IS has been run by a troika of senior executives since the departure of President and CEO Diana Aviv. She announced in June that she’d be leaving to head Feeding America and started there in October. Cardinali initially was on the search committee seeking her successor.
Board Chairman Neil Nicoll said Cardinali brings “a highly successful track record in the sector, understands deeply the issues facing the sector, has a deep background in policy development and is a visibly recognized leader in the sector.”
Cardinali worked on the IS strategic plan as a board member and said he is focused on its implementation. He recognizes there is a natural tension between national and local organizations. “Strategic planning is connecting to local organizations through membership organizations,” said Cardinali. “It’s a real challenge to sense trends and ongoing local issues.”
He’s seeking an “analytic understanding of what’s going on in communities” to see how IS can provide support.
There has been buzz in the community that merging IS with another organization should be examined during a leadership transition. That’s not on Cardinali’s radar. “Right now my thinking is the board hired me to take over the Independent Sector and implement the strategic plan,” he said. “It’s the charge I have” and no indication that he should think differently.
Communities In Schools (CIS) is the nation’s largest dropout prevention organization, with 165 affiliates in 25 states and the District of Columbia. It serves 1.5 million students on a network budget of more than $200 million. The national headquarters’ budget was $22.4 million for fiscal year 2014, according to the organization’s federal Form 990. Cardinali will remain president until June 3.
Independent Sector had total revenue of $8.7 million for fiscal year 2014, according to its Form 990, filed on May 11, 2015. Assets totaled $45.2 million, including the downtown building that houses the organization. IS also rents space in the building to other businesses. Net assets and fund balances were $30.3 million.
Cardinali has a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a master’s degree in philosophy from Fordham University.
A community organizer in Guadalajara, Mexico, the 49-year-old was part of a team that organized a squatter community of 120,000 to secure land rights, running water and public education. He received a one-year research fellowship at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
Cardinali is a 2007 Annie E. Casey Children and Families Fellow. He also served as a trustee for America’s Promise, a director on the board of Peace First and Child Trends. He was appointed in May 2011 by President Barack Obama to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
When it comes to social media, @DanCardinali has 1,201 followers on Twitter and follows 586 users.
He joined CIS in 1999 as vice president of field operations and also served as the organization’s executive vice president. He is a proponent of total quality systems. Cardinali wrote about TQS in a CIS blog post: “Over the course of TQS, we poured $43 million into the network for direct costs such as data collection, technology, board training, and so forth. When you add in national investments for staffing, branding, policy work and so forth, it was easily a $50 million ticket.”
The process resulted in a shrinking of the CIS system that also ended up touching more students. Much of the money was foundation support, with a lead $10 million grant from the Robertson Foundation. He authored a post about the process titled “When Scale Means Contraction: Putting Quality Considerations First.”
He has described himself as a “managing partner” at CIS, using a team approach with self-directed senior leaders. The point is to allow managers to work things out with Cardinali stepping in only to break a tie or settle a decision where agreement is at an impasse.
In an interview for a Bridgespan.org publication, he said there are many talented people in the sector. What holds some of those people back is the lack of soft skills, which he said, “relies on the personal and the pastoral.”
Cardinali spoke about the possibility of a transition at CIS during the Bridgespan interview. “I think every organization needs to think about it. I genuinely believe that if I leave, CIS wouldn’t explode. Sure, who I am and my relationships are important, and things would slow down perhaps. But I believe that the way I’ve managed our team would enable them to keep the organization stable while the board determined who would be the next leader.”
Editor’s note: The original post has been updated to include comments from Cardinali.