By Todd Cohen
With the survival of nonprofits tougher than ever in the face of an ailing economy, government deficits and war, Independent Sector can best serve society by gearing itself to better serve its member nonprofits, says the group’s incoming president.
“Its mission is to create a more vibrant democracy dedicated to inclusion, participation, opportunity, hope and compassion,” says Diana Aviv, who in June will become the third chief executive of Independent Sector, a coalition of more than 700 national nonprofits, foundations and corporate-giving programs.
To fulfill its mission, says Aviv, vice president for public policy at United Jewish Communities, Independent Sector must recruit more members, hone its message, broaden its services, strengthen its advocacy, build partnerships and develop new sources of income.
Change will be a priority for Aviv, a native of South Africa who has worked as a psychiatric social worker in Israel and the U.S, headed a domestic violence agency in New Jersey, and lobbied and raised money for health and social service causes.
As head of the Washington, D.C., office of United Jewish Communities, a New York-based umbrella group for 157 local Jewish federations, she has worked closely with the White House, overseen development of legislative and regulatory strategy, and traveled frequently as a public speaker.
Her social work, she says, led to community organizing, which led to policy work.
“I was always interested in organizing for change,” she says.
In her new job, she says, social change will be rooted in organizational change.
While the number of nonprofits has been growing, for example, membership at Independent Sector has declined from about 800 a decade ago.
To enlist more members, Aviv says, the organization plans to offer consulting and other services, such as forming “rapid-response” teams to assist communities with “stray nonprofits engaged in practices that are unacceptable or illegal.”
She plans to reach out to ethnic leaders, community-based groups, young and emerging leaders, retirees and others, and work to build partnerships with state lawmakers, governors, chambers of commerce, civic associations and think-tanks.
She also will work to help Congress and the Bush administration better understand the role that nonprofits play in society, and lobby for measures such as tax incentives for charitable giving.
With the sector expanding rapidly, she says, nonprofits need to assess their work and impact, and find ways to operate more efficiently and effectively, and possibly form strategic partnerships.
Such assessments may result in some nonprofits going out of business, she says.
“We have had a massive expansion of nonprofit organizations in the past 15 years, and there are not resources to keep building up the sector ad infinitum,” she says.
Independent Sector can stimulate and convene discussions “that will allow the sector to reinvent itself and constantly be relevant,” she says.
Initially, Aviv wants Independent Sector to take stock of itself, survey current and prospective members and partners, and set goals.
By improving its services and sharpening its message, she says, the organization can prepare itself to create an endowment, seek new funding and consider sharing revenue with members.
New funding could range from fees for services, consulting and convening to revenue for Web-based products and services.
“Independent Sector is really a unique organization that has the ability and the opportunity to convene diverse constituencies in the third sector on behalf of issues that are important to the sector,” she says.
“But the overall theme is to protect and strengthen our democracy, to encourage engagement, service and collective action, to ensure that government is fair, reliable and generous to our communities and the organizations that serve our communities, to encourage our sector to be open and transparent and provide services that are of high quality and that have integrity, with the purpose of serving the common good.”