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Summit Foundation Board should look at itself

The Board of the Summit Foundation has fired Deb Edwards, its executive director for the last 20 years. The Board tells us that “fresh leadership” is needed to achieve the “substantial goals” the Board has set for the Foundation. Fresh leadership is needed at the Foundation, but the wrong leader is leaving. The Foundation’s ability to grow is limited not by Edwards, but by the Board itself.(There are several trustees on the Board who do great work for the Summit Foundation. The following complaints are not targeted at them, but at the leadership of the Board and at the majority of trustees who are not doing the things that the trustees of a vibrant community foundation should be doing.)The primary responsibility of the Board of any philanthropic organization is to ensure the financial well-being of the organization. Individual trustees help the Board do this by bringing the “three Ws” to the table: wealth, work and wisdom. The present Board of the Summit Foundation is lacking in all three areas.The Board seems to think that it’s the executive director’s job to bring money to the Board so that the Board can decide how to use it. But this is backwards. The Board needs to bring the money. It does this by giving money and raising money.In order to attract donors, the Board must lead by example. It should be at the forefront of annual giving and special campaign giving. When the Summit Foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary two summers ago, the Board set a goal of raising $200,000 as part of the celebration. One-third of this amount was to come from the board. This goal was reached, barely. Take away a $25,000 gift from a single trustee, and the goal isn’t even close to being reached. The executive director’s gift for the anniversary celebration was larger than the average trustee’s gift. This is not the kind of commitment to the future of the Foundation that potential donors are looking for.In addition to giving money, the Board must lead the effort to raise money from new and existing donors. The executive director and the development director can facilitate this effort, but the Board must lead by cultivating donors. This is not happening with the current board. Two-thirds of the $200,000 goal for the 20th anniversary was to come from donors attending the celebration dinner and from the community. This goal was not reached, because the Board didn’t do the work it needed to do.The second of the three Ws is work. This means more than just attending ten board meetings per year, telling the executive director what the Foundation’s goal are, and expecting that the goals will be achieved without any further help from the Board. It means cultivating donors, serving on committees, and attending Foundation events as volunteers and as voices for the Foundation. After each of its events, the Summit Foundation publishes an ad thanking donors and volunteers. Three trustees (out of thirty) are on the volunteer list for the recent Hockey Classic.The final W is wisdom. This doesn’t just mean having smart people on the board. It means having people who understand philanthropy, fundraising, event planning, investing, and many more areas related to Foundation business. The current Board has not done a good job of ensuring that these areas are well-represented and actively applied on the Board.Beyond the three Ws, the Board needs good leadership. The way in which Deb Edwards’s dismissal has been handled is indicative of how bad the leadership of the Board is. In my world, if a 20-year employee’s performance was not up to par, management would sit down with the employee, discuss the areas in which the employee was felt to be lacking, and work with the employee to set clear, measurable, and achievable goals for improvement. This would be followed by regular meetings to discuss the employee’s progress against those goals. If progress wasn’t made, the meetings would become more frequent and the employee would be informed that the situation was becoming untenable. The employee would know that his or her job was on the line, and when the dismissal finally came, it wouldn’t be a surprise.In the Board’s world, you hold a series of meetings of the Executive Committee, and then you hold a couple of executive sessions of the full board, all without the Executive Director present. On March 15, in executive session, you vote to remove the Executive Director. But you wait until April 17 to tell her about it. Why April 17? Because that’s the Monday after the weekend of the Hockey Classic, one of the Foundation’s biggest events. You wouldn’t want your executive director to know she’s about to lose her job until after the big event, would you? Besides, there’s a Grants Committee meeting scheduled for that day, and you can kill two birds with one stone by waiting for that meeting to end, then saying “By the way, Deb, could you stick around for a few minutes? We have something else we’d like to talk to you about.”Is this good leadership? I don’t think so. I think it’s atrocious. So did two trustees, who quit the Board in protest. (One of them was my wife, Valerie Williams.) If the Board continues to practice this kind of leadership in the future, the Soul of the Summit could be in trouble.


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