When Health Forward was formed a decade ago, then-Attorney General Jay Nixon had already witnessed too many foundations and charities lose their sense of mission along the way. To circumvent this outcome for Health Forward, he chose to form a Community Advisory Committee (CAC), which would oversee the board of directors of the foundation. The CAC would function as a governance entity with a strong tie and a sense of obligation to the communities the foundation served.
The CAC, whose members were (and still are) appointed by elected officials throughout the Health Forward service area, must develop community trust and provide a representative accountable to regions eligible for grants through Health Forward. The CAC is charged with selecting a slate of nominees for the board of directors, seeking community input and conducting an annual review of the foundation and its work.
One might think the latter component — the annual review of the foundation (and by extension, the board) — would cause friction between the two entities. And historically, that’s precisely the case: relationships between a foundation’s board and CAC in other communities have a tendency to lean toward adversarial. But members of both Health Forward governing bodies were aware of this and, from day one, the CAC and board were determined to keep their roles distinct and their relationship strong.
The CAC review serves as an in-house evaluation. It’s the conscience of the board. It informs the direction and makes recommendations, always with the focal point of what’s best for their target communities.
The review also enhances the foundation’s already strong transparency. It is published online so everyone may see the CAC’s concerns and commendations.
But what truly makes this review work is the amicable relationship between the two entities. The board’s grace to accept the CAC’s recommendations as the community’s voice by proxy has helped maintain a smooth rapport. And if not for the willingness of the board to put the review into action, the foundation would suffer.
The task of seeking community input is also invaluable to the work of the foundation. The CAC talks with community members to find the needs and the barriers to health. That input guides its review of the foundation and helps Health Forward fulfill its mission to serve the most vulnerable.
Equally important is the tireless work of the CAC in identifying and nominating members of the community to serve as members of the board of directors. Because board members can only serve 6 years, the organization is deeply dependent on the CAC’s ability to provide a steady stream of qualified and energetic candidates willing to serve the foundation. The continuity of the quality and diversity of these candidates is truly the lifeblood of the organization.
I’ve had the privilege over the past 10 years to Chair both the CAC and the Health Forward board of directors and I can’t say enough about the work both entities have done over the past decade to live out the mission of the foundation through their continued adherence to the organizational balance of power as envisioned by then Attorney General Nixon.
There are many things that I’m proud of when I look back on the past 10 years of the Health Care Foundation, but having been a part these two entities as they grow and work together for the greater good of our community is one of our finest accomplishments.