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Tonya Allen to step down as president of The Skillman Foundation to lead the McKnight Foundation

DETROIT – Tonya Allen, who has served as The Skillman Foundation’s President & CEO since 2014, will be stepping down to lead the McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Tonya Allen

“Tonya has been a force at The Skillman Foundation and in Detroit. Representing the Foundation, she has held a laser focus on children and Detroit as CEO for the last seven years, including taking on leadership roles in the city and the state,” said Mary Kramer, incoming Board Chair for The Skillman Foundation. “This is a big loss for us and for Detroit. But we understand and support this important move. As we search for a successor, we will look for a leader who can build on her legacy and that overarching goal of creating an equitable future for children in Detroit.”

The Skillman Foundation is a Detroit-based children’s philanthropy that works to ensure the city’s youth achieve their highest aspirations. During Allen’s 16-year tenure at the Foundation, she has been instrumental in designing and leading numerous impactful, high-profile initiatives, including:

“The Skillman Foundation and Detroit are my heart,” said Allen. “Thinking about the impact our team has been able to make for children in Detroit fills me with pride. I never saw myself leaving, but when you are called you must act. I’m committed to advancing racial equity, and to do so from the site where our country lost George Floyd, Philando Castile, and so many others is something I could not turn away from. At the same time, I have confidence that The Skillman Foundation is well- equipped to continue its mission as a fierce champion for Detroit kids, after all they have done this over six decades.”

Allen’s accomplishments are representative of the legacy of The Skillman Foundation, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this month. Its founder, Rose Skillman, a fierce advocate for children, established the Foundation in December 1960. As of December 2020, it has granted nearly $670M in service of children and has assets of approximately $500M, allowing the Foundation to serve children into perpetuity.

“Tonya Allen stands tall among a long line of powerful leaders who have been at the helm of The Skillman Foundation. It has been an honor to support her and the critical work of the Foundation. Both will go on to continue to make meaningful impact,” said Suzanne Shank, Board Member and Chair of the Foundation’s search committee for the next president & CEO.

Maria Woodruff-Wright

Allen plans to step down in February of 2021. The Foundation has an established succession plan, which appoints its Vice President of Operations & CFO, Maria Woodruff-Wright, as an interim CEO while a talent search ensues.   

“We’ll have an aggressive search for candidates who represent the Foundation’s relentless commitment to children, to Detroit, and to equity. We also acknowledge that Detroit is talent-rich; we’ve had great success at finding local leaders,” said Shank.

While The Skillman Foundation is most known for its work in K-12 education, it also has a long history of advancing equity, the afterschool system, youth employment, juvenile justice, neighborhood safety, parent supports, and grassroots leadership. This work carries through to its current strategy, the Opportunity Agenda for Detroit Children, which is focused on strengthening three youth-serving systems in Detroit: K-12 education, afterschool, and college and career pathways.

The Skillman Foundation has a long-standing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Its Board of Trustees and staff of 23 team members represent and actively work to advance this pledge.  

About The Skillman Foundation

A voice for children since 1960, The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy that works to ensure Detroit youth achieve their highest aspirations. Alongside a diverse network of partners, the Foundation is advancing an Opportunity Agenda for Detroit Children, focused on strengthening K-12 education, afterschool learning opportunities, and college and career pathways in Detroit. Read more at

The Skillman Foundation

The Skillman Foundation is a grantmaking organization established in 1960 by Rose Skillman. We have granted out more than $730 million and have served as a vocal advocate to strengthen K-12 education, afterschool programming, child-centered neighborhoods, youth and community leadership, and racial equity and justice.

We are in the process of developing a new strategic framework, co-designed with Detroit youth and their champions.

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