Executive Director
Chicago Literacy Alliance
Location: Chicago, IL
Job Information:

Chicago Literacy Alliance (CLA) is recruiting for a new Executive Director to lead at an important time in the organization’s history. CLA is an association of more than 100 organizations helping to meet literacy needs for people of all ages and backgrounds. With the retirement of its founding Executive Director, the CLA Board of Directors has launched a search for an experienced leader who is passionate about the cause of literacy, believes in the mission of CLA, and sees the future for the organization as one that is rich with opportunity and potential.

CLA has grown exponentially since its founding five years ago. Currently, CLA is made up of 118 member organizations, an expansive shared physical space in downtown Chicago, dedicated staff, and programming that is popular among its members. The time is right for CLA to embrace a new set of aspirations including:

  • Achieving new levels of excellence in organizational management
  • Measuring mission impact and telling the story of return on investment
  • Becoming the lead voice and advocate for improved literacy rate in Chicago and beyond

It is an exciting time to be part of CLA, and the staff and board are eager to realize current goals and pursue new opportunities. It is anticipated that the work of the organization over the next few years will be pursued with continued vigor and in its ongoing collaborative spirit. The Executive Director will play a critical role in CLA’s ability to succeed and all are dedicated to attracting a like-minded leader eager to convene, inspire and make things happen.

CLA is still young and there is an opportunity for the new leader to make their mark on the organization and an impact on the community, which it serves.

“CLA has experienced significant growth and success in recent years and the future is promising. We are here to support our next Executive Director as we all work together on behalf of the literacy cause. We are eager to attract top talent and make the most of the next five years.”


                        Linas Grikis, Chairman of the CLA Board of Directors


CLA dates back to 2009 when a small group of nonprofits focused on literacy came together to discuss ways to share resources. By 2012, their collaborations had become so valuable that they formed the Chicago Literacy Alliance and began reaching out to other groups across the city. As the network grew, so did the vision. And by 2015, CLA opened the Literacenter, North America’s first shared workspace dedicated exclusively to literacy. Now, with an ever-growing slate of active member organizations and a regular schedule of programs, events and opportunities, CLA is an essential part of the city’s literacy landscape. The CLA’s passion and commitment to fostering cooperation and collaboration for the cause is strong and unwavering.

Nonprofits of varying sizes and missions join CLA to be part of the community, share information and space, and come together to advance the cause of literacy. CLA offers its members more than 20 different professional development opportunities, and its year-round programming ranges from weekly best practice sessions to an annual Literacy Symposium. The members and staff of CLA have created a unique culture that is one of respect, fun and collaboration. Those who are part of CLA are warm and giving to others. They are focused and intentional about advancing mission and supporting a vision for the future in which 100% of Chicagoans are functionally literate, and that shared vision is a defining characteristic and point of pride for the city. For a current list visit: CLA Member List.

A highly committed eight-person Board of Directors oversees CLA, meeting regularly to discuss matters related to governance, including strategy, planning, resource development and board engagement. Ten staff members, including the Executive Director, are responsible for managing the physical space, as well as member relations, operations, marketing & communications, finance and development. The annual budget of CLA has reached $2 million (an all-time high), with a diverse revenue mix coming from rental income, dues and philanthropy. Individual giving and foundation grants comprise the philanthropy total. As the cause of literacy appeals to a broad base, CLA plans to increase giving from all sources, especially individuals.

One of CLA’s strongest assets is its 41,000 square foot space, the Literacenter. Opened in May 2015, it is the country’s first shared nonprofit facility dedicated to literacy. Located in Chicago’s popular West Loop neighborhood, the Literacenter offers members a colorful and motivating workspace, meeting rooms, technological resources, social venues and an array of support services. The Literacenter received a Best Practices in Literacy Award from the Library of Congress in 2016. Every day, member organizations make their homes, attend programs, serve students, create collaborations and accelerate their work in the Literacenter.

CLA works from a strategic plan that outlines solid objectives for the association. Metrics that help to explain the return on investment will serve to strengthen CLA’s relationships with funders, donors and members and support sustainability over time. Building support and collaboration are the underlying tenets of CLA and management priorities, and approaches stem from there.

Executive Director

Reporting to the Board of Directors, the Executive Director is the “face of the organization” and the primary liaison to each of the top executives of all member organizations. He or she also has management oversight of the CLA staff, making sure operating plans are in place, ensuring appropriate information and resources, and monitoring progress across the organization. The Executive Director of CLA works with the Board of Directors on resource development, short-and-long term planning and key decision-making. Specific duties of the Executive Director include:

 Leadership and Management – (40%)

  • Lead for organizational excellence and continuous improvement of: member relations; operations; facilities; programs; development; marketing; public relations; communications; finance and administration; and advocacy
  • Coach, develop, and retain the CLA staff team; continue to embrace a culture of high performance, personal development, and coordination, including oversight of several direct reports and a total of nine employees
  • Operate collaboratively and support ideas from the whole team; support organic communication with members and be deliberate about building community
  • Actively engage CLA board members, volunteers, partner organizations, donors and funders
  • Serve as a convener, finding common ground and identifying opportunities for collaboration among stakeholders in support of the CLA mission and plans
  • Together with the Board Chair, develop, maintain and support a strong board of directors
  • Regularly revisit the strategic plan to ensure buy-in by all stake holders and to incorporate key metrics

Fundraising and Development Communications – (40%):

  • As philanthropy is vital to CLA, be an active leader/participant in fundraising activities that generate about 75 percent of the annual budget
  • Lead an expansion of philanthropic activities to include more strategic fundraising, incorporating new approaches, systemizing processes and growing the donor base, all to position the organization for increased levels of giving from diverse sources
  • Through relationship management strategies, develop a more robust individual giving program that attracts support at all levels, including major gifts
  • Develop and implement communications strategies and content that support fundraising activities and effectively “tell the story” of CLA to the donor/funder audience
  • Engage the board in fundraising activities and leverage board and volunteer relationships to garner new revenue opportunities

Advocacy – (20%):

  • Plan for and operationalize an advocacy agenda that will include identifying issues for which CLA can advocate on behalf of the community and government officials/agencies; over time, influence policy
  • Reach out and establish relationships that build partnerships with new members and partners, community leaders, government officials and peers
  • Be an external presence that enthusiastically communicates CLA highlights and generates interest in and support for CLA


The new Executive Director will join an existing work culture that celebrates a unique combination of attributes, including individuality, collaboration, warmth, focus, drive, ambition and commitment to mission. He or she will be asked to steward this culture while also leading for change and professionalism. Also, communication with member heads happens along a horizontal, not vertical, management structure and, therefore, strong people skills are required to connect, serve and assist effectively in this model. Having a shared passion for the cause of literacy will establish immediate rapport for and give the new Executive Director a running start as the organization’s new leader.

The successful candidate will be a confident individual who enjoys working with others, leading and developing staff. At the same time, she or he will need to enjoy the outward facing responsibilities of the role, including public speaking and advocacy. The new Executive Director will exercise sound business judgment, be able to move quickly, make decisions, and put in place the mechanics and relationships that are needed to go forward. An inclusive and appealing style of communicating, coupled with core leadership and management competencies, will allow CLA’s new Executive Director to effect a tangible difference in the lives of people served by its members.

In addition to experience leading for success, the ideal candidate will offer:

  • Minimum of 10 years’ post-college professional experience, including 5+ years in a supervisory role; nonprofit management experience a significant plus
  • Proven success in strategic and relational fundraising, including individual giving and major gifts
  • Excellence in organizational management with the ability to coach staff, manage, and develop high-performance teams, set and achieve strategic objectives, manage a budget and foster collaboration
  • Thoughtful, willing to listen, team orientation, confident but brings their humility to the workplace
  • Previous experience working with a board of directors with demonstrated ability to develop board member relationships
  • Capable of and willing to serve as the public face of the organization and articulate its mission speaking from a high profile platform
  • Natural leader who can bring people together around shared values and ideas
  • Ability to think strategically, make decisions and empower others
  • Marketing and public relations experience with the ability to engage a wide range of stakeholders
  • Direct experience in issues management and advocacy a strong plus
  • Strong written and verbal communication competencies, including public speaking; a persuasive and passionate communicator with excellent interpersonal skills
  • Organized with strong project management skills
  • Entrepreneurial, pro-active and creative
  • Ability to use technology to create efficiencies and strengthen communications
  • A bachelor’s degree is required; a master’s degree is preferred

To Apply

We are eager to hear from you. If you are interested in learning more about the opportunity, wish to refer a qualified candidate or are interested in applying for the role, please reach out to Margie DeVine of the nonprofit search firm DeVine Consulting.   Margie may be reached by cell at 773-892-2993. Applications, which include both a cover letter and resume please, should be sent to CLA.ED.DEVINE@gmail.com.

Salary and benefits are market competitive and offered commensurate with experience. CLA is an equal opportunity employer. For more information on the Chicago Literacy Alliance, please visit: http://www.chicagoliteracyalliance.org.