Executive Director via Idealist

Bluestem Communications

Chicago, IL, US

About Bluestem Communications

Bluestem Communications is a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 as the Biodiversity Project. Originally a project of the Tides Foundation, it began as a research organization focused on understanding the public’s attitude towards biodiversity and identifying ways to engage the public in biodiversity conservation. The organization conducted the first ever public opinion research on attitudes towards biodiversity and later on a variety of conservation issues around the country. The organization played a lead role in developing the public engagement campaign that led to the passage of the Great Lakes Compact in the eight Great Lakes states.

Today, Bluestem’s mission is to address environmental concerns by helping peer groups communicate clearly, effectively and to the right audience. Over the past decade the organization has structured its services, finances, and personnel to focus on our primary goal of becoming the “go-to” communications organization for environmental nonprofits.

Bluestem builds creative communications campaigns to protect North America’s most precious land and water resources. The organization is a leader in the field of values-based communications and research-based message development. Bluestem uses public opinion and other research to inform messages that speak to widely held cultural values and prominent public concerns. The organization’s primary task is to meaningfully engage people and motivate them to act by making the connection between the environment, their daily lives and their basic values. This is accomplished by:

  • developing communication approaches and campaigns that motivate people to adopt concrete environmental behaviors
  • building strategic communications capacity, specifically regarding environmental or conservation issues, within other organizations; and
  • building and supporting effective coalitions that communicate with one voice.

Bluestem operates on a fee-for-service business model for 45% of its income and private grants for the remaining 55% of total revenue. The fee-for-service program requires identifying project opportunities, preparing proposals and often competing against other like-minded organizations to be awarded the project. Bluestem competes for projects primarily in the Midwest and sometimes throughout the country. Some of the past projects have been in Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Illinois.

A little more than half of Bluestem’s project work is managing the Mississippi River Network (MRN). Bluestem has been building and managing the Mississippi River Network for the past ten years. Today, it is 52-member organization focused on protecting the land, water and people of the Mississippi River from headwaters to gulf. Bluestem receives grant funding to manage this Network. Two and a-half Bluestem staff manage the Network. The goals of the Mississippi River Network are to advance public policy that protects water quality and the natural functioning of the river. These goals are accomplished through a ten-state grassroots campaign called 1 Mississippi that engages the public and encourages advocacy.

For the past decade the organization has been led by one Executive Director. Under this Director, the organization changed its name to Bluestem Communications in 2013 to better reflect the purpose and function of the organization.

The Opportunity

The need for environmental organizations to communicate effectively and organize coalitions is greater now than ever. The new Executive Director of Bluestem Communications will be committed to providing exceptional communications and coalition services to nonprofits, foundations, government agencies and municipalities in order to advance key environmental issues.

The Executive Director has directed the organization for ten years and is now leaving for a new opportunity. The Bluestem Board of Directors is looking for a fresh, strategic new leader to take Bluestem into a new phase of growth and expansion. In collaboration with the Board of Directors and staff, the future Executive Director will identify, articulate and lead Bluestem on a path that builds on its strengths, addresses its weaknesses and secures long-term financial stability.

The Executive Director will report to the Board, but after a period of adjustment, the new Executive Director will be given ample leeway to direct the organization with high-level strategic guidance from the Board. The 8-12 person Bluestem Board of Directors does not fundraise for the organization at this time, however that may change in the future. Instead, Board members identify possible clients and projects and build connections that will enhance the fee-for-service business model. The Executive Director plays an active role in recruiting new Board members and building the Board. The Board meets four-five times a year where they review finances, receive program updates, discuss organizational issues and provide guidance to the Executive Director.

Position Description:

The Executive Director will be responsible for overseeing the fiscal, administrative and programmatic operations of Bluestem and its staff, aligning all with the organization’s mission, purpose and goals.

Unlike a traditional Executive Director, Bluestem’s leader does not conduct typical fundraising activities. At Bluestem, the Executive Director markets the organization and spends approximately 60% of the time selling, networking, building relationships and bringing in new projects. The Executive Director is responsible for building lasting relationships with current and past clients and developing new relationships with potential clients. On-going client cultivation in this position requires daily attention to connecting with people, organizations and foundations. Building relationships with foundations that currently fund Bluestem and those that may potentially provide resources or hire Bluestem is critically important.

The Executive Director must have a sales-like mentality and attitude. The Executive Director will use a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system to identify and enter new prospects and track those potential clients through the sales process.

The Executive Director works with staff to develop sales materials, such as sell-sheets, brochures, case studies, infographics and keeping the web site updated and current. This also requires developing creative outreach strategies to consistently remind potential clients of Bluestem’s services. Ultimately, Bluestem needs to be a model for its communications.

The Executive Director balances the flow of work and projects with the available resources staff. There are two staff members, the Communications Director and the Communications Manager who do most of the fee-for-service work. However, the Executive Director also works on and manages fee-for service projects depending on staff availability and the client. For each new project the Executive Director prepares scope of work, writes contracts, develops billing schedules and works closely with the staff to insure there is full understanding of the project scope and deliverables.

The Executive Director oversees the portfolio of Mississippi River work, which consists primarily of the Mississippi River Network. This area of work has two full-time and one part-time staff dedicated to this program. The Executive Director oversees staff and the progress of the program, looking for opportunities to expand the project. The Executive Director plays a critical role in working with foundations to secure long-term funding for this program.

The Executive Director joins steering committees for local and national projects where their expertise and contribution is considered valuable and important. Serving on steering or communication committees raises the profile of Bluestem and often leads to new projects.

The Executive Director works in partnership with the Finance Manager to oversee and manage all of the organization’s finances and administrative requirements. The Executive Director and Finance Manager develop budgets, handle all revenue and expense tracking, and manage weekly billing, payroll and the audit process. They also manage insurance policies and renewals, tax filings, annual registration process, and annual reports. Quarterly, at the Board meetings, the Executive Director reports on the finances and budget.

The Executive Director leads weekly staff meetings, manages staff, hiring and firing processes as well as annual performance reviews.

Preferred Candidate Profile

  • Bachelor’s degree in an environmental field and/or a communications-related field. Masters preferred.
  • 5-8 years leadership experience, preferably as an Executive Director or managing a large project
  • 5-8 years working in nonprofit organizations
  • Experience in entrepreneurial situations
  • Proven track record of identifying and securing projects
  • Excellent reputation among environmental organizations, municipalities, government agencies or civic organizations in the Midwest
  • Familiarity with and the ability to knowledgeably discuss a range of environmental issues, particularly related to water
  • Experience developing and managing advocacy campaigns
  • Exceptional writing skills and experience writing key messages, reports, articles and media-related materials
  • Familiarity with behavior change communication strategies

Preferred Core Competencies and Attributes

Network of Potential Clients: The Executive Director will have an extensive network in the Midwest of environmental nonprofits, municipalities and government agencies. Strong connections to engineering firms, the health care community and civic organizations are also desirable.

Marketing: The Executive Director will be a proven marketer with experience identifying project opportunities, engaging clients, preparing proposals, developing budgets and closing opportunities.

Communications: The Executive Director will have excellent oral and written communication skills. They will have experience developing and managing strategic communications projects and campaigns. Experience should include public awareness, advocacy and behavior-change campaigns.

The position requires beyond excellent writing skills and experience producing a wide range of communication materials.

Financial Management: Experience managing the finances of a nonprofit including: budgeting, monthly tracking of income and expenses, managing up to ten different program contracts and budgets simultaneously and the audit process.

Strategic and Effective Leadership: The Executive Director will be an experienced leader with the background and skills to support a highly collaborative working environment. This individual will supervise a small staff, providing mentorship and leadership and creating a positive work environment. The Executive Director also leads the Board by organizing Board meetings, identifying potential Board members and guiding the meetings.

Salary: $80,000 – $100,000, depends upon experience.

Benefits: Health insurance, generous 403b contribution, 3 weeks of vacation, 10 sick days, short- and long-term disability. Flexible work schedule may be available.

To Apply: Please send resume and cover letter by March 15, 2017, to Joanne DiGuido, [email protected]