Help Your Board Members (or Anyone) Be Open to New Ideas - Exponent Philanthropy
A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Help Your Board Members (or Anyone) Be Open to New Ideas

Is your foundation board stuck or complacent? Have you been wanting board members to consider a new strategy or project, only to find they just aren’t willing to listen? Perhaps you need a new approach—a fresh one—to create the space where board members feel willing to consider change.

I found a helpful idea in a book I’m reading, Intentional Leadership by Jane A.G. Kise. Within it, a chart outlines the elements of Carl Jung’s theory of personality types and makes suggestions for what individuals of different types might need to be open to change. 

Consider Personality Types

The personality types have been popularized by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, a questionnaire that aims to determine where individuals fall on Jung’s spectrums. This structure is something many of us are familiar with; briefly stated, the four spectrums are these:

  • I/E: Introverted (energized by down time) or Extroverted (energized by being around others)
  • S/N: Sensing (relying on sense perceptions) or Intuitive (relying on intuitions)
  • T/F: Thinking (preferring to approach situations with logic) or Feeling (preferring emotional understanding)
  • J/P: Judging (making quick decisions) or Perceiving (preferring to gather more information)

So, back to where we started: You want to be a catalyst for change on your foundation board.

You are one of four board members, let’s say, and the foundation seems, to you, to be stuck, automatically renewing grants that aren’t making much of a difference in your field. The other board members perceive a healthy foundation that doesn’t need to change, but you know the foundation could have greater impact if the board fine-tuned its focus and listened better to its grantees.

You’ve been diligently putting the topic on meeting agendas to allow for meaningful discussion, suggesting plans so that everyone has a role, and proposing actionable steps—all to little avail. As it turns out, your introverted fellow board members need something different to be open to your proposal: information in advance to allow for reflection and one-on-one conversations with plenty of space to ask questions and explore the ideas together. Only then can they be open to change. Likewise, the sensing “S” types need real data more than they need the big picture context or alternative options that motivate “N” types.

My takeaways are these: It’s not so much that funders need to know their or others’ Myers-Briggs types (although that might be helpful), or that they need to buy Kise’s book (although I did, and it might be helpful too). What’s most important is that each of us takes a step back to consider other people’s styles, needs, and preferences—and how these impact our work together, including our openness to change. 

The next time you feel like you’re coming up against a wall, think about this: Is the person truly opposed to your idea, or does he or she just need the opportunity to look at it in a different way? Can you present your idea in a range of ways to account for these different styles? And, in cases where you aren’t as open as you would like to others’ ideas, can you ask for them to provide what you need so that you can consider—really consider—what they are bringing to the table?

Ruth Masterson

Senior Program Director Ruth Masterson works closely with members to create written materials and training curricula, and answers member questions on foundation administration, governance, boards, and tax and legal topics. She is our data guru and also project manager for Exponent Philanthropy’s Practical Board Self-Assessment. Prior to joining Exponent Philanthropy, Ruth served nonprofits in her work at Adler & Colvin, the Council on Foundations, and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law.


  1. Hi–Thanks for this post and the mention of my work on leadership! The boards I serve on take the time not only to identify each other’s personality types but to understand the implications of the “type makeup” as a whole. For example, one of the boards I led had no one with a natural drive to ask, “What’s worked in the past? Can we make sure we aren’t reinventing the wheel?” We had a preponderance of idea-generators, with the potential pitfall of brainstorming without moving to decisions. These tendencies drove our group norms–someone was even given “Rabbit Hole Permission,” meaning that he was asked to say, “Rabbit Hole” when the brainstorming was beginning to resemble Wonderland instead of reality. It’s a magnificent tool for understanding differences AND for setting up effective group dynamics and processes! — Jane Kise

  2. […] Think about what each personality type might need to consider or embark on change. For example, introverts tend to prefer information and time for reflection before making decisions, whereas extroverts tend to need time for meaningful conversation. Some individuals rely heavily on logic—and will value data and examples, whereas others approach situations with their feelings first and will want to consider fit with the foundation’s values. […]

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