However, models for good foundation governance do exist. One such example is a slim tome titled Trustees and the Future of Foundations. Written by John W. Nason and published in 1977, the book provides one of the few comprehensive looks at the roles and responsibilities of foundation trustees. Although the statistics in his first book are outdated (he refers to 26,000 foundations with combined total assets of approximately $31.5 billion) his recommendations remain valid today.
Nason does an excellent job of summarizing his main points in the final chapter where he lists the following nine responsibilities of foundation trustees: 1) recognize that they serve a public trust,
2) plan a program or programs of philanthropy, 3) make hard choices among public needs, 4) diversify board membership and broaden outlook, 5) plan for continuity and renewal of board, 6) organize for effective operation, 7) make the foundation accessible, 8) be familiar with and to fulfill all legal requirements, and 9) give public accounting of activities.
Nason revisits his recommendations in a subsequent analysis printed in 1989. This version, titled Foundation trusteeship: service in the public interest, is still available in print.
“A foundation, for our purposes, is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that makes grants in support of charitable, educational, religious, cultural, or other activities serving the public good.”
John W. Nason
John William Nason (1905-2001) was a 1926 graduate of Carleton, professor at and president of Swarthmore, president of the Foreign Policy Association, and the fifth president of Carleton College, serving from 1962-1970.
Following the World War II, Nason became heavily involved with attempts to educate the general populace on foreign policy. He developed a United National Council and a World Affairs Council in Philadelphia. His work on these councils soon became his passion, and he eventually left Swarthmore to head the Foreign Policy Association in New York.
In his first year at the Foreign Policy Association, Nason began the Great Decisions program, which continues to this day. Great Decisions publishes a Briefing Book annually that is designed to put global affairs in context and promote discussion of foreign affairs topics.