Foundation Resources

Your investments are making a difference, and helping nonprofit organizations sustain the important work that they do.

Similar to the way that the financial resources you grant to your nonprofit partners help support and sustain their work, the work of each organization’s board can provide the leadership, strategy, and oversight needed to build the organization’s impact and resilience.

Current research indicates the following:

  • Strong boards create more sustainable organizations.

According to the TCC Group’s work on “The Sustainability Formula,” the most critical elements of nonprofit sustainability are adaptive and leadership capacity. A deeper analysis of the data by TCC and BoardSource has further indicated that board effectiveness in strategic planning and board/staff partnership can be statistically linked to stronger organizational capacity in both of those areas.

  • The partnership between boards and CEOs is critical.

According to Daring to Lead, executives who are unhappy with their boards are more than twice as likely to be planning near-term departures as those who have positive perceptions of their boards.

  • Boards have a direct Impact on organizational effectiveness – good or bad.

BoardSource’s most recent Leading with Intent study found that only 5 percent of CEOs said their boards had “no impact” on the overall effectiveness of organizational performance, but that impact is not necessarily positive. Only 44 percent reported “very positive” impact and 4 percent reported negative impact.

There’s no question that boards play a pivotal role in organizational leadership.

Strong boards can make an organization more effective and resilient; weak boards can do the opposite. That’s why more and more grantmakers are acknowledging the critical leadership role that boards play.

Here at BoardSource, we celebrate and support the critical role that foundations can play in strengthening board leadership in the following ways:

  • Foundations can work to build the effectiveness of grantees’ boards by providing them with programs and resources to reflect on and strengthen their leadership.
  • Foundations can model the importance of thoughtful and strategic board leadership through their own board’s leadership and governance practices.
  • Foundations can support BoardSource’s research, leadership agenda, and evidence-based resources and guidance by investing in BoardSource’s core programs and leadership initiatives.

The resources listed below were curated with our foundation partners in mind. If you’re interested in talking with us about your foundation’s specific needs and goals, please reach out to us at

Resources for Foundations

Five Ways Foundations can Strengthen Nonprofit Boards

Assuming that many foundations want to do more to strengthen boards, how can we make sure their efforts don’t do more harm than good? Here are five suggestions.

A Mismatch in Philanthropic Interest and Support

Donors say that organizational governance and competence are critical factors in determining where their grants flow. So why aren’t they putting their money where their mouths are?

Stand for Your Mission Foundation Discussion Guide for Boards

Foundation leaders have a unique opportunity to serve as powerful champions of their missions. If you want to learn more about unleashing your full potential to advocate for your mission, download our guide.

Filling Essential Gaps in Nonprofit Leadership

New research shows that most nonprofits fall short in important areas of performance. But stakeholders who operate at a systems level can do a lot to help solve this problem.

10 Things Every New Foundation Board Member Should Know

This resource is designed as a basic guidebook for the new foundation board member, providing an introduction to tools and knowledge essential in the first years of service on the board.

Ten Essential Responsibilities of Foundation Board Chairs

This primer is designed to increase your understanding of the role by presenting a brief introduction to nonprofit governance and foundation leadership. It lists 10 essential responsibilities for board chairs, practical tips for carrying them out, and recommended reading.

Benchmarking Foundation Governance

Benchmarking Foundation Governance shares data and infographics on crucial topics related to foundation governance — including composition, member expertise, structure, involvement, and characteristics of meetings.

Four Questions about the Data on Foundation Boards

Based on data from Benchmarking Foundation Governance, Phil Buchanan at the Center for Effective Philanthropy identifies four questions about foundation governance.

Who Cares About How Foundation Boards Govern Themselves? I Do, and You Should Too.

Anne Wallestad weighs in on the Benchmarking Foundation Governance study, outlining three reasons why it is important how foundation boards and trustees are governing themselves.

Reflecting on the Unique Importance of Foundation Boards

Nadya Shmavonian adds her perspective to Benchmarking Foundation Governance, discussing the positive findings from the study as well as areas of improvement. She also suggests improvements for subsequent research.

Data Point: Why Aren’t Foundation Boards More Involved in Assessing Performance?

A desire for more foundation board involvement in assessment is one area in which research has shown little change in surveys over the years. The Center for Effective Philanthropy examines reasons why.

Family Ties: Multigenerational Family Foundation Board Engagement

Commissioned by the Surdna Foundation, includes perspectives from BoardSource board member Phil Henderson

Based on interviews with CEOs and family board chairs at seven large, multigenerational family foundations, this publication spotlights the governance practices and structures that these family foundations have created to maintain family involvement; select, orient, and engage family members across generations; and keep the board and foundation focused on impact.

Who’s at the Board Table?

‘Coastal elites’ dominate trustee rosters at most of America’s largest foundations, according to analysis from the Chronicle of Philanthropy. What does that mean for grant making?

The Challenges and Opportunities of Family Foundation Governance

Family foundations are a critical part of the philanthropic community, making best governance practices more important than ever, and especially so when multiple generations of family, money, and grantmaking intertwine. Read this blog post from Emily Davis, BoardSource senior governance consultant, to learn more.

Foundation, School, Association, and Credit Union BSA

Although the principles of good governance are similar in many ways to those for public charities, there are significant differences for many organizations. BoardSource adapted its core board self-assessment tool to meet the needs of foundations, schools, associations and credit unions.

Foundation Board Basics

101| Community resource. A grantmaking foundation is a charitable tax-exempt organization whose primary function is to distribute funds for charitable purposes. A foundation needs a governing board (or a board of trustees as foundation board members often are called) because it is structured as a tax-exempt organization. In principle, the role of the foundation board does not differ from that of other nonprofit boards, but foundation boards have specific challenges.

Investing in Your Grantees’ Board Leadership

Building strong leadership at the board level is critically important to the success and sustainability of your grantees. As a grantmaker, you can make a real difference by starting a dialogue with your grantees about their board leadership strengths and challenges, and providing focused support to help them build and strengthen their performance.