Press Release

Council Mourns President Emeritus James A. Joseph


WASHINGTON - The Council on Foundations is deeply saddened by the passing of James A. Joseph, former Council president and U.S. Ambassador to South Africa in the late 1990s, last week at age 87. 

In perhaps his most visible role, Joseph served as a Black envoy to a nation that had just elected its first Black leader, Nelson Mandela, and was instrumental in expanding and promoting the United States’ support for the new post-apartheid leadership.  

His contributions to society spanned not just philanthropy and diplomacy but also social justice, from his time as a civil rights organizer in the 1960s to his role in co-founding of ABFE. Created in 1971, ABFE continues to move the field toward a greater recognition of systemic racism and its devastating effect on Black communities.  

"It is still true, as it was when I said 40 years ago, that diversity need not divide,” Joseph said, addressing the Council in 2011, "that pluralism rightly understood and rightly practiced is a benefit and not a burden; and as communities and cultures around the world are now demonstrating, what some regard as the hunger for democracy may actually be diversity in search of a more perfect union.” 

As president and CEO of the Council from 1982 to 1995, Joseph was credited with significantly expanding the organization’s reach. And in 1982, and he engaged deeply with Congress on major tax reform legislation that changed how private foundations are regulated. 

“There’s a reason that Jim Joseph’s legacy spans sectors and continents,” said Kathleen Enright, the Council’s president and CEO. “He was a fearless leader who lived his values, and he pushed others to do the same. Philanthropy would not be as robust and high-impact without his leadership.” 

Tying together the philanthropic and diplomatic threads of his life, Joseph advised leaders gathered in Johannesburg for the 2016 Global Summit on Community Philanthropy that shifting power and building more just communities wouldn’t be easy: “This is a time when we need leaders in philanthropy who are willing to take risks and leaders who are not afraid to stand for something,” he said. "But I know from my experience that times of crisis are also times of opportunity and that when you provide help you also provide hope.” 

Joseph’s distinguished career also saw him serve as a minister, business leader, philanthropist, and author, and he served in the White House under presidents Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton. His accolades include 19 honorary degrees, an ABFE annual lecture on philanthropy named in his honor, and induction into the Order of Good Hope, the highest South African honor awarded to a citizen of another country.  

The Council joins Joseph’s family and friends in mourning his loss and celebrating the hope and leadership he brought to the field. 



About the Council on Foundations 

The Council on Foundations exists to help philanthropy be a trusted partner in advancing the greater good. Building on our 70-year history, we are charting a course where funders earn and maintain the public's trust by advancing equity, operating with high integrity, collaborating on broadscale challenges, and serving as ethical stewards. Learn more about the Council and become a member by visiting 

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