Much like the individuals who create them, family foundations move through several stages of growth and development as the years pass. And much like individuals, foundations require different types of expertise and support at various stages of their “life cycle.”
The family foundation life cycle is a cornerstone of a Foundation Review article, “The Family Foundation Life Cycle and the Role of Consultants,” written by Melissa L. Nemon, Ph.D. and Claudia J. Jacobs, M.S.W. of the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy, and Mary Phillips, M.S. and Judy Sneath, M.B.A., of GMA Foundations. In their article, the authors point out six stages of development for a family foundation:
- Starting up
Some family foundations will cycle through at least a portion of these stages multiple times, according to the authors, and foundation leaders and board members should be aware of where they are in the life cycle in order to secure the most effective consulting help.
For example, say the authors:
A foundation in its startup life-cycle stage needs a consultant who knows the right questions to ask in order to engage the board in determining its mission and considering values and goals. It will benefit from engaging a consultant with strong experience with foundation management, a range of governance structures, and the everyday aspects of running a grantmaking program. A foundation in a growth phase will want to consider consultants with experience in the functional and emotional aspects of transition. In a renewal phase, where the foundation is reflecting on impact in order to adjust focus or develop a new direction, a consultant with content expertise would be a good fit.
In fact, understanding where a family foundation is in its lifecycle may in some instances be more important that choosing a consultant with specific family foundation experience. For example, a foundation board in a start-up phase will benefit from a consultant who understands the tensions and dynamics of helping a family create guiding principles and practices, and so a consultant with family foundation experience would be valuable. But for many external processes that come in later stages, such as evaluating program successes or communicating them internally and externally, a consultant’s content knowledge or experience in evaluation or communication would be more important that her intimate knowledge of family foundations or experience interacting with family dynamics.
To help family foundations understand where they are in the life cycle and what questions they should ask in order to engage the right consultants, Nemon et.al. created a detailed, visual “Family Foundation/Consultant Guide,” available within the article text. The guide also can help consultants who work with family foundations to pinpoint exactly where their work can best align with the foundation’s needs.
The authors explain the tool’s value this way: “When a family foundation understands its life-cycle stage, finds the right fit based on both qualitative and quantitative considerations, and is open and prepared to working with the consultant toward clear goals, it sets the stage for meaningful, effective, and ultimately transformational consultant engagements.”
This post was adapted from “The Family Foundation Life Cycle and the Role of Consultants,” written by Melissa L. Nemon, Ph.D. and Claudia J. Jacobs, M.S.W. of the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy, and Mary Phillips, M.S. and Judy Sneath, M.B.A., of GMA Foundations. This article appeared in first-ever edition of The Foundation Review dedicated to philanthropy consulting (vol. 7, Iss. 1). Click here for this article and other open access articles from this edition.
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