Phil Henderson, Surdna Foundation's President, reflects on the mission, goals, and programs of the social justice family foundation.

From the President

  • Phillip Henderson Announces Transition as President of the Surdna Foundation

    Dear Colleagues,

    At Surdna's early November board meeting, I informed the board of my intention to step down from my post as soon as they have identified a successor.  I am proud of the work we have done at the Foundation since I arrived in 2007, and I believe it is time for me to move on and also time to bring in a new leader to propel the Foundation forward.

    I am very proud to have helped Surdna close out its first century with some notable achievements.  We put pursuing socially just and sustainable communities in the United States at the heart of the Foundation’s mission.  We found our voice in the pursuit of social justice particularly in communities of color across the country.  We made important contributions supporting the rebirth of New Orleans in the decade after Katrina.  We even committed $100 million of our endowment to investments that align with our mission.  And through all this we remain a multi-generational, family-governed foundation with a great many family members steering the Foundation, ensuring that it continues to live up to the vision and values of its founder, John E. Andrus. 

    Over my time here, I have had the privilege of serving alongside colleagues who have helped me learn more deeply about social justice and equity, who have introduced me to amazing leaders and their innovative ideas, and who have helped me grow as a leader throughout these past 10 years.

    Now, as Surdna enters its second century, it is time for new leadership and new vision to build on the excellent work of our board and staff.  While change is never easy, I believe the Foundation is ready for it. I also believe that this change will push the Foundation forward in new and exciting ways.

    The board will launch a national search in early 2018. I will be doing everything I can during this period to create a smooth transition to new leadership. 

    Over the past 25 years, I have worked to empower people and communities, to bolster democratic practice, and to help improve the lives of many in the United States and abroad.  As I move on from Surdna, I look forward to continuing to help make positive social change in the world.  I’m excited about the possibilities before me and to see the great work of Surdna continue under new leadership.


    Phils Signature

    Phillip Henderson

  • A Statement on Charlottesville

    This past year, we have seen political and social norms challenged and often trampled.  We have struggled to keep our bearings and hold to our moral principles. As we have been inundated by the constant barrage of events, media firestorms, and tweets, a tragic and horrible day in Charlottesville provides a chilling moment of clarity and outrage. 

    Let’s be clear -- this is not an isolated incident. It is an extreme expression of the deep-seated racism that has persisted in our culture and institutions since our nation’s founding. 

    A moment like Charlottesville cuts through the noise and reminds us that there is much at stake in this period of upheaval and that there are core principles of justice, fairness, and equality that form the basis, the central idea, of this country. These principles are not only worth fighting for, they are principles that we must fight for.

    Despite the virulent hate on display from the fascist, neo-Nazi groups that converged in Virginia over the weekend, we believe there is widespread eagerness across our society to collectively confront the deep challenges we have -- racially, economically and socially.

    So, what do we do?  We must continue the arduous process of building the America we want and desperately need -- an America that acknowledges and rejects the racism present across our institutions and our norms and lives up to the ideals we espouse, of equality, justice, and freedom.  We believe this is where leaders and leadership matter most.  We can't count on the right words or actions to come from Washington to reset the path of this country. 

    But there are leaders among us.  Leaders of color have long been at the forefront of struggles for racial justice. Young leaders with deep reserves of energy and ideas are hard at work in communities across the country.  We find leadership in our schools and universities, in city, county and state governments, at nonprofit organizations and foundations, and within businesses who have used their resources for social good.   We have seen countless examples in the past year of these leaders stepping forward to both say the right thing and do the right thing, to call out the blatant and the subtle ways in which American institutions are failing to live up to our values and our ideals.

    As a Foundation guided by the principles of social justice, we at Surdna support the work of these leaders to help our communities grow and prosper sustainably, inclusively, and equitably.   We are inspired by the extraordinary and courageous work of the organizations we support and have seen the power of collective action to make change.

    Now is the time for policymakers – those who are speaking out and those who remain silent – to decry hate and violence, and challenge the deep roots of racism that persist in the institutions and laws that govern our country.

    The events in Charlottesville demand that policymakers join the leaders among us fighting for justice and equity to envision and enact policies and practices that create the conditions that respect the rights of all people, and guarantee equity, inclusion, and self-determination for all.

    This will require courage and persistence in pursuit of transformative long-term change.  And as we have witnessed, now is most certainly the time for action.

    Phillip Henderson, President
    Surdna Foundation

  • Reflections on the Election

    In just a few weeks, the Surdna Foundation will begin its centennial year.  Over the past century, communities across the United States have faced and overcome critical challenges, seen extraordinary advancements, and suffered devastating setbacks.  We, like you, continue to try to make sense of the election last week, an election that in many states and localities saw the advancement of key elements of our agenda, but also resulted in a president-elect who ran on policies and rhetoric that are at odds with the values of inclusion, social justice, and sustainability that are at the core of the work Surdna does.  We observe these results humbled by the scope of the changes over the past century and humbled by the recognition that we don’t know what the coming decades will bring.

    What we do know, however, is that in the next few years we and our partners, across the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, have critical work to do.  We must defend and advance the issues we care about in the face of emboldened opposition to those ideas.  Surdna and our many partners stand for social justice, and, through our programs, we place equity first.  The Trump campaign used and encouraged dangerous rhetoric that opposes the core ideals of social justice and equity. This was deeply troubling to us.  We are concerned that as a nation we will be unable to heal the wounds suffered in the past year of divisive electioneering, and instead will continue to hear inflammatory rhetoric and see policies pursued by the new administration and their allies that further damage the rights, economic opportunities, and social cohesion among families and communities that Surdna and our partners work so hard to support.  This will require us to defend hard-won gains where necessary, to build new partnerships, to find new solutions to current challenges, and to stand up for what we believe.

    We remain committed to the pursuit of healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures because they are key to truly equitable and sustainable communities.  And we remain committed to these programs and our values at this moment precisely because we believe they are important for all of us, regardless of political affiliation.  We care about increasing the number of people who hold high quality jobs.  We care about creating the next generation of infrastructure in our cities and towns, infrastructure that serves everyone and makes our communities more prosperous and livable.  We want our communities to be suffused with art, and to have artists expressing the deep bonds that are at the heart of the places we live and thrive.  These goals are not partisan, they are the promise of the United States that can and must be realized.

    We value our many partnerships with remarkable nonprofits and social change groups.  We also recognize that to continue advancing our efforts to build just and sustainable communities, there are critical questions facing us, and that deep and continuing dialogue and collaboration with our partners will help guide the way forward.  The tenor of the presidential election reflects real pain, anger and division in the United States, and we must address that reality as we move forward.  To do that, in the next few years, we will need to build new partnerships across sectors and geographies.  We will need to listen, learn, and engage differently, leading with the humility of an institution that has been around for a century and still realizes how much there is that we don’t know. 


Phillip Henderson, President, Surdna Foundation

Phillip W. HendersonA national leader among family foundation executives, Phil Henderson has focused Surdna on collaboration both internally across programs, and externally among funders within the foundation's issue areas. He has committed the foundation to using social justice as a compass to guide the systemic change Surdna aims for in its mission.

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Fostering sustainable communities in the United States — communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.