Harriet Sanford is the President and CEO of the NEA Foundation, a position she has held since 2005. The Foundation is a public charity founded by educators for educators to improve public education for all students. Since its beginning in 1969, the Foundation has served as a laboratory of learning, offering funding and other resources to public school educators, their schools, and their districts to solve complex teaching and learning challenges. During her 12-year tenure with the Foundation, Sanford has transformed the depth and breadth of its programs and grantmaking by investing in educators to improve their instructional practice and unleash their own power, ideas and voices, so that communities, schools and students all benefit.
Sanford began her professional journey as a public school classroom teacher, which led to a senior executive career spanning more than 30 years with nonprofit and public organizations, including the Arts and Science Council in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Fulton County Arts Council, in Georgia. Immediately prior to joining the NEA Foundation, Sanford served as the conceptual lead and manager of “South by South Africa: Crafting Cultural Understanding,” a project that built economic links and cultural understanding between South Africa and U.S. partner cities. Her career is bound together by an unwavering commitment to strengthening community by building on the skills, talents and aspirations of each of its members.
Sanford has managed annual budgets of more than $18 million and capital funds of $200 million. A recognized specialist in the field of charitable fundraising, Sanford has led several initiatives that have raised more than $72 million to support the mission of various nonprofit organizations. She also has served as a member of the Board of Directors of more than a dozen nonprofits, contributing her vision and leadership expertise to these institutions. For example, Sanford helped guide the merger of the National Association of Local Arts Agencies with the American Council for the Arts that resulted in the formation of Americans for the Arts, a major arts advocacy organization.
Numerous groups, such as the North Carolina Arts Education Association, Americans for the Arts, National Black Arts Festival, the National Association of Counties, and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, have recognized Sanford's contributions to the advancement of public and arts education, culture, and cultural understanding. Through the generous support of grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation, Sanford also served as a United States Information Agency (USIA) fellow to South Africa in the late 1990s. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Active Citizen Project, DC Jazz Festival, Caversham Centre (South Africa), Editorial Projects in Education, the Hispanic College Fund, and the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. She also is an advisor to First Book, a donor advisory group member of the Communities for Just Schools Fund and a member of the International Women’s Forum of Washington, D.C.
Sanford holds a BA in Education from New England College, a MPA from the University of Connecticut, and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education in 2015.