Channeling Charlie Rose: 10 Questions to Ask a Foundation Executive

posted on: April 5, 2012



Award-winning broadcast journalist Charlie Rose is a tough interviewer. And because philanthropy can benefit from some tough love, Nonprofit Nate’s 29 Questions for Better Philanthropic Conversations made me wonder: If Charlie Rose were to interview an executive from a major U.S. foundation, what are the kinds of questions would he ask?

In channeling Mr. Rose, here are ten questions that a number of my colleagues and I came up with:

  • What is philanthropy’s role in the 21st century?
  • Just 1 in 10 engaged Americans can give an example of a foundation’s impact on an issue they care about. Why do you think that is? And do you think this is good or bad for philanthropy?
  • Which historical philanthropists inspire you? Why?
  • Have you ever regretted providing a particular grant to a nonprofit? And conversely, is there a nonprofit whose grant request you turned down previously but now wish you approved?
  • You give out about 5-6 percent of your foundation’s assets in grants each year. How are you using the other 95 percent of your assets to achieve your mission?
  • Some critics say here’s a double standard when it comes to what people view as appropriate pay for executives at a large foundation compared to acceptable compensation for executives of nonprofit grantees. Where do you stand on this issue? Should there be a cap when it comes to executive compensation for leaders of foundations?
  • The problems your foundation is trying to tackle are so very large that even the considerable resources of your foundation are actually quite small. How are you leveraging your limited dollars to maximize its impact?
  • What does partnership look like between your foundation and its grantees?
  • Do you think your board reflects a diversity of perspectives? If so, how have you achieved this? Has it helped improve the effectiveness of your foundation?
  • What does philanthropic success look like for you?

If you were Charlie Rose interviewing the top brass of a large foundation, what questions would you ask? Please add to this list and share your ideas or thoughts in comments below.

Yna C. Moore is communications director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.