Five years ago, we stepped into the roles of Board Chair and President of the Foundation together. At the time, Board and staff members were unanimous in wanting to improve Board-staff engagement and alignment.
In the four years before we assumed our roles, the Foundation underwent a major strategic shift and as part of that shift the roles of Board and staff changed. The changes included moving the Board from being almost exclusively focused on grantmaking to no involvement in grantmaking at all. This left Board members feeling removed from the work and unclear how they could most eff ectively oversee and shape the Foundation. Staff felt like they were trying to do what the Board wanted, but just couldn't get it right. This was compounded by the fact that the Board and staff simply didn't know each other, due both to high staffturnover and limited Board and staff member interaction.
The structure of governance had changed considerably — new committees, new meeting format, etc. — but we had not yet developed the working norms for us all to feel like we understood each other and had shared expectations. In other words, we had focused on the "hardware" — like charters, agendas and policies — but had not invested enough in the "software" — relationships, trust and accountability. We have learned, not surprisingly, that both are critical to a high-performing Foundation.
In 2012, we identifi ed improving Board-staff relations as one of our highest priorities. By 2013, Board members felt we were improving, but still rated our "Board and Board-management relations" as a 3.1 on a 5-point scale, according to the Board engagement survey that we conduct every two years. Fast-forward to 2017, and Board members now rate us a 4.85, with 85 percent of Board members rating us a 5.