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New IS leader will face many new challenges.

Some job descriptions in the sector seem best suited for a savior who can walk on water. The job of heading Independent Sector (IS) might be best suited for a tightrope walker. The challenge isn't just moving forward, it's staying on top and balanced.

A search committee headed by former IS chair Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, is working to find the successor to Sara Melendez, who recently announced her decision to return to education after eight years as president and CEO of the national coalition of nonprofits.

The IS conference in Cleveland this month should be a busy meeting as Melendez bids goodbye to the coalition and the search committee continues its efforts. The executive committee of the board chose to hire a search firm, which was not yet selected at press time.

When interviewed just days after the committee had been announced, Yzaguirre said the 10-person group had yet to discuss any plans. He was not sure how much it would be able to accomplish by the time of the annual conference. "Clearly, we're under the gun," Yzaguirre said of the time constraints.

While the search hasn't officially started, names of those who are interested in the job or who have support are beginning to surface. They include, former IS board chair Peter Goldberg, former Goodwill Industries International CEO Fred Grandy, Peter Shiras, IS's vice president for programs, and David Skaggs a former congressman from Colorado.

Melendez said her decision to leave Independent Sector stemmed from a desire to "smell the roses" since she turned 60, especially since many friends and loved ones had died or developed life-threatening illnesses in recent years. "You start thinking about your own mortality," she said.

Melendez will return to education. Her career began as an elementary school teacher, and she also served as a college professor and administrator. She will teach about nonprofit management at George Washington University and conduct research on Latino organizations. "Although we've seen progress (in the Latino community) it is still one of the poorest," she said. "Especially Latino women and single mothers.... I thought I'd like to finish off my worklife working to see if I could do something in that area."

She said she wants to conduct "action research" to document the process of them "trying to tease out what we can learn from that, then develop a model, a sample, a methodology for working with other groups."

She added, "This opportunity is not only to teach in the nonprofit management program and do some writing ... but also to work with some nonprofits and see what Latino nonprofits need to do more of (to build capacity.)"

Melendez said she was proud of IS's battles defending nonprofit advocacy rights against Congressman Ernest Is-took's proposed amendments during the mid-1990s, as well as the organization's latest strategic plan. "We even asked if we needed an Independent Sector organization," she recalled. "What we heard was we certainly need it. We need it to lead us to identify the issues we want to address, generate enough knowledge ... and, when necessary, to mobilize us to a (more proactive statement of position.)"

Taking proactive statements was one area where IS's leadership has heard criticisms during the past several years, however, such as when it appeared flat-footed and ill-prepared to withstand a Congressional assault on the estate tax, before eventually taking a position. "That is one of the hazards of a membership organization (with) such a diverse membership," she said. "You cannot take a step as important as that one without making sure you've touched all your bases."

Of course, consensus in such circumstances is almost impossible. Another example is the Bush administration's faith-based initiative. When Bush was photographed at the signing of legislation to create the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Melendez stood smiling at the president's side. "We still have many members who are all for the president's initiative, she said, "and others who say government money should never go to congregations. ... That's one where we had to be the meeting ground" where IS members debated their issues and concerns.

Peter Goldberg, who served as IS chair from 1999 through 2001, said the organization must continue to build public appreciation and trust in the sector, and there is still a need to strengthen IS's capacity on analysis and advocacy. "IS is going to be a very relevant organization," said Goldberg, who declined to comment on rumors of his interest in the job. "I think the environment will make its purposes demonstrably clear. IS has to be a very strong advocacy and policy organization."

Yzaguirre said that beyond the basic issues for an IS president, such as tax issues affecting the sector and battling government attempts to curtail the sector's freedoms, Melendez's successor will need to address issues such as greater public demands for effectiveness and results from organizations, ongoing concerns over leadership and accountability, and the economics of the foundation payout rate. Addressing the questions of corporate financial practices and their impact on corporate philanthropy is also likely to be an issue, according to Yzaguirre.

As one of the sector's chief advocates, the IS president would be expected to command attention in Washington, D.C. "Clearly, we would want someone familiar with the legislative process or who is a quick learner," Yzaguirre said. "You need persuasive skills. That's a given. You need someone who can project a vision and communicate a vision and be a fairly convincing personality."

IS's continued relevance beyond the eastern corridor has also pushed the organization to consider opening a satellite office -- or at least develop a stronger communication network in western states.

Caroline Boitano, IS's director of west coast outreach, based in San Rafael, Calif., said that IS's focus will remain national, but its efforts on the west coast -- part of the outreach efforts driven by its strategic plan -- could serve as a starting point for future efforts.

"Independent Sector is an organization that depends upon feedback from members and other organizations," Boitano said. "The whole west coast, in my view, is a wonderful laboratory and learning opportunity."

Not everyone aggrees. "We're not really thinking of an office out here," said Peter Shiras, IS's vice president for programs, while attending meetings in San Jose, Calif. "We need to expand our outreach both geographically and in other ways also," he said, referring to IS's efforts with smaller community-based organizations and networks, labor unions, and faith-based organizations.

Yzaguirre acknowledged that should IS open a western office, "it will call for greater management skills (for the new president), the ability to manage more than one office" and a broader vision.

Yzaguirre, who said he was sorry to see Melendez leave, added that the organization has matured since she succeeded founding president Brian O'Connell nearly a decade ago. "It's going to be around for a while," said Yzaguirre, who thought a bit of retooling or re-energizing would be healthy. "Every mature organization needs to periodically renew itself. ... The stage makes a difference."
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Title Annotation:Independent Sector looking for new head
Author:Sinclair, Matthew
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
Words:1167
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