Native American Changemaker to Receive 2019 John W. Gardner Leadership Award

(WASHINGTON, August 6, 2019) – Independent Sector announced today that it will honor Sherry Salway Black, an advocate and changemaker for Native American communities, with the 2019 John W. Gardner Leadership Award.

Black, a member of the Oglala Lakota nation, has been a standard-bearer for Indian Country self-determination, asset building, community investment, and cultural revitalization for more than four decades. Bringing a spirit of reciprocity and generosity, she is widely credited with developing, expanding, strengthening, and institutionalizing many major organizations that increase understanding of, invest in, advocate for, and celebrate Native communities and the tremendous contributions of Native people in this country. She was instrumental in the first research of the state of and the critical role Native nonprofit organizations play in community and economic development.

Black was an early champion of the vital connection between access to capital, financial literacy, and economic security, advocating for establishment of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that now bring capital and credit services to more than 60 Native communities. She led the development of financial education curricula in the mid-1990s that is now in its fifth edition and being used by hundreds of Native organizations and communities.

She has developed many philanthropic initiatives and institutions to address Native causes, particularly tribal and Native community control of their economies, culture, lands, and other assets – from advocating for increases in Native representation in broader philanthropy to helping major philanthropic institutions shape Native investment initiatives, to her current trustee role in shaping the largest Native fund in history – the Native American Agriculture Fund – with $266 million to help support Native farmers and ranchers.

Independent Sector has presented the John W. Gardner Leadership Award annually since 1985 to a visionary who exemplifies the leadership and ideals of John W. Gardner (1912-2002), American statesman, educator, author, and IS founder. The award honors an innovative leader whose collective work has transformed the nonprofit community and mobilized and unified people, institutions, or causes to positively impact the ability of all Americans to thrive.

“Sherry Salway Black has dedicated more than 40 years to addressing issues that impact vulnerable communities, and in particular, to advancing the well-being of Native peoples and breaking down barriers that impede full realization of their right to self-determination,” said Daniel J. Cardinali, president and CEO of Independent Sector. “Of equal importance, she has been a leading force in expanding philanthropic support for Native communities and creating systemic change to help Indigenous and other disenfranchised communities thrive.”

“Sherry Salway Black continues to be a powerful voice and advocate for Native communities on behalf of the larger charitable community,” said Michael McAfee, president and CEO of PolicyLink and chairman of the 2019 John W. Gardner Leadership Award Committee. “As we look toward 2020 and celebrating 35 years of honoring leaders who exemplify the ideals of John W. Gardner, I can think of no one who better represents, through her voice and actions, the powerful role the sector can play in creating systemic change for the betterment of the communities we serve.”

As Chairperson of the First Peoples Fund, Black supports the organization’s efforts to honor and enable the collective spirit of First Peoples’ artists and culture bearers to bring about transformational change in Native communities. She is also Board Vice President of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF), which dedicates one-third of its grants and programming to Indigenous Peoples’ higher education, particularly in business. JSF has provided $20 million for more than 6,000 scholarships to Native students for associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in business.

For 20 years, Black helped grow First Nations Development Institute (FNDI), a Native nonprofit that works to strengthen Native control of their assets. FNDI is a leading Native grantmaker and research organization, and its subsidiary, First Nations Oweesta Corporation, focuses specifically on assisting and investing in Native CDFIs.

Black has held leading roles in many other organizations that address tribal governance, policy, and philanthropy with a particular focus on Native peoples, including board memberships on the Hitachi Foundation, the Council on Foundations, Native Americans in Philanthropy, Hopi Education Endowment Fund, National Indian Child Welfare Association, and as the director of the Partnership for Tribal Governance of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), receiving NCAI’s Special Leadership Award in 2016. In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Black to the President’s Advisory Committee on Financial Capability, and in 2013 to the President’s Advisory Committee on Financial Capability for Young Americans.

She brought exceptional scholarship and research perspective to her roles on the boards of Prosperity Now, focusing on asset building strategies, and the Board of Governors for Honoring Excellence in the Governance of Tribal Nations of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, a precedent-setting effort to strengthen the sovereignty of Native Nations.

Sherry Salway Black will accept the Gardner Award at Upswell, an annual gathering of changemakers powered by Independent Sector, this November 13-15 in Chicago.


Independent Sector is the only national membership organization that brings together a diverse community of changemakers, nonprofits, foundations, and corporations working to ensure all people in the United States thrive. Learn more at


Kristina Gawrgy Campbell

Types: Press Release
Global Topics: Civil Rights, IS Board, IS Member, Leadership Development, Organizational Relationships, Race, Equity, and Inclusion, Upswell