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Recognizing 100 CEOs & C-level Executives

Debra H Shoaf

Chief Financial Officer

Atlanta Community Food Bank

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Founded: 1979

Industry: Nonprofit

Under Debra Shoaf’s leadership, Atlanta Community Food Bank opened a new, state-of-the-art facility in 2020. The nonprofit moved into the building with provisional approval on March 2. It received permission to begin operations March 9. And it started an unprecedented pandemic response two days later.

“If we had not already relocated at the start of the pandemic, it would have been physically and logistically impossible for us to serve the community’s needs as we did and continue to do,” she said. In a matter of weeks, distribution jumped from 6 million pounds per month, on average, to 10 million.

As CFO, Shoaf led the multiyear construction project for Atlanta Community Food Bank, which serves 29 counties in metro Atlanta and northern Georgia, and oversees its finance, risk management and real estate functions.
“We want to ensure that food-insecure neighbors across our region have equitable, convenient, consistent and frequent access to food they need today,” she said. Helping people with groceries gives them some “breathing room” so they can meaningfully stretch their resources over time.

Shoaf has helped the food bank expand its resources, too. During her tenure, net assets have more than tripled. She also secured working capital and subsidies to help cover higher food costs during the pandemic. Part of her role is to find new pantry locations, which helps the food bank increase its service territory.

One reason Shoaf excels in the role is because she can distill, translate and communicate complex financial data to nonfinancial executives. “I think one of the most important attributes of a successful leader is a willingness to try to understand others’ viewpoints and approaches,” she said. “Listening is an important skill in understanding.

“I’m a talker, so this is a challenge I continue to manage,” she said. “But being authentically interested in your team helps create a spirit of generosity. We all have an Achilles’ heel, and I try to own mine.”

Taking responsibility for mistakes is something Shoaf models and encourages among her team. “Nothing is accomplished or improved when we hide or place blame for problems,” she said. “I strongly believe that if everyone is acting in good faith and doing their best, we should be able to look clearly at mistakes to correct them and prevent their recurrence.”

Shoaf advises other Feeding America food banks across the country on their expansion plans. She also serves on an advisory board for rural development partners that creates financing strategies for infrastructure projects that provide access to quality jobs and healthy food.

She was the Feeding America Senior Financial Leader of the Year in 2018 and a Forbes Best Nonprofit CEO in 2020. Shoaf is also board chair for BC&E, a company that serves the motion picture industry in Atlanta.
Shoaf and her husband have four adult children. The two younger children were adopted from Kherson, Ukraine, 10 years ago. She greatly appreciates humor as a coping skill.

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Did you know?

Debra and her husband have four adult children, the two youngest of whom were adopted from Kherson, Ukraine 10 years ago. She greatly appreciates humor as a coping skill.


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