10/14/2010 11:57 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Conversation with Diana Aviv, President and CEO of Independent Sector

In advance of the 2010 Independent Sector Annual Conference, I briefly spoke with Diana Aviv, President and CEO of Independent Sector, to discuss the nature of this year's convening, the philanthropic sector in the United States and abroad, and trends, partnerships and social innovations to keep an eye on in the years to come.

Rahim Kanani: Describe a little bit about the 2010 Independent Sector Conference and this year's thematic focus.

Diana Aviv: The 2010 Independent Sector Annual Conference "Forging a Stronger Future Together" will take place in Atlanta, Georgia Oct. 20-22. This year marks our 30th anniversary of convening top sector leaders to share ideas and take action. Over 850 CEOs, trustees, senior and middle level professionals from as many as 600 organizations are attending this year. During last year's conference, we were in a deep recession. And while we are beginning to see some light, there are still significant challenges facing the communities and causes we serve. This year's theme represents our sector's forward-looking stance. What will our futures look like? What will be our priorities? How can we achieve greater impact over the coming years not only in our organizations, but across them? It is also about the hard work we need to do NOW to move toward a more promising future.

RK: Expand a little bit on this year's theme and why this particular focus aligns with today's needs and challenges of the philanthropic sector.

DA: Many non-profit, philanthropic and corporate giving programs are looking at what they can do differently to achieve the greatest possible impact with their limited dollars. They recognize that no time soon will we likely see a significant expansion of resources. Given that the challenges before us are immense, what should be changing in our work to produce stronger results? The conference offers many opportunities to explore creative, game changing ways of working.

RK: And how would you characterize the philanthropic sector today both in the United States and abroad?

DA: Over the past 12 months I spoke in London and Paris and hosted delegations from China and Brazil. Both here and abroad, I see similarities in the challenges and opportunities we face. In London, leadership talked about the past few years as the "golden age of philanthropy" and given the draconian budget cuts about to be considered in Parliament, they may well be right. Many leaders in philanthropy appear to be "drilling down" and urging their program officers to sharpen the focus of their giving. More program support, less general operating support. Fewer issues, great focus. Organizations with clear goals and a good understanding of what the outcomes might be. We are also seeing a group of newer philanthropists interested in being much more active in developing and executing the solutions.

RK: What are some of the biggest trends, promising partnerships, or social innovations within the Independent Sector that we should pay special attention to over the next few years?

DA: The generational shift is one worth watching. We anticipate more Baby Boomers retiring, which means there is a compelling need to pay greater attention to developing the next generation of nonprofit leaders to confront the tough challenges. At the same time we expect to see a number of Boomers remaining in their current leadership positions or switching to part-time or volunteer positions. Finding new ways to capture the strength and experience of the Boomers, while still nurturing subsequent generations will be an important challenge ahead.

We're also seeing enormous changes in the racial and ethnic composition of our population. From 1980 to 2000, the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities increased from 21 percent to 31 percent of the total U.S. population, and I suspect the 2010 census will see further increases in this trend. I believe that we have much work to do to ensure that our workforce is representative of our population. While there is an effort by some organizations to make sure their staff and boards are diverse and welcoming to diverse communities, many still have a long way to go.

Technology has already created its own revolution. Five years ago, many of us did not have smart phones and we had never heard of "Tweeting". We may not know what is next in terms of technology, but we will all be well advised to pay close attention to the opportunities that new technologies create for civil society organizations.

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Future interviews include the President of Tufts University, the President of Harvard University, the Dean of Harvard's School of Public Health, the Director of the London School of Economics, Tony Blair, among many others. Follow me on Twitter to be notified of their publications.