We are a family foundation dedicated to strengthening communities and improving the life outcomes of disadvantaged youth and their families in Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Orange County, California, and Western Massachusetts.
Our Guiding Values
We believe in building trusting relationships by deploying a collaborative approach and adopting a long-term perspective. We support innovative models that change individual lives by expanding opportunities for disadvantaged youth and vulnerable families with a focus on sustained impact. We strive to foster continuous improvement for ourselves and our grant partners and seek to get to know and understand the people and communities in which we invest. We believe we all have a role to play in advancing racial and social equity.
We believe our foundation can make the most significant positive impact through long-term, capacity building investments in exceptional nonprofit organizations. Capacity building, as defined by the National Council of Nonprofits, is whatever is needed to bring a nonprofit to the next level of operational, programmatic, financial, or organizational maturity, so it may more effectively and efficiently advance its mission into the future. Capacity building is not a one-time effort to improve short-term effectiveness, but a continuous improvement strategy toward the creation of a sustainable and impactful organization.
Board of Directors
Member at Large
Member at Large
Member at Large
Amanda is the Executive Director of the Ceres Foundation where she leads the organization’s day-to-day operations and works with the Board to set and execute its strategic focus. Prior to joining Ceres in 2021, Amanda spent twenty years at the State Street Foundation where she played a variety of roles including managing grantmaking in the company’s headquarters region of Massachusetts.
Beyond Ceres, Amanda sits on the nonprofit boards of the United Way of North Central Massachusetts and Root Cause. She previously served on the Board of Philanthropy Massachusetts and was one of the original Steering Committee members of the Greater Boston chapter of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy. Amanda received her bachelor’s degree from Kenyon College and has completed professional certificate programs at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. She resides in Groton, MA, with her husband and three step-children.
Diana is a Program Associate for the Ceres Foundation. She joined Ceres at the end of 2022 and supports all aspects of the Foundation’s day-to-day operations and manages the administrative functions of the Foundation. Prior to joining Ceres, Diana worked in her small family logistics business, providing operational and administrative support.
Diana holds a B.A. in Political Science from Middlebury College in Vermont. She is an alumnus of Thrive Scholars, a non-profit the Ceres Foundation has funded for over two decades. She enjoys traveling, weightlifting, and cooking.
In 2000, Don Milder and Dan Milder founded the Ceres Foundation. Don, a medical device entrepreneur and venture capitalist, was busy leading Crosspoint Venture Partners healthcare investing, and co-founding the firm Versant Ventures, in 1999. The next year, Don asked his brother Dan—a college professor—to help him begin a philanthropic effort, which would become Ceres. The foundation's initial focus was on supporting nonprofits that worked with disadvantaged youth on education and college guidance. Among the first of its grantees was South Central Scholars. Now called Thrive, it remains supported by Ceres today.
“Dan always was a great listener, with a sincere interest in people, and a respectful empathy for those less fortunate,” Don says of his brother. These values were imparted on the brothers by their parents, Lillian and Leonard. Both grew up poor: Lillian’s family lost their Ohio farm during the Great Depression; Leonard lost his father at 13 years old and started working soon thereafter, taking any job he could find to help keep his family from going hungry. While raising four children, Lillian found time to volunteer.
Leonard impressed upon his children his belief that all people want the same basic things and many just needed a break to live a good life.
“We still believe deeply in this basic truth,” Don says. “And through Ceres, our aim is to provide that support.”
By 2006, Ceres’ expanded its focus to include organizations that, although still at work improving education, also took a more holistic approach to their clients’ needs, focusing on improved life outcomes and long-term tracking. In 2012 Ceres began to partner with several of its grantees in capacity-building, particularly helping organizations invest in greater follow-through and data collection.
In 2021, Ceres added Amanda Northrop as Executive Director, and Dan stepped down from the position he had held for 21 years to remain on the board, where two generations of family now sit. Ceres continues to support programs that aim to address the critical needs of their clients and measure progress systematically. With Leonard’s credo as its guide, Ceres aims to provide young people with the opportunities they need to live their best lives.
Providing Catalytic Investments
For almost two decades, The Ceres Foundation has supported our college preparation programs, which help low-income young mothers, primarily women of color, fall back in love with learning through arts, humanities, and athletics. In 2015, inspired by conversations with Ceres’ leadership and with a catalytic Ceres grant, The Care Center launched Bard Microcollege Holyoke, the nation’s first college for young mothers and low-income women. The Microcollege has been recognized in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Most recently, Ceres made a $1M anchor gift to launch The Care Center’s endowment campaign to permanently sustain Bard Microcollege Holyoke. The Ceres Foundation’s support over the years has allowed us to be creative and bold. It’s helped us expand successful programs, launch new ideas, enhance our supports for young mothers, and weather difficult periods. With funding from Ceres, we created a nationally recognized college preparation program for young mothers and launched a groundbreaking new college model. Through its endowment gift, Ceres is helping ensure the Microcollege remains a permanent community resource.
Seeding Growth and Innovation
The Ceres Foundation has been one of the earliest and strongest supporters of Thrive Scholars, almost since its inception as South Central Scholars. Grants from Ceres over the last 20 years (totaling nearly $3M) have been integral in our organization’s evolution from a small LA focused organization to a national entity poised to serve nearly 1,000 Scholars in 2022. The Ceres Foundation’s most recent commitment of $1M over five years helped propel our national growth strategy, which established a stronger presence throughout the country. The foundation’s ongoing philanthropic commitment allows staff to remain nimble and innovative in addressing Scholars’ changing needs. Most recently, support from Ceres enabled the roll-out of our Career Development program. Thrive now provides a four-year career curriculum (including two years of personalized career coaching), access to a professional network, and internships and jobs at our corporate partners. Thrive recently added industry-focused tracks for Scholars interested in pursuing STEM, Finance, Consulting, and Law careers.
Supporting Continuous Improvement
For many years, The Ceres Foundation supported Mentors Inc., an organization that provided mentoring support to middle and high school students with the goal of increasing Washington, DC graduation rates. Kid Power acquired Mentors Inc. in 2019 with the vision to offer a comprehensive whole-child approach to serving youth. We’ve been incredibly honored to continue to receive Ceres funding in addition to strategic conversations to improve mentoring programs in the District. Historically, Ceres Foundation investments provided critical support, contributing to high school graduation rates of 90-100% for program participants. Most recently, Ceres funding enabled Kid Power to align our program with the National Quality Mentoring System’s standards and procedures of a high-quality mentoring program. Specifically, we’ve created new mentor recruitment and training strategies, evaluation protocols, a data management system, and better recruitment and support systems. Finally, Ceres funding has allowed us to hire additional staff to expand capacity as we seek to scale our program. With these enhancements, we’ve been able to leverage support to help us continue to grow and impact more DC proteges.
Scaling Program Infrastructure
STEM Advantage received a $600,000 investment over three years from The Ceres Foundation to scale our program, advance equity through education and employment, and address the racial wealth gap. We mentor, prepare, and inspire women and underserved communities to pursue STEM careers with the vision of building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive skilled workforce. As an all-volunteer group of STEM professionals, we did not have the resources or capacity to grow. We needed a dedicated program team to demonstrate sustainability and scalability to investors. This catalytic gift from Ceres is transformative and enables us to invest in two new positions that will help expand the program (from 175 scholars in its 2022 cohort to 250-300 in 2025). With this critical staff, we will also be able to maintain our high-touch, high-impact comprehensive program model, build best-in-class mentorship and internship programs, and develop strategic partnerships.