Executive Director, The Discovery Center
Location: Farmington, Conn.
About The Discovery Center
The Discovery Center seeks to create a future in which people of all ages recognize, accept, value and celebrate individual and cultural diversity. The mission of the Discovery Center is to shape positive attitudes about race and differences and help reduce isolation between urban and suburban communities. Through its programs, the Discovery Center also provides academic enrichment to help students increase their skills in math, language arts and science.
The Discovery Center brings together students from urban, suburban and rural schools to build bridges across racial, socio-economic and geographical barriers. Working with partner school districts in Connecticut and collaborators that include Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, the organization serves elementary to college-age students as well as educators.
Begun in 1992 as a pilot program at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, championed by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, the Discovery Center incorporated in 2002 as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit. With an annual budget of approximately $1m, the organization employs nine full-time and a number of part-time staff. In FY2013 about 60 percent of the organization’s funding was from Newman’s Own Foundation, 15 percent from government, including a Connecticut Department of Education Interdistrict Grant, 10 percent from corporations and foundations and 15 percent from individuals and program fees.
The Discovery Center’s primary program, three-year multicultural education for fourth, fifth and sixth graders, serves more than 2,000 students in about 20 schools annually. Urban schools are matched with suburban or rural schools; students spend a day together in fourth grade, a week together at a residential program in fifth grade and three days together in sixth grade.
Diversity Academy, another signature program, offers “learning excursions” for seventh and eighth grade students at sites in the Greater Hartford area. Sessions are focused on multicultural topics, academics and team building. Leadership Workshops, which annually serve more than 1,000 students and teachers in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, build positive relationships and teach respect for differences. A partnership with Mount Holyoke College and the South Hadley, MA school district offers leadership workshops for schools and students.
The Discovery Center is governed by a board of 16 members, diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and background. As a whole, the board is well-connected to community leaders and funders and a core group of the board is involved in fundraising through the organization’s event, an annual multicultural wine and food gathering.
The Challenge and Opportunity
Allan Wilson, a founder of the organization and its second executive director, retired on June 15 after tenure of six years. Under his leadership, the organization doubled in size and expanded its geographic reach. The residential program component is considered by students, schools and parents to be a uniquely valuable experience that encourages multicultural understanding and team building. Originally an organization that provided programs only for elementary school children, in 2009 Discovery Center extended services to older children, youth and teachers.
Concomitantly, the Discovery Center has sought to diversify its revenue base through an aggressive plan that includes increasing corporate and government funding and program fees and enrolling new partner school districts. Another part of the plan, raising money from individuals, has yet to be completely developed. While Newman’s Own Foundation will likely remain a funder in years to come, they expect the level of support they provide to gradually decrease and have encouraged the Discovery Center to develop other sustaining sources of support.
The residential program is both a tremendous asset to the Discovery Center’s core mission and its most challenging program to operate. Logistics such as transportation to the rural camp at which the residential program is located and the varied needs of individual students, including accommodations that must be made for food allergies and learning differences, can be daunting. Board and staff are resolved to explore options to ensure that students can continue to experience the kind of transformational results the residential program has offered.
Measuring the success of programs and projects that seek to undo racism and foster multiculturalism presents an opportunity for the Discovery Center. Telling its story to funders and other stakeholders in a way that shows the impact on individual students and schools is a commitment board and staff members are eager to undertake.
After completing an organizational assessment, Discovery Center leaders anticipate that priorities for the new executive director will be:
- Inspiring board, staff and stakeholders in their commitment to the mission of shaping attitudes about race and difference.
- Developing a strategic plan that includes a clear vision for the Discovery Center’s future and strategies for sustainability.
- Aligning operational plans and programs with the core mission and organizational capacity; completing a business plan.
- Assisting board and staff to understand and re-commit to achieving fundraising plan goals.
- Introducing effective ways of measuring outcomes and impacts of programs and projects and telling the Discovery Center story to stakeholders.
- As the board’s partner, supporting the board to become a strategic governing body.
The Ideal Candidate
The Discovery Center’s new executive director will be a passionate realist, dedicated to the mission of shaping attitudes about race and difference while understanding the complexities of implementing, measuring and funding an organization dedicated to diversity education. He or she will be an outstanding communicator, verbally and in writing, adept at building relationships that inspire board, staff and funder commitment to the Discovery Center.
The ideal candidate for this position will have demonstrated success partnering with a board of directors to lead strategically; he or she will have experience engaging board members in fundraising and other governance-level activities. A strategist, the candidate must also possess a strong background in aligning internal operations with financial and resource capacity, i.e., he or she must be skilled in business planning and able to make decisions that will lead to sustainability and growth.
The ideal candidate must have experience in the following areas:
- Leading organizations or programs dedicated to changing attitudes about race and difference.
- Strategic thinking/planning.
- Managing a multi-faceted fundraising plan, including experience raising funds from individuals.
- Building and supporting a governing board.
- Knowledge of trends in school-age education and extended learning time programs, experience with diversity education a plus.
- Leading a creative staff team.
Desired professional background, skills and knowledge
- A minimum of three years as an executive director of a nonprofit with a similar budget and revenue mix or at least five years of senior management in a medium or large nonprofit.
- Demonstrated ability to devise, implement and measure strategic, financial, operational and fundraising plans.
- A track record of leading or supporting fundraising programs that include cultivation of individual donors (annual fund, major gifts and planned giving).
- Ability to effectively lead a dedicated and creative staff team.
- A Master’s Degree in a related field or equivalent education and experience is desired.
Desired personal characteristics and qualities
- Passion for the mission; ability to balance passion with a focus on realistic goals and outcomes.
- Leadership and consensus-building abilities; ability to be facilitative as well as decisive.
- Exceptional relationship-building and communication skills; a person who enjoys cultivating and maintaining relationships and “making the ask.”
- Ability to write effectively for a variety of audiences.
- Intelligent and analytical with a good sense of humor.