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Landmark study of America’s largest charitable foundations finds a commitment to diversity in asset management

Study commissioned by Knight Foundation reveals that 13.5% of $63.95 billion in assets held by 26 of the nation’s 50 top foundations are managed by firms led by women and people of color


Responding to the lack of data needed to shift the conversation on diversity in asset management, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today released a landmark study that revealed a set of the nation’s top charitable foundations have an estimated $8.62 billion, or 13.5%, of their U.S.-based financial assets invested with women and diversely owned firms. 

As past research commissioned by Knight has shown, diverse asset managers are woefully underrepresented in the asset management industry, accounting for only 1.3% of the global financial industry’s $69.1 trillion assets under management. Knight’s study demonstrated a growing commitment to increasing diversity among public charities, a category that includes private foundations.

The first of its kind, this Knight-commissioned study sought to analyze endowments of the top 50 foundations, which collectively represent total assets of $290.3 billion. Based on data that was publicly available or voluntarily provided by the foundations, the study showed that 26 of the top 50 foundations invested with women and diversely owned firms at a higher rate than the general industry. 

“Change comes from knowledge. We hope these findings improve our understanding of who manages the financial assets of America’s top charitable endowments and to demonstrate that there’s a sizable interest among investors for investment manager diversity,” said Juan Martinez, Knight’s chief financial officer and treasurer. “The goal of this study is to provoke discussion. We think that more data and improved transparency can lead to identifying opportunities for untapped returns and a more equitable distribution of the wealth generated by private foundation endowments.”

The other study’s findings include:

  • Of the assets that could be analyzed, $6.82 billion (10.7%) is invested with women-owned firms, and $5.93 billion (9.3%) is invested with minority-owned firms. Approximately 50% of the $8.62 billion is invested with firms that are both women- and minority-owned.
  • The average foundation analyzed in this study invests 13.3% of its assets in diversely owned firms — 10.8% in women-owned firms and 9% in minority-owned firms. The median foundation invests 13.5% in diversely owned firms, 10.9% in women-owned firms and 7.9% in minority owned firms.
  • All but four of the 26 foundations analyzed invest some portion of their assets with diversely owned firms. Over half invest more than 10% of their assets with such firms. Two foundations invest more than 30% of their assets with diversely owned firms, with the maximum invested amount equal to 45.9%.

The study builds on research published in early 2019 by Knight Foundation and Bella Research Group that showed that even though the performance of firms owned by women and minorities is not statistically different from the industry as a whole, they manage just 1.3% of assets in the $69 trillion asset management industry.  

The study was conducted by Candice Rosevear, vice president and head of data analytics at Global Economics Group (GEG); and Rosa M. Abrantes-Metz, GEG’s managing director in the antitrust, securities and financial regulation practices.

For interviews with Juan Martinez about the Knight study, please contact Kenny Ma, Knight director of communications, at          

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit

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