Leadership in a Changing World

As we consider the road ahead for the Council on Foundations, “leadership” is a word that comes up over and over again. The question is how the Council can continue to serve the broader philanthropic field while also helping to define issues and bring our members together around solutions and approaches. And few areas are more important, and more in need of consistent, thoughtful leadership, than the topic of shaping a more diverse, equitable and inclusive world.

Over the past several years, the Council has made it an essential part of our mission to help our members think through issues of equity, diversity and inclusion and to reflect those values in their grant making and their own operations.

We’ve worked closely with our members to act with intention to make sure that America’s diversity is increasingly reflected among the senior ranks of philanthropic institutions. Career Pathways is the Council on Foundations’ flagship leadership development program. Launched in 2010, and supported generously by the Duke Endowment, the Kresge Foundation, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, its goal is to increase the number of candidates from diverse backgrounds in the leadership pipeline who are considered, appointed, and retained in senior and executive philanthropic leadership positions.  To date more than 60 leaders have taken part, and the 2018 Career Pathways cohort will bring that total to more than 80.

At the same time, the philanthropic field itself is evolving, with different structures, approaches and focus areas bringing new ideas and new voices into the mix. February’s North American Community Foundations Summit in Mexico City brought together community foundations from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to share innovative approaches to shared challenges like poverty, inequality, immigration, economic development, climate change and more.

It’s also important to expand our vision beyond the obvious and to apply an equity lens to every aspect of the Council’s work, and every facet of the philanthropic world. The session on investment manager diversity at the most recent Endowments and Finance Summit was a great example. Grounded on a comprehensive report by Knight Foundation on this issue, the panelists highlighted the need to focus on who reaps the benefits of managing the billions of dollars in foundation investments, in addition to who benefits from foundation grant making.

Leadership starts at the top. As the Council seeks its next president, we believe it is vitally important to the Board that we build on the progress we’ve made over the past several years.  Our firm commitment is to continue to put our values into action when it comes to equity, diversity and inclusion.

As part of this commitment, we will ensure that we have a genuinely diverse pool of candidates -- not just demographically, but in terms of their experiences, approaches and ways of thinking. The next president of the Council must come with an enthusiastic commitment to continuing the promise to true leadership on diversity, equity and inclusion that the Council has established. And we will be looking for creativity and an expansive vision for the Council’s role in creating a more just and equitable world.

What do you think? How can the Council help advance the field’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion? What questions should we keep in mind as we conduct our search and think about the Council’s leadership role on these issues?

I encourage you to contact us at outreach@cof.org with your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

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