Vicki Escarra, who spearheaded the rebranding of Feeding America and boosted fundraising by 300 percent, is leaving the Chicago-based organization. She will become chief executive officer of microfinancing nonprofit Opportunity International, in Oak Brook, Ill., beginning September 4.
Escarra has been president and CEO of Feeding America since 2006. She will replace interim CEO and Opportunity SVP of Resource Development Jon Yasuda.
“There is something so humbling about helping people that otherwise would not have a voice,” said Escarra. “Opportunity International has a wonderful mission, great values, and is making a significant global impact. I’m honored to be selected.”
As president and CEO of Feeding America, Escarra increased fundraising by 300 percent, nearly doubled its client base, and increased corporate contributions from $8 million to $33 million in about six years.
“Vicki’s impact on the Feeding America network has been phenomenal,” said David Brearton, Feeding America board chair via a statement. “The Board of Directors is profoundly grateful to Vicki for her more than six years of dedicated service.”
An interim CEO has not yet been announced but a national search for Escarra’s replacement has begun, according to a Feeding America spokesman. Escarra was selected to The NonProfit Times’ Power & Influence Top 50 list for 2010 and 2011. The 2012 list will be announced August 1.
“We wanted someone who would focus on fundraising, who would be out there with the donors,” said Opportunity board member and former interim CEO Kadita “A.T.” Tshibaka. “Vicki has a distinguished and valued career, but beyond all of her professional achievements, it’s the passion she exhibited for our mission and the work we’re doing” that made her the best fit for the position, Tshibaka said.
Though Escarra is proud of the work she’s done at Feeding America, especially “rebranding the organization so that it’s now a household name,” she said she believes it was time to move on. She said since college she has wanted to work with women and girls (more than 84 percent Opportunity’s clients are women) and in the international arena.
“All of the jobs I’ve had before this one gave me the perfect lead-in,” said Escarra. “Really great nonprofits are lean in terms of staff, so I’ve learned to do a lot with a little. I’ve also learned how much fun it is to fundraise. It’s really empowering when you get people involved in seeing how their dollars change lives.”
Moving from a domestic organization to an international organization will be a challenge, Escarra said, but she believes that her work at Feeding America has prepared her for the new challenges. Many of the loans that Opportunity provides go to women and children struggling with hunger. “At the core of this work is really building out the work I’ve been about for the last six years, providing food for people so they can have hope for tomorrow,” she said.
Escarra has plans a site visit within the first 30 days of her tenure, but her main focus at first will be to make the most of year-end fundraising.
“The great thing about Opportunity International is when you look at the impact and see that, for every $100 gift, it can make an impact in general of about $600 over five years, you can really get donors excited about the return on investment,” she said.
Opportunity International’s last permanent CEO, Bill Morgenstern, was hired in March 2010 and departed at the end of 2011. According to Opportunity’s most recent federal Form 990, from FYE December 2010, Morgenstern earned more than $190,000. Last year, Feeding America paid Escarra about $525,000. Escarra was noncommittal when asked about potentially taking a pay cut, citing ongoing negotiations regarding incentives. They did not disclose her base salary.