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Special Assistant to the CEO

San Francisco

About the Foundation

The James Irvine Foundation is a private, nonprofit grantmaking foundation dedicated to expanding opportunity for the people of California. The Foundation’s vision is a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically. Since 1937 the Foundation has provided more than $1.87 billion in grants to organizations throughout California. With about $2.5 billion in assets, the Foundation made grants of $105 million in 2019. We have about 55 staff across our San Francisco and Los Angeles offices. The Irvine Foundation is committed, internally and externally, to the values of accountability, curiosity, empathy, equity, nimbleness, partnership, and transparency.

Position Summary

The Special Assistant will work with the CEO to develop and manage special projects, including alliances and partnerships, to advance the Foundation’s vision of “a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically.”

The Special Assistant will work directly with Don Howard, President and CEO, to manage special executive- and board-level projects. Chief among these are potential partnerships with leading philanthropic, labor, public sector, and business leaders and their organizations. Additionally, this role will assess the potential of early stage investment ideas identified by the CEO.

This work requires strong relationship-building skills, the ability to create clear and compelling presentation materials, analytic skills, and attention to detail. The Special Assistant will interact with senior leaders and board members at the Irvine Foundation and will join the CEO in meetings with senior leaders of other institutions.

Reporting to Amy Saxton, Vice President for Program Development, the Special Assistant will also work closely with other teams at the Foundation, particularly Program Implementation, Grants Administration, and Communications as well as the Foundation’s Chief of Staff and Planning.

Principal Duties and Responsibilities

  • Cultivates potential partners as directed by the CEO
    • Develops and maintains an understanding of high priority partners
    • Works with CEO and Program Development team to assess potential partners using data analysis to determine potential for impact and alignment with our strategy
    • Works with CEO to determine whether and how to pursue potential partners
    • Prepares clear and compelling presentation materials for prospective partners
    • Manages partnership cultivation pipeline
  • Manages ongoing partnerships
    • Serves as point person with partners for implementation of joint efforts
    • Tracks and maintains reports on progress and results of partnerships
    • Assesses progress and develops ideas to improve partnerships
    • Keeps CEO and Program Development and Implementation teams abreast of progress and results
  • Explores early-stage grantmaking ideas in partnership with Program Development and Program Implementation staff
    • Researches and scopes potential and alignment of early grantmaking ideas
    • Collaborates with relevant members of Program Development and Program Implementation to ensure coordination and knowledge sharing
    • Develops or transitions high potential opportunities for investment in partnership with relevant program staff
  • Leads special projects, as assigned by CEO or other senior leaders
    • Develops project plans
    • Engages others as needed within Irvine to deliver the project
    • Reports out results to CEO and other senior leaders
  • Participates in other cross-functional teams, as assigned by CEO and/or Vice President for Program Development



  • A strong desire to contribute to the mission of The James Irvine Foundation
  • Experience working independently with senior executives in the private, public, or social sectors
  • Experience developing and managing partnerships between large institutions
  • Five years of professional work experience or three years of work experience plus graduate training (MBA or MPA preferred)


Desired Skills and Abilities

  • Interpersonal skills: the ability to work collaboratively with individuals and teams at all levels internal and external to the organization
  • Organizational skills: self-directed (e.g., manage process, plan workflow, handle multiple tasks simultaneously, meet deadlines), attention to detail, and follow-through
  • Technical skills: Understanding of philanthropy; strong communications capabilities and experience creating presentation materials for various audiences; quantitative and qualitative research, analysis, and synthesis capabilities
  • A personal style characterized by humility, flexibility, self-awareness, accessibility, curiosity, humor, a sense of urgency, and the ability to work with grace under pressure
Position Details

Reports to: Vice President of Program Development

Status: Exempt

Application Deadline: Open Until Filled

Location: San Francisco

Apply Now

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