Tonya Allen is a leader and a change agent with a passion for co-creating an equitable, sustainable world. In 2021, she became president of the McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation that advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. Tonya heads a majority women, majority people-of-color senior leadership team and a diverse team of about 60.
The Foundation grants approximately $120 million annually in support of equitable communities, a clean energy economy, global food systems, artists and culture bearers, and innovative neuroscience research. In her first year at McKnight, Tonya championed using the Foundation’s investments to advance net zero goals, and elevated our voice and leadership to rebuild Twin Cities neighborhoods and small businesses impacted by Covid-19 and the 2020 civil unrest.
Dynamic Change Agent. Tonya has led successful philanthropic, business, government, and community partnerships that catalyze fresh thinking, test new approaches, and advance public policy. Throughout her 25-year career, she has been a bridge-builder and a civic diplomat. Tonya has been lauded for her results-driven and highly influential collaborative approach by the Chronicle of Philanthropy (“Five Nonprofit Innovators to Watch”), The Funders Network (Nicholas P. Bollman Award), Detroit News (Michiganian of the Year), and Twin Cities Business (“TCB 100: People to Know in 2022”).
Philanthropic and Civic Leader. Tonya chairs the Council on Foundations and serves on many other boards in Minnesota, including the GHR Foundation, Women Presidents Organization Minnesota, and Greater MSP. She is co-chair of the Executives’ Alliance for Boys and Men of Color. Prior to joining McKnight, Tonya served as president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation, and as a program officer at the Charles Stewart Mott and Thompson McCully foundations. She was a co-founder and architect of Detroit Children’s Fund, and the founder and director of Detroit Parent Network.
Equity Driven. Tonya is a national leader on philanthropic diversity, inclusion, and equity practices. She is a member of General Motors’ Inclusion Advisory Board, an independent director of Sun Communities, and an advisor to numerous corporations regarding inclusion efforts. Corp! Magazine honored Tonya with a Salute to Diversity Award.
Public Sector Partner. Tonya’s leadership and advisory capabilities extend to the government sector. She collaborates effectively across political parties and has successfully advanced bipartisan public policy. She served, including as chair, on a number of gubernatorial committees and alliances, among them a Return to School committee during the Covid-19 pandemic. She also advised on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.
Community Organizer. Tonya began her career working with parents, faith-leaders, and other residents within neighborhoods, an approach still central to her ethos. She is passionate about bringing unlikely allies together—centering community voices and ideas—and co-creating solutions where people and planet thrive.
Thought Leader. Tonya is a thought-provoking public speaker, author, media contributor, and advisor. She served as a scholar-in-residence at the Clinton School of Public Service, where she penned “Radical Love: The Responsibility of Community Philanthropy in Enabling Social Change, Promoting Equity, and Sparking Transformation.” Her opinion pieces on topics as varied as climate change, agroecology, and asset-based framing have appeared in Newsweek, The Hill, Inside Philanthropy, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Engaged Learner. Tonya’s desire to learn from others is insatiable. She holds master’s degrees in public health and social work and a bachelor’s in sociology, each from the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. Additionally, Tonya studied global affairs and governments as a German Marshall Fund Transatlantic Fellow and at the Harvard Kennedy School. She earned fellowships at the Aspen Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and BMe Community.