Organization: The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

Location: Detroit, MI

Express Interest!





The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation (the “Foundation”) was created by Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. in 2011 and it has been funded by the major portion of his estate, which included the Buffalo Bills franchise of the National Football League, following his death in 2014.

The Foundation’s Charter and Mission Statement include the following key elements:

  • As directed by Mr. Wilson, the Foundation must spend down its assets within 20 years.
  • The Foundation will function as a non-operating grant-making private foundation.
  • The Foundation’s available assets are $1.2 billion.
  • A significant share of the resources of the Foundation will be focused on the quality of life of the people residing in Southeastern Michigan and Western New York.
  • The Foundation’s office will be relatively lean, reflecting its 20 year life span. The Trustees have implemented an outsourced chief investment officer model for the management of the Foundation’s assets. Further, the Trustees have outsourced certain administrative elements of the grant-making due-diligence process.
  • The Foundation will be headquartered in Southeastern Michigan with offices in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe.

The Trustees named by Mr. Wilson to carry on the work of the Foundation aspire to reflect and honor his values so that his name will be identified as closely with his extraordinary generosity as it has been with his visionary leadership and success in professional sports and business. They envision the Foundation as a catalyst for the kind of transformative impact that was the hallmark of Mr. Wilson’s life. The Trustees will continue to be deeply involved in the Foundation’s work and will partner with the President & CEO in a characteristically thoughtful, appropriate manner. The Trustees intend to increase the size of the Board by three members over the next year.

The four Life Trustees are:

  • Mary Wilson (Mr. Wilson’s widow);
  • Mary Owen (formerly an executive with the Buffalo Bills, now Vice-President of the Foundation and the sole staff member to date);
  • Jeffrey C. Littmann (who served as Mr. Wilson’s Chief Financial Officer for more than 20 years and who oversees the Foundation’s finances as a non-employee Trustee); and
  • Eugene Driker, whose law firm represented Mr. Wilson and various of his business interests since 1999.



The President & CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation will be a critical member of the team who is driven by the goals of the Foundation: to have maximum positive impact on the subject matters of focus and the communities and people of Southeastern Michigan and Western New York.

The President & CEO will work closely with the Trustees to determine and to achieve the Foundation’s strategic objectives and fulfill its mission. Fundamentally, this leader will help the Trustees leverage the strategic planning already accomplished and lead implementation efforts to achieve the goals of the Foundation.

The President & CEO is responsible for leadership and overall management of the Foundation. The duties and responsibilities of the President & CEO will include:

  • Working with the Trustees on the execution of efforts to achieve the Foundation’s strategies, goals and objectives through investment and grant-making;
  • Collaborating with other Foundations, leaders in the field and other key constituents to help deepen the Foundation’s impact on its areas of focus;
  • Serving as a conduit between internal and external stakeholders and the Southeastern Michigan and Western New York communities;
  • Representing the Foundation in the philanthropic community and serving as a convener and community leader;
  • Serving as the leader of the organization: overseeing all day-to-day activities and operations and building and leading a staff appropriate to the 20 year life of the organization with an outsourced CIO model;
  • Communicating effectively and with transparency with the Trustees, staff and various constituents;
  • Managing Foundation assets in close partnership with the Trustees and the investment managers; and
  • Performing other duties as necessary for the leadership of the Foundation or as directed by the Trustees.



The ideal candidate to lead the Foundation will have the following personal competencies and characteristics:

  • A Passion for the Mission and a Cultural Fit with the Foundation’s Values

A leader who shares the values of Mr. Wilson and will uphold his legacy impeccably. Entrusted with the leadership of the Foundation, s/he will have a deep sense of appreciation for the responsibility and honor of having been selected to this role and to have the opportunity to fundamentally impact the lives of so many.

  • A Collaborative, Engaging Leadership Style

A leader who is known for teamwork and who will seek to collaborate with fellow grant makers and members of the non-profit community. A confident executive who recognizes that the Foundation will be most effective by partnering with others and who will forge those productive relationships.

  • A Strategic Leader who Executes for Results

A leader who will embrace the thoughtful work done to date by Mr. Wilson, the Trustees and their advisors to set the vision and overall strategy for the Foundation. Upon joining the team, this executive will develop the approaches, in partnership with the Trustees, to achieve the established goals. In leading, s/he will be focused on outcomes, fundamentally driven to be effective and to achieve positive sustainable results in the Foundation’s subject areas of focus for the communities impacted by the work of the Foundation.

  • Innovation and an Ability to Embrace Risk

A leader who understands, and is willing to manage, the risk that accompanies investment in innovative strategies. With the spend-down nature of the Foundation and the focus on outcomes, this will be a leader who will actively assess and adopt strategies and approaches to achieve the Foundation’s goal of maximum impact and honor Mr. Wilson’s qualities as an entrepreneur and risk-taker.

  • An Experienced Leader

A leader who has produced real outcomes and successful collaborations in previous professional chapters. A seasoned executive who has had directly relevant experience with the issues that the Foundation will encounter and who understands the climate of philanthropy and the challenges with regards to regulatory, legal and other related areas.



Koya Leadership Partners has been exclusively retained for this search. To express your interest in this role, please contact Alison P. Ranney and her team at or click on the following link: Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation President & CEO. All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.






The term “Midwestern values” has come to mean honesty, a strong work ethic, modesty, helping others, and keeping one’s word. Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. was the personification of “Midwestern values.”

Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1918, Ralph was raised in the Detroit area, which he called home for the rest of his life. After completing college at the University of Virginia, his time at law school at the University of Michigan was interrupted by service on a U.S. Navy minesweeper in both the Atlantic and Pacific theatres during World War II. Ralph returned from military duty to work in the insurance business owned by his father, whose influence on his career he often acknowledged. Over time, Ralph moved into a number of other industries, including construction, radio and television, and professional football. He is best known as the founder and owner, for 54 years, of the Buffalo Bills football team, his proudest and most significant professional achievement.

Much has been written about Ralph’s success and influence in both business and football. The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation is poised to become an equally important testament to its founder. Ralph’s legacy of giving will guide who we are and what we do. His passing at the age of 95 in 2014 gave rise to his ultimate act of generosity: Proceeds from the highly successful sale of his beloved Buffalo Bills of the National Football League have been directed by him into the Foundation, making it one of the largest in the nation.

As the trustees named by Ralph to carry on the work of the Foundation, we aspire to reflect and honor his values, so that his name will be identified as closely to his extraordinary generosity as it has been with his visionary leadership and success in professional sports and business. We expect the Foundation to be a catalyst for the kind of transformative impact that was the hallmark of Ralph’s life.

Ralph’s essential qualities were clear for all to see. An optimist and a fierce competitor, he was guided by the clarity of his convictions. He was a person of unquestioned integrity and believed in always playing by the rules. He expected and received deep loyalty from those close to him and he was equally loyal to them in return. Because of these essential characteristics, people justifiably placed their trust in him. Ralph thrived on taking risks in business, sports and life, but he was humble when he won and got back up and started all over again when he lost.

Ralph was not flashy. He was most comfortable in a blue sweater, Buffalo Bills shirt and tennis shoes. For him, people mattered more than tangible things. He championed the “every man” above all others, displaying a deep respect for “difference makers” in all walks of life. For each of the four years that the Buffalo Bills played in the Super Bowl, Ralph made sure that everyone in the organization, from top executives to the custodial staff, traveled to be a part of the game. For Ralph and his wife, the fans were what owning the Buffalo Bills was all about. Walking through the stadium after a game, they were greeted with an outpouring of affection and appreciation from those fans, who lifted them up through their loyalty to the team and their unwavering expression of what the Bills meant to the Buffalo region.

Ralph’s philanthropy was guided by a big heart and a love of people, which led him to support causes, individuals and organizations whose needs resonated with him. His abiding passion for sports was evident in his underwriting of recreational opportunities for youth, women and girls, and seniors. His commitment to excellence led him to support organizations that provided high quality health care for both his loved ones and himself. Ralph was moved by people in need and felt true joy in being in a position to help them. There are countless stories from those who benefited from his generosity during times of crisis or hardship. Ralph loved to create opportunities for people to advance and expressed deep gratification in supporting those in need.

In launching this Foundation, Ralph deliberately chose not to restrict the discretion of its trustees. Instead of limiting the opportunities in which the Foundation may devote its resources, he entrusted his trustees with the privilege and responsibility to define the Foundation’s mission. It is our intention to carry out this task in ways that honor his legacy, while meeting the demonstrated needs of the places that meant so much to him.

Consistent with his desire to have an impact on everything he touched, Ralph directed that this Foundation spend down its entire corpus within twenty years. In this way he hoped that the Foundation’s work will be completed within the lifetimes of those who knew him best and that its impact will be immediate, substantial and measurable.

We approach this effort with enormous gratitude for the trust that Ralph has placed in us, with humility over the magnitude of our responsibility, and with true joy at the prospect of making a difference as we steward the Foundation’s resources in ways that do justice to his humanity.

Ralph woke up each day laughing. He loved life. He loved people. His final gift to the world is this: the Foundation that bears his name.

The Trustees of The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, governed by its founder’s 20- year spend down requirement as now set forth in its articles of incorporation, adopts the following as its Foundation Charter:



The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation will operate as a grant-making organization, dedicated primarily to sustained investment in the quality of life of the people of Western New York and Southeastern Michigan.



The Foundation will be guided by three defining and uncompromising values:

  • Outcomes: We will be driven to be effective in all that we do and to achieve positive sustainable outcomes for our communities.
  • Teamwork: We will seek to collaborate with fellow grant makers and members of the non-profit community.
  • Innovation: We understand and are willing to accept the risk that accompanies investment in innovative strategies.



Who and What


  • Early childhood development
  •  Youth development
  • Healthy lifestyles
  • Sports and other activities that strengthen minds and bodies

Young Adults and Working Class Families:

  • Education
  • Training for success and independence
  • Healthy lifestyles



  • Healthy lifestyles


  • Educating and training those for whom caregiving is a career
  • Providing assistance and support to those for whom caregiving is a voluntary activity


  • Regional economic growth
  • Community asset development
  • Enhancing the productivity of the non-profit sector



  • Southeastern Michigan
  • Western New York


  • In those other places where special opportunities present themselves in our programmatic priorities


Grant Making:

  • Our task as grant makers is to find and fund non-profits that will advance our mission in the regions and programmatic priorities on which we’ve chosen to focus. We will seek out those that are best of class and those that, with appropriate support, show promise of getting there.

Non Profit Sector Productivity:

  • A healthy, vibrant, growing community needs all sectors (private, nonprofit and government) operating efficiently. Our task is to invest in the productivity of the nonprofit sector within our core regions.

Opportunistic Investment:

  • Inside of our core regions we will collaborate with others to make grants to transformative projects that advance our mission there.
  • We will make grants to transformative projects outside of our regions that advance our programmatic priorities.