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Sitting at the intersection between wealth and giving, the foundation professional is a representative of influential founders and families. As deputies, foundation professionals are tasked with disposing of wealth provided by philanthropists. Characterised as “agents of wealth”, foundation professionals have a unique power, insulated from voters and shareholders yet wielded like public and corporate executives (Callahan, 2017). Nevertheless, their presence is obscured by their donors, boards, and grantees. The black box of the foundation conceals them. This obscurity has left foundation professionals underexplored and not well understood.
This paper discusses the trajectory from philanthropoid to foundation professional through a critical literature review. Highlighting existing boundary challenges, this paper first describes how a scoping review led to the critical review. In creating literature boundaries, this paper highlights challenges with the quality of extant literature, including blurry boundaries, multidisciplinarity, US-centricity, and male-dominated perspectives. These literature challenges have left gaps in understanding and a fragmented field of these figures.
Despite these challenges, this paper demonstrates the development of the terms philanthropoid (Keppel, 1930), foundation administrator (Zurcher and Dunstan, 1972), foundation manager (Frumkin, 1998), and foundation professional (Bonham, 1978). A timeline shows how these terms have advanced within the context of philanthropic events, including foundation incorporations, regulatory actions, and field-level developments. The paper describes how this foundation figure has been conceptualised through different literature types, including personal viewpoint, historical review, empirical studies, and competency codification. These conceptualisations provide insight into how foundations’ roles within society have been viewed. Tracing the development of these terms shows the shifts of a field rooted in amateur traditions to one evidencing emerging professional influences. These shifts bear consequences for contemporary concepts of foundation individuality and plurality versus inclusion and legitimacy of foundation professional roles.