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Career Pathways to Philanthropic Leadership

Last week, we were honored to attend the Council on Foundations’ “Leadership Conversation on Diversity and Inclusion in Philanthropy” in Washington, D.C. This meeting convened a group of nonprofit leaders to dialogue about issues such as workplace diversity and executive transitions.

Of particular interest, the Council on Foundations shared a research report entitled “Career Pathways to Philanthropic Leadership.” This baseline study looks at potential keys to success for emerging leaders in philanthropy, as well as offers insights into the total appointment process.

The key findings from this research include:

1. Nearly 80 percent of the 440 foundations appointing CEOs and executive directors during the study period filled them not through internal promotions but from candidates outside the

2. Most of the successful candidates held executive positions in their immediate prior position as either chief executive or vice president before successfully landing in their current position.

3. The majority of the successful candidates made the transition from fields outside of philanthropy— primarily from the business and nonprofit sectors.

4. Of the successful candidates, nearly 20 percent were from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds and about half were women.

5. Thirty percent of field leaders who were interviewed said mentors played a major role in their career advancement.

6. About 85 percent of the interviewees expressed significant skepticism about the willingness of trustees, search consultants, and other hiring decision makers to be influenced by leadership
development efforts (such as fellowship programs that train new leaders) as they contemplate hiring decisions about executive candidates.

The report is now available for download on the Council of Foundations website, and is a must read for current and future philanthropic leaders.


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