04/22/2013 02:43 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2013

Small Nonprofits: Who's Got Your Back?

The power of a lobbyist working for a huge nonprofit is self-evident (note the NRA) but if you are a small nonprofit, who is pressing your case? Look for a slender woman with a slight South African accent. There's no statue dedicated to her in a city park; her name may not be on a public building; but if you are a supporter, a volunteer or an employee of a nonprofit organization, Diana Aviv has your back.

As the president and CEO of Independent Sector, a coalition of approximately 600 organizations, Diana Aviv is both a policy wonk and a cheerleader for America's philanthropic community. She is a woman who has inspired me for years. Ten years to be exact. (It's been a decade since she came to the Independent Sector in 2003.) If nonprofits have become more professional and influential during that time, much of the credit goes to her.

This spring, while most of us are (understandably) focused and working hard on our own charity projects, Aviv is keeping her eye on Congress. In February she testified on the Hill opposing the demise of the charitable tax deduction.

When people talk about the work done by nonprofits, it is often described in "feel good" and "do-gooder" terms. In her remarks to Congress, Diana Aviv gathered facts and presented research. She made the solid argument that the charitable sector is not only doing good, it is a critical component of the nation's economy.

Aviv contended that:

• Nearly one in 10 workers in the United States is employed by a nonprofit organization.

• With 13.5 million paid workers, nonprofits employ more people than the finance and real estate sectors combined.

• Nonprofits pay nearly $670 billion annually in wages and benefits, salaries that support families in communities across America.

• In 2010, 501(c)(3) organizations paid $35.2 billion in payroll taxes.

• The American people understand the positive impact of the charitable deduction on their communities. An April 2011 Gallup Poll found that 62 percent of Americans who do not claim the deduction support its preservation as an incentive for giving.

Under Aviv's leadership the Independent Sector has grown in stature and influence becoming more and more a "go to" resource. It is the authority that tells us the value in hard dollars of an hour of volunteer work ($23.78) and the amount of hours American volunteers contribute yearly to the common good (7.9 billion hours in 2011).

As nonprofits struggle to do more with fewer resources, Diana Aviv is a motivator for people who work in the sector, saying, "Often it is thought that people who work for nonprofits aren't in the business world because they are not as talented or because they couldn't get business jobs. I think the exact opposite is true."

She insists that the business world would be lucky to have the talent that nonprofits have gathered, "Because we have to be as creative and effective and responsible and accountable as anybody else and on much less money. "

In today's economy, many nonprofit, philanthropic and corporate giving programs are looking at what they can do differently with their limited dollars. Aviv suggests that nonprofits focus on long range planning. In this short video she explains why some nonprofits are missing the boat.

Diana Aviv, Independent Sector

Leadership tips that nonprofits can learn from Diana Aviv:

(At the beginning of this blog I told you that I have admired her for years. The following tips are not points that she has made. They are things I have observed about the way she works.)

• Be natural. When a situation seems difficult, many people despair, fearing they will never find a solution. She works like nature... slowly and imperceptibly until one day the fruit ripens.

• Avoid taking the credit. To truly help others we must remain selfless. At the time of her recent testimony to Congress in support of the charitable giving tax deduction (which is still on the table, by the way) she brought a bipartisan group with her to Washington, D.C. The words "bipartisan" and "Washington, D.C." rarely go together, but she did it.

• Don't quit. Persevere through moments of wavering. Regardless of how impossible it seems that a situation might improve, anything can happen. Diana Aviv reminds me of a sailboat tacking back and forth along different angles, but making progress.

To maintain the charitable giving tax deduction, nonprofits will probably have to battle with Congress. Will David defeat Goliath? Diana Aviv has made a good case for the underdogs: The charitable sector is a gigantic essential component of the national economy, not a weakling. Even so, if you are under attack it's nice when somebody has your back.

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