Knight Foundation, a private, independent foundation, was established in 1950 by John S. and James L. Knight, brothers who led one of America’s largest and most successful 20th-century newspaper companies. Knight Foundation supports an effective democracy through informed and engaged communities. The Foundation, headquartered in Miami, continues the legacy of the Knights who believed that a well-informed community could best “determine its own true interests” and was essential to a well-functioning, representative democracy.
Today, Knight Foundation is an innovative, fast-paced, transformational social investor, willing to fund experiments as well as institutional programs. With an endowment of approximately $2.5 billion and annual grants of about $135 million in journalism, the arts, the application of media technology in both, journalism and the arts, research, and the betterment of American communities, Knight Foundation’s grantmaking is focused on impact and community engagement. Knight Foundation’s work is national in scope, but it has a special focus on 26 communities where John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Knight has offices in eight of those U.S. cities, and Knight staff work through community foundations in 18 others. Additional information about the Foundation and its programs are further described on their website in their Statement of Strategy.
John S. and James L. Knight were known for their journalistic principles, integrity, respect for others, and openness to the application of evolving media technology. Technology is a part of all the Foundation’s grantmaking and social investment programs. Knight Foundation also supports innovative experiments in the use of digital media and technology to inform. It then reinvests in the most promising projects that emerge from early-stage grants.
Today, the Foundation’s work spans across four key program areas:
- Journalism – Champion the First Amendment and support journalistic excellence in the digital age. The Foundation has sought to make investments that promote quality journalism so that people are able to access the consistently reliable news and information they need to make informed decisions on the issues that impact their daily lives. In recent years, it has launched groundbreaking initiatives including the Knight Research Network and the Knight-Georgetown Institute, in addition to a $300 million commitment to supporting the rebuilding of local news.
- Communities – Invest in cities where the Knight brothers once published newspapers, helping those communities attract and nurture talent, promote economic opportunity, and foster civic engagement.
- Arts – Knight Foundation believes great art connects people to place and each other; it supports art that engages, educates, and delights residents in ways that are authentic to each community.
- Learning and Impact – Seek to understand the broader context of the Foundation’s work and the impact of programs it supports. It disseminates information and insight to relevant fields and communities in ways that are frank and clear and advance learning, social development, and future intelligent grantmaking.
Decades after the founders’ passing, their company was sold, but their Foundation remains and continues to evolve over time. In their mandate, the Knight brothers were intentionally flexible. John S. Knight wrote, “a truly effective Foundation should have freedom to exercise its best judgment as required by the times and conditions under which they live.” What remains constant is Knight Foundation’s commitment to informing and bettering their communities. The Foundation should evolve with time, societal changes, and technological innovations, focusing on ways to make relevant the Knight brothers’ passion for informing and engaging communities.
Based in Miami and reporting to and working with the Board of Trustees, chaired by Frank Borges, the President and CEO has responsibility for the strategic, programmatic, financial, and management operations of the organization.
Recognizing the critical challenges our society is facing today, Knight Foundation has the resources, influence, and potential to play a key role in combating misinformation and disinformation, as well as in fostering informed and engaged communities at both the national and local levels. The next leader of the Foundation, in partnership with the Board of Trustees, will be instrumental in defining the strategy and vision from a grantmaking and programmatic lens as the organization enters a new chapter of its evolution.
The President and CEO is responsible for inspiring, leading, and managing a senior team that includes Vice Presidents across Journalism, Community and National Initiatives, Arts, Learning and Impact, Communications, Grants Administration, Administration/Human Resources, Finance, and Information Technology.
Specific responsibilities of the CEO include:
- Work with the Board and staff to shape Knight Foundation’s strategic priorities, grantmaking andprogrammatic agenda, organizational structure, and resource allocation to support the Foundation’s mission and vision while maximizing impact. The Knight brothers’ mandate was clear, but not overly prescriptive, so the CEO must bring creativity around interpretation balanced with fidelity to donor intent.
- Foster an environment that cultivates innovation, programmatic excellence, community engagement, and overall organizational health. Together with staff, the CEO develops programs and partnerships that further the mission of creating informed and engaged communities.
- Serve as the ambassador for the organization, ideally bringing experience navigating a diverse group of constituents during highly polarized times.
- Develop and promote the Foundation in person and via digital channels to increase public awareness of the organization; build new partnerships and relationships, including with government leaders, other organizations, or individual supporters.
- Implement sound fiscal management and assure financial sustainability, including strong financial and operational systems and budgetary processes; make decisions efficiently and communicate them with transparency.
- Work closely with the Board Chair and Trustees to identify and recruit board members, ensure effective governance, and create continuity of leadership for the organization.
- Retain, recruit, motivate, supervise, evaluate, and provide leadership to a high caliber staff in an organization that values collaboration, is committed to transparency, welcomes new ideas, and encourages personal development. Promote an open environment of curiosity and experimentation among staff, and continue to foster a culture that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
The President and CEO of Knight Foundation will be an innovative and visionary leader who possesses the intellectual breadth, practical experience, and demonstrated leadership to ensure the organization’s goal of supporting an effective democracy through informed and engaged communities.
The President and CEO will bring a demonstrated capacity to define and communicate an inspiring vision based on the Knight brothers’ original intent, as well as the ability to develop tactics of distribution and impact to curate new ideas and to challenge colleagues. They will be viewed as a leader with a high degree of credibility, integrity, and forethought in their approach to making decisions and will possess the ability to lead in a transparent and consistent manner while always taking into account what is best for the organization.
In terms of the performance and personal competencies required for the position, we would are looking for the following:
- With fidelity to and continuing discernment of donor intent, create and articulate an inspiring and inclusive vision for the next chapter of Knight; a creative thinker with an approach to developing new ideas that will stretch the organization and push boundaries.
- Intellectual horsepower coupled with an orientation toward action and tangible impact; ability to communicate with individuals from all walks of life.
- Sees a path forward to evolve operations and impact; understands and appreciates the need for innovation and investment in technology and research, among other priorities.
- Keen interest in the issues of today, with a willingness to engage in discussions around topics including but not limited to the implications of AI, the rise of misinformation, virtual communities, etc.
Setting Strategy and Business Acumen
- Possesses the executive skills to lead the Foundation forward during a time of transformation amid challenging political and societal dynamics; sets clear priorities and makes difficult decisions with transparency; listens, seeks data from a variety of sources to support decisions.
- Entrepreneurial leader with the ability to strategically manage all aspects of the Foundation from people to each of the wide and varied programs; ability to innovate while maintaining a focused strategy.
- Demonstrates current knowledge of journalism, media, public policy, community engagement, and the arts, and how each intersect in ways that may influence the Foundation’s ability to achieve impact.
- Track record of strong fiscal and strategic discipline and outcomes; results-oriented, thoughtful, and courageous; will take calculated risks and use resources creatively while demonstrating pragmatism with respect to the financial health of the organization.
- The ability to effectively balance the desire/need for broad change with an understanding of how much change the organization is capable of handling, to create realistic goals and implementation plans that are achievable and successful.
- The inclination to seek and analyze data from a variety of sources to support decisions and to align others with the organization’s overall strategy.
- Deep community engagement and listening to ensure strategy and decisions are informed by those most impacted.
Executing for Results
- The ability to set clear and challenging goals while committing the organization to improved performance; tenacious and accountable in driving results.
- Comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty; the ability to adapt nimbly and lead others through complex situations.
- A risk-taker who seeks data and input from others to foresee possible threats or unintended circumstances from decisions; someone who takes smart risks.
- A leader who is viewed by others as having a high degree of integrity and forethought in their approach to making decisions; the ability to act in a transparent and consistent manner while always taking into account what is best for the organization.
- Thoughtful about the necessary infrastructure, procedures, and resources necessary for the Foundation to achieve maximal impact.
- The ability to attract and recruit top talent, motivate the team, delegate effectively, celebrate diversity within the team, and manage performance; widely viewed as a strong developer of others.
- The ability to persevere in the face of challenges and exhibit a steadfast resolve and relentless commitment to higher standards, which commands respect from followers.
- A leader who is self-reflective and aware of their own limitations; leads by example and drives the organization’s performance with an attitude of continuous improvement by being open to feedback and self- improvement.
Relationships and Influence
- Possesses an ability to inspire trust through compelling influence, galvanizing connections, and interpersonal charisma.
- Naturally connects and builds strong relationships with others, demonstrating strong emotional intelligence and an ability to communicate clearly and persuasively.
- An ability to convene and inspire trust and followership in others through compelling influence, passion in their beliefs, and active drive; powerful charisma balanced by humility, self-awareness, and listening skills.
- Encourages others to share the spotlight and visibly celebrates and supports the success of the team.
- Creates a sense of purpose/meaning for the team that generates followership beyond their own personalityand engages others to the greater purpose for the organization as a whole.
Demonstrates Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Brings a demonstrated track record of personal and professional commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, displaying global and cultural competence while operating in an environment with a wide range of constituents and communities.
- Possesses a track record of translating an organization’s values into specific strategies and actions, including advancing and sustaining an organizational culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Passion for the Mission and Donor Intent
- Exhibits knowledge of or passion for journalism, community engagement, arts, and research, as well as a fundamental belief in the First Amendment, freedom of press, influence of technology, and informed citizenry.
- Brings a vision for the future of Knight Foundation and the future role that it can play in supporting an effective democracy through informed and engaged communities.
- Strong respect for donor intent while understanding the flexibility and opportunities to innovate within the Knight Brothers’ original mandate.
Russell Reynolds Associates has been exclusively retained for this search. Given the need for confidentiality throughout this process, prospective candidates are invited to reach out directly to our search consultants at [email protected] with a resume and brief explanation of interest.