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Who We Are


The Mission of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is to celebrate and advance the inspiring achievements and uplifting values of the Italian culture and presence in America and to strengthen and empower ties between the United States and Italy.

The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is a nationwide organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., and is the largest and most loyal representative of the more than 20 million Italian American citizens living in the United States. NIAF was founded in 1975 and is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with no political affiliations.

NIAF’s two most important purposes are to encourage Italian Americans to continue keeping their culturally rich heritage and traditions alive and present, and to ensure that the entire community never forgets the great contribution that Italians have made to the history and progress of the United States. To this end, the Foundation actively collaborates with the United States Congress and the White House on all major issues affecting Italian Americans.

To celebrate the great legacy that unites us and all the objectives achieved so far, NIAF organizes its Anniversary Gala every October in Washington, D.C., which is usually attended by the President of the United States; figureheads from the political, financial and cultural arenas; illustrious Italian Americans; and about 1,200 guests from the United States and Italy.

On this occasion, the Foundation awards honors to eminent Italian and Italian American personalities who have distinguished themselves in their professional or civic role. In the past, NIAF has honored personalities such as Antonin Scalia, who was the first Italian American judge of the United States Supreme Court; Frank Sinatra; Joe Di Maggio; Lee Iacocca; Liza Minnelli; Luciano Pavarotti; and Sophia Loren.


Since its founding in 1975, NIAF has contributed tens of millions of dollars towards educational and cultural initiatives that improve the collective well-being of our Italian American community. We simply could not succeed in these charitable efforts without the generous donations to NIAF made by you and others.


Our expansive membership brings together those who are inspired by their heritage to support the Foundation’s educational and cultural initiatives.


NIAF Scholarships provide millions of dollars in financial aid to incoming and current students at various levels of higher education on a merit basis.

Voyage of Discovery

The Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery (VOD) provides fully paid, first-time travel to Italy for young Italian American adults on a merit basis.

Government Affairs

As the unified voice for the Italian American Community in the Nation’s Capital, NIAF builds relationships with key decision makers on behalf of the Italian American Community.

NIAF on Campus

NIAF on Campus provides students at various levels of higher education with the financial and organizational support necessary to grow their university’s clubs that encourage celebration and understanding of Italian culture.

Bridge to Italy

We aim to strengthen cultural and economic ties between Italy and the U.S. through our work with business and political leaders of both countries.


1975-1985: A National Agenda

On the afternoon of Saturday, April 26, 1975,  nineteen Italian Americans under the guidance of Monsignor Geno Baroni, a Catholic Priest and renowned social activist, sat together at the National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs  and dedicated themselves to the task of forming “a national office of Italian Americans located in Washington, D.C. – a centralized location for research and for the development of a national agenda of issues and goals formed by Americans of Italian ancestry.” From this meeting was born the nucleus of what would grow to become the National Italian American Foundation.

The early leadership envisioned a national forum that would bring together Italian Americans for workshops and discussions around topics such as education, politics, defamation, business, community affairs, media, religion and culture. In the mid-1970s the Italian American community struggled with growth and progress towards the American dream. Civic leaders such as Monsignor Baroni saw the creation of something different and distinct from earlier groups as the best route to future success and integration for Italian Americans. The Italian American Foundation (IAF) opened its first office in downtown Washington, D.C., on April 1,1976. Renowned businessman Jeno Paulucci served as the first Chairman and is honored as NIAF’s official founder. One of Paulucci’s early initiatives was to create a core group of financial supporters, the Council of 100.

In September, 1976, IAF hosted its first Bicentennial Tribute Dinner honoring the 29 Italian Americans who served in the Italian American Congressional Delegation to the 94th Congress. Attendees included former President Gerald Ford, President Jimmy Carter, and Vice-President Walter Mondale. There Chairman Paulucci told the guests, “Tonight, we representing the Italian American community of this country are truly visible – you see the strength, you see the influence, you see the recognition of a unified community of Italian Americans. We are no longer a sleeping giant.”

In 1977 the first IAF Washington Newsletter was published, introducing the Foundation to a readership of over 65,000. When the Foundation released its first survey, seeking the opinions of the community on major issues confronting Italian Americans, over 10,000 people responded. The results were computerized, cross tabulated and analyzed to provide one of the earliest assessments of the national Italian consciousness in America. In May, 1978, IAF was officially rechristened the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF).

In the 1980’s NIAF gained an increasingly prominent role as an anti-defamation organization for Italian Americans. NIAF also expanded its existing programs, while adding more substantial revenue-generating endeavors. Scholarships were established in 1981, and Endowment Fund pledges reached $800,000 in 1982. The Washington, D.C. Tribute Gala black-tie dinner was further expanded into a multi-day convention with conferences, an expo and multiple ancillary events; and the October Gala format began to be followed for regional dinners in major cities. NIAF began establishing administrative “regions” in the United States so it could appoint regional coordinators and host local fundraising events. And NIAF started publishing its quarterly periodical, Ambassador magazine, which has been mailed to NIAF members since 1985.

The 1980s ushered in what Paulucci and his successor, President Frank Stella, dubbed “an Italian-American decade.” In 1982 Mario Cuomo became the 52nd governor of the State of New York, an emblem to Italian Americans of the “rags to riches,” hard-won success they aspired to. Shortly thereafter, the New York Times published an article entitled “Italian-Americans Coming into Their Own” and highlighted NIAF. “The prime force pushing for unanimity and cooperation is the National Italian American Foundation,” wrote Stephen Hall, himself the grandson of Italian immigrants. In 1984 Geraldine Ferraro, already an ardent NIAF supporter, became both the first Italian American and first female Democratic Vice Presidential nominee. In 1986 Antonin Scalia was nominated to the Supreme Court.

Over the decade NIAF supported countless conferences, many in partnership with long-established Italian American groups such as the Order Sons of Italy in America. NIAF played an early role in supporting the Oscar-winning documentary “The Stone Carvers,” which examined the work of the Italian American stone carvers who worked on the Washington Cathedral. NIAF’s 5th Biannual Congressional Awards Dinner, in 1984, was attended by President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush, along with their Democratic rivals Walter F. Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro

1985-1995: The Italian American Decade

In 1985 NIAF launched major new activities aimed at Americans of Italian heritage, aged 18 to 40, through a newly established Youth Activities Division. NIAF also announced the creation of a national Media Institute to help the national and local media seeking an accurate and authentic portrayal of the realities of Italian American life and contributions to America.

In October 1985, in a landmark moment for the organization, Frank Sinatra, the sole honoree at NIAF’s 10th Anniversary Gala Dinner, told the assembled crowd that to him “the NIAF award was special because it came from family.” President and Mrs. Reagan joined Frank and Barbara Sinatra on the dais that evening, and the President praised NIAF’s work in honoring the American Dream.

In 1986 NIAF instituted a student exchange program with Italy through a cooperative project with USIA. NIAF would send 15 Italian American students to Italy, and Italy would send 15 students to the United States. This inaugural program would eventually grow into dozens more exchange opportunities as NIAF became the bridge between the two nations. With this same eye towards the future, NIAF and FIERI Inc. sponsored the first national youth conference for Italian Americans in Washington, D.C., later that year.

By the end of the 1980s, NIAF had evolved into the nation’s leading voice for Italian Americans. And its Annual Gala had become one of Washington, D.C.’s hottest tickets! At the 1989 Gala Dinner, the great baseball legend Joe DiMaggio opted to skip the first game of the 1989 World Series in his home city of San Francisco to attend the NIAF Gala. The Yankee Clipper observed, “You know NIAF is important to me when an old broken-down center fielder leaves the first night of the World Series to be here.” That same year, the famed auction house Christie’s agreed to conduct the NIAF Auction.

In the summer of 1990, NIAF was named by the Department of State as the private sector repository for donated funds to help restore and renovate Villa Taverna, the home of the American Ambassador in Rome – the first of a long string of public-private partnerships in which NIAF would work with the government to encourage Italian-American pride.

In 1992, following a successful mission three years earlier to meet the leadership of the Italian community in Argentina, NIAF lead a trip to Australia and New Zealand to further its goal of helping Italian Americans get to know Italian populations in other countries. In what would become the first of another long-standing NIAF tradition, 1994 saw the inaugural Sergio Franchi Memorial Concert. A partnership between NIAF and Mrs. Eva Franchi, the widow of the great Italian American tenor and long-time NIAF supporter Sergio Franchi, the concert would develop into one of the nation’s leading venues for young musical talent.

1995-2005: The Marriage of Past and Present

In June, 1994, NIAF transferred its headquarters to the Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Building, 1860 19th St NW. In moving to DuPont Circle, NIAF created an embassy for the Italian American community in the nation’s capital. No longer simply an organization seeking to mobilize Italian American influence in the halls of the government, NIAF entered its third decade well aware of its responsibility as the nation’s foremost representative of the nearly 20 million Italian Americans. As part of its efforts to honor that duty, NIAF’s leader inaugurated the new building by unveiling the Italian American Wall of Honor, honoring the hundreds of Italian Americans instrumental in NIAF’s creation and success.

As the Foundation matured, so too did its signature event. The NIAF Gala Weekend grew into a convention with the opening of the Expo Italia and the hosting of dozens of concurrent conferences, conventions, and other events over the course of the weekend. The Foundation continued to garner recognition and support from countless iconic honorees, both from the United States and Italy. At the 1994 event, Giorgio Armani, the arts and fashion honoree, summed up the value of his NIAF award by saying, “I feel as though I am an Italian American because America was the first country to understand and like my approach to fashion. It is America that has always inspired me with its energy, its enthusiasm, and its young spirit.”

To expand its cultural role and build a more permanent network of advocates, NIAF began to host its yearly Media Forums, bringing together Italian Americans from all walks of the journalistic life to discuss topics of importance to the Foundation and the Italian American community at large. These programs continue as the NIAF-Frank J. Guarini Media Forums and represent some of NIAF’s most important and productive outreach in cities across America. Using this expansive national network, and working in partnership with other Italian American groups, NIAF has played an increasing role in the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations. For example, NIAF’s underwriting the cooperative effort to create Una Storia Segreta was particularly successful in helping to pass the Wartime Violations of Italian American Civil Liberties Act of 2000.

At this time, the Foundation also expanded its programming to engage young Italian Americans in their community, its institutions, and the promotion of Italian culture in America. 1997 saw the launch of the Foundation’s new website New programs such as Students-To-Leaders, Graduates-To-Leaders, and NIAF Youth Retreats, brought students from across the nation to the Foundation’s events so that they might interact with the Italian American leaders of the day. NIAF’s fourth Chairman, Dr. A. Kenneth Ciongoli, was instrumental in expanding NIAF’s presence in academia and on America’s college campuses, creating “NIAF at the Ivies” to address the lack of Italian American enrollment at the nation’s top academic institutions.

By the end of the 1990s, NIAF was hosting its annual Business Leadership Summits under the direction of New York Stock Exchange Chairman and NIAF Vice Chairman Dick Grasso. Many of the business world’s top decision makers, both Italian American and not, sought out membership in the Foundation’s Business Council, quickly growing into an organization for business leaders of all ethnic backgrounds to come together around some of the world’s most respected executives.

In the new millennium, this developing role as leaders for all Americans was addressed by Congressman Frank J. Guarini, as he summed up his sense of how the Foundation had evolved over its first 25 years: “This marriage of past and present, along with our unparalleled sense of family values place Italian Americans in a natural leadership position. We have the ability to show other ethnic groups how to honor their roots while not alienating themselves from America, the land that has given so many of us the opportunity to realize our dreams.”

2005-2015: “Stewards of our Heritage”

In March 2005, the NIAF-Frank J. Guarini Public Policy Forums were initiated on Capitol Hill, with the Foundation inviting Ambassador Charles A. Gargano to serve as the inaugural keynote speaker. These forums bring together leaders and policy makers from inside and outside the Italian American community to address, in a bipartisan venue, the most pressing issues facing our nation.

Another major development in this decade was the launch of the Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery program in 2007. This program brings 20 to 30 Italian American college students to Italy for two weeks of service and heritage travel every summer. In introducing his initiative, Ambassador Secchia reasoned that, “By providing these opportunities for young Italian Americans to forge deeper and stronger ties to the people and places sharing their past, and to add to those values that can inspire their future participation with NIAF, Voyage of Discovery also prepares the next generation of Italian American youth for their role as stewards of our heritage.”

These deepening ties with Italy were called into service in the wake of the devastating 2009 earthquake in Italy’s Abruzzo region. In response NIAF launched a public-private partnership with the U.S. Department of State, led by NIAF Board officer John F. Cavelli, that would help to raise $2 million from the Italian American community and beyond to rebuild important educational facilities at the University of L’Aquila and to bring hundreds of displaced Abruzzese students to the United States on full scholarships.

A month following the earthquake, NIAF elected Jerry Colangelo its fifth chairman. By 2010, NIAF would once again be challenged to come to the aide of Italy when the Embassy of Italy undertook to raise the $3 million necessary to preserve the AP Italian Language Examination as part of the yearly offering from the College Board. With a leadership gift of $250,000 donated by NIAF’s Chairman Emeritus, Congressman Frank J. Guarini, the Foundation was able to raise a total of $750,000 and serve as the community’s leader in the struggle to make sure that the Italian language would always have a place in the upper echelons of higher learning. Today, thanks to the efforts of NIAF and the assembled Italian American community, the AP Italian Language Exam is healthy and secure in its place among the College Board’s offerings, and the numbers of students sitting for the test each year continues to grow exponentially.

In 2011 NIAF continued its service as an advocate for Italian culture by funding the Lorenzo Da Ponte Italian Library Project at UCLA, an initiative created to translate the works of 100 Italian authors who had made significant literary, philosophical, juridical and historical contributions to the world of international culture. Many of these works had never been available in English. The year 2011 also saw a contingent of NIAF’s Leadership invited to join the official celebrations of the 150th Anniversary of Italy’s Unification in Rome. The delegation was recognized by the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, and the unprecedented invitation made clear the mutual respect shared between the government of the Republic of Italy and the National Italian American Foundation.

Leading that delegation in Rome was then-NIAF President Joseph V. Del Raso, who had been a leading voice on the Board for making NIAF “more of an international organization.” When he was elected NIAF chairman two years later, Del Raso continued to guide the Foundation in working with business and political leaders to solidify and expand cultural and economic ties to Italy, making sure that future generations of integrated Italian Americans could always return to the source of their heritage.

Succeeding Del Raso as NIAF president was then-NIAF Chief Operating Officer John M. Viola, the first president in NIAF’s history who was not elected from the Board of Directors. Turning 30 that year, Viola brought new strategies to the Foundation; and by electing him president, NIAF rededicated itself to developing a new generation of community leadership.

In 2013, in one of the most important partnerships in NIAF’s recent history, the Foundation become the only Italian American organization to be an official partner of the PBS documentary series, “The Italian Americans,” directed by John Maggio. This historic four-hour film aired to unprecedented ratings in February 2015 and has been unanimously lauded as one of the most important, even-handed, and accessible recounts of the story of Italians in America.

In 2014, in an effort to address new challenges with new structures, NIAF began to restructure its long-standing grants program to offer more substantial funding for projects of importance to the Italian American community. To that end, NIAF was able to present the NIAF-Pellegrini Grant in Roman Studies to the University of Maryland in 2014. The $500,000 program represents the largest single educational gift in the Foundation’s history, and this new approach will be repeated in 2016 as NIAF prepares for a new $500,000 program grant in partnership with the University of Palermo.