BY Don Hickman, Chair, TFN Board of Directors

When TFN President and CEO Pat Smith announced her retirement this summer, we began the daunting but admittedly exciting work of finding a successor – one with the vision, values and strategic dexterity needed to lead our network of changemakers committed to environmental, economic and racial justice.

It turns out we didn’t have to look very far.

I’m thrilled to announce that Dion Cartwright – TFN’s senior director of equity initiatives and leadership development and head of our PLACES Fellowship program – will be the next president and CEO of TFN.

Dion brings to her new role more than two decades of experience in the social sector and a passion for centering marginalized and underserved communities.

She also offers a singular perspective as the soon-to-be leader of this incredible network: A former program officer for the Baltimore Community Foundation, Dion is herself a PLACES Alum who went on to serve as chair of the Fellowship’s Advisory Board before joining TFN’s team full time in 2016.

Her trajectory – from funder and PLACES Fellow to TFN president and CEO – embodies TFN’s vision to cultivate courageous philanthropic leaders who are engaged, emboldened and equipped to bring about a just society.

“As both a PLACES Alum and a member of TFN’s leadership team, I’ve witnessed the tremendous progress we’ve made in advocating for community-led solutions and equity-focused actions that address an escalating climate crisis, widening wealth gap and other issues critical to our collective wellbeing,” said Dion.

“The growth I’ve seen is amazing, and the opportunities I see ahead are inspiring,” she said. “I am truly honored to lead TFN as we work to create a political home for philanthropic leadership that is boldly and unapologetically committed to advancing racial equity, inclusion and justice.”

Passing the Baton   

Dion will take on her new role in January, following Pat’s official retirement. We are grateful for Pat’s service to TFN over the past five years, a tenure that included helping the network and its staff weather the most challenging period of the COVID pandemic. Under her leadership, TFN also established a new strategic framework and its first racial equity action plan, ensuring TFN remains a thriving and sustainable organization with an explicit, foundational and cross-cutting approach to addressing systemic racism and its impact on the people and places we serve.

Pat is quick to note that Dion played a key role in guiding the creation of TFN’s racial equity framework, and has been instrumental in supporting a culture of accountability and transparency as we work to implement those goals.

“I’m extraordinarily excited about the next chapter for TFN under Dion’s leadership,” said Pat, who announced her planned retirement in June. “It’s been a pleasure having the opportunity to work with Dion, and I’ve benefitted from her counsel on both a personal and professional level. I’m confident she is the right person to help guide TFN toward the future.”

Shortly after Pat shared her retirement plans with the board, we hired an executive search firm to launch a national recruitment effort that resulted in dozens of highly qualified and deeply passionate candidates from across the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors.

I’d like to acknowledge my fellow TFN board members for their hard work and diligence during this process, including the board’s selection committee members.

TFN’s Board of Directors has created a transition task force that will work closely with Pat, Dion and the rest of the network’s leadership team to ensure a seamless changeover and the continued momentum of the PLACES Fellowship and Alumni Network. While we do not have immediate plans regarding who will replace Dion as head of the PLACES program, Talissa Lahaliyed, TFN’s equity programs manager, will serve as point person for PLACES during the transition period.

Power of PLACES 

The PLACES Fellowship is one of TFN’s most significant efforts to foster leadership in the philanthropic sector.

Established nearly 15 years ago, PLACES – which stands for Professionals Learning About Community, Equity and Sustainability – is designed to give grantmakers the tools and resources to understand, challenge and change systemic inequities.

More than 180 PLACES Fellows have completed this rigorous program over the years. PLACES Alums hail from all corners of the United States and Canada and represent national, regional and community foundations, intermediaries, and philanthropy serving organizations.

Their impact can be seen within their own institutions and across the broader philanthropic sector. PLACES Alums have also contributed to an impressive leadership pipeline within TFN, lending their talents and expertise to our working groups, steering committees and TFN’s Board of Directors, where they currently occupy five of 13 board seats.

“PLACES was created to help funders work through the systematic challenges of creating meaningful change for underserved and left-behind communities,” said Sheena Solomon, executive director of The Gifford Foundation and vice chair of TFN’s Board of Directors. “Through Dion’s leadership the program has become a true demonstration of what racial equity work can look like in the sector.”

A PLACES Alum and chair of the PLACES Advisory Board, Sheena also chaired the board’s leadership selection committee.

“Dion’s new role is an affirmation of her impressive skills as well as TFN’s investment in her and the PLACES program,” said Sheena. “This work requires a deep level of hope and enthusiasm for the future of philanthropy. Dion carries those qualities with her everywhere she goes and there is no one better to continue inspiring them in others.”

Leadership Journey 

Dion found her calling to lead at an early age, starting with the youth ministry at her church in Lynchburg, Va., where her late grandfather was pastor. She also honed her skills on the basketball court, playing forward and center in local sports leagues and eventually volunteering as a youth basketball coach in the Amateur Athletic Union.

A student-athlete at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, where she studied computer science and business administration, Dion worked for the Baltimore Community Foundation’s Community Investment team for 15 years before joining TFN. In 2015, Dion was named one of the Daily Record’s Leading Women Under 40. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy and on the United Philanthropy Forum’s Racial Equity Committee. She previously served as the inaugural board chair of the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund, a nonprofit organization created to support Baltimore’s youth, following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.

She’ll continue to be based in Baltimore, which coincidentally is the site of TFN’s 2025 Annual Conference. As a reminder, we decided not to hold our Annual Conference in 2024 in order to foster a smooth and productive transition for TFN’s incoming president and CEO.

But there will be ample opportunities to connect with Dion and the rest of TFN’s team – both virtually and in person – in the coming year, including the Smart Growth California Funder Summit in Sacramento and the joint Spring Convening of our GREEN, Urban Water and Mobility & Access Collaborative funders in Austin.

“I’ve been blessed to work alongside such a talented group of individuals at TFN for so many years,” said Dion. “And I look forward to supporting a culture of shared collaboration, growth and learning as we chart a new path forward, together.”

On behalf of TFN’s community, please join me in congratulating Dion as she takes on this new challenge.


About the Author

Don Hickman is chair of TFN’s Board of Directors. He is vice president for community and workforce development at the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls, Minn.





TFN Leadership Transition: Resources & Further Reading

Moving Forward, With Gratitude | A Message from TFN President & CEO Pat Smith

Building Equity & Igniting Action | TFN’s Strategic and Racial Equity Frameworks

PLACES X: Stories of Impact – Dion Cartwright | PLACES 10th Anniversary (Access the full multimedia PLACES X archive here.)

TFN President & CEO: Position Details and Desired Qualifications | McCormack + Kristel

➡ Become a TFN Member! | Learn More About Membership Benefits & Eligibility