International Encyclopedia of Civil Society

Living Edition
| Editors: Regina A. List, Helmut K. Anheier, Stefan Toepler

O’Connell, Brian

  • David Horton SmithEmail author
Living reference work entry


Brian O’Connell is especially distinguished in having been Co-Founder and President-CEO for 15 years of Independent Sector, one of the top national coalitions of civil society organizations (CSOs) in the United States and a key infrastructure organization for civil society in that nation. He also led several other major US CSOs, most notably the American Heart Association and also the National Mental Health Association for a dozen years each. Two of his books were widely read (O’Connell 1983, 1999).

Basic Biographical Information

Brian O’Connell was born January 23, 1930, in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA, and was thus an American citizen. He received a B.A. degree with a major in English from Tufts College (now University), Medford, Massachusetts, in 1953. For the next year, he did postgraduate work at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Administration, Syracuse University. O’Connell was the Founding President and later President Emeritus of Independent Sector, the American national coalition for philanthropy, voluntary action, and civil society. He served as Co-Founder (with John W. Gardner), President, and Chief Executive Officer of Independent Sector from 1980 to 1995.

O’Connell was later the initiator and a co-founder of the University College of Citizenship and Public Service, now the Tisch College of Civic Life, at Tufts University (USA). He served at Tufts as a Professor of Public Service from 1995 to 2006, and then retired. Previously, he served as President of the National Council of Philanthropy and as Executive Director of the Coalition of National Voluntary Organizations. For 12 years he was Executive Director of the National Mental Health Association. During that time, he was an organizer and the first Chairman of the National Committee on Patients’ Rights. For the prior dozen years, he was with the American Heart Association, finishing as Director of its California state affiliate. O’Connell died in March 2011.

Major Accomplishments/Contributions

O’Connell’s most important accomplishments are his work in cofounding and then for many years leading Independent Sector, as well as his cofounding the Tisch College at Tufts University, as noted above. O’Connell also made major contributions in his serving as Chairman of the Organizing Committee for CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and as the author of “First Lights: Recollections of the Beginnings and First Years of CIVICUS.” Other international assignments included work with the Yoshida and Asia foundations as the 1992 Yoshida Fellow, when he devoted his effort to comparisons of private philanthropy and the voluntary sector in Japan and United States. He was the Chairman of the 1989 Salzberg Seminar on “The Role of Nonprofit Organizations: Comparison of Functions, Operations and Trends.”

O’Connell served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, The National Academy of Public Administration, Tufts University, Points of Light Foundation, Hogg Foundation, and the National Assembly of Health and Social Welfare Organizations. He was an elected Fellow of the American Public Health Association and the National Academy of Public Administration. He received several honorary degrees from universities. He wrote several books, including O’Connell (1997, 2005).



  1. O’Connell, B. (1983). America’s voluntary spirit. New York: The Foundation Center.Google Scholar
  2. O’Connell, B. (1997). Powered by coalition: The story of Independent Sector. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  3. O’Connell, B. (1999). Civil society: The underpinnings of American democracy. Hanover: Tufts University/University Press of New England.Google Scholar
  4. O’Connell, B. (2005). Fifty years in public causes: Stories from a road less traveled. Hanover: Tufts University/University Press of New England.Google Scholar

Further Reading

  1. Cornuelle, R. C. (1965). Reclaiming the American dream. New York: Vintage Books, Random House.Google Scholar
  2. Edwards, M. (Ed.). (2011). The Oxford handbook of civil society. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Levitt, T. (1973). The third sector: New tactics for a responsive society. New York: AMACOM.Google Scholar
  4. O’Neill, M. (2002). Nonprofit nation: A new look at the third America (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  5. Powell, W. W., & Steinberg, R. (Eds.). (2006). The nonprofit sector: A research handbook (2nd ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyBoston CollegeBradentonUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Regina A. List
    • 1
  1. 1.HamburgGermany