Lunch & Learn 43


Friday, February 18, 2022

The governance of grantmaking foundations: common pitfalls and best practices

Contrary to democratic governments and other nonprofit organizations such as associations, foundations have no electors or voting members. Contrary to private companies, foundations have no owners (creating a foundation supposes the irrevocable transfer of assets). As a result, grantmaking foundations have no single category of stakeholders to be chiefly accountable to and enjoy considerable freedom to organize and operate, as long as they abide by the law. In most countries where foundations exist, public authorities provide very few rules and guidelines regarding their governance. Governance can be defined as the way in which an organization is managed at the highest level, and the systems of rules and practices for doing this. There is considerable literature on corporate governance, i.e., how corporations are and should be governed, in particular the respective roles and responsibilities of boards of directors and top management. In contrast, foundation governance is much less documented. This is problematic, as explained above, because there are neither owners nor voters influencing how foundations should organize to achieve their purpose. Foundation leaders are often left struggling to answer key questions such as: How should the board be composed? How should power be distributed between the board and the management team? How to avoid conflicts of interest? How much transparency is optimal? Which decision-making processes are the most effective, in particular regarding finances and grantmaking? Thankfully, academic research and practitioners’ efforts have increased in recent years to provide tentative answers to these legitimate concerns. This seminar will present key findings and recommendations from experts in Switzerland.


🔹 Georg von Schnurbein, Associate Professor of Foundation Management, Director of the Center for Philanthropy Studies (CEPS), University of Basel (Switzerland).

🔹 Sabrina Grassi, Director General, Swiss Philanthropy Foundation (Switzerland).

➡️ Speakers' biographies

➡️ Georg von Schnurbein's presentation

➡️ Sabrina Grassi's presentation

⬇️ REPLAY ⬇️