The Poetry Foundation, located in Chicago and the publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our society. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience.
The Poetry Foundation works to raise poetry to a more visible and influential position in American culture. The Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry.
Established in 2003 upon receipt of a major gift from philanthropist Ruth Lilly, the Poetry Foundation evolved from the Modern Poetry Association, which was founded in 1941 to support the publication of Poetry magazine. The gift from Ruth Lilly has allowed the Foundation to expand and enhance the presence of poetry in America and has provided for a permanent endowment to fund Poetry magazine and the Foundation.
The Poetry Foundation is an operating foundation with a staff of 25, an annual budget in excess of $8 million, and an endowment of $175 million. Its programs now reach 20 million people annually.
Opened to the public in June 2011, the Poetry Foundation’s architecturally significant building in Chicago provides new space for the Foundation’s extensive roster of public programs and events. It also houses a public garden, a library, and an exhibition gallery, as well as the offices of the Foundation and Poetry magazine.
The President, reporting to a Board of 13 trustees, provides the Foundation with leadership, strategic planning, and management to carry out its mission. As a public leader, the President represents the Foundation’s interests to its diverse constituencies, including the media, the poetry community, and the cultural and philanthropic communities in Chicago, nationally and internationally. As a strategic planner and manager, the President has a responsibility to safeguard the Foundation’s endowment, a major gift from philanthropist Ruth Lilly, and to put it to work disseminating the best poetry to the largest audience. The former requires the preparation of disciplined annual budgets and careful stewardship of the endowment, under the direction of the Finance Committee of the Board. The latter requires a sensitivity for and knowledge of literature and poetry, and an innovative spirit to inaugurate and manage programs and partnerships to serve poetry’s greatest unmet needs.
The President will:
- Build solid and thoughtful relationships with all Board members, associates, and/or advisors, including senior staff members, determining how each can most effectively connect to the work of the Foundation;
- Provide leadership to and strategic direction for the Board, staff, and partners of the Foundation in carrying out its philanthropic mission; pursue the objectives that have been established and, over time, develop new responses to opportunities and challenges that arise;
- Preserve a distinctive organizational culture characterized by the pursuit of excellence and the primacy of culture, autonomy, participation, creativity, and intellectual stimulation;
- Provide public leadership and represent the Foundation to external constituencies while communicating its values and programs; become an integral part of the Chicago cultural and philanthropic community;
- Pursue and broaden existing institutional alliances, and develop relationships with untapped organizations that fit with the Foundation’s values;
- Assume an ongoing leadership role in program development, direction, and implementation; establish and maintain productive partnerships with other key media outlets, organizations, and individuals that will provide a conduit of knowledge and information to enhance the effectiveness of the Foundation;
- Monitor key trends and issues in culture and society that affect the program interests of the Foundation; communicate implications to the Board and staff, together with recommended action;
- Continue to leverage digital technologies to enhance existing program quality and reach; explore new program areas as appropriate that might become feasible with advances in digital media;
- Assume responsibility for ongoing evaluation of program quality and effectiveness;
- Prepare and present an annual budget and operating plan; develop and present annual goals for foundation programs;
- Recruit and retain excellent staff; establish the parameters of staff responsibilities and authority as the Foundation continues to adapt to its enlarged profile;
- Continually assess the efficiency of management systems, both financial and programmatic; maximize use of Board and staff time together;
- Monitor and protect the Foundation’s assets and operation so that the organization remains in financial good health; oversee the management and preservation of the Foundation’s endowment under the Finance Committee’s direction;
Governance and Board Relations
- Make recommendations to the Board regarding the direction of the Foundation’s programs and operating policies; keep the Board advised of the activities and financial position of the Foundation, and provide sufficient and high-quality information for making sound policy decisions;
- Structure regular meetings with the Board, supporting an open and participatory process and encouraging the active involvement and leadership of Board members; take a leadership role in the implementation of Board philosophy and policies; develop, recommend, and monitor standards of performance and principles for the conduct of the Foundation’s work;
- Develop a means for continued Board education in the areas of the Foundation’s work, the mechanics of Foundation governance, and issues affecting the philanthropic community at large;
- Work with the Board to identify and recruit potential Board members to diversify and expand the outreach of the organization and to establish Board expertise in identified skill sets;
Communications and Public Relations
- Get to know the Foundation’s partners and natural constituents, understanding their interests, priorities, and levels of desired involvement in the Foundation; develop and nurture personal and collegial relationships that will lead to all working together to advance the goals of the Foundation and its mission;
- Oversee the Foundation’s proactive response to the rapid technological changes in the media, and have insight, expertise, and a desire to leverage these advances to better support existing programs and create innovative new ones that harness these changes to the Foundation’s values;
- Serve as the Foundation representative and advocate to relevant constituencies; participate in the Chicago, national, and international cultural and academic arenas that pertain to and support the Foundation’s mission; assure an appropriate level of public visibility for the Foundation and its programs by effective speaking and writing;
- Identify ways to enhance communication across departments and with external constituencies so that the Foundation’s mission is supported and its operation is cohesive.
The President should have the following experience and qualifications:
- Experience in successfully managing the operations and fiscal affairs of a private-sector or nonprofit entity, or the equivalent;
- Demonstrated capacity to effectively manage a sophisticated staff of creative people, develop programs in cultural or literary organizations, and work with boards;
- Demonstrated strategic planning and implementation experience;
A track record of converting ideas and opportunities into working programs;
- Solid relationship-building skills; ability to cultivate partnerships with a wide variety of constituents;
- Strong oral and written communications skills, with the ability to address issues in non-polarizing ways; an accomplished public speaker who can communicate the energy and vision of the Foundation to its constituencies, and who can convey leadership as a Foundation representative and advocate;
- Broad financial experience, with knowledge of investments and endowment management;
- The capacity to leverage partnerships for resource development and implement a fundraising strategy and program, if called upon.
Ideally, the individual should have a demonstrated commitment to the values of the Poetry Foundation and an informed sophistication and passion for poetry.
In addition, the individual should be:
- Open-minded, with the flexibility necessary to provide direction in an evolving organization; comfortable with a strong and sustained diversity of opinions;
- Intellectually curious, with a sense of adventure and a willingness to work with and learn from others;
- An inspiring and service-oriented leader who has a long-term vision and can effect change; capable of imparting credibility, trust, integrity, and enthusiasm, and of motivating others in a similar vein;
- A good listener and consensus builder, able to balance diverse agendas while maintaining on all fronts a sense of common purpose;
- A strategist who can anticipate and act on events that may create beneficial opportunities for the Foundation;
- Confident but possessing a sense of humor and the ability to maintain balance and perspective.
Applicants or nominees should submit both a résumé and a one- to two-page cover letter that describes their interest in the Foundation presidency and their qualifications for the position. The Poetry Foundation is an equal opportunity employer and values the perspectives and talents of a diverse staff.
Résumé and letter or nominations should be sent to the attention of Jane Phillips Donaldson and Sarah James at PoetryFoundation@PhillipsOppenheim.com.