Editor’s note: This “Voices from the Field” feature is from the CEO of the Council on Foundations. We print it here because it is a commitment from a major philanthropic association to promote diversity among staff in grantmaking institutions, and we want to help our readers monitor the outcomes on such commitments. On a related note, just a few days ago, we published a newswire on problems with diversity reporting from some environmental grantmakers. As always, we invite commentary from readers.


Our field is doing critically important work promoting diversity, inclusion, and millennial integration in our organizations, but we have yet to operationalize our shared desire for a truly modern workforce. To make progress, we must first dispel public misperception of philanthropy as traditional and staid. Many still hold antiquated views of foundations that don’t comport with the reality of today’s dynamic and innovative field.

Philanthropy faces many challenges, but we won’t be able to face them without a broader pool of talented and diverse people to bring our organizations to their full potential. The constitution of our own organizations influences the decisions we make on a daily basis, from staff and board member selections to grantmaking and program priorities.

While many foundations have experimented with innovation in their own institution’s cultures, we are only beginning to compliment these individual efforts with a real examination of the strategic positioning and systematizing of human resources (HR) and talent management within the field.

Finding the right talent with deep philanthropy experience poses a challenge that I think is worth unpacking. This spring, I wrote a piece analyzing the field’s demographic challenges, using the Council on Foundation’s FY 2013 Grantmakers Salary and Benefits Survey Report.

That research helped us understand, quite literally, who is in philanthropy, and revealed that our field has some significant demographic shortcomings that might explain some of our cultural issues as well.

  • Impending Leadership Shift – Almost half the staff in philanthropic organizations is over the age of 50, so a significant leadership shift or “silver tsunami” is upon us.
  • Persistent Gender Imbalances – Women make up 75 percent of grantmaker staff and run about half of all foundations as CEOs. However, at the largest foundations (those with $1 billion in assets), just 28 percent of CEOs are women.
  • Racial and Ethnic Disparities – In 2014, racial and ethnic minorities made up nearly a quarter of foundation staff, a reflection of years of hard work in addressing past inequities. However, these gains are not reflected at the executive level, where just eight percent of CEOs were identified as racial and ethnic minorities.

As a field, we have to redouble our commitment to building our talent pipeline and developing existing staff. We must begin by asking our HR offices to broaden talent searches to wider pools of candidates so that we evaluate a wider range of talent, within the sector and beyond.

With our aging workforce, we can’t waste any time in preparing younger generations to take the mantle.

Moving forward, we have the tools to build a workplace that’s exciting for workers with fresh ideas. Success will require prioritization from management, especially financial investments in professional development, fellowship programs, and internships. It also requires investments of time—in mentorship, networking, and coaching.

The Council is tackling this challenge in three distinct ways.

  1. First, in partnership with Sullivan, Cotter and Associates, the Council is holding a summit at The Duke Endowment for HR professionals at foundations of $100m assets or greater in November. The summit will focus on important HR issues in the field, including ways to develop new, diverse talent pipelines, workplace cultures that foster innovation and collaboration, different ways to evaluate talent, and new ways to leverage diverse skill sets.
  2. Second, the Council will be hosting a CEO retreat in December that will focus on CEO transitions and succession planning. This forum will help foundation leaders deliberatively navigate executive transitions. I encourage foundation executives and boards to ensure that their succession strategies include identifying qualified women and minorities proactively for both executive and board roles.
  3. Third, the Council is reintroducing its signature Career Pathways Enrolling its next cohort in early 2017, the curriculum will be revamped and strengthened based on the positive evaluation of the pilot program. With an emphasis on diversity and inclusion, Career Pathways provides an opportunity for emerging leaders to continue their leadership development.

We are investing in the vitality of philanthropy. The future of the field requires a constant refresh in our thinking, which requires us to be open to changes that might, at times, feel uncomfortable.

It’s time for us, the philanthropic field, to integrate the skills and talents of our workforce fully while at the same time collectively acknowledging where we have plenty of work to do. Philanthropy, our employees, and the communities we serve merit no less.