An Exploratory Study of Board Governance Structures and Practices of Education Foundations or Funds




Christener, Millicent Holcomb

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Education foundations or funds (EFs) are nonprofit organizations created to support local public school systems. They solicit funds from individuals and businesses and then distribute those funds for programs that benefit a particular public school system. Although researchers have not measured the extent of EF activity nationally, the most recent estimates indicate that EFs are a growing trend; the number of EFs increased from 100 in 1980 to over 4,000 in 1994 (National Association of Education Foundations, 1994 ). EFs are a relatively new phenomenon. As nonprofit 501 ( c) 3 charitable organizations, EFs are governed by volunteer boards of directors. Generic nonprofit practitioner literature has identified board roles and responsibilities that are considered characteristic of good governance (Block, 1998; Houle, 1997; Ingram, 2003), yet little is known about the governance structures and practices of EFs. This exploratory study sought to identify and describe characteristics associated with the governance structures and practices of EFs aligned with large public school systems and to compare those characteristics with the normative practices of generic nonprofit boards. Utilizing explorative case study methodology, the study incorporated three phases of data collection: (a) review of current literature, (b) data collected from identified foundations (by-laws, annual reports, etc.), and (c) interviews with key informants. The data resulted in cases studies that provide insight into the board governance structure and practices of EFs. The objectives of this study were to identify key governance characteristics of EFs, to determine whether they conformed to best practices of generic nonprofit board governance, and to develop an empirically supported framework that may advance the understanding of board roles and responsibilities associated with EFs. Governance includes the structures, responsibilities, practices, and organizational traditions that the board of an organization uses to ensure accomplishment of the organizational mission (Plumptre & Graham, 1999). The governance characteristics of four national recognized and diverse EFs were compared. The findings indicate that though the EFs' organizational structures vary, the boards' basic roles and responsibilities are similar. Their commonalities included a basic officer structure, the minimum of a committee charged with financial and audit oversight, board involvement in strategic planning, and use of board members to address resource dependency issues. In addition, the EFs' governance practices were comparable to normative nonprofit boards' practices.



corporate governance, educational fund raising


Christner, M.H. (2006). An exploratory study of board governance structures and practices of education foundations or funds (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


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