Independent Sector Names Dr. Akilah Watkins as Incoming President and CEO

Dr. Watkins, currently president and CEO of the Center for Community Progress, will be first African American to lead the national organization representing thousands of leaders at nonprofits, foundations, and corporate giving programs across the country

Washington, District of Columbia, UNITED STATES

Washington, Sept. 14, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Independent Sector (IS) Board of Directors is pleased to announce Dr. Akilah Watkins – a national expert on equity, policy, and community development – as the next president and CEO of the Washington, DC-based membership organization.  

Dr. Watkins will join IS in January 2023.  

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, we extend a warm welcome to Dr. Watkins,” said IS Board Chair Fred Blackwell, president and CEO of the San Francisco Foundation. “Her experiences and expertise make her an ideal leader to build upon Independent Sector’s successes and drive innovation and equity into the heart of how the nonprofit and philanthropic sector builds a healthy and just future for all people.” 

“I am deeply honored to become the leader of an organization that catalyzes social mission-focused organizations to advance the common good,” said Dr. Watkins. “Through my work at the Center for Community Progress, and in my roots as a community organizer, I know firsthand the challenges that direct-service organizations and their constituents face. I look forward to sharing my expertise to help Independent Sector’s members engage thoughtfully and equitably with their stakeholders.” 

Dr. Watkins grew up in New York, where at the age of 14, she led efforts to convert a vacant and abandoned property into a community center. She went on to earn her Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her professional career, she has worked with the Obama administration, the Center for the Study of Social Policy, NeighborWorks America, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. She has also spoken about her life’s work being built on the foundation of her enslaved ancestors in North America, the legacy of her family living for six generations on the North Carolina coast, and her recent family ties to our nation’s immigration story.  

As leader of the Center for Community Progress, Dr. Watkins and her colleagues take pride in their policy and leadership work to turn “vacant spaces into vibrant places.”  

IS Board Members Sarah Kastelic and Jennifer Ford Reedy co-chaired the organization’s national search for a new president and CEO after Daniel J. Cardinali announced in January he would step down after leading the nonprofit association for six years.  

They and Blackwell thanked Cardinali for his leadership of IS and commitment to the nonprofit sector and civil society. Cardinali led IS through the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation’s recent racial reckoning, climate change and its increased impact on communities, and hard economic times.  

Kastelic and Reedy said they were impressed by Dr. Watkins’ passion for IS. They also praised her bipartisan policy work, focus on racial equity and inclusion, commitment to engaging across differences, and making a positive impact for nonprofits and the nation.  

“Dr. Watkins is the right person to increase our momentum and boldly lead Independent Sector, building meaningful relationships with our varied constituencies and advancing our public policy agenda,” said Kastelic, IS Board vice chair and executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. 

“Dr. Watkins understands the history and potential of Independent Sector,” said Reedy, IS Board treasurer and president of the Bush Foundation. “In this politically fraught time for our nation, she knows how critical it is for our nation’s nonprofit and charitable sector to lead in new and bigger ways.” 

Learn more about Dr. Watkins. Independent Sector members will have a chance to hear from her at the Annual Business Meeting and Town Hall on October 11.  


Independent Sector is the only national membership organization that brings together a diverse community of changemakers at nonprofits, foundations, and corporate giving programs to ensure all people in the United States thrive. Learn more at