The McKnight Foundation, one of the largest foundations in Minnesota, has named a new leader.

Tonya Allen, 48, the CEO of the Skillman Foundation in Detroit, will start the top job March 1, McKnight announced on Monday.

"McKnight has the aspirations and ability to change the world," Allen said. "I'm really looking forward to the quality of life in Minnesota and making sure that quality of life is accessible to more people."

Minneapolis-based McKnight is the fourth-largest foundation in the state in the amount of money it gives, according to a new report released this month by the Minnesota Council on Foundations with 2018 data.

Like foundations across Minnesota that have boosted giving in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice, McKnight is on pace to increase its grants from $89 million in 2019 to $105 million this year, benefiting more than 500 organizations, about 60% of which are in Minnesota.

In recent years, McKnight has shifted its funding strategies, doubling down on funding climate and "equity and inclusion" initiatives such as more training and employment of people of color.

Allen replaces Kate Wolford, who retired in November 2019 after 13 years. Allen has spent most of her career in philanthropy and grew up in Detroit. For 16 years, she's been with Skillman, a Michigan foundation with an $18 million annual budget that focuses on children and K-12 education. Earlier this year, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed her to an advisory group on reopening schools during COVID-19, and Allen is also the incoming chair for the national Council on Foundations.

As president of McKnight, she will lead a diverse all-female leadership team, oversee about 50 employees and run a $109 million annual budget. Noa Staryk, a fourth-generation family member who will lead the foundation's board starting in January, said in a statement that Allen will be a dynamic and innovative leader for McKnight, which was started in 1953 by 3M executive William McKnight and his wife, Maude.

Allen said she's looking forward to collaborating with the corporate and public sector — and investing in a good winter coat as a new Minnesotan. She added that philanthropy has an opportunity to lead in the midst of a trying year during the COVID-19 pandemic and after the death of George Floyd. But she hopes McKnight will be known for more than just writing out checks.

"It's not how much you give, but how you give," she said. "I want the McKnight Foundation to have exponential impact … I believe the tough challenges ahead require all hands on deck."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141