Decision-Making: Getting to Yes with Greater Joy - Vario Philanthropy
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Decision Making Part 2

Decision-Making: Getting to Yes with Greater Joy


When’s the last time you stopped to consider HOW group decisions are made? Let’s think about two things:

  1. How we say group decisions are made
  2. How group decisions are actually made

A gap will almost always lead to conflict (and conflict that’s pretty easy to resolve!).

Have you ever been on a board where “majority rules” is the way the game is supposed to be played, but the process actually devolves into a series of negotiations to build consensus? Or where consensus is the way it’s supposed to work, but one or two voices dominate the room and the others just fall in line?

We see this happen frequently in family foundations. So what do you do? Grit your teeth and carry on? Sure, that’s an approach. But not a very enjoyable one.

We believe there’s a better way. One where you call out and define your foundation’s decision-making process.

The result will be better board and family harmony where all feel engaged in the process and results.

Previously, we focused on getting clear on the foundation’s values and purpose as a way to drive better decision-making. (CLICK HERE to read the article). This time, we’ll consider two final ingredients – Models and Process.

On Decision-Making Models

Often, we’ve found the single biggest disconnect and source of deep-seeded family conflict is saying you make decisions one way, yet behaving in a completely different manner.

Here’s a common scenario: Mom and Dad say they want the kids to help make giving decisions, but have some unspoken concerns with what kind of decisions the kids might make – will they make the “right” ones? What if they make mistakes? What ends up happening is that the kids’ votes are overruled. Over time, the kids become disengaged and start rubber-stamping the parents’ votes. And, everyone becomes frustrated.

Decision-making typically happens in one of five ways.


None is inherently right or wrong. Instead, what’s important is that you’re clear on which model you use and then honor it in all decisions.

We helped a family discover that they wanted to make decisions by Group Vote, but their practice was really Consultative. By naming and consistently honoring a new way, they began making their decisions differently. Once each person felt that their vote counted, everyone became more engaged in the process and took ownership of the results. It became safer to respectfully disagree, and people enjoyed hearing the depth behind each other’s perspectives.

Think about the model you use – is it aligned with how you say you make decisions? If not, what are the disconnects? How could you move toward a model that promotes more family harmony?

On Process

Process is all about the steps you take in order to achieve a particular end. In grant-making, it’s the steps you take in selecting grant recipients. A good process can help support good grantmaking and lead to greater family harmony.

Imagine this: A family foundation has a process, but it is so vague and inefficient it leads to more family conflict. Each family member is responsible for reviewing a portion of the grants. Because there’s no established criteria by which to evaluate requests, family members end up spending hours at meetings lobbying for the ones they know. It’s exhausting and makes it difficult for family members to measure applications against foundation values and priorities. Is there any hope?

Yes! We helped the family fine-tune and simplify their decision-making process to give every family member a greater voice at the table and evaluate each request against agreed-upon criteria. The result? Increased efficiency in reviewing grant requests, better dashboard metrics that tie back to their priorities, more time in the community meeting with organizations (rather than reading grant applications), and greater family harmony.

Think about your processes – are they driven by your values and goals? Are they overly onerous or do they provide your Board and family with the right information, inspiration, and opportunity to contribute meaningfully to decisions? 

Decision-making does not have to be a source of friction or frustration for your family.

By taking some time to review these four elements that drive decision-making, you can experience giving that is more joyful and fulfilling for every family member. Need help? We love working with families to unpack their decision-making processes. Let’s have a conversation!