A foundation is a charitable trust or nonprofit organization that’s created to make grants for specific purposes. The places you give money to depends on the mission of the foundation and could cover anything from science to charity, culture or religion. The executive director of a foundation runs the show and brings a level of business savvy to the position to keep funders satisfied, whether they’re a single family, a corporation or a government entity.
The foundation director is ultimately responsible for the prudent use of the foundation’s money. You’ll oversee financial investments, grant applications, public relations as well as reports from the programs and groups your foundation supports. You may have a small or large staff as well as a group of consultants working with you, but you are the one who will provide the board of directors with the final accountability for the funding and the mission of the group.
Although the board and the private or public funders provide the foundation with the mission and often the means to carry out that mission, foundations often are in the fund-raising business as well. They often look for an executive director who can put a public face on the foundation in major funding events and for the media. Foundation directors spend time networking among potential funders and often sit on other boards to keep the foundation’s name in the public eye and among the movers and shakers of the community.
Strategic planning is a significant part of the director’s responsibilities and may entail working sessions with the family or the board as well as your staff. You’ll be in charge of both ends of the strategic plan, getting and investing the funds and then doling them out. Each phase of the process requires planning and then carrying out those plans. You’ll be involved in investing the income the foundation receives to ensure its continuation as well as deciding on the processes you’ll use to determine the merit of requests from grantees.
Although some foundations do not require the director to raise additional funds, many do. As such, you’ll need to bring all your experience at planning and schmoozing to bear. You may not have a significant amount of resources to work with and need to rely on your creativity and innovation to put together successful fund-raisers. In the process, you’ll rely heavily on your strategic planning and leadership skills as you manage and supervise the events that bring in additional money to fund the foundation’s mission.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."