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Effective Foundation Boards: The Importance of Roles

48 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2005  

Christine W. Letts

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: October 2005


Foundations are unique among organizations in the enormous latitude they have in determining their work and the manner in which it is done. This flexibility manifests itself particularly in the variety of roles that foundation board members can take. Most of the literature in the field focuses on best practices in board structure and processes. These are necessary in the spirit of responsiveness and legal accountability, but are not sufficient for effectiveness. Achieving role clarity, influence in decision-making and responsibility for impact are three keys to more effective foundation governance. These three attributes can be better understood and achieved by examining the roles of foundation board members as individuals and as a collective. Recognizing these important, often overlooked, phenomena will help boards not only have good work that will keep them enthused and committed, but also to produce the good work that the public expects.

Keywords: Leadership/Conflict Management, Nonprofit Sector

Suggested Citation

Letts, Christine W., Effective Foundation Boards: The Importance of Roles (October 2005). ; KSG Working Paper No. RWP05-054. Available at SSRN: or

Christine W. Letts (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-1451 (Phone)
617-495-0996 (Fax)

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