Ellen Gilligan

President & CEO of Greater Milwaukee Foundation

Ellen Gilligan Bio

President & CEO, Greater Milwaukee Foundation


As President and CEO since 2010, Ellen has amplified the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s role as a leader, convener and catalyst, bringing community together around a shared vision for a vibrant region. She has advanced a new era at the Foundation where racial equity and inclusion is the North Star that guides decision-making, investment and action across the organization. Her tenure has been marked by growth, collaboration and a deep commitment to strategies that foster access to opportunity, strengthen the community and improve lives. In 2020, Ellen led the launch of the Foundation’s new strategic vision of A Milwaukee for All to focus philanthropy on mending the fault line of systemic racism that prevents individuals, families and the region from reaching their full potential.


Serving Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha counties, the Foundation is Wisconsin’s largest community foundation – managing more than $1 billion in assets – and was among the first in the world.  Since being established in 1915, the Foundation has awarded more than $1 billion in grants supporting a wide variety of nonprofits and initiatives that enhance the quality of life in greater Milwaukee and beyond.


The Foundation’s generational commitment to racial equity and inclusion reflects Ellen’s values, as do the innovative programs, practices and partnerships brought to life under her leadership. She guided the Foundation through the organization and launch of Milwaukee Succeeds, a communitywide educational partnership focused on success for every child in every school, cradle to career. She encouraged development of the Foundation’s impact investing program, which is committing $30 million over five years to support small businesses, job creation and economic opportunity in communities where investment has been scarce. And she guides the Foundation’s lead role in the community-centered ThriveOn Collaboration and its place-based strategies for advancing racial and health equity.


Upon COVID-19’s emergence in the community in 2020, Ellen’s leadership prompted the formation of the MKE Civic Response Team, a cross-sector coalition with a multitude of partners who have coordinated both immediate relief and long-term recovery efforts in response to the pandemic and its effects in Milwaukee. The Foundation’s total funding commitment to COVID-19 relief and recovery exceeds $11.3 million.


Much of Ellen’s career has been dedicated to the community foundation field. Before coming to Milwaukee, she spent 12 years at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, most recently as its vice president of community investment and president of the HealthPath Foundation.


Ellen is board chair of CFLeads, a national network of community foundations leading change. She serves on the national board of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Locally, she is on the executive committee of Milwaukee Succeeds and co-chair of the MKE United Downtown Action Agenda. She is a board member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, has co-chaired its Creative Placemaking Committee and serves on its Racial Equity & Inclusion Committee. Ellen is a mayoral appointment to the City of Milwaukee’s Black Male Achievement Advisory Council and is a past board member of the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado. Ellen and her husband, Charlie DeSando, have two adult sons.