grant reports, and learn the ins and outs of different officer positions. Each cousin takes a turn in each role, and, when serving as president, that person must present and defend the junior board’s grant recommendations to the board. This gives them great experience in preparing a presentation, defending a position, and working together to make collective decisions.

When Peter turned 25, he became eligible to serve on the foundation board, and he promptly accepted the invitation to join. As a result of the time his family invested in introducing Peter and the other members of his generation to the family’s philanthropy, Peter quickly became a valued member of the board and assumed the role of treasurer. He credits his work on the junior board for preparing him to serve on the board of directors.

“During my first year on the board, I served with my older brother who had been on the board for two years, which also eased the transition,” Peter says. “I saw how he wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo, and did so in a respectful manner, which made me feel comfortable speaking up, asking questions, and expressing opinions that didn’t always agree with others.” He was also fortunate that the former treasurer was still serving on the board when he joined and acted as a mentor. He intends to provide the same level of support when his younger brother and cousins join the board.

Peter’s professional experience in finance, accounting, and auditing provided him with key skills and knowledge that he regularly applies to his board service—filling an expertise gap on the board and adding real value from the start of his tenure.

Having now served on the board for two years, he recognizes the challenges that his family faces. “There is a delicate balance between managing family relationships and having a cohesive strategy focused on a desired social impact,” he notes. Peter also recognizes the challenges that lie ahead as his family expands; his mother is one of three, all of whom (or their spouses) have been involved with the foundation, and he is one of seven cousins. His older brother and wife had a baby this year—the first child in the next generation—and he is getting married in 2015. Anticipating this, the family has already placed term limits on some board seats to ensure there is room for all interested family members to serve at one point in time.

It is important for my generation to continue to step up and serve if it wants to have a voice in the future of the foundation. Being engaged in the foundation is a great way to keep the family bonds strong and I’m proud of its impact,” he says. “Some people see philanthropy as something you do if you can afford it, but I think it’s a moral obligation to do what you can, whether that means monetary contributions or through service.”

Like The Palmer Foundation, many families find it helpful to form a junior board or committee to allow the next generation the opportunity to get hands-on experience with grantmaking and board service. Arabella has helped several family foundations structure next generation engagement and begin grooming children and young adults to become board members. We encourage families to expose their children to their personal and family philanthropy at a young age through conversations about what philanthropy means and why it is important to the family, and by sharing each family’s philanthropic history and tradition. We also encourage them to attend training opportunities such as Exponent Philanthropy’s Next Gen Fellows Program or activities hosted by 21/64.

As children become familiar with the concepts of giving and philanthropy, families can invite them to observe and contribute to conversations about their giving, and encourage them to make contributions (monetary or service) of their own to causes they care about. The most important factor in planning for succession, however, is that the next generation sees it as an opportunity rather than an obligation. Giving younger family members the freedom to explore their own interests and passions goes a long way in making family philanthropy something they want to do, rather than something they have to do.

Diana Tyler HeathDiana Tyler Heath provides strategic guidance, grants management, facilitation, and daily operations support to Arabella’s family and individual clients. She serves as both a manager and a program officer for some of Arabella’s managed foundation clients. Prior to joining Arabella, she worked for Booz Allen Hamilton and with the US Ski and Snowboard Team Foundation. She holds a BA from Cornell University and an MBA from Duke University. 

Molly TarrantMolly Tarrant manages the grant programs and daily operations for Arabella’s family and individual clients and provides strategic grantmaking, due diligence, and governance support. She currently manages the grant programs for foundations that support education, public health, sustainable living, and international human rights. She also has aided families in revising their grantmaking goals and strategies and helped boards prepare to on-board their next generation family members and streamline operations.

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