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Making Foundation Administration Easier by Using Sample Documents

by Brittany Kienker

Foundations come in many shapes and sizes. Some organizations house dozens of staff in elaborate offices, while other foundations are managed from a board member’s kitchen table. Regardless of their size or scope of grantmaking, these foundations are expected to carry out many of the same administrative tasks.

Sample documents fill an essential role in helping organizations to create materials central to managing foundations. They serve as a resource for foundations to better understand the language used by those working to achieve similar goals, whether related to their grantmaking, administrative policies, communication needs or otherwise. While some sample documents are created as generic templates, most of these resources originate from a specific organization and are made publicly available for use to support peer learning.

[Sample documents] serve as a resource for foundations to better understand the language used by those working to achieve similar goals, whether related to their grantmaking, administrative policies, communication needs or otherwise.

Over the last several years, national and state associations have focused their efforts on building out online resources to assist foundations in finding high-quality sample documents. As someone who regularly seeks out this type of material, I have several go-to websites for materials and information:

  • National Center for Family Philanthropy’s (NCFP) Knowledge Center
    NCFP has made its Knowledge Center and sample documents collection freely available to members and non-members through their website. Sample documents can easily be found under the “Format” drop-down menu. Many of these samples have direct attribution to their originating foundation, allowing readers to learn how these foundations created administrative documents that fit with their respective mission and structure. From job descriptions to equity statements, NCFP’s Knowledge Center is a key go-to resource for foundation staff looking for applicable sample documents, and not just for family foundations.
  • Exponent Philanthropy’s Sample Documents Library
    With a focus on foundations with few or no staff members, Exponent Philanthropy has created their members-only Sample Documents Library with this specific group of foundations in mind. A wide variety of samples are available in an easy-to-access format, while the full list of available sample documents by category makes finding the perfect sample document extra quick. From board member position descriptions to next generation materials, these sample documents are an excellent resource for Exponent Philanthropy members.
  • National Council of Nonprofits’ Tools and Resources
    For many topics, nonprofits and foundations share many of the same administrative and governance issues. The National Council of Nonprofits’ Tools and Resources website is particularly useful to find easy-to-understand explanations of challenging topics. Each topic page also includes linked sample documents and related resources, which make understanding the how and why behind your sample document particularly easy. From information on telecommuting best practices to fiscal policies and procedures, the National Council of Nonprofits has a web-based resource well worth exploring.
The Sample Documents Hub at CMF

As part of my work with the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF), I curate an extensive collection of relevant data and resources for our members. I regularly search for information on a wide variety of topics that are essential to the operations and programs of member foundations across the state.

In order to improve this work, I have spent the last 18 months working with colleagues to develop our brand new Sample Documents Hub. This resource is a collection of tools and templates from CMF’s members and partners that capture many of our most frequently requested policies, forms, and examples. These documents range from conflict of interest policies to succession planning resources, from evaluation forms to site visit worksheets.

CMF is happy to join these efforts, while curating a set of documents that specifically fit the needs of Michigan-based foundations. The Sample Documents Hub is now open to our members. If you are interested in helping us to grow the Sample Documents Hub by contributing additional documents from your foundations, please contact us.

How to use Sample Documents

With widespread access to sample documents, it is important to keep in mind a few key tips to ensure you choose the most useful templates that apply best to your organization.

  • Find sample documents that fit your organization’s size and structure. Sample documents vary widely, depending on the organization that developed it. Try to find examples that originate from foundations that share at least some of the traits of your organization. For example, a small foundation may find using a template created for a 100+ staff foundation or large university to be overwhelming for use by a small team.
  • Look for multiple samples. Organizations should review multiple examples of the sample document that they need, whether that is a grant application, mission statement, or internal policy. In looking across several organizations’ versions, it becomes increasingly apparent how the writers customize the general concept to their particular needs. These variations may take the shape of different formats or language that reflect the organization’s internal structures, capacity, or purpose.
  • Expect to make changes and bring in expert advisors when needed. A sample document is not a one-size-fits-all template and will need to be adapted to your organization’s particular needs. Plan to draft a version (or several) with the help of staff or board members, using the samples for suggestions of the language, format, and structure. Also, consider whether your foundation will need to bring in the help of legal counsel or a professional advisor. Having samples reviewed in advance may help to reduce the expense of their time. In some cases, the final document may also need to be approved by foundation leadership or the board, so plan for additional changes that may come along during those review periods.
Click here to visit the Sample Documents Hub.

Photo: Brittany Kienker
Brittany Kienker, Ph.D. is Knowledge Insights Specialist at the Council of Michigan Foundations, where she serves as the lead researcher for Ask CMF. She also serves as Principal and Owner of Kienker Consulting in southeastern Michigan, as well as an adjunct professor in Central Michigan University’s Master of Science in Administration – Philanthropy and Fundraising program.

Dr. Kienker received her Ph.D. in Philanthropic Studies from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She also earned a M.A. in Philanthropic Studies (Indiana University), M.A. in Public History (Indiana University), and B.A. in Public History (Western Michigan University).


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