During his tenure from 1990 to 2010, he helped to redefine the role of philanthropy in social change. Under his leadership, AECF supported new, community-based approaches to improving the lives of at-risk children and their families, making lessons learned—both good and bad—continuously and publicly available so they could inform the field.
He launched the influential Kids Count, an annual ranking of states on 16 key measures of child well-being that has changed policies and impacted policymakers’ views on the issues for years. Mr. Nelson also pioneered the use of a foundation’s balance sheet to drive its mission, making impact investments before the term had even been coined.
“The most important thing we can do to advance racial equity in America is to implement powerful, affirmative, and radical economic and social reforms capable of dramatically altering the egregious disparities in employment, income and wealth between white and non-white households. Only when this happens will all our good faith efforts to reduce health disparities, academic achievement gaps, and the racially disproportionate negative impacts of our justice systems make a real and lasting difference.”
What gets Nelson out of bed in the morning? “It’s the future that I hope for these beautiful brilliant children.”
AECF’s partnership with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore started while he was at the foundation. This relationship continues to be a model that many look to for guidance on how philanthropy and anchor institutions can work together for the benefit of low-income people of color.
Nelson twice served as Chair of Living Cities’ board, and is currently chair of the CDC Foundation board. He was recognized in September 2016 as one of Living Cities' 25 Disruptive Leaders working to close racial opportunity gaps.