By Stacey Dresner
STAMFORD – Diane Sloyer, a longtime member of the Stamford Jewish community who has been active in the United Jewish Federation (UJF) of Stamford, New Canaan and Darien both professionally and as a lay leader, has been named UJF’S full-time chief executive officer.
Last summer, Sloyer became interim executive director of the Jewish Federation.
She was set to finish that job last December, but was asked by the board to stay on in the position full-time.
“Diane really started to turn around our Federation as our interim because she understands Federation and our community, so there was very little learning curve. She was able to hit the ground running, and though her initial agreement with us was through December, 2017, it became quickly apparent that her work was not done, and she agreed to stay on full time,” said UJF President Ricky Arbon. “Diane understands Federation. She understands the challenges that all Federations are now facing with the decline in federated giving. However she also understands the power of community, has the connections, and the ability to make the changes necessary as well as help us grow our lay leadership because of her background both at Federation and here in Stamford, New Canaan and Darien.”
Sloyer has lived in Stamford for 24 years with her husband Elliot, a former hedge fund manager and author of the children’s picture book series, Summer Camp Stories (Jewish Ledger, May 27, 2015). They are the parents of three adult children, Rebecca, who is married to Yoni Suriel; Coby, and Zimrat.
“I’m just really excited to be here,” Sloyer said. “I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to working with the community to build a strong Stamford, New Canaan and Darien.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Sloyer grew up in Westchester and Hartsdale, N.Y. Her family was active at Greenberg Hebrew Center in Dobbs Ferry.
A student at Ardsley High School, Sloyer was active in USY, holding local, national and international positions, including international executive vice president. Her first trip to Israel was a USY pilgrimage.
“It just felt very comfortable,” she says of her first time in Israel. “I felt very much at home, and it was a tremendous experience that probably changed my life forever.”
She later went on a gap year to Israel, participating in the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s Nativ program. She was part of the second co-hort to go on the leadership program “back when gap years were not really popular,” she laughed.
She got her BS in social work at New York University and while there served as president of NYU Hillel. She went on to get her Masters of Social Work at Columbia University. “I always wanted to do something in the Jewish community with my education and degree,” she said.
Sloyer worked for eight years at Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) as director of student life before she and her husband Elliot and their young family moved to Stamford two dozen years ago. She soon began working for UJF as director of leadership development.
She later worked at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester as director of its development office for two years, did some consulting, then served as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Rockland County.
Along the way, she served as a layperson on the Stamford Federation board and executive committee and as president of women’s philanthropy.
Her long history in the Stamford Jewish community is what prompted the Federation board to contact her last summer.
“I knew of Diane for some time, and called her in June to pick her brain about our Federation and the changes we needed,” said Arbon. “In that first conversation I thought she was amazing and asked her to consider working with us. She was hesitant at first since that wasn’t the intent of our meeting, but after thinking about it and speaking to other board members we all agreed she was the perfect choice for our interim.”
Sloyer, who had been busy working at the Federation in Rockland County for several years, had stepped back from her hometown Federation for a few years and had to give the offer some thought.
“I spoke to a lot of my friends who were still very involved…It had been a while since I was fully engaged in the Federation here,” she explained. “So I did my homework and felt that it was the right thing at the right time and that I really wanted to help my community. So I became the interim.”
Sloyer jumped in right away, but has taken her time trying to figure out exactly what the community needs.
“Definitely, there were some immediate things to deal with,” she says. “We needed a new donor management system. We definitely needed to strengthen our board and our leadership and our relationships in the community. There has been a lot of turnover and it was really important that I spend the first three months listening to people, hearing what they were feeling and what their issues were, the good, the bad and anything else in between. It was important that they be heard and it was really important that we listen. Now we are digesting all of that and working with our board and our new board members to try to find a way to move forward in a way that impacts the community in the right way.”
One thing they know for sure is that they want to better market UJF to the entire Stamford, New Canaan and Darien Jewish community.
“We have to do a better job of marketing who we are and what we do and how we impact global Jewry and local Jewry. A lot of people just don’t know, and I think it is on us to teach them,” she said.
“People say, ‘Why Federation?’ and we need to give them a reason to understand and believe,” she added. “We are the second largest charity in the world next to United Way. People need to understand the value of the collective – how a big pot of money can change the trajectory of many organizations…That concept doesn’t resonate with younger generations.”
Another important objective is bringing the entire Jewish community together.
“We have a wonderful diverse Jewish community and I think the impact that Federation has on bringing the community together is crucial and important,” Sloyer said. “I think, as a community changes and grows we need to pay attention to that because, after raising my kids here and living here for 24 years, I think our diverse city is our strength and I hope that continues. It is something we need to focus on.”
The recent UJF Shabbat Across Stamford is one example of bringing the whole community together. The March 9 event at the Stamford Athletic Club, featuring guest speaker Jonathan Sarna, drew participants from each of the local synagogues.
“We are one of two communities, I think, that comes together as a whole community instead of just holding [Shabbat Across America] in synagogues,” Sloyer commented. “We had Reform rabbis, Conservative rabbis and Orthodox rabbis and Chabad and cantors all coming together to celebrate Shabbat together with their congregations and unaffiliated people. It was very unique to this community and something I think we need to continue to focus on.”