Blog: Amplify

Charting a New Course Together—A Message from Council Board Chair Javier Alberto Soto

By now you have heard the news that Vikki Spruill has accepted a position at the New England Aquarium and in June will return to the ocean conservation community, where she has deep roots. The Council appreciates Vikki’s leadership and wishes her well. As we turn to seeking a new leader, we want to hear from you. What are the most pressing issues for the next leader to focus on? What attributes are vital in the next person to head the Council?

These are times of unprecedented change, opportunity and potential for the country, for the philanthropic world and for the Council on Foundations. The shifting political landscape and the voices of new donors, the welcome growth of attention to issues of equity, inequality, poverty and racial justice, the still-emerging impact of tax reform legislation on charitable giving, the rapid pace of change in the political and social change arenas, among other factors, all underscore that this is a pivotal moment for philanthropy. Such a moment demands strong, visionary leadership.

The Council on Foundations has already started the process of seeking a new president, and I am grateful that Jamie Merisotis, vice chair of the Council Board and president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, has agreed to chair the Search Committee. The Board is committed to identifying a dynamic leader with a vision for building on the Council’s 70-year track record of success as we enter a new era of leadership, results and service to our members and the field.

But we know this is no ordinary search. It is a rare opportunity to take stock of the philanthropic landscape and trends, look carefully at the role the Council has played as a strategic leader for its members and the field, and think expansively and creatively to make sure the Council on Foundations is prepared to play a vital, essential and positive role in the years to come.  

That starts by making sure our perspective is as broad and inclusive as it can be. I have long felt that any board or committee whose members think they already have all the answers is unlikely to succeed. In that spirit, we will seek to meet with and listen to as many of you in our sector as we possibly can.

I am leading an Outreach Committee, which will gather input from the field about the vision for this next era for the Council and the qualities and qualifications most important for the Council’s next leader. Members of the COF Board are eager to speak with you one on one, or in groups large or small. Wherever philanthropic leaders are convening, we would be delighted to join you to hear your views, glean your insights and gather your suggestions. No organization can be all things to all people, but we are committed to listening so we can benefit from your insights and wisdom as we chart the path forward. At any time throughout this process, please email us at to share your thoughts, ideas and insights. All members of the Outreach Committee will receive that email and, if we have further questions, we will be sure to follow up. To that end, we request that you include your contact information so we can get in touch.

Peter Drucker said, “Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.” At the Council we are committed to doing both.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing additional thoughts -- and seeking your insights -- on this pivotal moment for the Council on Foundations and what it means for our next president. Some of the questions we’ll explore include:

  • Equity, diversity and inclusivity. How can the Council model the values to which our members are dedicated? What does that mean for the ways we conduct our search and consider candidates?
  • Using our Platform for Good. What kind of leader do we need at the helm to face the issues of our times and to use our influence and reach to create a more just society?
  • Bridge builder? Visionary? Policy expert? Philanthropy Evangelist? What are the most important attributes and skills we should look for in a new leader?

I welcome your suggestions on any of these questions. You can reach me at


The next leader of the Council on Foundations should have a clear vision of what the nonprofit sector is, how foundations fit into it, and what objective steps can be taken to increase the effectiveness of the Council's members. For many years I have thought about what is the "right work" is for the Council (and other nonprofit industry groups), and have come firmly to the conclusion that the answer is, simply, freedom. Each foundation represents a vision of change, a protest against the status quo, an expression of individual freedom by the donor(s) and managers of the institution. The Council needs to fight for that freedom, with passion and integrity. The next leader should inspire future philanthropists to realize their own visions and help spread freedom throughout the world. At their core, issues of equity, diversity and inclusivity are all aspects of freedom, and by making the case for freedom, the next leader of the Council can do so much to promote civil rights for all. The platform should use objective metrics to measure freedom so the Council and its members know what we have accomplished and what there is yet to accomplish in the fight for freedom. Yes, the next leader must build bridges, be a visionary, be a policy expert, and evangelize freedom. These are all critical components of the fight for freedom, which is also a fight against tyranny. This is a vital search, because so much is at stake. For more information about the connection between philanthropy and freedom/civil rights, please see my article.

Thank you for your input Alexander!

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