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Special Assistant to the CEO

San Francisco or Los Angeles

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 $2.2 billion in grants to organizations throughout California, including a record $129 million in 2021. We have about 80 staff across our San Francisco and Los Angeles offices. The 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 a Director of 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
    • Crafts and manages email correspondence with senior leaders
    • Tracks and maintains reports on progress and results of partnerships
    • Assesses progress and develops ideas to improve partnerships
    • Keeps CEO and Program team abreast of progress and results
  • Explores early stage grantmaking ideas in partnership with Program 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
    • Initiates and acts as primary staff lead on select grants of interest to CEO
  • 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 results to CEO and other senior leaders
  • Provides support to Program Development function
    • Stewards annual goal setting and reflection processes
    • Coordinates creation of quarterly progress dashboards
    • Coordinates and facilitates agenda for team meetings
  • 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

  • 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

How to Apply

Interested candidates should submit a cover letter, resume, and two writing samples through our website: If you need to submit via regular mail, that address is:

The James Irvine Foundation

Human Resources Department

One Bush Street, Suite 800

San Francisco, CA 94104

Application deadline: Open Until Filled. Applicants who have previously applied for this role will be considered and need not reapply.

The Foundation is an Equal Opportunity Employer, and we encourage applicants who reflect the diversity of California. Qualified applicants with criminal histories will be considered pursuant to the San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance (“FCO”). The Foundation greatly appreciates all interest expressed in our openings.

Position Details

Reports to: Director of Program Development

Status: Exempt

Location: San Francisco or Los Angeles

Application Deadline: Open Until Filled

Apply Now

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