Lehman has Built and Grown Middle Tennessee Organization that Has Provided more than $1.1 Billion in Contributions to Nonprofit Groups

CFMT to Honor Lehman with Prestigious Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award in 2023

Ellen Eskind Lehman, who more than 30 years ago founded, established and has grown The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee (CFMT) as a philanthropic force that has contributed more than $1.1 billion to nonprofit organizations across the nation, has announced she will retire as the nonprofit organization’s president at the end of 2022.

In recognition of her vast and enduring contributions, the CFMT Board of Directors will honor Lehman with the prestigious Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award sometime in 2023 and has named Lehman a Lifetime Honorary Trustee of the organization.

The CFMT board of directors has formed a search committee to identify a new leader. Lehman will continue in her present role throughout an anticipated six-month transition.

“Through relentless determination, fearless leadership and boundless creativity, Ellen Lehman founded and has built CFMT into an organization that is essential and impacts every corner of our community by connecting generosity with need,” said Lyle Beasley, chairman of the board of CFMT. “Ellen has changed Nashville for the better and forever.

“Leading with her huge heart, Ellen has harnessed the exceptional giving spirit of this entire community to identify and address the full spectrum of Greater Nashville’s needs and aspirations,” Beasley continued. “With deepest gratitude for her leadership, The Community Foundation plans to honor Ellen throughout 2022 and as we celebrate the opening of our new headquarters, which she has made possible.”

For the past 31 years, Lehman and her team have operated out of generously donated office space, making the groundbreaking in May 2021 for its new home now under construction at the corner of Woodmont and Belmont boulevards a milestone moment in the CFMT’s history. The new facility will house operations for the organization’s 50 employees.

Next to the establishment, management and growth of the CFMT, the new facility is a crowning achievement of Lehman’s career.


Pictured: Metro Council members Sharon Hurt and Russ Pulley, Davidson County Clerk Brenda Wynn, CFMT president Ellen Lehman, The Frist Foundation Senior Fellow Pete Bird, CFMT Board Trustees Susan Simons, Kerry Graham, Ron Corbin, Deborah Taylor Tate, Davidson County Juvenile Court Clerk Lonnell Matthews, CFMT Board member Will Alexander, and Metro Nashville Chief of Police John Drake at the Groundbreaking Ceremony for CFMT’s new headquarter in May 2021.

“The opening of the new headquarters is the right time to pass the torch to a new leader who can chart The Community Foundation’s future course,” Lehman said. “As I reflect back, I am so proud to have worked alongside our incredible, longstanding team and board of directors who have brought our ambitious dreams to reality.


“It has also been a tremendous honor to support Nashville in partnership with so many generous and caring community and nonprofit leaders,” Lehman continued. “I love this city and treasure every day that I’ve had the chance to interact with so many who are involved in the meaningful work that sets us apart and moves Middle Tennessee forward.”


(Pictured: Melisa Currey, Ellen Lehman, and Laundrea Lewis, the three original employees to begin the work of CFMT out of Lehman’s garage in the early nineties. Today, the Foundation includes more than 50 members of the Bee Team to help to facilitate the organization’s impact out in the community.)

After founding the organization in her garage in 1991, Lehman recruited its inaugural board of directors and raised the funds to begin the work of building The Community Foundation into a charitable powerhouse. Today the organization manages assets of more than $550 million and provides effective and responsible funding of programs to address a wide range of nonprofit needs in 40 Middle Tennessee counties and beyond.

The CFMT administers seven different types of funds that reflect the priorities of its donors, and makes available grant funding to nonprofits, primarily those serving the Middle Tennessee community.  Additionally, the organization:

  • Provides a number of direct services for Middle Tennessee, including ChildcareTennessee, Give Black, Give Back, GivingMatters.com, NowPlayingNashville.com®;
  • Administers more than 150 individual scholarships;
  • Sponsors well-recognized annual fundraising events, including The Power of the Purse® Luncheon benefiting The Women’s Fund; the Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award and The Big Payback 24-hour online giving day;
  • Serves as one of the core philanthropic funding organizations in time of need in our service area following disasters.

Lehman has been widely recognized for her leadership, including having been named Nashvillian of the Year by Easter Seals Foundation in 2017. A Nashville native and graduate of the city’s public schools and a cum laude graduate of Harvard University, Lehman earned a master’s degree at the London School of Economics and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

About The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee

The Community Foundation exists to promote and facilitate giving in the 40 counties of Middle Tennessee and beyond. It does this by accepting gifts of any size from anyone at any time and by empowering individuals, families, companies, nonprofits, and communities to respond to needs and opportunities that matter. The Community Foundation works with people who have great hearts, whether or not they have great wealth, to craft solutions that reflect the intentions and goals of their charitable endeavors. For more information, call 615-321-4939 or visit www.cfmt.org.