When Dan Cardinali moved into the executive suite at Independent Sector a year ago, he not only faced the challenge of reshaping an organization that had lost some of its relevancy, he also inherited a sizable budget deficit, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.
What's more, with the election of Donald Trump in November, IS and other nonprofit membership organizations faced the daunting prospect of Republicans, who controlled both the House and Senate as well as the White House, pushing tax proposals that might sharply curtail charitable giving. Realizing the political tide had turned in a populist direction, Cardinali commissioned a study from the Indiana University Lilly School of Philanthropy to learn how charitable giving might be affected by various proposals to simplify the tax code. With the study results in hand, he and his leadership team decided to push for an extension of the charitable tax deduction to all Americans who give, not just those who itemize on their tax returns.
Indeed, in the months since the election, Cardinali's political instincts have impressed a number of prominent nonprofit executives, who have also praised his focus on getting results and willingness to collaborate with others. "He's not reactionary in a time when it seems like everybody wants to be reactionary," Brian Gallagher, CEO of United Way Worldwide and a former IS board member, told the Chronicle. "He's not knocked off the rails. It's a testament to not just his capability but his demeanor, his approach to the work."
In addition to the challenges of mobilizing nonprofits and foundations with disparate missions and different views, Cardinali also has had to fill the vacuum left by the departure of his predecessor, the forceful Diana Aviv, who headed IS for more than a decade and, over that period, forged strong working relationships with members of Congress and the White House. And he has had to make some difficult decisions, including putting the organization’s budget on a firmer footing by laying off nearly 25 percent of its staff.
Despite these challenges, Cardinali has avoided major missteps while earning the respect of staff and his peers. And nonprofits and foundations have responded, using their checkbooks to express confidence in Cardinali's leadership. The number of IS members — currently 450 — has exceeded the organization’s projections, and it has managed to attract funding from new sources while increasing support from some of its longtime funders.
"As CEO of Independent Sector, you have to care more about how you bring key players of that sector together to achieve something versus your brand as Independent Sector. [Dan’s] been really good about that," said Gallagher. "If Independent Sector helps a critical mass of players in the nonprofit sector to be successful in policy in Washington, in understanding policy in general, in having a voice in things that matter to them, in running really good conferences where they learn, we will raise them up on our shoulders, and that will be their brand."