Leadership Transition Spring 2021
December 16, 2020
From Maria Mottola, Executive Director
Thirty years ago, my first proposal was rejected by the New York Foundation. Despite the fact that I had followed the lengthy guidelines—exactly five pages double spaced with strips of adding machine paper scotch taped to the back of each budget page, postmarked in time for the deadline—I was politely turned down.
My organization did eventually receive start-up support from the Foundation, but because it had taken a few tries to win the grant, a part of me always felt a bit unsure about whether I could live up to the Foundation’s high expectations.
Later, I applied for a position as a program officer with the New York Foundation. Though my resume was professional—neatly formatted, printed on cream colored Cranes stationary, with references attached—and I had what I thought was a great interview, I was politely turned down. It took me a few tries before I landed a job at the Foundation and so when I walked off the elevator on the 29th floor of the Empire State Building for my first day as a program officer, I felt extraordinarily lucky.
I share all this to say that, though the New York Foundation has been a part of my life over several decades, I have always felt that the relationship was something to be cherished and never to be taken for granted. And like a gift that is cared for and treasured, it feels good to pass it on. And so, I will be stepping down from my position in the spring of 2021.
Making the decision to leave was not difficult. I found a professional home in an institution with solid foundation and was given the opportunity to act as its caretaker. Someone else should have that chance. Increasingly it became clear to me that I had a responsibility to make room for new leaders who are eager to step in. Shifts in what philanthropic leadership looks like can only happen when more of us make pathways for entry and recognize that by leaving, we open our organizations to the new experiences and creative thinking a new leader will bring to the work.
Deciding when to leave was difficult. There are no words that don’t feel overused to describe the roller coaster ride of the past few years. With each steep hill, it felt important to ensure that the New York Foundation remained a source of stability—that we kept getting resources out efficiently and offering a small amount of predictability to grantee partners during unstable times.
But I am not the first nor will I be the last leader to manage the Foundation through tumultuous times. Over the life of the New York Foundation, the city has weathered numerous crises of historical significance. The courageous and inventive attempts by New Yorkers to rally together, to care for one another, and to win justice have been at the heart of the Foundation’s work since 1909. Though small in stature, the Foundation has remained steadfast in its approach and has always helped to seed emergent work that became the vanguard of New York’s social justice movement.
The new leader will inherit a board of engaged trustees who truly represent New York and who are committed to the Foundation’s legacy and the consistent values that shape its approach to grant making. They will also join a gifted, collaborative staff team as well as a network of former staff members who are celebrated as philanthropic leaders in their own right.
Our Board has formed a search committee, as well as a committee to guide the transition. We expect the formal search process to begin in January. I am confident and excited about the pool of gifted candidates that will come forward.
While there’s never a perfect time to leave doing something you love, this feels right. Of course there are things I will miss—the privilege of being there to watch the seed of someone’s audacious idea grow into a mighty force for good; days that start with a site visit in Norwood, and end with a site visit in Coney Island, with a stop on Grand Street in between; and the people who have been my allies in this work and allowed me to learn and grow alongside them. I am excited for my next adventure and finding opportunities to deploy my energy towards social justice work in a new way.
With deep gratitude,
From Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, Board Chair
As a partner and ally to the New York Foundation, I wanted you to hear from the Board of Trustees about Maria’s decision to transition out of her role as Executive Director in the spring of 2021. It has been an honor and privilege to know and work with Maria over the past eight years, although I have been an admirer of her work for much longer.
I can’t remember the first time I met Maria; I feel as though I have known her, and have been learning from her, my entire career. As an organizer in Brooklyn 23 years ago, Maria and the New York Foundation were names I heard almost immediately from other organizers – almost always followed by, “Maria and the New York Foundation really support organizing.”
Maria has left her mark on the Foundation in many ways. She built a team of extraordinary staff members who are among philanthropy’s most respected leaders. She led a board of trustees who reflect the rich diversity of New York City and are committed stewards of the Foundation’s legacy. And Maria has guided the Foundation into a greater array of impactful collaborations with philanthropic partners, including the Neighborhood Funders Group; Neighborhood First Fund; and Engage New York, to move resources to community organizing and advocacy in New York City and across the state.
Maria’s impact reverberates beyond the Foundation. Maria is a leader in the larger philanthropic community. In her quiet, yet deliberate, way – always humble – Maria mentored many and reminded us, time and again, that communities and their leaders know best what is needed and it is our job to trust them and support them. A legacy that is particularly relevant now.
Maria decided to transition out of her role, in part, to make way for new leadership; that is a very “Maria” type of decision. The transition was initially planned for 2020, and we are deeply grateful to Maria for delaying her transition plans as we all learned to navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
Maria, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, we thank you for your leadership and partnership; and we wish you love, joy and the time to pursue whatever your heart desires, with deep gratitude for all you have brought to the New York Foundation and beyond. You will be dearly missed, but your legacy is firmly intact as we move forward into a new day.
The Board has been working closely with Maria to develop a transition plan. Our Search Committee will release a job description and start the search for our new Executive Director in earnest, after the New Year. The New York Foundation is more than 100 years old, and we are excited to step into this next phase of our work to support grassroots initiatives that confront systemic barriers and inspire people to work toward a more just and inclusive city.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I invite you to join me in thanking Maria for her leadership and service over so many years.
Please feel free to connect with me if you have any questions or concerns.
New York Foundation Board of Trustees