Fairmount Park Conservancy (FPC) announced yesterday that Executive Director Rick Magder would be leaving the nonprofit as of July 1 and replaced by Jamie Gauthier, its senior director of public partnerships.
Magder joined FPC, which is charged with preserving and improving Philadelphia’s parks system, this past September, leaving behind the founding executive director position at New York nonprofit Groundwork Hudson Valley.
Previous to Magder, the role had been filled by Kathryn Ott Lovell, who left in early 2016 after five years to run the city’s Parks and Recreation department. As ED, Ott Lovell oversaw the merger of FPC and the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust in 2015.
In a letter to FPC newsletter subscribers on Thursday afternoon, Board President John Gattuso wrote:
“The decision was mutually arrived upon by Rick and the Board of Directors of Fairmount Park Conservancy. Although Rick brought great experience and strengths to the role, we both have ultimately determined that it was not the best match for either him or the organization moving forward.”
Madger agreed with the statement, he told Generocity on Friday morning.
“I think at the end of the day, both the board and I thought that the strengths I brought were just not what the organization needed at that time, and as things progressed over the year, we both sort of reached that conclusion,” Magder said.
Gauthier joined FPC this past December after a four-year tenure as executive director of the Sustainable Business Network. Previously, she worked for almost 10 years with LISC. The nonprofit aims to make her acting position permanent by Sept. 30.
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Gauthier said in an interview that it was a “no-brainer” for her to offer herself for consideration for the position.
“In addition to having a strong staff, we also have a really strong senior management team, so the board felt strongly that we could gain our next leader from looking within,” Gauthier said. “And I was very excited to put my hat in the ring to take the role. I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than leading an organization like the conservancy at a time when there’s such a spotlight on public spaces.”
FPC is acting as the organizational convener for the city’s Civic Commons initiative, a public space development project funded by the William Penn and Knight foundations. Several Civic Commons projects are under development: The first phases of Parkside’s Centennial Commons and North Philly’s Rail Park are in construction, Southwest Philly’s Bartram’s Mile was completed in April, Mt. Airy’s Lovett Library is reopening in October and Strawberry Mansion’s Discovery Center is in the final stages of fundraising and design.
Plus, the $500 million Rebuild project was recently approved by City Council and will move forward with plans to update the city’s recreation centers and libraries. Philly’s work in this area has made it a model for other cities interested in revamping their public spaces.
“We’re bringing together public space leaders to share this philosophy of public space as [equity] for all different people of all neighborhoods,” Gauthier said.
The “acting” part of her title means it’s technically temporary — but really, Gauthier said, it “just gives a bit of space for us to try each other out. But I feel I’ve been given a tremendous vote of confidence, and they’re publicly stating that it is their intention for this to be a long-term assignment.”
Magder agreed with this, too: “When I hired Jamie I could see the incredible skill and passion she had, and I know she will do a great job as the leader of the organization.”
There are lessons to be learned from the shakeup: Namely, nonprofits can’t be afraid to admit when something isn’t working.
“I think it took a lot of courage on both parts to say, ‘Rick has huge skills, he can do a lot of different things. The conservancy needed a particular culture, a particular leader. Let’s match things up better,'” Madger said. “We gave it nine months to see if it made sense, and many organizations keep going [in similar circumstances], and they lose ground.”
Having a succession plan is also essential.
“One of the great things about the conservancy was the deep bench internally. Not every organization has people like Jamie who had been an executive director in the past,” he said. “I think sometimes other organizations continue when things aren’t working out [because] they don’t have those people.
“Being prepared to not rest solely on one person is always a good idea,” he said. “It’s about the organization, not the individual.”-30-
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