Answers to frequently asked questions about the Council on Foreign Relations

About the Council on Foreign Relations

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries. Founded in 1921, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy and has no affiliation with the U.S. government. Visit this page to learn more about CFR.

What does CFR do?

CFR’s main activities, as summarized in its Mission Statement, are

  • maintaining a diverse membership, including special programs to promote interest and develop expertise in the next generation of foreign policy leaders;
  • convening meetings at its headquarters in New York and in Washington, DC, and other cities where senior government officials, members of Congress, global leaders, and prominent thinkers come together with CFR members to discuss and debate major international issues;
  • supporting a Studies Program that fosters independent research, enabling CFR scholars to produce articles, reports, and books and hold roundtables that analyze foreign policy issues and make concrete policy recommendations;
  • publishing Foreign Affairs, the preeminent magazine of international affairs and U.S. foreign policy;
  • sponsoring Independent Task Forces that produce reports with both findings and policy prescriptions on the most important foreign policy topics; and
  • providing up-to-date information and analysis about world events and American foreign policy on its website. 

How is CFR managed? Who is in charge?

CFR is incorporated under New York State law. Its Board of Directors provides overall direction, and Michael Froman, CFR’s president and former U.S. trade representative, leads daily operations. David M. Rubenstein, cofounder and co-chief executive officer of the Carlyle Group, is the chairman. Blair Effron, cofounder of Centerview Partners, and Jami Miscik, chief executive officer and vice chairman of Kissinger Associates, are vice chairmen. You can find additional information on this site about CFR's Historical Roster of Directors and Officers, By-Laws, and Rules, Guidelines, and Practices.

Does CFR lobby?

No. CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. Rather than advocate, CFR is dedicated to being a resource on foreign policy issues. It does this by conducting research through the work of its Studies Program; publishing the bimonthly magazine Foreign Affairs; maintaining a website that is a source of analysis and context on international issues; and contributing to the foreign policy discussion by convening events.

Is CFR part of the U.S. government, the United Nations, or organizations such as the Trilateral Commission?

No. CFR is an independent, nongovernmental, nonprofit, and nonpartisan organization. Learn more here. The following studies explain CFR’s history:

  • Robert D. Schulzinger, The Wise Men of Foreign Affairs (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984).
  • Michael Wala, The Council on Foreign Relations and American Foreign Policy in the Early Cold War (Providence, RI: Berghahn Books, 1994).
  • George Gavrilis, The Council on Foreign Relations: A Short History (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 2021).

Is CFR a secret organization?

No. On its website, CFR publishes the results of its scholars’ research and Independent Task Forces; its Annual Report; the audio, video, and transcripts of its on-the-record meetings; numerous blogs; as well as information about the organization’s initiatives. News and analysis is also shared with CFR’s Twitter followers, Facebook fans, and YouTube channel subscribers. Sign up for CFR newsletters and bulletins here.

What is CFR's relationship with Foreign Affairs?

CFR publishes the bimonthly magazine Foreign Affairs, widely considered to be the most influential magazine for the analysis and debate of foreign policy. Its website, ForeignAffairs.com, publishes original daily features and hosts the magazine’s complete archives dating back to 1922.

About the Think Tank

What is a "fellow"?

The David Rockefeller Studies Program—CFR’s think tank—is composed of more than seventy full-time and adjunct and visiting scholars and practitioners (called “fellows”) who cover the major regions and significant issues shaping today’s international agenda. The program also includes several recipients of one-year fellowships.

The Studies Program is organized into more than a dozen program areas and centers that focus on major geographical areas of the world or significant foreign policy issues, including the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies, the Center for Preventive Action, and the International Institutions and Global Governance program.

Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop panel
Deputy Director of Studies Shannon K. O’Neil, James F. Jeffrey, James H. Binger Senior Fellow in Global Governance Esther Brimmer, and Distinguished Fellow Thomas E. Graham speak at the Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop.

About Members

Who are the members of CFR?

CFR is first and foremost a membership organization. With over 5,000 members, CFR’s roster includes government officials, scholars, business leaders, journalists, lawyers, and other distinguished nonprofit professionals. CFR’s membership is divided almost equally among those living in New York, Washington, DC, and across the country and abroad.

CFR membership is composed of members and term members. The Stephen M. Kellen Term Member Program, established to cultivate the next generation of foreign policy leaders, encourages promising young women and men from diverse backgrounds to engage in a sustained conversation on international affairs and U.S. foreign policy. Each year a new class of term members between the ages of thirty and thirty-six is elected to serve a five-year term. The official roster of CFR members is listed on the website and in the Annual Report.

How are individuals selected for membership?

Quality, diversity, and balance are the main objectives sought by CFR in the composition of its membership. Criteria for membership include intellectual attainment and expertise; degree of experience, interest, and current involvement in international affairs; promise of future achievement and service in foreign relations; potential contributions to CFR’s work; desire and ability to participate in CFR activities; and standing among peers.

CFR membership is restricted to U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States who have applied to become citizens. Candidates for term membership must be between thirty and thirty-six years of age on January 1 of the year in which they apply.

Candidates for membership must complete an online application and be nominated in writing by one CFR member and seconded by a minimum of three other individuals (maximum of four). Candidates for term membership must be nominated in writing by one CFR member and seconded by a minimum of two other individuals (maximum of three). Click here for more information about member selection procedures.

What is CFR’s Corporate Program?

CFR’s Corporate Program provides a forum for business leaders to interact with noted thinkers and practitioners in government, policy, academia, and business through invitations to exclusive events, direct interaction with CFR experts, and access to CFR’s members-only website. To find out if corporate membership would benefit your company, contact the Corporate Program at [email protected] or 212.434.9684.

About Meetings

What is a "CFR meeting"?

CFR holds various member events throughout the year that fall under the general rubric of “meetings.” Meetings usually feature panels of experts or single speakers with a moderator. Speakers explore a topic in conversation with the moderator, or in some cases they may deliver a brief speech. Every meeting includes a question-and-answer session with the audience. CFR meetings typically last one hour. Other CFR events include roundtables, symposia, workshops, and conference calls.

What is the difference between not-for-attribution and on-the-record meetings?

CFR meetings are usually held on a not-for-attribution basis to encourage frank and candid discussion. This means that participants are welcome to make use of the information received at the meeting, but neither the identity of the speakers nor that of any other participants may be revealed; nor may one cite the CFR meeting as the source of the information. Participants may not post pictures of or information from the meeting on social media or other public platforms. 

Some CFR meetings are conducted on an on-the-record basis, which means the information imparted at the meeting can be used by all participants. The transcripts and/or audio and video of these meetings are posted on CFR.org. These resources are accessible to both the interested public and to members who are not able to attend the meeting.

How can I get access to CFR meetings?

Only CFR members and invited guests may attend meetings. Accredited media are invited to cover select on-the-record events. The proceedings of on-the-record CFR meetings are available on CFR.org as transcripts, webcasts, videos, and audio streams.

About Funding

How is CFR funded?

The breakdown of sources for CFR’s $69 million annual revenue is as follows (FY17 data).

Gifts and Grants
Annual Fund and other unrestricted gifts 17%
Foundation grants (restricted)  8%
Corporate grants (restricted) 1%
Other grants (restricted) 11%
Endowment Draw 26%
Foreign Affairs 14%
Dues: individual members (unrestricted) 10%
Dues and related income: Corporate members (unrestricted) 9%
Rental income and miscellaneous 4%

For a fuller breakdown of the sources of CFR’s annual revenues, please see CFR’s Funding.

How can I make a contribution to CFR?

CFR is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization and is publicly supported as described in 509(a)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code. CFR’s IRS identification number is 13-1628168. Contributions payable to CFR are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. To learn more and to donate to CFR, please click here.

For more information about ways you can support CFR, please contact Betsy R. Gude at [email protected] or 212.434.9788.

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