Program Director, Strong Local Economies
The Surdna Foundation
New York, NY
The Surdna Foundation seeks to foster just and sustainable communities in the United States –
communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments,
strong local economies and thriving cultures.
The Surdna Foundation – one of the country’s oldest family foundations – seeks a Program
Director for its grant making program, Strong Local Economies. This is an extraordinary
opportunity to join a respected and innovative foundation as it begins a new chapter in its long
and successful history. In October, 2009, the Foundation adopted a new mission – to foster just
and sustainable communities in the United States -- and launched three new program areas:
Sustainable Environments, Strong Local Economies and Thriving Cultures.
Reporting to the President and working closely with board committees and staff, the Program
Director for Strong Local Economies will sharpen the current program strategies for this new
area, will develop new initiatives or themes that are consistent with the mission, and will deepen
institutional knowledge in the program’s areas of focus in order to ensure maximum impact of
Foundation dollars. The program will build on and integrate many elements of the Foundation’s
former work in community revitalization and will work quite closely with the environment and
The position calls for demonstrated leadership and practical experience in one or more of the
subthemes of the Strong Local Economies program, such as workforce development, economic
development, asset-building, sustainable land use and development, or transit-oriented
development. Intellectual breadth and agility, the proven capacity to work across sectors and
constituencies, and strong communication and convening skills are essential attributes for this
role. An understanding of public policy and of the role of the nonprofit community in driving
social change is required.
Established in 1917 and governed today primarily by fourth and fifth generation family
members, the Surdna Foundation has assets of over $750 million and a total annual grant making
budget of nearly $30 million. Board and staff are guided by a Code of Ethics that outlines their
commitments as “responsible, transparent, and accountable stewards of the public trust.” The
longstanding values of the Andrus family – practicality, modesty, excellence and appreciation for
serving those in need – underlie all of Surdna’s work and must be embraced by the Program
The Surdna Foundation has enlisted the support of Isaacson, Miller in its search process. Please
direct nominations, inquiries, and application materials in confidence to the search firm as
indicated at the end of this document.
The Surdna Foundation (www.surdna.org) was established in Yonkers, New York in 1917 by
John Emory Andrus, an extraordinary businessman, investor, elected official, and civic figure.
One of Mr. Andrus’ special talents – locating, buying, and then reselling undervalued land –
earned him great wealth, and he created the “Surdna” (“Andrus” in reverse) Foundation at the
age of 76, serving as its chair until his death seventeen years later. In its early years, the
foundation’s primary purpose was to establish and fund an orphanage (now the Andrus
Children’s Center) and a home for the elderly (now Andrus on Hudson) before beginning to
direct a portion of its growing assets towards higher education, medical research, and human
services. In the 1990’s, the Foundation established a professional staff for the first time and
developed effective programs in five grant making areas: Environment, Community
Revitalization, Effective Citizenry, Arts, and the Nonprofit Sector.
Over the years, the Surdna Foundation has become widely respected as an entrepreneurial and
strategic grant maker. The Foundation is able to “punch above its weight,” and has exerted
influence well beyond the dollars it grants in areas as diverse as climate change, transportation,
arts training, youth organizing, public media and community development. The Foundation
strives for a strategically balanced portfolio of grants – balancing a mix of grant sizes, of
advocacy/policy/direct service, of collaboration and “go-it alone” grant making. It also works
“beyond the money” to help its grantees find additional resources and support, to connect key
players to each other and connect good projects to other funders, to build strength and capacity in
its fields of interest, and to promote collaboration among diverse stakeholders.
The arrival of new President Phillip Henderson in 2007 offered the opportunity to take a fresh
look at what the Foundation could do to extend its nine decades of excellent philanthropy. Under
Mr. Henderson’s leadership, the Foundation began a period of examination of its programs
which culminated last fall in the announcement of a sharpened focus for the Foundation on the
theme of just and sustainable communities, a theme that had been present in previous work but
not articulated as a central point of emphasis.
To support the new mission, three new programs – Sustainable Environments, Strong Local
Economies, and Thriving Cultures – have been launched to replace the five programs that were
in place at the Foundation. The Foundation sees a sustainable community as a place that 1) uses
innovation to secure a sustainable environment over the long term, 2) enables the establishment
of a strong and resilient local economy, and 3) celebrates a vibrant cultural life for all community
members, regardless of background. The Foundation’s work under this new framework is guided
by the principle that sustainable communities are built on an interconnected set of systems that
acknowledge both people and places as invaluable assets critical to long-term prosperity. This
realization leads to an emphasis in grant making on the connections between program areas and
the importance of developing grant making strategies that interrelate across program areas. A
second guiding principle for the Foundation’s new framework is the affirmation of the
importance of social justice and of youth empowerment as core concepts to apply to work going
The new programs will integrate several elements of the former programs and many
longstanding grantees will continue to be important partners in the Foundation’s work, while
new grantees will be added. While formally announced last fall, the Foundation has been
publishing grant making guidelines throughout the end of 2009 and into 2010 as funding
priorities within each program area have been finalized.
Governance, Organization and Finance
The Surdna Foundation is currently governed by a 13-member Board of Directors, composed of
fourth and fifth generation Andrus family members and three non-family members. The board is
active, engaged, and takes its fiduciary and policy oversight role seriously. It convenes as a
whole four times a year, approves grants in three cycles, and conducts a substantial amount of
work through its committee structure. Standing Program Committees for each of the three
program areas work closely with program staff to set strategy, monitor progress, and approve
grants (subject to full board approval) within each area.
The Surdna Foundation’s 18 staff members work from offices in Midtown Manhattan. The
organizational structure is deliberately flat and non-bureaucratic, with six staff members
reporting directly to the President. The work environment is collegial and, while staff are given
substantial autonomy, collaborative work across program areas in strongly emphasized. With an
operating budget of approximately $5 million, the foundation prides itself on its lean and
efficient administration and its fiscal discipline.
For FY2009 (ending June 30), the foundation received 1,627 funding requests and approved 455
grants totaling $33 million. The average grant, excluding discretionary grants and the Andrus
Children’s Center grant, was $115,000, and the grant amount ranged from $25,000 to $1
million. The grants budget for FY2010 is nearly $30 million. Approximately $21 million of that
will be allocated to the three program areas, with the remainder budgeted for board discretionary
grants, the Andrus Family Fund, and research and development.
Strong Local Economies Program
During 2009, a Surdna board and staff working group developed the framework for the Strong
Local Economies grant making program in support of the new mission. The working group
affirmed two broad lines of work for the future, with subthemes, as follows:
Line of Work #1: Connecting People to Opportunity. Communities of opportunity include
thriving businesses that offer good jobs within reach of diverse residents. They also incorporate
sustainable and affordable transportation and development solutions enabling all residents to
easily travel from their homes to jobs, education, and amenities.
Subthemes within this broad theme will include:
Improving transportation networks to create connections between transportation, housing,
and economic prosperity.
Advancing sustainable land use to promote density and reuse of land, prevent sprawl, and
improve access to housing and employment centers.
Supporting asset-based development that connects residents to economic opportunity,
building on existing "anchor" institutions like schools, hospitals and cultural districts.
Line of Work #2: Creating Economic Opportunity. A strong and sustainable local economy
supports many vibrant sectors and provides good jobs and training within a region.
Subthemes will include:
Supporting regional economic development strategies.
Promoting local enterprise development that advances the region's economic
competitiveness, especially among new immigrant communities and communities of
Advancing workforce development policies and strategies to better prepare low- and
moderate-income residents for jobs in the region's economy.
The program shift to Strong Local Economies aligns well with the natural conclusion of the
Foundation’s five-year place-based initiative on strong and weak market cities, scheduled to be
completed in FY2011. A part of the Foundation’s existing work in the Community Revitalization
Program could continue to be supported under the theme Developing Communities of
Opportunity, including work on transit-oriented development, land use, vacant property, and
The Foundation is in the process of developing learning agendas for board and staff in new grant
making areas, particularly in the areas of economic development and workforce development
which are new territories for Surdna. As a first step, a white paper on the current structure and
challenges of the nation’s workforce and economic development systems was presented as part
of a November 9th-10th, 2009 Board of Trustees meeting. (See Surdna website: “Economic
Development and Workforce Development Systems: A Briefing Paper.”) While several board
themes have been identified above, the new program directions are at their formative stages, and
a new Program Director will have the opportunity to refine the focus and develop specific grant
making strategies within these broad themes. In addition, they will have the opportunity to
explore other themes that could be developed into new lines of work, and to which a new
Program Director may bring particular expertise and interest, include the high costs of being
poor, the role of new immigrants, the challenges of growing a strong black middle class, the
imperative of rebuilding America’s manufacturing sector, the opportunities for linking the fields
of economic development and workforce, and the role of community colleges in workforce
Many of the subthemes of the Strong Local Economies program intersect with program goals of
the other two programs, Sustainable Environments and Thriving Cultures, offering many
opportunities for shared grant making and program work. Collaboration among programs is
encouraged at Surdna through pooled funding and a culture of idea-sharing among program staff.
Several possible themes for future work are also cross-cutting, including food systems, creative
economies, arts and culture districts, urban design and architecture, and green spaces.
The Program Director will be joining Surdna at an exciting time of program transition and
growth. While the initial conceptual framework for a new mission has been developed, there is
considerable room for a talented leader to bring his or her own informed strategic perspective to
the Foundation, developing new areas of emphasis within program themes or deepening
Surdna’s expertise within a particular niche.
The core responsibility of the Program Director is to be sure the new grant making program is
well conceived, in concert with the overall program of the Foundation, and has significant
impact. While staff are primarily grant makers, a considerable element of Surdna’s effectiveness
is due to the “beyond-the-money” work of staff in their fields of expertise, through roles as
collaborator, convener, bridge-builder, risk-taker, innovator, and intellectual leader.
The Program Director reports directly to the President and supervises the work of a Program
Associate and a Program Officer. The Program Director is responsible for overseeing all
administrative and budgetary needs of the program area and for managing the grantmaking
process in partnership with the Program Officer. This process includes review of grant proposals,
site visits and due diligence, the development of selected large grants, strategic grant clusters and
special initiatives, assessment of grant performance and program outcomes, and reports for the
President and Board of Directors.
The broad objectives for the Program Director are as follows:
In partnership with the President, the board program committee, and program staff,
develop and implement a strategic and well balanced program of grant making and
beyond-the-money strategies to reach goals. Ensure that the program has integrity in
itself and also informs and strengthens the Foundation’s programming as a whole.
Ensure that the program stays agile and responsive to changing conditions, new trends,
and unexpected challenges. In partnership with board and staff, develop new initiatives
and themes that are as creative and successful as the best of the Foundation’s past.
Work closely with other programs at Surdna and facilitate cross-program collaboration.
Represent Surdna effectively in a range of settings, including external meetings, in
media, and in publications. Maintain a breadth of knowledge about current trends,
emerging issues, policy interventions and innovations in the Program’s areas of focus.
Build broad networks with field experts, governmental decision-makers, affinity groups,
and other funders and be an effective philanthropic advocate in the various fields where
grants are made.
Continue to pursue collaborations and partnerships regionally and nationally, and create
leverage beyond actual funds awarded.
Foster strong working relationships, a high level of mutual trust, and effective channels
of communication with grantees, not only to assess their readiness and capacity for
program implementation but to learn from them about changes in their fields. Serve as a
resource for grantees on organizational and strategy development, or to connect them to
other grantees and funders in the field.
Set and communicate clear and consistent goals for Program Officer and Program
Associate and encourage both creativity and rigor. Support professional development for
staff members and conduct annual performance reviews, assuring that the talents of the
team are fully advantaged.
Manage grants budget, setting general budget allocation among program goals. Monitor
program budget, consulting budgets and beyond the money budgets in consultation with
Further inspire and promote Surdna’s role as a model family foundation which has
allowed five generations of family members to work together effectively to improve
QUALIFICATIONS AND EXPERIENCE
This is an outstanding opportunity for an innovative leader to join one of the most highly
regarded family foundations in the country. The position requires confidence and creative vision,
outstanding analytic and communication skills, and a passion for addressing and solving some of
the most critical and complex issues of our time.
The successful candidate will need to bring a clear understanding of and commitment to the
Foundation’s purpose and mission and will want to embrace the values of the Andrus family,
including deep integrity and respect for others, honesty, modesty, compassion, pragmatism, and
high standards of excellence. At the same time, the Foundation seeks a Program Director who
will want to see the imprint of his or her own leadership on the activities and direction of the
program, and who will have the intelligence, grace, flexibility, and self-confidence to work
effectively with board and staff.
While no candidate will bring all of the skills and experiences sought, the ideal candidate would
bring the following:
Ten to fifteen years of demonstrated experience in, and substantive knowledge of,
economic development and community development fields, including substantive
experience in one or more of the program’s subthemes. A breadth of experience is
preferred over a narrow, specialist role.
Experience translating knowledge and theory into action, at a practical level. A strong
record of achievement in an organization in any sector. Experience leading an
organization, reporting to a board, and managing staff and budgets would be valuable.
Comfort with and appreciation of the full range of Surdna’s grant making, from its direct
service support to its field building activities to its advocacy efforts directed at public
Prior experience with public policy, either as an advocate for policy change or a role in
crafting or carrying out effective public policy.
Demonstrated commitment to social justice values.
A graduate degree in a relevant field would be an asset.
Personal Skills and Qualities
Excellent intellectual abilities and analytic skills. A lifelong learner with curiosity, sound
judgment, and the ability to see connections and bridge gaps.
The highest level of personal and professional integrity and a reputation for a balanced,
non-ideological approach. A willingness to challenge conventional thinking coupled with
the ability to collaborate effectively, listen well, and encourage dialogue.
Strong written and oral communication skills.
Deep respect for the grantee community and for the importance of its strong partnership
with the foundation. Enthusiasm for building bridges between and among a range of
Outstanding interpersonal skills. A flexible, energetic team player who contributes to a
strong sense of community among staff and board.
Inquiries, nominations and applications (a resume and cover letter) may be directed in
confidence to Isaacson, Miller. Electronic submission of materials is strongly encouraged.
Sheryl Ash, Vice President & Director or
Maggie Gilmore, Associate
Isaacson, Miller, Inc.
334 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116
Compensation will be competitive and commensurate with previous experience. Excellent
benefits are provided.
The Surdna Foundation is committed to an inclusive work environment
and welcomes a diverse pool of candidates in this search.
Additional information about the Foundation may be found at www.surdna.org