The epithet “coastal elite” reverberated throughout the 2016 presidential campaign — referring to educated, economically advantaged residents mainly of the Northeast Corridor and the West Coast, who are overwhelmingly white, and predominantly liberal or socially moderate versus “real Americans.”
The same thing could be said about the people who govern the country’s biggest foundations with national reach, according to a study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The Chronicle analyzed the board makeup of the 20 largest foundations in the country, not including community and regional grant makers, based on the Foundation Center’s report of 2014 asset size. Data on gender, race/ethnicity, education and residence came directly from the foundations or from public sources.
The study found that of 232 trustees on these foundations’ boards, 52% lived in California or the Northeast, 28% in the New York area. Only a single trustee lived in one of the five states with the highest poverty rates.
Seventy-two percent of the trustees in the study were white, and 63% were male.
Three-quarters graduated from a private university; 40% had an Ivy League credential, including 52 with a Harvard degree, and about 80% had graduate degrees.
Sixteen trustees are current or former presidents of universities, including Columbia, Yale, MIT, Stanford and Duke. Dozens work in finance and business, while only two have had careers in the military and four are religious leaders.
The Chronicle acknowledged that its findings do not precisely reflect a board’s range of perspective or backgrounds. Nor, it said, does every board set its foundation’s agenda.
However, it said the data supported concerns that elite perspectives shape the views and work of large philanthropic institutions. With $162 billion in assets, these 20 foundations wield enormous power to do good, The Chronicle said, but noted criticism that their impact suffers when they are so far removed from the lives and struggles of average Americans.
“Given the fact that many of these foundations attempt to address issues affecting working families and the poor, there’s no good excuse for not having significant socioeconomic diversity on their boards,” Albert Ruesga, former president of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, told The Chronicle.
True, foundations have striven for half a century to increase their racial, ethnic and gender diversity, but diversity advocates say the numbers remain low. “It shows how little progress we’ve made,” philanthropy historian Stanley Katz told The Chronicle.
The data suggest foundations need to consider diversity more broadly, according to Robert Ross, head of the California Endowment and a co-chair of D5, a coalition of grant makers that promotes diversity in philanthropy.
“Geographic diversity for large national foundations may be one of the next hills to climb,” Ross told The Chronicle. “Diversity is not a function solely of race, ethnicity, or gender.
“The unemployed white coal miner in Kentucky and the unemployed African-American auto worker have a lot more in common than meets the eye.”
Following are the 20 foundations in the study with a breakdown of trustees by gender, race/ethnicity, place of residence and education (Ivy League attendance includes either undergraduate or graduate).
20. Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation
Assets: $3.1 billion
Board members: 5 women, 3 men
Race/ethnicity: 7 white
Location: 4 interior, 3 East, 1 West
Education: 2 J.D., 1 M.D., 1 Ivy League
19. Margaret A. Cargill Foundation
Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Assets: $3.1 billion
Board members: 6 men, 2 women
Race/ethnicity: 7 white, 1 Asian
Location: 4 interior, 2 West, 1 East, 1 international
Education: 2 J.D., 2 MBA, 4 Ivy League
18. JPB Foundation
Assets: $3.1 billion
Board members: 4 men, 3 women
Race/ethnicity: 6 white
Location: 6 East, 1 interior
Education: 2 J.D., 1 MBA, 1 M.D., 4 Ivy League
17. John Templeton Foundation
West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania
Assets: $3.2 billion
Board members: 8 men, 3 women
Race/ethnicity: 10 white, 1 other
Location: 5 international, 4 interior, 2 East
Education: 7 Ph.D., 1 MBA, 1 Ivy League
16. Carnegie Corporation
Assets: $3.3 billion
Board members: 13 men, 6 women
Race/ethnicity: 16 white, 2 black, 1 Latino
Location: 13 East, 4 international, 2 interior
Education: 7 Ph.D., 3 J.D., 3 MBA, 7 Ivy League
15. Kresge Foundation
Assets: $3.7 billion
Board members: 6 women, 6 men
Race/ethnicity: 8 white, 2 black, 1 Latino, 1 Asian
Location: 6 East, 5 interior, 1 West
Education: 4 J.D., 2 MBA, 1 Ph.D., 4 Ivy League
14. Rockefeller Foundation
Assets: $4.2 billion
Board members: 7 men, 4 women
Race/ethnicity: 5 black, 3 Asian, 2 white, 1 Latino
Location: 5 East, 5 international, 1 West
Education: 3 M.D., 3 Ph.D., 1 MBA, 1 J.D., 4 Ivy League
13. Open Society Foundations
Assets: $5 billion
Board members: 12 men, 3 women
Race/ethnicity: 9 white, 3 black, 1 Latino, 1 Asian, 1 other
Location: 13 East, 1 West, 1 interior
Education: 5 J.D., 2 Ph.D., 10 Ivy League
12. Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust
Assets: $5.4 billion
Board members: 3 men
Race/ethnicity: 3 white
Location: 2 East, 1 interior
Education: 1 J.D., 1 Ivy League