The Organization: The Poetry Foundation
Position: President, Poetry Foundation
Location: Chicago, IL
Reporting Relationship: Board of Trustees
The Poetry Foundation is an Equal Opportunity Employer that meets ADA requirements
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine which has been publishing since 1912, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry, raise poetry to a more visible and influential position, and place it before the largest possible audience.
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 audiences to engage with the art form.
Established in 2003 as a private operating foundation 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 allowed the Poetry Foundation to expand and enhance the presence of poetry in the United States and established an endowment to fund Poetry magazine and the mission of the Foundation in perpetuity.
The Poetry Foundation is housed in a marquee building designed by architect John Ronan. In addition to the award-winning magazine, the Poetry Foundation maintains one of the world’s largest collections of poetry both digitally and within the library, produces podcasts, hosts poetry readings and annual awards, provides teacher trainings and workshops, and hosts off-site events in communities with limited access to poetry.
Programs of the Poetry Foundation
With Poetry magazine as its flagship initiative, the Foundation pursues its mission to celebrate and share the best poetry with the largest audiences through an array of programs:
The Poetry Foundation hosts a robust schedule of free live events throughout the year. Ranging from poetry readings to staged plays to concerts, events have also included artist collaborations, exhibition openings, musical and other performances. View our current events schedule to learn more.
Free and open to all, the Poetry Foundation presents engaging, multifaceted exhibitions that bring together visual arts and the written word three times a year. Audiences are invited to inhabit poetry through archival displays that locate emerging and established poets in the visual and tactile material of their time.
The Poetry Foundation uses emerging technology to reach and engage a broad audience for poetry. Through its award-winning website, mobile applications, and social media, it promotes original content and an extensive archive of poetry and feature articles to create new readers of poetry, serve existing poetry communities, and support Foundation initiatives and programs.
Poetry Out Loud
The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation partner with U.S. state arts agencies to support Poetry Out Loud, a contest that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps high school students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. The finals are held in Washington D.C. annually.
Through active partnerships and sponsorships, the Foundation works to place poetry before the widest possible audience and raise it to a more visible and influential position in American culture. The Poetry Foundation helps support an enhanced presence for poetry in each of the major media channels: print, radio, television, film, and social media.
Awards and Recognition
The Poetry Foundation’s Pegasus Awards are a family of prizes that serve to discover and celebrate what is best in poetry. They also directly support and reward poets. The annual Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize honors a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition. The Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships are awarded to five young U.S. poets each year to encourage them in the early stages of their careers. A Young People’s Poet Laureate is appointed every two years, honoring the work of a living American poet who writes exceptional poetry for younger readers. Other awards are presented on an irregular schedule.
The Poetry Foundation Library is the Midwest’s only library dedicated to poetry. Visitors to the library may browse a collection of 30,000+ volumes, experience audio and video recordings in private listening booths, and view exhibits of poetry-related materials. In addition to providing public access to its collections in the form of a reading room, the library hosts interactive programs to inspire a wider readership for poetry in people of all ages.
Founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. Harriet Monroe’s “Open Door” policy, set forth in volume 1 of the magazine, remains the most succinct statement of Poetry’s mission: to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach. The magazine established its reputation early by publishing the first important poems of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, H.D., William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, and other now-classic authors. In succeeding decades, it has presented—often for the first time—works by virtually every significant poet of the 20th and 21st centuries. Poetry has always been independent, unaffiliated with any institution or university—or with any single poetic or critical movement or aesthetic school. It continues to print major English-speaking poets while presenting emerging talents in all their variety. In recent years, more than a third of the authors published in the magazine have been writers appearing for the first time. On average, the magazine receives more than 150,000 submissions per year from around the world.
Poetry Foundation Today
On June 6th, 2020, the Poetry Foundation received a publicized letter signed by eighteen hundred poets accusing the Foundation of systemic racism and failure to adequately support the community. Following receipt of the letter, the Board Chair, the Foundation President and Poetry magazine’s editor accelerated planned retirements. The Foundation CFO, Kate Coughlin, stepped into the Foundation Administration role and the Vice Chair, Caren Yanis, stepped up as Chair. The Board went to work responding to the initial letter on June 12th with An Open Letter of Commitment to Our Community, that combined letters by the board of directors and the Poetry Foundation staff.
The Board immediately created an Equity Oversight Committee which is actively planning and engaging an equity audit; it also began reviewing practices and policies toward deeper engagement with staff and the community. The Board and staff are committed to equitable policies and practices, as well as building transparency, enhanced communications and accountability into management and governance.
The new leader will be committed to creating an equitable system that fosters dignity and integrity, building trust with staff, partners, and community members, and continuing to manage Poetry Foundation resources in a way that will perpetually benefit the art of poetry.
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At this difficult time in our country’s history of social, gender, and racial inequality, the arts world stands at a critical juncture to provide the needed access, support, and platform for all voices. The new leader must be able to provide clear direction and bring humility, empathy, and a practiced ability to build a trusting, inclusive, and communal culture with staff and the community at large.
The new President will work collaboratively with the Board of Trustees, the Foundation staff, stakeholders, poets, and educators to advance and adapt its legacy and lead the organization into the next chapter in an evolving landscape. The Foundation and community seek a leader to help shape a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry.
The President is responsible for the development and execution of a new innovative strategic vision and the effective administration and oversight of all operations, endowment management and external affairs to achieve the strategic goals set in collaboration with the Board.
The leader will be able to both assess and address the current needs by utilizing best in class change management tactics. As a manager, the President is a listener first, who leads by example, embodies a transparent management style, and empowers others. The leader must be equally adept at serving on the ground as a hands-on partner to staff and stakeholders as they are crafting high-level organizational strategies.
Most pressing among the institutional focus areas in this next iteration of leadership will include driving action through consensus and inclusivity, increasing accountability and transparency, and driving sustainable, measurable change in the institution.
Poetry Foundation seeks an executive with the passion, skills, and drive to successfully lead the organization through its next phase of development, healing, and impact. An inclusive, thoughtful, dynamic leader who values and promotes the rich history and mission and who can leverage their business savvy, people management, community relationship building, and strategic vision for the benefit of the organization. They will be a visionary leader with a recognition of Poetry Foundation’s responsibility to be attentive to the issues of equity and inclusion and to ensure the organization can continue to grow a diverse body of poets and audiences for poetry as the leading organization in the field.
The President will assume responsibility for the leadership, strategic execution, and overall management of Poetry Foundation, as well as its operating budget.
Specific responsibilities will include, but not be limited to the following:
Executive Leadership & Strategic Vision
- Thoroughly understand the Poetry Foundation, its mission and policies, culture, values, history, key partners and stakeholders, programs, finances, and strategic planning efforts.
- Anticipate and articulate a vision for strategic challenges the Foundation faces as it transitions into the next phase of its
- Lead with inclusivity, openness and collaboration with staff and stakeholders.
- Listen to, absorb, and effectively answer criticisms and inbound institutional questions.
- Develop, enrich, and sustain relationships with poets and artist communities.
- Foster meaningful and impactful engagement with the broader poetry ecosystem.
- Review and revise in collaboration with the CFO, Policy Committee and staff the Foundation policies with an eye on social equity and a commitment to dignity and a spirit of generosity.
- Lead by example in seeking out supplemental cultural competency trainings as the senior executive in the organization.
- Lead all design, planning and execution of a strategic plan that centers the mission in inclusiveness and long-term sustainability.
- Bring a decisive and transparent leadership style that embraces the critical importance of issues facing the country today.
- Build collaborative relationships with partner poetry and related arts organizations around Poetry Foundation programming.
- Promote a staff culture of integrity, dignity, high performance, and meaningful collaboration that values learning and commitment to quality and equality.
Operations & Financial Management
- Maintain a well-functioning, efficient organization through effective communication and teambuilding.
- Proven experience developing well-formed and clear processes to ensure accountability.
- Aptitude in corporate governance to work seamlessly and productively with all communities: poets, staff, trustees, program participants, other stakeholders.
- Recruit, lead, develop, and inspire a diverse staff of skilled people to manage and advance the Foundation’s work in support of the strategic plan, operational goals, and objectives.
- With the CFO, ensure the proper, effective, and transparent management of the Foundation’s financial resources.
- Ensure optimum allocation of resources to make the organization as efficient and effective as possible. With the CFO, oversee the planning and budgeting process to maintain a sound financial basis, supporting both short-term and long-term needs and objectives.
- Ensure productive and effective staff performance, providing guidance, feedback, and opportunities for professional development at all levels across the organization.
- Establish a performance-oriented, accountable culture with appropriate performance management systems. Work with senior leaders to establish and monitor performance goals, assign accountabilities, set objectives, and establish priorities.
- Develop and support the senior leadership team, while also cultivating new talent for future leadership opportunities.
- With the CFO, ensure the appropriate levels of internal financial controls are in place and are reported to the Board.
- Build strong, trusting, and dynamic relationships with the Board.
- Collaborate with the Board to determine and build alignment around direction and priorities.
- Ensure the Board has a holistic and accurate understanding of the organization’s purpose, performance, strengths, challenges, and opportunities.
- Work collaboratively with the Board Chair to set and implement governance, policies, and update bylaws as needed in the evolving cultural context.
- Ensure transparency and communicate regularly with the Board around all key governance issues, including financial oversight.
- Provide the Board with the appropriate level of timely information and context prior to board and committee meetings to make well-informed decisions.
- Keep the Board informed of the organization’s progress, activities, and challenges, providing accurate reports and annual budget to the Board.
- Establish an evolving and inviting place of poetry in a cultural landscape increasingly reliant on digital and visual communication.
- Provide executive leadership to all marketing, communications, and branding initiatives to ensure the organization is best positioned among key constituents at the national and international levels.
- Serve as the public face and official spokesperson of the Poetry Foundation. Assure proper representation of the organization in front of all audiences and effectively convey the history and future direction of the organization.
The successful candidate will bring passion, enthusiasm, and vision for the Poetry Foundation mission. They will embody a deep knowledge and love of poetry and have at least a decade of executive leadership experience in an organization of similar or larger size and complexity.
The President will be a very strong culture builder, stellar communicator, strategic thinker, and a proven leader who will articulate an inclusive vision that others are excited to embrace and follow. Other desired qualifications and leadership characteristics include:
- Minimum of ten years of experience in management positions with progressively increasing responsibility.
- An understanding of poetry and the poetry community.
- Demonstrable commitment and proven experience building a diverse and inclusive environment and experience in engaging a community to reflect those
- Strong change management skills and experience creating collaborative, inclusive, trusting, team cultures.
- A thorough understanding of business and management principles involved in strategic planning, leadership technique, human behavior and performance, and the coordination/collaboration of people and resources.
- Vocal and visible champion of inclusivity and equity in poetry and the arts.
- Excellent communication skills, both oral and written.
- Keen ability to develop relationships with existing partners as well as new partners and underrepresented communities of artists.
- Results-driven, a high level of maturity, sound business and financial acumen, proven leadership skills, and demonstrated success in leading an arts organization with measurable results.
- A consensus-driven leadership style with a demonstrated ability to create, plan, share, and implement an organizational vision.
- A collegial style that reflects mutual respect, engenders trust, and motivates people to work in highly effective
- The executive presence and integrity to inspire confidence and teamwork with staff.
- Unquestionable ethics, integrity, transparency, and accountability in all actions.
- A high degree of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, warmth, approachability, and humility.
- Commitment to continuous self and organizational
Reports to: Board of Trustees
Direct reports/Leadership: Office of the President
Chief Financial Officer, Vice President for Finance and Administration
President’s Assistant and Secretary to the Board
Community and Foundation Relations Director
Chief Technology Officer & Director of Digital Programs
Editor, Poetry Magazine
Represents the Foundation to: Community Engagement
Poets and Artists
Education: A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution required.
Compensation: Competitive compensation ranges and detailed benefits packages will be provided to candidates.
How To Apply
Application Process: Interested and qualified candidates are welcome to submit a resume and cover letter to: PoetryFoundationPresident@kornferry.com