The Vera Institute of Justice Board of Trustees seeks the Institute's fifth President and Director to lead a highly regarded, independent and non-partisan nonprofit organization into its sixth decade of assisting leaders in government and civil society improve the systems on which people rely for justice and safety.
Founded in 1961 and headquartered in New York City, the Vera Institute of Justice (Institute) combines expertise in research, demonstration projects and technical assistance to accomplish its mission of partnering with government to reform policy and practice. The Institute gives expert, candid appraisals and prescribes practical solutions to systemic problems so that government agencies can improve their service delivery and effectiveness.
This is an opportunity for a seasoned leader to guide, challenge and inspire a unique organization. The position requires a person with a passion for justice, a creative and collaborative intellect, and an entrepreneurial flair who has strong management and fundraising skills to lead an organization with an annual budget of $35 million and a creative, professional staff of 176.
The President and Director (Director) leads the Institute's operations in New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and New Orleans. The senior management team includes a general counsel, chief program officer, research director, chief operating officer/chief financial officer as well as a chief of staff and directors of technical assistance, planning and government innovation, development, communications, and the Washington D.C. Office.
The Institute currently runs projects organized into four centers each of which combines research, planning and technical assistance. They are: Immigration & Justice, Sentencing & Corrections, Youth Justice, and Victimization and Safety. The Institute also manages a Cost Benefit Analysis Unit and other programs and demonstration projects that include Prosecution and Racial Justice, Substance Use and Mental Health, Family Justice, Guardianship, Adolescent Portable Therapy, Common Justice, and New Orleans Pre-Trial Services (see: http://www.vera.org/programs/centers ).
Since its inception, the Institute has designed, implemented and evaluated innovative programs that improve the administration of justice and ensure racial justice by working with government officials in New York City and State, throughout the United States, and around the world. Every Vera project begins with a detailed, empirical examination of how a targeted part of the justice system works. This inspires the design of a practical experiment or other rational course of action for reform. The Institute's goal is to help its government partners achieve measurable improvements in the quality of justice and to share what is learned with people around the world. The result is justice systems that are fairer and more humane as well as more effective and efficient.
The Background of the Vera Institute of Justice
In 1961, the philanthropist and chemical engineer Louis Schweitzer established the Vera Foundation (now the Vera Institute of Justice) in response to the lengthy and costly detention of largely poor and minority persons in New York City who were charged with minor crimes and remained in custody only because they lacked the means to make money bail. Through the Vera Foundation, Schweitzer and its first Director Herbert Sturz partnered with the courts to design, operate and then evaluate the Manhattan Bail Project which introduced the mechanism of release on recognizance. This innovation changed forever the way bail and custody decisions are made in American courts. It dramatically enhanced justice for the poor and people of color caught up in the criminal justice system without jeopardizing public safety. In 1966, Burke Marshall became the first Board of Trustees Chair of the renamed Vera Institute of Justice, and President Lyndon Johnson signed the Bail Reform Act of 1966 - the first change in the federal bail system since 1789 - recognizing Vera for leading the way.
The Institute has continued to pioneer in the development of other creative, practical and fair solutions to many of the most difficult problems in the justice system and urban America. The Institute's excellent reputation and its long-standing relationships with New York City and New York State agencies and their elected and appointed officials help ensure that the Institute's reform ideas remain practical and that its government partners receive the recognition they deserve for creative and effective reform efforts. At the same time, the Institute's national and international reputation and relationships allow it to move its best ideas to scale. Today, the Institute's demonstration, research and technical assistance programs serve as catalysts for change across the United States and in Africa, China and South America http://www.vera.org/content/about-us .
The Operation and Management of the Vera Institute of Justice
The Vera Institute is governed by a 24-person Board of Trustees, including the Director, as a non-voting member. Trustees are drawn from law, finance, business, psychiatry, the social sciences, the federal judiciary and academia ( http://www.vera.org/content/about-us/trustees ). The Board oversees the Institute through standing committees and occasional ad hoc committees to focus on specific issues. The Board sets organizational goals and strategies, makes final fiscal and budget decisions, and appoints the Director.
The Director is responsible to the Board for the maintenance of the Institute's mission, programs and fiscal integrity, as well as its continuing contributions to justice.
As the Institute's chief executive officer, the Director is responsible for personnel decisions and is the Institute's principal fundraiser, although responsibility for fundraising is also shared with senior staff and, as appropriate, with members of the Board.
The Institute's annual budget is supported principally by grants and contracts with local, state and federal government agencies (about 70 percent), supplemented by grants from major foundations, corporations and other NGOs (about 25 percent). The remaining five percent comes from the Institute's endowment (currently about $6.5 million), technical assistance and program fees, and individual contributions.
The Director also serves as a member of the Board and executive committee of Altus, a global alliance of justice-reform organizations in which the Vera Institute is one of six founding members.
Goals for the New Institute Director
The Vera Board of Trustees expects the Institute to continue to evolve under its fifth Director, guided by the successful candidate's vision and strategic leadership, the skills and creativity of its senior staff, and the interests of its partners. The new Director's ability to inspire, guide and harness the talents of the Institute's professional staff, as well as reflect the aspirations of its trustees and funding partners, will be crucial to his or her success.
The new Director will face a series of challenges: some perennial, others unique to this time. Accordingly, the Board has identified several goals to guide the new Director.
Advance the Institute's non-partisan, collaborative approach to justice reform
The Institute has always depended on government partnerships and financial support to advance its mission of being the nation's preeminent innovator in justice reform. Its Directors have been national leaders in working with elected officials and senior appointees across administrations, political parties and ideological affiliations. The Institute has received continuous and substantial federal financial support during all administrations since President Ford and substantial engagement and support from all New York City administrations since Mayor Lindsay. The new Director will have to steer Vera into the future maintaining, expanding and strengthening such non-partisan relationships.
Increase flexible, unrestricted funding
The Institute funds its core management and administrative expenses through charging each project its share of central costs. These internal charges are rarely sufficient to cover all central operating expenses as well as to make investments in developing new work. The Institute has expanded its efforts to raise unrestricted funds from individuals and foundations to help close this gap. The challenge is to increase unrestricted giving in the future while continuing to build the trusting relationships with government officials on whom the Institute's core work depends.
Maintain and increase current levels of federal, state and local government funding
The fiscal pressures facing all levels of government are a challenge to maintaining and expanding the Institute's programmatic and technical assistance work. Government sources of support of the Institute's work have doubled during the last five years. It will be necessary but increasingly difficult to maintain and increase this funding.
Recruit, develop and retain excellent professional staff
The Institutes most valuable resource is its diverse professional staff: social scientists, lawyers, social workers, managers, and other professionals whose skills and experience give them many career options. The new Director will need to work closely with senior managers to continue to create incentives to attract and retain the Institutes excellent and diverse staff.
Explore establishing new signature demonstration projects
The Institute has always been committed to innovation using demonstration projects as its signature approach. To maintain its capacity to innovate, the Institute spins off the mature, successful demonstration projects along with their funding streams. More than 14 independent nonprofit service organizations which began as Vera demonstration projects continue operating today, and many more exist across the United States that are modeled on those programs http://www.vera.org/content/about-us/spin-offs . Currently, the Institute is running four demonstration projects: 1) Adolescent Portable Therapy, 2) Guardianship 3) New Orleans Pretrial Services and 4) Common Justice. A new Director provides an opportunity to identify new areas of the justice system that can benefit from this complex but effective approach to reform.
Explore establishing new centers and programs
Innovation extends beyond demonstrations. The new Director will undoubtedly bring his/her own substantive areas of interest as directions for additional Institute centers and programs to address unmet challenges and problems in justice systems at the local and national levels.
Balance and integrate Vera's local, national and international work
As Vera has continued to increase the volume of its national consulting and the range of its international work, management has been challenged to capture and share best practices, along with other knowledge and experience. Collaboration among Vera staff working across the organization, from Vera's other offices in Washington, D.C., New Orleans and Los Angeles, and from multiple remote locations across the United States, has grown. The new Director will need to enhance communication, transparency and cross-disciplinary efforts within a complex organization and assess the efficacy of the current infrastructure with regard to the growth and expansion of the Institute over recent years.
The Ideal Candidate
The role of President and Director of the Institute demands a broad array of skills in executive leadership, nonprofit management, fundraising and system reform. No specific professional credentials are required, but the successful candidate will have expertise in both the theory and practice of several aspects of the administration of justice. While no one person will possess all of the qualities described below, the ideal candidate would have the following personal and professional characteristics.
- A passionate and infectious commitment to the importance of making the administration of justice fairer and more equitable.
- A willingness to confront the implications of existing justice institutions and processes as they impact individuals and communities of color.
- An understanding and appreciation of the vital role empirical data and research play in innovation and change.
- A demonstrated ability to think strategically and opportunistically.
- An understanding of the principles and practices involved in the effective management of a complex organization including decisiveness and willingness to hold others accountable.
- Excellent written and oral communications skills and an ability to articulate a vision of justice that is compelling to staff, potential donors, partners and the media.
- An appetite and aptitude for fundraising, especially with respect to government contracts and substantial foundation grants.
- A lively intelligence that can focus on practical problems with creativity and come up with concrete, workable solutions.
- An ability to handle a multitude of tasks simultaneously and to thrive, with grace and humor, under pressure.
- An entrepreneurial temperament that is constantly seeking new opportunities and can flourish in a constantly changing environment.
- A spirit of experimentation and creativity, which fosters innovation, welcomes scrutiny and constructive criticism, and learns from mistakes made along the way.
- Knowledge of and experience in setting organizational strategy.
- Serving as a spokesperson for an organization.
- Successful experience working with a volunteer board of directors.
- Demonstrated record of successful fundraising.
- Record of successful collaboration and strategic partnerships.
- Held in high regard by, and successful working relationships with, key figures in the justice system and in government; a track record of leading and developing a dedicated, creative and diverse staff.
- Knowledge of government and politics at the New York City, State and federal levels is preferred but not required.
The Vera Institute has retained the executive search firm Phillips Oppenheim to assist the Board to identify and recruit exceptional leaders as candidates for this position. All nominations, applications and inquiries should be directed to Becky Klein or Sarah James at Vera@PhillipsOppenheim.com .
Vera is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.
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