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Sarah Cotton Nelson is CFT’s chief philanthropy officer, leading a team of 14 in support of Thriving Communities for All. Throughout her time with the foundation, Sarah has led efforts to enhance CFT’s policies and procedures to ensure more racially, geographically and culturally inclusive and equitable grantmaking and community-responsive nonprofit capacity building. She has a unique ability to connect people to data to catalyze community members to engage in issues which take a village to solve.

Prior to joining CFT in 2008, Sarah spent 12 years working as researcher with the RAND Corporation’s Survey Research Group. Additionally, she built experience across the nonprofit world advocating for wetlands protection in Latin America, running a youth center in downtown Los Angeles, helping nonprofits in El Salvador navigate the government’s legalization process following the end of that country’s civil war, and collecting learnings across Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana from disaster response and recovery experiences following Hurricane Katrina. 

Sarah was named to the Dallas Innovates list of “2018 Movers and Shakers: North Texas Social Innovators You Should Know.” She was a 2017 Presidential Leadership Scholar, a 2016 GEO Change Leaders in Philanthropy fellow, a 2003 American Marshall Memorial Fellow and a 1997 graduate fellow in public policy and economics at Pontifícia Universidad Católica in Chile. Sarah holds a bachelor’s in international development and Spanish from the University of California at Berkeley.


Community Leadership / Board Service

Sarah is a current member of the Dallas Assembly, TACA’s board of directors, and the Bush Institute North Korea Freedom Scholarship Committee, and a founding member of Dallas Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation.

Joined CFT


Favorite Aspect of CFT

"At CFT, I get to work with amazingly talented and passionate people who are all equally committed to contributing to positive community impact. It is a great delight to get to pull my oar through the water alongside theirs, ever pushing forward together."

Favorite Quote

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

— Theodore Roosevelt