March 24, 2011; Source: Chronicle of Philanthropy | Brian O’Connell, a co-founder of Independent Sector and the organization’s first president and CEO, died last week at age 81, an event that Pablo Eisenberg, senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, and long-time frequent contributor to NPQ, describes as leaving “a gaping hole in the front ranks of leadership in the nonprofit sector” in his column in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
O’Connell began his career in the health field, working first at the American Heart Association and then at the National Mental Health Association and through this work developed an interest in the challenges that nonprofit organizations face in achieving their social missions. Later, as president of the National Council on Philanthropy and executive director of the Coalition of Voluntary Organizations, he joined with John Gardner of the Carnegie Corporation to lead a group study on how to strengthen the nonprofit sector and boost giving. After almost two years of planning, he and Gardner transformed this working group into Independent Sector in 1980.
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“He believed in the power of Independent Sector members, so it was natural for him to expand and diversify the organization’s membership, to include grass-roots and advocacy-oriented groups as well as more established institutions,” Eisenberg explains. “To his dying day, he pushed the idea that research and policy advocacy were essential elements of a vibrant nonprofit world.”
The author of 14 books and the recipient of several honorary degrees, O’Connell also “always had time for another board or worthy cause” according to Eisenberg, and served on the boards of: Tufts University, the Bridgespan Group, the Cape Cod Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the National Academy of Public Administration, the Points of Light Foundation, the Hogg Foundation and the National Assembly of Social Welfare Organizations at various points throughout his career.—Anne Eigeman