Don Howard, The James Irvine Foundation

TITLE: President and CEO

FUNDING AREAS: Arts, California democracy, youth programs

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Irvine is primarily concerned with furthering the arts. However, Howard has deep professional passions for education, youth causes, and the environment throughout California. Play on these key areas if your nonprofit gets the opportunity to discuss your proposals with Howard directly.

PROFILE: Don Howard had been serving as the interim president and CEO of The James Irvine Foundation while the board searched for a new permanent leader. But following a “broad and extensive search that saw an extraordinary number of strong and diverse candidates,” the foundation unanimously decided to stick with the guy who’d been keeping the top seat warm. Now in an official and permanent capacity, Howard fills the shoes of James Canales, who moved across the country to make history as the first president of the Barr Foundation.

Prior to joining Irvine, Howard headed the San Francisco branch of the Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit strategy firm that helps organizations and philanthropists achieve better results. At Bridgespan, Howard led the “revolutionizing communities” program area and worked most extensively in the areas of youth development, environmental sustainability and education reform.

Irvine prides itself on being the largest multi-purpose foundation that is exclusively dedicated to the needs of California. Irvine makes grants in three program areas: arts, youth, and California democracy. The foundation gives throughout the state, but they have a special focus on the San Joaquin Valley and Riverside and San Bernadino counties, because, in their own words:

  • "They have been traditionally underserved by philanthropy.
  • They are experiencing major demographic shifts and rapid population growth.
  • They are regions where low-income Californians reside in disproportionate numbers."

Even if you're proposing a program outside of one of the geographic areas, you're wise to keep in mind that the foundation is looking to serve these types of populations.

Also be mindful that arts are top priority for the foundation; 15 to 20 percent of arts proposals are selected for funding each year. On the contrary, less than 1 percent of democracy and youth proposals are funded annually. However, given Howard's professional history with youth programs, your chances just got better than ever before.

"In my work with nonprofits and foundations, I’ve come to truly appreciate the strength of Irvine’s strategy, the importance of its values, and the impact of its work,” Howard was quoted in a foundation press release. But Howard wasn't always so entrenched in the world of philanthropy. Before his 11-year tenure at Bridgespan, he worked at the international management consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton, and before that he knocked out an MBA at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

In his “spare time,” Howard has been an advisor on the board of a number of Bay Area organizations including the San Francisco Department of Public Health, UCSF, the National Institutes of Health, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. He has been an outspoken activist in the HIV and AIDS communities and found his way into a number of health-related issues. Howard is a transplant to the Bay Area, though he didn’t have to travel very far from his native Long Beach. Transplant or not, Don Howard is deeply committed to Bay Area causes.

Howard has enjoyed great success with his California Pay for Success Initiative throughout the state. In fact, it was under his leadership that Irvine committed $2.5 million to connect donors, foundations, and investors to save money for government agencies. In turn, government entities repay investors with a return on their investments for projects that go as planned. Howard is the type of president that isn’t scared of change and believes in the power of investing in new, promising solutions.

Both the foundation and Howard make themselves very accessible for grantseekers. The foundation makes regular publications about its grantmaking, which can open up the eyes of less experienced nonprofits. Howard is an avid Tweeter, and makes frequent posts about trends in philanthropy and other local causes on his Twitter page (see below).

Each of Irvine's program areas has its own program director, so chances are, you won't even be dealing with Howard directly unless you get funded. Irvine has a decently-sized staff, although Howard is the one making the final call on a lot of funding decisions. Keep up with trends in the foundation's giving style on its News and Insights page, and the Grantmaking page to get started on your application. 


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