AGB President & CEO Update: AGB’s Top Strategic Issues (Foundation)

By Ellen Chaffee May 8, 2024 Blog Post

You are viewing the Institutionally Related Foundation version of this CEO Update. System and Institution versions are also available.

Last month at our National Conference on Trusteeship, we announced our latest publication, Top Strategic Issues for Boards 2024–2025. Curated from insights gleaned from AGB members and other higher education experts, this biennial publication is meant to equip governing boards and senior administrators with context, guidance, and relevant questions that make effective board governance successful.

In this edition, AGB’s top strategic issues for boards include:

  • Board independence and leadership
  • Student success, the student experience, and inclusion on campus
  • Leadership succession and support
  • Business model innovation and digital transformation

Why it matters: I argue that every foundation is facing one or more challenges that fall under these categories—whether that be leadership turnover, precarious finances, threats from external influences, or some other obstacle. These issues demand the board’s time and attention, and both the board and senior administrators must work together to ensure they are on the board’s agenda in the coming months.

Consider how the foundation approaches the issues of student success and inclusion, and business model innovation and digital transformation.

AGB has long discussed student success in many forms, and we want to ensure that foundation boards can examine student success holistically from the foundation board’s perspective. Considering the impact that the student experience has on outcomes (and importantly, institutional reputation), tuition scholarships may not be adequate. Whether the foundation has responsibility for fundraising or not, foundation board members have perspectives and experiences that could reveal new opportunities for institutional fundraising, or obstacles that might impede student success efforts.

  • For example, a foundation board might meet with current students, recent graduates, faculty, student affairs staff, and other administrators to learn about the factors that lead students to drop out or that undermine their ability to secure employment in their chosen field, and then develop fundraising strategies narrowly targeted to address the specific challenges impeding student success.

Foundation boards can also be a major partner when examining business model innovation. Let’s face it: public colleges and universities can no longer operate without private philanthropic support. For many colleges and universities, tuition is now a major barrier to access for students. And yet state governments refuse to provide additional funding. Foundations can no longer just provide support around the edges. Many provide support for core operations and scholarships. Further, what innovations can foundations help bring to the attention of institutions?

Additionally, board members have outside relationships with employers and foundations that could benefit the institution. Are there partnership opportunities that the foundation board and CEO can facilitate? The foundation board and CEO should discuss how and when to communicate this information with the institution.

Go Deeper:

One of the most useful components of Top Strategic Issues for Boards is the list of questions at the end of each section. Consider this excerpt of questions adapted from the sections outlined above:

  • Is the number of students applying and enrolling in the institution today increasing or declining? Among what groups—and why? What are the key needs of those different students? What is the foundation’s role in assisting the institution in meeting those needs?
  • Is the board prepared to explain the value and importance of a college degree to key current and potential constituencies, including students and their parents, donors, policymakers, and the public?
  • Is the board well-versed in artificial intelligence (AI) and its applications? Is it working with foundation leaders to shape a strategy that harnesses AI’s potential while minimizing real or potential risks?
  • Is the board appropriately supportive of decisions to engage in new partnerships with other organizations or entities to explore new possibilities and leverage resources, working in close collaboration with the institution?

Until next month,


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