African American Foundation CEOs: A Look at the Leadership of the Largest Foundations

The Ford Foundation’s recent decision to shift funding focus entirely to inequality has sparked further conversations about foundations’ responsibility to fund programs and initiatives combating socioeconomic and racial inequality. Recent events from Ferguson to South Carolina have triggered renewed discussion about foundations’ roles with respect to race and, in particular, the opportunities and challenges facing African Americans. Given this, it’s reasonable to wonder — who leads foundations, anyway? Following up our posts on the background and gender of foundation CEOs, we wanted to take a look at the proportion of African American foundation CEOs at the largest 100 U.S. foundations. (Disclosure: similar to our posts on foundation CEOs’ gender and background, we categorized the CEOs in this study using publicly available information. While this leaves some room for error, we are confident in the results.)

What did we find?

  • Of the 100 foundations with the largest asset sizes, nine percent of CEOs are African American.
  • Among the top 50 foundations by asset size, 14 percent of CEOs are African American
  • Among the top 25 foundations by asset size, 17 percent of CEOs are African American.
  • Finally, of the ten largest foundations by asset size, three CEOs are African American — 30 percent.

How does this compare to the field-wide data on race of foundation staff? COF’s recent report shows that, of approximately 8,500 full-time foundation staff from about 1,000 foundations, ten percent of staff are black. From this survey population, COF also found that only about three percent of U.S. foundation CEOs are black.

Similar to our findings on the gender breakdown of foundation CEOs, we’re seeing that the very largest foundations are leading the way with respect to racial diversity.

Jen Cole is a research analyst at CEP. Phil Buchanan is president of CEP. You can find him on Twitter at @PhilCEP.


Foundation Management, foundation staff/program officers, foundations, leadership
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