50th Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Anne Wallestad

Of all the relationships within a foundation, the one between trustees and the CEO may be the most critical. Funding decisions, operations, culture, mission and vision can all be affected by how a board and a top executive work together – or don’t.

BoardSource, the sector’s leading voice on nonprofit board leadership, focused on this relationship in last year’s report, Foundation Board Leadership: A Closer Look at Foundation Board Responses to Leading with Intent. At this year’s Annual Meeting, BoardSource President & CEO Anne Wallestad will lead trustees in a conversation around the report’s findings and explore how they can build better relationships with foundation executives.

Developing a strong and effective board, Wallestad has argued, is about more than expertise in grantmaking or managing an endowment. Great board leadership, she has said, requires purpose, values, flexibility and – once those qualities are established – building power and influence.

“By defining your core purpose, you’re able to get very clear on what’s most important in terms of your work -- what’s absolutely central in terms of what you seek to accomplish, as well as what’s not,” Wallestad said at BoardSource’s 2017 Leadership Forum. “Defining your core purpose, and doing so with the full engagement and participation of your board, unlocks new clarity, meaning, and forward momentum, and is a critical first step in unleashing the full leadership potential of your organization.”

Values, Wallestad says, must go beyond “platitudes and hollow commitments.”

“Values should not be generic statements with which no one could possibly disagree,” she said in 2017. “Values are the things that define us. The things that guide the way that we show up and lead in the world. And the things that we’re willing to defend.”

Under Wallestad’s leadership, BoardSource itself has publicly stood up for its values, particularly diversity, equity and inclusion. Late last year, the organization translated its commitment to DEI into action by hiring a vice president charged with embedding a DEI lens into its offerings.

In announcing the hiring of Jim Taylor as vice president of leadership initiatives and education, Wallestad wrote the moment marked “the beginning of deeper and more significant investments from BoardSource in this work both externally and internally” and signaled “the beginning of a long-term, sustained commitment to putting organizational muscle behind our firm belief that the lack of board-level diversity in the social sector is not just unfortunate, it’s unacceptable.”

While Wallestad wants to see the sector perform better in several ways, she is also one of its strongest defenders. Last year she wrote an op-ed for The Chronicle of Philanthropy criticizing a report from the New York Attorney General that, she argued, relied on flawed assumptions to argue that nonprofits were spending too much money on “professional fundraisers.”

“Transparency is good,” she wrote. “But transparency that is incomplete or lacking the context needed to meaningfully interpret the data can be dangerous."

At this year's Annual Meeting, Anne Wallestad will speak at the trustees-only session "The Leadership Partnership -- How Boards and Executives Lead Together," taking place Wednesday, November 13, at 3:30pm.


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