Diana Zhang

Year of Graduation: 
Profile photo of smiling woman in blue

"I love taking inklings of ideas that resonate, rolling up my sleeves, and trying to figure out how to make it happen."


In the spring of 2020, a colleague invited Diana Zhang ’02 to co-found a nonprofit that he hoped would reinvent the donor paradigm. She didn’t hesitate. “Me being me, it was a hell-yeah type of moment,” she says with a laugh. “I love taking inklings of ideas that resonate, rolling up my sleeves, and trying to figure out how to make it happen.” Within seven weeks, they had pulled together their founding volunteers and kicked off the first version of their proof of concept.

What they came up with is NeighborShare, an online-giving platform where donors can “direct help to the people who need it the most, when they need it,” Zhang says. To do that, they partnered with on-the-ground experts who know their communities best. These “community heroes”— including case managers, social workers and teachers in 26 states — identify people with pivotal needs of $400 or less to share their stories on NeighborShare’s website. There, potential donors can search by geographic location and by type of need — bills, groceries, child care, medical, transport, etc. — and offer direct help, one to one. “We built a needs aggregation engine in this rich, individualized way that allows donors to choose the segment that resonates the most with them,” Zhang says. “How a person defines their community and what matters most to them is unique.”

Zhang likes tackling those intractable problems, she says, tracing the origins of that critical thinking to her time around the Harkness table. “This concept was compelling to me,” she says. “It felt so common sense and needed.” To date, NeighborShare, working in collaboration with over 60 local and national nonprofit direct-service organizations, has helped over 4,300 people overcome “micro-moments” of need that would have otherwise gone unmet.

This spring, Zhang was selected to participate in the 2022 Presidential Leadership Scholars program (PLS), a collaboration among four U.S. presidential foundations that brings together a national cohort of around 60 midcareer leaders each year. They meet monthly during the program to focus on leadership principles such as strategic partnerships, vision and communication, and decision making. Zhang says the program has helped her expand beyond her “financial services bubble.” She went on sabbatical from a senior executive position at investment management firm Bridgewater Associates to be NeighborShare’s founding CEO.

Similar to her experience at the Harkness table, PLS has allowed for meaningful dialogue with a diverse set of perspectives — career military professionals, the head of a state Medicaid program and a professor who studies racial discrimination, among others. “Imagine this group talking about something as polarizing as Roe v. Wade, but in a collaborative way that engages each other toward social change,” Zhang says. “The program is here to help us become leaders at this next level. How can we develop a more collaborative approach to tackle the nubbiest problems this country faces?”

Going forward, Zhang will focus on helping expand NeighborShare’s targeted, hyperlocal impact to a sustain- able national scale, but as a volunteer and board member. And while she finds gratification in NeighborShare’s work, she knows there’s always more to do. “I go to bed every night feeling good that we’ve helped some folks,” she says, “and then I also feel this intense pressure and urgency of, OK, how do we help more?”

Editor's note: This feature first appeared in the summer 2022 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.