Key Points

Scholarship on foundations has tended to focus on the organizational level or their societal roles. Less attention has been given to foundations’ internal dynamics. Thus, how the roles of foundation staff have developed and evolved has been largely overshadowed. To better understand this development, this article focuses on the individual professional. After a review of a century of research on foundation staff roles, this article maps and synthesizes four research periods highlighting the impact of philanthropic events on role evolution, demonstrating a movement from amateur traditions to emerging professional influences. Then, it critically reflects on the literature, particularly its U.S.-centricity and the significance of grey literature to inform future international and comparative research on foundation staff roles. Finally, this article asks how current philanthropic events will impact the development of future foundation staff roles. Four areas of inquiry are presented for foundation practitioners and associations to explore: expertise, training, competencies, and policies. Developing more complete knowledge of and reflection on staff roles can lead to a greater understanding of philanthropic foundations.

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