New CEO to lead change microloan non-profit

Two years later, the organization changed its name to Feeding America. It boosted its profile through corporate and cause-marketing partnerships, including participation in ABC's "The Biggest Loser."

The renaming, Daly said, stands as one of the "biggest contributions that Vicki made in her tenure. It was the riskiest, best decision any leader in the nonprofit sector has made in the last 10 years. ... But she was making a decision rooted in fact with a lot of support of the people around her."

Kara Kennedy, executive director of Lumity, a nonprofit consultancy based in Chicago, said nonprofits often balk at what they consider risky investments in marketing or branding.

"Yes, you could lose money, and it is scary," she said. "But you're going to gain something important — in knowledge, experience, awareness. You just don't know at first how much in return you'll get."

In addition, Escarra said, Feeding America began measuring itself each month like a corporation. It beat its targets — tripling fundraising and food distribution — in three years instead of five.

Opportunity International, meanwhile, fulfilled her desire to do the type of work she might have done in the Peace Corps. The group was founded as a Christian faith-based organization but serves and gets donations from people of all faiths. The growth potential was also a lure.

"I don't like moving into organizations that are all fixed," Escarra said. "What's the fun of moving into an organization and everything is running well? There's no fun in that." 

Vicki Escarra, CEO, Opportunity International

Born in: Atlanta

Lives in: River North

Family: Daughters Emily, 28, and Kathryn, 22

Education: Bachelor's degree in business and psychology from Georgia State University

Attends: Fourth Presbyterian Church in Streeterville (the Sunday afternoon jazz service)

Travels for fun to: Cape Cod and Nantucket, Mass. "That's my happy place."

Fond memory: Running a leg of the Olympic torch relay in 1996 before the games in Atlanta. "It actually weighs 5 pounds. So think about carrying 5 pounds, and it was like, 'Please don't go out. And please don't drop it. And please don't light somebody, because there are kids all over you.' There are just children lined up and down the streets. I loved it."