CFON is a national leadership and action network of community foundations committed to achieving equity and opportunity in our communities and was created in early 2016.

CFON includes leading community foundations from every region in the US. Participating foundations serve communities with a spectrum of geographic, demographic, racial, and socioeconomic diversity. We welcome additional community foundations and other change-oriented funders.  Since our inception, the following national foundation partners have also supported the network:  Annie E. Casey Foundation, Fidelity Charitable Trustees’ Initiative, Ford Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, Skillman Foundation, and W.T. Grant Foundation.  Advisors to the group have included Dr. Robert Putnam, Richard Reeves, Nisha Patel, The Urban Institute, Frameworks Institute, New America, Zero To Three, and other leading thinkers on related issues of opportunity, mobility, and equity.

The Challenge

Growing inequities of opportunity, declining social mobility, and the persistent legacy of structural and systemic racism are some of the greatest defining challenges of our day. Progress to increase equity and advance mobility has been elusive and the shocks of the COVID pandemic, economic disruption, and educational declines have further increased disparities.

“Whether you talk about equity, belonging, or any word you’re going to use, at the end of the day, the word that matters in equity is all. Equity means just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.” – Michael McAfee, CEO PolicyLink, CFON Forum Keynote Address, May 17, 2023

Evidence and experience tell us that no single solution will work to solve these complex and multi-faceted problems – and every community is unique.  What is required are efforts tailored to each community’s circumstances that tie together the right strategy levers, weaving together mutually reinforcing initiatives of policies, practices and trustworthy relationships linking leaders and all members of communities to achieve common goals.  The greatest strength of community foundations is doing just that: bringing together people and institutions at all levels of the community.  This is at the core of our mission and commitment.

CFON is built on the proposition that community foundations are among the best positioned organizations in their communities to achieve systems change based on cross-sector collaboration building on deep relationships in each sector.  Community foundations are driving proven solutions to address the systemic roots of inequity, disadvantage, and racism, channeling philanthropic resources into interventions that work. They are connecting donors who are deeply invested in local communities to power effective solutions tailored to the unique realities of those communities. They are building cross-sector partnerships, tracking meaningful metrics, and driving public policy changes.

Through CFON, community foundations are coming together to pursue their common goal to increase equity and mobility for all.

Purpose and Values

CFON is a network of community foundations committed to working together to advance equity, opportunity, and justice for all people in our communities.

 We believe…

  • that dismantling structural and systemic racism is imperative to achieve economic and social mobility for individuals, families, and communities across the US.
  • in sharing power and decision making through proximity to and inclusion of diverse voices of those with lived experience and most affected by our collective challenges.
  • that by listening and working with our communities to create and adopt new narratives about local challenges, we will help advance and influence equitable policy and investments and leverage philanthropic and community capital in new ways.
  • that it takes courage to challenge current thinking through deep, intentional conversations and to make investments in bold and innovative strategies that lead to long-term, enduring change.
  • that learning and evolving our work, through curiosity and humility, are key cornerstones to drive and sustain change.
  • in the power of building and nurturing authentic individual and institutional relationships to foster trust within our communities.

Structure and Objectives

To organize its work, CFON adopted the strategic framework developed by the US Partnership for Mobility from Poverty (with permission), adding an explicit emphasis on equity, belonging, and inclusion.


CFON is designed to empower foundations and their partners on the ground to learn faster, develop new approaches, prototype those ideas, attract significant philanthropic investments, and scale innovations and strategies that produce results. To achieve that, CFON operates on three interconnected paths to action, each building capacity for the other:


Path 1: The Learning and Sharing Network  is the common ground for the participating foundations to learn from each other, benchmark with each other, and understand and develop the preconditions for success at the local level. This includes virtual and face-to-face gatherings, access to resources and thought leadership, and facilitated ways to connect with one another.

Path 2: The Strategy Action Lab is an opportunity for foundations to rigorously test strategy and develop or strengthen the preconditions necessary for leadership resulting in measurable improvement. The SALs serve cohorts of 4-6 CFON participants focused on strategies around a common area (recent Labs centered on Access to Good Jobs, Early Childhood Development, and  Equitable Housing).

Path 3: The Aligned Action Network,  NEON is designed to attract and deploy significant philanthropic capital to accelerate the work of dismantling structural and systemic racism and achieving economic and social mobility in communities where the participating foundations have demonstrated the capacity to lead and influence these outcomes.  The cohort is committed to working together toward common strategies, metrics, narrative, and policy agenda.


Our Leadership Team

CFON is led by a volunteer Leadership Council comprised of CEOs and senior staff of participating community foundations.

  • Pamela Gray Payton, Chief Impact & Partnerships Officer, The San Diego Foundation, Chair
  • Sheri Brown Grosvenor, VP Community Impact, Community Foundation of Broward
  • Frank Fernandez, CEO, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
  • Michele Frix, Executive Vice President, Seattle Foundation
  • Phil Koch, VP Policy and Community Impact, The Pittsburgh Foundation
  • Dick Ober, CEO, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation – CFON Co-founder
  • Pamela Ross, former VP Opportunity, Equity & Inclusion, The Indianapolis Foundation; independent consultant
  • Javier Soto, CEO, The Denver Foundation

CFON is supported by part-time staff and consultants.

  • Amy Daly-Donovan (Daly-Donovan Consulting), Executive Director
  • Terry Mazany (former CEO of Chicago Community Trust), Strategy Lead
  • Tom Kelly (KEL Advising), Data & Evaluation for NEON