There can be tremendous benefits to a family foundation that chooses to invite one or many non-family members on to its board. For example, non-family members may help the family make more objective grantmaking decisions. Also, family members will often behave differently in the presence of non-family members; this can help mitigate family dynamics that may be getting in the way of grantmaking decisions.
Families may choose to bring on a particular non-family board member for various reasons and roles. Some choose close family friends, others bring on\ the family attorney or longtime business associates; others choose community leaders or individuals with an expertise in a particular grantmaking area.
Ultimately, the effectiveness of non-family board members will depend upon the personality, character, and expertise of the individuals, and the degree to which all board members support the decision to add the particular individuals. Some family foundations also opt to make use of community advisory boards or to put community members on the board’s grants committee as a way to test the model of involving non-family members.
There may also, in some cases, be a downside to having non-family members on the board. In families that function well as a tight-knit group, the level of commitment by a family member may be different than that of a non-family member.