Nonprofit Roundtable goes ‘more soup than salad’ with new leader

It has become the rallying cry for nonprofits across the region as the sector recovers from a downturn that squeezed a good many budgets: Collaborate. Collaborate. Collaborate.

And that’s a mission that Diana Leon-Taylor feels well suited for as the new head of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, a membership organization of 300 charities created 11 years ago.

Leon-Taylor takes over for Chuck Bean, who moved on to become executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. She describes herself as “more soup than salad”— favoring blended teams over fragmented coexistence as she works to bring people together.

Friends joke that her fundraisers and dinner parties are like the United Nations because of the diversity in race and profession.

“Her background is government, nonprofit and business, and our whole focus ... is to bring forward those stakeholders together,” said Russell Snyder, Roundtable board member and chief executive of Volunteers of America Chesapeake.

Born in New York and raised in Miami, Leon-Taylor is the grandchild of Haitian diplomats. Her grandfather, Ernest Elizee, was the country’s ambassador to France and Ethiopia before starting an ill-fated campaign for the presidency that was halted by the dictatorship at the time. He died in the 1970s.

Leon-Taylor was largely raised by her grandmother while her parents — her mother a banker and father a philosophy professor — worked long hours.

“My grandmother was very adamant about education and what you were doing for others,” said Leon-Taylor, who recalled a moment when her grandmother instructed her to volunteer during her summer months of elementary school.

She never really stopped being active in the nonprofit community, tutoring children or organizing fundraisers, even as she pursued undergraduate studies at Harvard University, where she studied economics.

After attending business school at George Washington University, she worked for the European Commission in Europe doing research, analysis and marketing on the impact of globalization and consulting for multinational corporations.

She then moved to Fannie Mae to do marketing consulting. When the mortgage finance giant ran into regulatory troubles, she left to start her own consulting firm in 2001 called SageGroup-DC, whose clientele included nonprofits, small businesses and law firms.

It wasn’t until her grandmother died the day before the Haiti earthquake in 2010 that Leon-Taylor embarked on her most high-profile effort to date.

At the imploring of her family and supporters at the funeral, Leon-Taylor began an effort to organize Haitians worldwide to work on rebuilding Haiti.

She created the Haitian Diaspora Federation by assembling 100 groups, including the Haitian League, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians and Haitian-American Engineers and Scientists, and the Haitian American Chamber of Commerce of Florida.

“I earned several gray hairs from that experience,” Leon-Taylor said.

The group created a 400-page redevelopment plan that was presented to the Haitian government. It also worked on securing dual citizenship for Haitians who lost citizenship after fleeing the dictatorship in the 1960s, and the group worked to raise money for children injured by the earthquake.

Leon-Taylor, a Bethesda mother of three, has also found time to serve on the boards of the National Park Trust, Leadership Greater Washington and the Black Student Fund, where she also served as interim executive director.

She begins her new position today.

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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