As head of the largest state immigrant rights coalition in the United States, Steve Choi is a key advocate for issues such as education, health care and civic participation. Since 2016, he and his staff at the New York Immigration Coalition have been vocal opponents of several anti-immigration initiatives led by the Trump administration. Choi is a recipient of the New York Law Journal’s 2013 “Rising Stars” Award and the Korean American Association “Man of the Year” Award.
The 2018 Nonprofit Power 50; 11-50
The 2018 Nonprofit Power 50; 11-50
More than in many places across the country, New York makes it a top priority to provide an array of social services for its residents. But city and state government aren’t going it alone, especially in serving low-income and high-needs New Yorkers. In many cases, nonprofit organizations are critical to carrying out that mission of service. And where government can’t – or won’t – allocate the funding needed for key programs, philanthropies often jump in to fill in the gaps.
Despite the importance of these efforts, the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors tend to go unnoticed and are all too often unheralded. But behind them is a roster of figures who are ensuring the delivery of services, exploring innovative solutions and influencing public policy.
In this special feature, we recognize 50 top nonprofit leaders who are key players in the world of New York politics and government. Since we cover politicians on a day-to-day basis, we limited this list to those who are not strictly in government but instead work on the outside as collaborators – or critics.
We reached out to insiders and experts to compile this list of nonprofit leaders, ranking each individual based on their accomplishments, their sway in political and policy matters, their ties to powerful politicians, and their ability to deliver for the diverse populations they serve.
We’re pleased to present the Nonprofit Power 50.
This year, the New York Women’s Foundation launched a $1 million fund – in collaboration with the #MeToo movement – to support organizations working to end sexual violence. And last year, its president, Ana Oliveira, announced efforts to fight for the rights of all marginalized groups, including women, immigrants, communities of color and LGBTQ people. In 2016, the organization distributed $7.6 million in funding to organizations that support women’s leadership and gender equality, making it the largest U.S.-based funder of its kind.
As CEO of Community Access, Steve Coe oversees the delivery of housing, advocacy and crisis support services to New Yorkers with mental health challenges. Coe has helped build Community Access since 1979, when he was hired as its second full-time employee. Since then, it has developed more than 20 supportive housing projects. Earlier this year, Coe was named to the NYC Crisis Prevention and Response Task Force launched by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray.
From tenant advocacy to criminal justice to immigrant rights, Make the Road New York is at the forefront of community organizing in support of New York City’s vulnerable communities. As the organization’s co-executive director, Javier Valdés has spearheaded policies to limit federal immigration enforcement, reduce biased policing and expand translation and interpretation services at government offices. Co-executive director Deborah Axt, considered one of the nation’s leading experts on community-based worker organizing, leads policy work as well as the education and financial departments.
In her 22 years as state director of AARP New York, Beth Finkel has overseen a wide range of lobbying efforts on behalf of the organization’s 2.6 million members – advocating for assisted living, family leave and financial reforms. Earlier this year, her efforts led to the passage of New York’s Paid Family Leave Program, which covers not only new parents but also caregivers who need to care for a family member, such as a grandparent recovering from an illness.
A recognized leader in child welfare reform, The Children’s Village President Jeremy Kohomban played a key role in the passage of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, which is expected to overhaul the nation’s foster care system by preventing the breakup of biological families. Kohomban, an advocate praised for his expertise in human services as well as his pragmatism and business sense, has been honored by the Child Welfare League of America and the Alliance for Children and Families.
Bowery Residents’ Committee President Muzzy Rosenblatt was recently named one of the 50 most influential nonprofit leaders in America by The NonProfit Times. For nearly two decades, the former first deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Homeless Services has expanded the organization's services, which now reach more than 10,000 New Yorkers annually. It recently opened the HomeStretch project, a combined homeless shelter and low-income housing facility for individuals leaving the shelter system.
VOCAL-NY provides overdose prevention training and distributes more than 50,000 clean syringes to New Yorkers each year. Its co-executive director, Jeremy Saunders, brings his community organizing expertise to campaigns on issues such as drug policy, housing, economic justice and combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Co-executive director Alyssa Aguilera draws from her advocacy work for organizations such as New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Boston Workers’ Alliance and SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign in Texas.
When YMCA of Greater New York broke ground in August on a facility in the Bronx’s Edenwald neighborhood, it was the culmination of nearly 30 years of effort by activists to locate a facility in the area – and part of a strategic plan recently launched by Sharon Greenberger, its president and CEO. Greenberger, who joined the organization in 2015, previously spent 20 years in leadership roles in health care, education and economic development, including New York City’s School Construction Authority.
In 1985, the death of a homeless woman evicted from Grand Central by transit police on a frigid December night inspired George McDonald, then a garment industry executive, to establish an organization designed to help people overcome homelessness. But it was through another tragedy – the suicide of a 19-year-old homeless woman who struggled with drug addiction – that McDonald met his future wife, then Harriet Karr, who had shadowed the woman for a screenplay. Together, the couple developed The Doe Fund into a $61 million nonprofit that reaches thousands of New Yorkers every day.
When Monsignor Kevin Sullivan took the helm of Catholic Charities of New York in 2001, his first major responsibility was to coordinate the organization’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He drew from his decades of human services experience and training, including as founder of two neighborhood development organizations, board member of several health care organizations and graduate of New York University’s Doctorate in Public Administration program. Sullivan, also an alum of St. Joseph’s Seminary, hosts a weekly radio show on satellite radio – it’s called JustLove.
Nicholas Turner’s op-eds on criminal justice reform build on the work he oversees as president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice – reports that track jail populations, monitor policing practices and shape public debate. In 2013, the former Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison litigator and managing director at The Rockefeller Foundation joined Vera for a second time. During his first tenure, from 1998 to 2007, Turner shaped much of Vera’s work on juvenile justice, re-entry and substance abuse.
If the name Sister Paulette LoMonaco sounds familiar, it’s probably because the executive director of Good Shepherd Services has recently been featured in The New York Times, New York magazine’s The Cut and Brooklyn Daily, among other publications. In these stories, the Columbia University graduate weighs in on her work leading an organization that runs more than 80 programs assisting New York City’s most vulnerable populations. And no, LoMonaco tells reporters, she hasn’t worn a religious habit in 40 years.
The daughter of a school principal and a social worker, Ariel Zwang realized in her late 20s that she wanted to leave her finance career to work in social justice. This career shift led to her current role as CEO of Safe Horizon, the nation’s largest nonprofit serving victims of abuse, where she oversees a $78 million operating budget that supports more than 250,000 New Yorkers every year. She is a former White House Fellow appointed by President Bill Clinton.
In her role as CEO and executive director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Jennifer Jones-Austin is following in the footsteps of her father, a civil rights leader and pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Brooklyn. The organization reaches more than 1.5 million New Yorkers each year with its anti-poverty policy programs and faith-based initiatives. In her time away from FPWA, Jones Austin guest hosts the nationally syndicated radio program “Keepin' It Real with Rev. Al Sharpton.”
Before stepping into the role of executive director of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York – where she supports training and capacity-building efforts that help nonprofits achieve their goals – Sharon Stapel worked on local and national LGBTQ issues as executive director of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. Previously she worked with South Brooklyn Legal Services and the Legal Aid Society. For her advocacy work, she was recognized by President Obama and named a White House Champion of Change.
An op-ed columnist who pens the bi-weekly “Urban Agenda” for New York Amsterdam News and El Diario/La Prensa newspapers, David Jones uses his platform as president and CEO of Community Service Society of New York to advocate for low-income New Yorkers – as he has done throughout his career. Prior to joining the nonprofit in 1986, Jones served as executive director of the New York City Youth Bureau and as special adviser to Mayor Ed Koch.
Sheena Wright started work at United Way of New York City on the same day Superstorm Sandy hit the city. Not only did she raise $11 million in disaster relief, but in the last several years Wright has led an initiative to help low-income New Yorkers achieve self-sufficiency by identifying challenges, creating solutions and pushing for change. A native of the South Bronx who lives in Harlem with her four children, Wright is the first woman to lead United Way of New York City.
Ronald Richter’s work has touched the lives of vulnerable children and their families for much of his career. Before he was CEO of the Jewish Child Care Association, overseeing foster care and family support programs that reach more than 16,000 children and families every year, Richter was a family court judge and commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services. He began his career as an attorney with the Legal Aid Society.
Correction: An earlier version of this profile misstated Ronald Richter's title at the New York City Administration for Children’s Services.
Poet. Educator. Author. President of Harlem Children’s Zone, a nonprofit that has inspired nationwide anti-poverty initiatives with its model of community-based programs for children and their families. Recognized for being an education reform advocate, Geoffrey Canada was named one of Fortune’s 50 greatest leaders in the world and one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world. Canada was born in the South Bronx and earned degrees from Bowdoin College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
As head of Coalition for the Homeless, Dave Giffen continues to push New York City officials to make more housing resources available to low-income New Yorkers. Giffen, who started volunteering in 1988 for the organization that helps homeless individuals and families navigate the shelter system – through crisis services, job training and housing assistance – became its executive director in 2012. He was previously vice president of Mercator Corp., an agricultural technology supplier, handling financial analysis, public relations and project development.
An expert on tax policy and an advocate for income equality, Ronald Deutsch took the helm at the Fiscal Policy Institute in 2014 after spending more than two decades working on fiscal policy in Albany. Among his goals: to reinvest in schools, improve wages for working families and reform New York’s tax structure. Previously Deutsch led the New York Statewide Emergency Network for Social and Economic Security, an anti-poverty advocacy organization, and New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness.
When Phoebe Boyer was named president of Children’s Aid in 2014, she knew she had to overcome several challenges – among them managing the organization’s existing funding sources and reaching more donors. Boyer’s work paid off last year, when Children’s Aid received an award for overall excellence from the New York Community Trust. Previously Boyer oversaw grantmaking for the Robertson Foundation, which supports issues including education reform, and was executive director of the Tiger Foundation, an anti-poverty organization.
A criminal justice advocate with more than 40 years of experience, JoAnne Page is a go-to expert for journalists writing about re-entry, the traumatic effects of prison, and housing for formerly incarcerated individuals. The Fortune Society president and CEO has developed the organization’s innovative transitional housing programs alongside its mental health and substance abuse treatment, counseling and employment services. Page is a graduate of Yale Law School and a frequent guest on CNN, Court TV and NBC News.
Sean Delany works at the intersection of law, community-based organizations and the public. As executive director of Lawyers Alliance for New York, every year he oversees more than 1,800 volunteer attorneys doing pro-bono work for nonprofit clients throughout the five boroughs – providing legal advice on issues including corporate structure and governance, tax and intellectual property. Before Lawyers Alliance, Delany worked at the Charities Bureau of the state attorney general's office and at Bronx Legal Services.
Known as Leake and Watts since it was founded as an orphanage in 1831, the Yonkers-based human services organization underwent a major rebranding and re-emerged earlier this year as Rising Ground. It was a lengthy process shepherded by Executive Director Alan Mucatel, who oversaw the rebranding work that started in 2012. Mucatel has led Rising Ground since 2009, and in that time its budget has grown from $56 million to more than $130 million.
In more than 15 years of working at nonprofits, Catherine Trapani’s advocacy efforts on behalf of homeless New Yorkers have been built on skills gained by working with the city’s most vulnerable populations. The executive director of Homeless Services United, which advocates for solutions to homelessness, previously assisted domestic violence survivors and led training workshops on housing resources at New Destiny Housing. She was also a crisis intervention advocate at one of Safe Horizon’s emergency shelters.
The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund this year launched a $10 million initiative to fund New York City arts programs that focus on mental health – seeking to de-stigmatize the issue through public art, dance programs and experiences that stimulate an emotional connection. The initiative and the organization are led by Laurie Tisch – daughter of investor Preston Robert Tisch and philanthropist Joan Tisch – who founded the Illumination Fund in 2007 to improve the well-being of all New Yorkers.
Tony Hannigan, CEO of Center for Urban Community Services, has worked for the organization since 1983, when it was known as Columbia University Community Services. He oversaw the transformation of the neighborhood-based program for homeless individuals into a $70 million organization that reaches 56,000 people with various needs. The licensed social worker also served as the city’s regional coordinator of community support programs at the New York State Office of Mental Health, among other positions.
As executive director of Citizens Committee for Children, Jennifer March has led advocacy efforts that helped establish New York City’s earned income tax credit, the first local child care tax credit and the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, and was instrumental in shaping juvenile justice and family services. March continues to advocate for child welfare funding in the 2018-19 budget, urging lawmakers to restore funding for juvenile placement, behavioral health and foster youth education.
With a network of nearly 100 Latino grassroots organizations, the Hispanic Federation manages and implements a wide range of initiatives to support its members. As the organization’s president and spokesman, José Calderón divides his time between strategic planning and advocacy and communicating the Hispanic Federation’s message not only to the media but to community members who can benefit from critical services. He is also co-chairman of the Immigration Committee of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.
In the 1970s, Joanne Oplustil was working on a refugee resettlement program in Tanzania when she learned that to be a leader, she must lead by example – wisdom that she applies to her work at CAMBA. The organization recently completed CAMBA Gardens, an affordable housing project in Wingate, Brooklyn, that includes 502 units for low-income or formerly homeless occupants. The project recently won the Excellence in Affordable Housing Award from the Urban Land Institute.
David Garza calls Henry Street Settlement – the 125-year-old Lower East Side social services organization – his “professional destiny.” After joining in 2001 as a job developer helping people build work skills, he took on additional responsibilities in strategic planning, and within a few years was managing fiscal and employment programs across the agency. Under his leadership, Henry Street Settlement’s Workforce Development Center drew recognition as one of the city’s best employment programs - and that's just one of nine program areas for the nonprofit. He has also deepened local community partnerships and created an innovative homeless aftercare program.
As head of one of the nation’s largest human services providers, Jewish Board CEO David Rivel oversees a budget of $250 million serving more than 45,000 New Yorkers annually. The former executive director of the City Parks Foundation and former president of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music is leading the Jewish Board through a transition as it embraces data-driven and outcome-focused models of care and brings mental health and foster care services to underserved communities.
Cecilia Clarke’s signature projects since joining the Brooklyn Community Foundation follow a similar model: allowing community members to play a key role in shaping the grants that come into their neighborhoods. Since joining the nonprofit in 2013, Clarke applied this grantmaking model in a couple of education and justice-based initiatives – and funders took notice. In recognition of its novel approach, the foundation received the 2015 Impact Award from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.
A supporter of state-level legislation mirroring the Johnson Amendment – which prohibits nonprofit organizations from supporting political candidates – Doug Sauer is CEO of the 3,400-member New York Council of Nonprofits, the nation’s largest association of its kind. Sauer, a recognized expert in board governance, mergers and restructuring, and nonprofit capacity assessment, is a frequent public speaker and serves on numerous community boards. He also served four years in Southeast Asia as a U.S. Air Force medic.
Susan Stamler, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses – a federation of settlement houses and community centers that serves more than 750,000 New Yorkers every year – uses her political influence to advocate for funding for issues like early voting, homelessness services and youth summer camps. Stamler, who came to lead UNH in 2015 with more than 35 years of experience in advocacy, received recognition for her work leading a national campaign for juvenile justice reform in her previous role as a senior vice president at M+R Strategic Services.
Correction: An earlier version of this profile contained an incorrect budget figure.
As president of the Chinese-American Planning Council, the largest Asian American social services agency in the nation, Wayne Ho has worked to promote economic stability among low-income, immigrant communities. The organization’s programs throughout New York City include early childhood services, senior services and workforce development. In addition to his extensive experience in advocacy, Ho has taught leadership and management courses at New York University and the University of California, Berkeley.
When Services for the UnderServed organized a reading of the Greek tragedy "Philoctetes" last year, CEO Donna Colonna described the event as an effort to draw a parallel between the ancient drama and the experiences of homeless individuals in New York City today. Last year, Colonna received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Autism Spectrum News and Behavioral Health News for her advocacy work on behalf of people with disabilities and people living in poverty.
The president of a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit would seem an outlier on this list, but Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has made a big splash in New York City. The organization has taken action on bail reform by vowing to post bail for 500 women and teenagers at Rikers Island. The move was controversial, but for Kerry Kennedy the cause reflects the purpose of the organization founded by her famous father: social and economic equity.