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Leader Profile:

Virginia (Ginny) Esposito

Virginia (Ginny) Esposito led a national effort to understand and support family philanthropy. At the Council on Foundations and as founding president and CEO of the National Center on Family Philanthropy, Esposito has been a wise counselor, observer, and friend to similar work underway in Michigan. Esposito served as the first and only Frey Foundation Visiting Scholar in Family Philanthropy at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University, helping to launch the new chair as the university completed its initial search. Esposito offers an excellent national perspective on Michigan’s philanthropic culture and specific projects around the state.

Leadership Highlights

Ms. Ginny Esposito talks about the qualities of Michigan leaders.
Ms. Ginny Esposito talks about the qualities of servant leadership ethic.
Ms. Ginny Esposito talks about how Michigan is often regarded as the leader in philanthropic public policy.
Ms. Ginny Esposito talks about her career in philanthropy.
Ms. Ginny Esposito talks about the inevitable generational leadership change in Michigan.


Ginny Esposito received a Bachelor of the Arts from Mary Washington College in Virginia. Esposito was selected as a fellow for the Institute of Educational Leadership, and earned a certificate in executive management from Yale University, School of Management.

Philanthropic Biography

Esposito grew up with six siblings and a military father. Even when there wasn’t much discretionary cash, her family would participate in pledges and volunteer opportunities to better their community. This instilled the value of philanthropy early on, and as a senior in high school, she chaired a school-wide effort to get students involved in volunteer activities. While she did not consider the nonprofit field as a career choice until later, these experiences were valuable in building her interest and passion.

In 1980, Esposito began exploring the world of professional philanthropy and nonprofit work and joined the staff at the Council on Foundations (COF), just after the organization moved from New York to Washington, D.C. Esposito described the office, “unpacking boxes and trying to organize itself.” It was during this move that Esposito came across filing cabinets that contained the council’s files on area associations. Esposito asked if she could focus her efforts on those associations, received approval, and became the first staff person dedicated to work on area associations.

Esposito moved on to grantmaker education, which put her in contact with many key figures in the field. Jim Joseph*, president of COF at that time, brought Paul Ylvisaker on as a special consultant to education. Ylivisaker acted as Esposito’s mentor for ten years. This time spent as a grantmaker educator, and vice president for COF, helped Esposito become more aware of what would eventually become the base of a career – family philanthropy.

Esposito describes family philanthropy as a “perfect coming together” of how much she valued family and how much she cared about the field of philanthropy. This interest in family philanthropy and the stories she heard from its practitioners, led Esposito to recognize the need for a central, national organization. The infrastructure organization envisioned would enhance and guide the development of family philanthropy, and represent it in various forms. Thus, the seeds for the National Center on Family Philanthropy (NCFP) were planted.

*Jim Joseph was appointed by President Clinton to serve as ambassador to South Africa and held the title of ambassador after this presidency at the Council on Foundations.

Contributions to the Field

Esposito pursued the creation of NCFP despite political adversity from those who felt that highlighting family philanthropy could be harmful to other parts of the sector. Esposito handled much of the groundwork required to start the center, including conducting personal interviews and focus groups and drafting all of the concept papers. NCFP officially came to life on September 3, 1997. It was only very near to the end of the creation of NCFP that Esposito thought about her own stake in it, and even then, required convincing by the committee to take the position of founding president. Ultimately, Esposito identified her passion for the work as the primary factor in overcoming her hesitancy for the position, and served as the founding president from 1997-2019.

“There is something that makes this work happen. People are willing to invest in it, whether it’s new community foundations or curricula for young people to understand and get involved in philanthropy; whether it’s building a field; whether it’s willingness to invest in the family philanthropy movement, as people in Michigan have been. I think that’s been a huge, undervalued issue, and the fact that people like Mott are still vigorously at the table, is pretty darn amazing when you think about how a good dozen of those — who were practicing national leadership at one point — have moved on.”

Throughout her career, Esposito has been vigorously active in numerous projects beyond involvement in NCFP and COF. This is evident by the number of published works including but not limited to:

Esposito was an active speaker on the topic of family philanthropy. Esposito presented the closing remarks at the first National Symposium on the Value of Family Philanthropy in 2008, spoke alongside Bill Gates Sr. at the Family Philanthropy Day event in 2010, and presented at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy National Summit on Family Philanthropy in 2011. In addition, Esposito served as the first Frey Foundation Visiting Scholar in Family Philanthropy at the Johnson Center from 2009 to 2013.

“If somebody had asked me to describe a state where I thought servant leadership was well practiced, Michigan would come to my mind. Absolutely. It just would, because that’s what I’ve always experienced.”

Esposito served on Great Nonprofits’ board and on Independent Sector’s ethics and accountability committee. Other notable past involvements include board member of the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance from 2002 to 2008, service on the executive committee for the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers’ New Ventures in Philanthropy project, serving on the board of directors of the National Charities Information Bureau in New York, and as a member on the National Commission on Civic Investment in Public Education.


Esposito was interviewed regarding insights and experiences in working with Michigan’s philanthropic community and the Our State of Generosity (OSoG) partners. The following quotes relate to the five organizing themes of the OSoG project.

Servant Leadership in Michigan Philanthropy

“[Servant leadership] is the ethic of someone who appreciates the privilege of the position they have, rather than the privileges it may offer. It’s someone who sees a responsibility to their community (however they define that), to their field; who finds a humility in the awesome task that that is.”

National & Global Implications

“It’s just impossible to underappreciate what’s been done in Michigan at so many different levels, and how that has served not only as a model for others around the country, but continues to be so well-practiced. I don’t know that there’s another state in the Union that people would point to the vigor of their public policy work. I’m referring to the public policy related to the practice of philanthropy, and encouraging new philanthropy, and things like that.”

“Projects growing to national scale are important. A lot of the work that we’ve seen with the public policy … have been picked up and run with. One of the things that I think has been so helpful about that is that Michigan has supported it; it’s not like they resented it or anything like that. In addition to being excited that other people were taking it, they were willing to help it along.”


Esposito, V. (2010, February 18). Video interview and transcript. Grand Valley State University Digital Collections. https://digitalcollections.library.gvsu.edu/document/26227

This profile was last updated: 02/20/2020