Buff Kavelman

Senior Consultant, Strategic Consulting & Philanthropic Advisory

Buff Kavelman founded The Kavelman Group Philanthropic Advisors (TKG) to provide management consulting services to funders and nonprofit leaders.  TKG helps clients develop effective philanthropic strategies and builds their capacity to serve their missions.  Clients include: individual donors and families; foundations and trusts; private banks and wealth management firms; and nonprofit organizations.

TKG clients engage in many fields, including arts and culture, education, environmental conservation, public health, social justice and global understanding.  They range from grassroots organizations to small family foundations and established institutions with years of global impact.  TKG’s work has spanned 26 countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America. 

Buff is recognized for strengthening philanthropic strategies, launching new initiatives, turning around underperforming operations, and building effective partnerships. With over 25 years of experience as a funder, board member and nonprofit executive, she has a uniquely balanced perspective on philanthropy. Buff began her career as a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, followed by senior positions at the American Academy in Rome, the Smithsonian and Columbia University.

Prior to establishing TKG full-time in 2007, Buff served as Executive Director of University Programs and Events in the President’s office at Columbia, where she was also a member of the senior management team in University Development and Alumni Relations during the $4 billion campaign. Under her direction, Columbia’s World Leaders Forum was cited by The New Yorker as a leading center for international exchange of ideas on global challenges. She also created the Kraft Series for Interfaith and Intercultural Awareness that encouraged open debate on issues of religion in the public sphere.

Before joining Columbia, Buff launched and directed the Smithsonian’s National Design Awards at Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, called one of the most prestigious awards in the United States by The Wall Street Journal. She secured the active participation of First Ladies Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, who hosted annual White House receptions in honor of the Award recipients. (Michelle Obama continued the tradition.) Under Buff’s leadership, the annual National Design Awards gala became the largest source of operating support for the museum.

Buff served as Director of Program Development at the American Academy in Rome at the height of its centennial campaign, where she oversaw the Rome Prize Fellowship competition and all other public programs. She funded and fostered hundreds of projects benefitting communities across the country as Regional Representative to the Design Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and as Program Associate at the New York State Council on the Arts. At the NEA, she was on the founding team for the Mayor’s Institute on Design, celebrated in its 25th year as one of the NEA’s outstanding initiatives that achieved lasting national impact.

Buff has served on a number of nonprofit boards and advisory committees, including the Authors Guild Foundation, Free Speech for People, the New York Philanthropic Advisors Network, Storefront for Art and Architecture, the Women’s Media Center and the World Trade Organization at 10 Conference on Governance, Dispute Settlement and Developing Countries. She is a member of Philanthropy New York’s Membership and International Grantmaking Committees, and was invited to create and lead the Council on Foundations’ 2011 Family Philanthropy Conference session on “How, When and Why to Work with Consultants?”

She has participated on many grantmaking panels, including the J.M. Kaplan Fund’s Innovation Prize, Architectural League of New York, the Utah State Council on the Arts, the Pew Trust’s Philadelphia Cultural Management Initiative, and the New York State Council on the Arts, where she chaired two panels.  Since 2016 she has served on the expert selection panel for The New York Community Trust’s Nonprofit Excellence Awards.

An active community volunteer, Buff tutored at-risk public-school children for over 16 years, worked as a Red Cross family service caseworker after September 11th, served on Battery Park City’s Community Emergency Response Team, and was on the Race Committee for the Manhattan Sailing Club in New York Harbor.

She holds an M.S. from Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Historic Preservation, where she also studied in the Graduate School of Business and was appointed Humanities Fellow at International House. She received a B.A. in History of Art with high distinction and honors from the University of Michigan and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Mortar Board.