News and analysis
June 30, 2015

Diana Aviv Leaving Independent Sector for Feeding America

Diana Aviv
Diana Aviv
Diana Aviv, who has led Independent Sector for 12 years, will leave the nonprofit-advocacy organization on October 1 to take a new job as chief executive of Feeding America. She will replace Bob Aiken, who resigned as CEO in early May.

Matt Knott, Feeding America's president, will serve as the interim CEO until Ms. Aviv takes over. With $1.85 billion in private support, Feeding America ranks in the top five charities that bring in the most in private gifts, according to The Chronicle's Philanthropy 400 survey.

Ms. Aviv said the opportunity to lead Feeding America “presented itself” only in the last few months. While Feeding America is a single-issue charity, it consists of a network of more than 200 food banks, something that draws upon Ms. Aviv’s experience leading an association of more than 500 nonprofits.

“The idea of a network of networks is something that is very familiar to me at Independent Sector, and it is highly relevant at Feeding America,” she said.

Ms. Aviv said that leading Independent Sector allowed her to try to strengthen nonprofits. In large part, she said, her efforts focused on closing the chasm between donors and nonprofits that receive grants. She said she took the new job at Feeding America because she felt an obligation work on an important single issue.

“This gives me an opportunity to work on one of the intractable issues of our time, which is poverty and hunger,” she said. “This is a subject I’ve known about since I was a child.”

Ms. Aviv said she became committed to working for social-justice causes as a white girl growing up in a middle-class family in apartheid-era South Africa. She said she saw first-hand millions of black children suffering from malnutrition as a result of racist government policies.

At Feeding America, Ms. Aviv said she will be diligent in advocating for federal policy designed to alleviate hunger. She said she will work out of the charity’s Washington, D.C., office.

Search for New CEO

Independent Sector said it has formed a search committee to find Ms. Aviv’s replacement. It will be headed by Steve McCormick, former president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and former chief executive of the Nature Conservancy. Mr. McCormick now heads the Earth Genome.

"Thanks in large part to Diana’s leadership, the charitable sector in this country is stronger and more influential. Independent Sector is well-positioned for the future," said Neil Nicoll, chairman of Independent Sector’s board of directors.

Before coming to Independent Sector, Ms. Aviv served as vice president for public policy at the Jewish Federations of North America.

'Powerful Voice'

With Ms. Aviv’s departure, Independent Sector has some “big shoes” to fill, said Steve Taylor, senior vice president at United Way Worldwide.

He said Ms. Aviv was a “powerful voice” for nonprofits that struggled during the economic downturn. He credited her with pushing nonprofits to stay focused on long-term goals. Too often, he said, charities get frustrated and give up when policy battles don’t seem to go their way.

Ms. Aviv’s views on the matter, articulated in a 2012 study on advocacy, gave nonprofits empirical evidence about the benefits of maintaining vigilance over the long haul.

“They really dug deep into what effective advocacy looks like for nonprofits,” he said.

Mr. Taylor said that with its hundreds of members, ranging from foundations to large public charities to small nonprofits, each with a distinct viewpoint on public policy, leading Independent Sector is not for the weak willed.

“I can’t imagine a more challenging position,” he said.

Updated Rules

Ms. Aviv played a critical role crafting a rewrite of charity rules when Congress passed the Pension Protection Act of 2006. Under her leadership, Independent Sector has developed and updated a set of self-governance rules for nonprofit boards, fundraisers, and leaders.

Jatrice Martel Gaiter, executive vice president for external affairs at Volunteers of America, credited Ms. Aviv with listening to the concerns of nonprofits nationwide.

She did this most recently, Ms. Martel Gaiter said, through on ongoing series of more than 10 gatherings called “Threads”  in cities throughout the country.

“She has elevated nonprofit conversations to a broader audience outside of D.C.,” she said. “Our issues cannot be confined inside the Beltway.”

Ms. Martel Gaiter said Ms. Aviv was an expert in the one thing common to all nonprofits regardless of size or mission: their status as tax-exempt organizations.

“Tax is not always the most popular issue with people, but it is the underpinning of who we are,” she said.

Father Larry Snyder, the former president of Catholic Charities USA, said he had a hard time picturing Independent Sector without Ms. Aviv.

Father Snyder, now an administrator at University of St. Thomas, in Minnesota, said Ms. Aviv was vigilant in protecting tax-exempt status and donors’ ability to write off charitable gifts, and she urged nonprofit leaders to be more responsible lest “other groups or the government hold us accountable.”

After Ms. Aviv’s departure, the organization said it would continue a "re-founding" effort she initiated that seeks to make Independent Sector a "vital meeting ground" for nonprofits to learn from each other and advocate for public-policy stances that benefit the charities, foundations, and businesses engaged in philanthropic work.

Send an e-mail to Alex Daniels.