Chief Conservation Officer

Job Locations
Regular, Full-Time
Job Category
Executive/Senior Management


The National Audubon Society (Audubon), an influential and widely trusted $135 million nonprofit, seeks a Chief Conservation Officer (CCO). For more than a century, Audubon has protected birds and the places they and people need. Its legacy is built on science, education, advocacy, and on-the-ground conservation—all brought together through an unparalleled network of more than 500 local chapters, 22 state and regional offices, 41 nature centers, Important Bird Area Programs in 50 states, and more than 700 staff nationwide. With an ever growing and increasingly diverse membership (currently 1.7 million), Audubon is uniquely positioned to drive positive change locally, nationally, and throughout the Western Hemisphere.


The CCO leads a staff of 130 and a team of ten direct reports, including four conservation “strategy leads” (in Climate, Coasts, Water, and Working Lands) as well as the leaders of the Policy, Science, and International Alliances groups. This team collaborates closely with colleagues across Audubon’s four flyways—the paths traveled by birds each spring and fall—where the conservation strategies are implemented.


The CCO position calls for a multi-faceted conservation professional to serve as a dynamic thought leader as Audubon crafts its evolving vision. The CCO must be a leader with unusual vision and creativity, someone who can recognize and articulate how Audubon’s scientific, policy, and grassroots efforts come together a magnetic and fundable way. In a highly matrixed and distributed organization, the CCO must be an especially strong and flexible collaborator, able to draw upon and help steer the talents of Audubon’s outstanding staff in the field and inspire and mobilize the passions of its vast bipartisan grassroots network. Skills in team building, delegation, and effective staff management are essential. An understanding of policymaking and sophistication about conservation politics is also important. The CCO must be an enthusiastic fundraiser and compelling spokesperson, prepared to participate actively in Audubon’s $650 million Elevate campaign, while helping to grow membership and attract even more of America’s 46 million bird fans across the political spectrum to its cause.


Audubon is working with the national executive search firm of Isaacson, Miller on this recruitment. All inquiries, nominations/referrals, and applications (including resumes and 1-3-page letters of interest) should be sent electronically to:

 Karen Wilcox and Chloe Kanas

Isaacson, Miller 263 Summer Street

Boston, MA 02210


Applications will be held in strict confidence. Material received by August 31, 2020 will be assured full consideration.


The National Audubon Society is a federal contractor and an Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE). We are committed to a policy of nondiscrimination, inclusion, and equal opportunity and actively seek a diverse pool of candidates in this search.

Position Summary

The CCO reports to the President & CEO, David Yarnold, and works closely with all members of the Executive Leadership Team, and especially with the Senior Vice President, States (who oversees the flyway leadership and state offices); the Chief Network Officer (who oversees chapter relations); and the Chief Development Officer.


The CCO sets broad conservation strategies and frames large-scale projects with input from the states and regions. In turn the conservation strategy VPs under the CCO guide the state leaders as they decide how to apply the strategies in the most geographically relevant manner. The chapters play an important role in community science and member education and serve as a bipartisan passionate grassroots force on behalf of Audubon’s conservation and climate policy work.


Importantly, the CCO is a key front-line communicator and fundraiser, synthesizing and articulating conservation vision, translating that vision into actionable and fundable programs, and communicating the vision persuasively to broad and diverse audiences. It is an equally external- and internal-facing role.


Direct reports to the CCO include the Senior Vice President, Conservation Policy; the Senior Vice President for International Alliances; the Chief Scientist; and four strategy leads—Vice Presidents for Climate, Coastal Conservation, Water Conservation, and Working Lands. Together these teams oversee 130 total staff members and a budget of $21M.


The CCO also serves as president of the National Audubon Action Fund, a 501(c)(4).

Essential Functions

The key challenges and opportunities for the new CCO include the following:


Continue to sharpen Audubon’s conservation strategies and successfully align them with activities and outcomes in the field.


The CCO leads the conservation team in pursuing the five core strategies defined in the 2016-2020 strategic plan. A critical challenge is to creatively integrate fundable strategies fully into state and chapter activities for deeper and more durable conservation results. To do so, the CCO and colleagues must clarify roles and responsibilities and set clear guidelines for accountability and decision-making. In an organization as decentralized and matrixed as Audubon, this requires especially skillful collaboration, prioritization, and communication.


Serve as a leader in infusing organizational decisions, policies, and programs with values of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Ensure that the conservation team embraces these values and is itself increasingly diverse.


Under David Yarnold, Audubon has made equity, diversity, and inclusion a strategic imperative and made some progress towards increasing the diversity of its staff, board, volunteers, members, and supporters, as well as toward fostering an inclusive network of Audubon centers and chapters in all its communities. But much work remains, and the CCO will be expected to help identify and address barriers to becoming a more inclusive organization that fully represents its stakeholders nationwide. This will be guided by a new EDI professional reporting to the president and joining the executive leadership team.


Provide vision and leadership in crafting Audubon’s next strategic plan.


In anticipation of a new round of strategic planning in 2021, the CCO will be expected to assess carefully the conservation results of the prior plan and incorporate that analysis, along with additional programming innovations undertaken more recently, into the next strategic plan.

Through the planning process, the CCO must galvanize Audubon around a bold, clear, and achievable vision for its conservation work moving forward and then translate that vision into a limited set of focused priorities and strategies, with defined outcomes and impacts. This will require leadership in making tough choices among many deeply held conservation aspirations and goals. It will also require close partnership with the field operation to ensure alignment.


Reinforce and bring greater clarity to the organization’s focus on climate change as an existential threat to its mission.


Audubon’s climate work, launched less than six years ago, has already seen real impact. It continues to build momentum toward moving the climate debate into the mainstream of America by focusing on places where its pragmatic voice can be most influential. It works to mobilize its members in creating bipartisan public demand for climate solutions and in driving policy results. The organization has recently undertaken a review of its climate strategy and operations, and the CCO, along with a Vice President for Climate (a role to be filled soon after the recruitment of the CCO), will build upon this review in setting and implementing Audubon’s climate strategy moving forward.


Ensure the successful launching of the MBI and the revitalized international program.


Audubon has committed to migration science as the next frontier for bird conservation. As the MBI moves from initial concept to full execution, it is expected to reshape Audubon’s conservation work across the hemisphere, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, where it is already influencing the planning process for Audubon’s International Alliances Program. MBI’s bold aspirations to track and protect birds through their full life cycle are garnering financial support and catalyzing significant new partnerships for Audubon. The CCO will play a pivotal role in driving these efforts forward.


Reinforce and extend Audubon’s longstanding non-partisan advocacy leadership role across its priority areas.


Audubon will continue to engage forcefully around relevant public policy issues, including but not limited to climate change concerns. Through the clarity of its mission, its widely respected centrist brand, and the deep loyalty of its supporters, Audubon is well positioned to influence local, state, and federal policymaking. The CCO and the Senior Vice President, Conservation Policy together lead the organization in determining the best opportunities and most pragmatic approaches in the advocacy sphere.


Raise critical philanthropic dollars to support Audubon’s conservation objectives.


Fundraising will be a priority for the CCO and their team, as it is for the CEO, working in close partnership with the Chief Development Officer and his team as they successfully complete the Elevate campaign. As the organization’s leading conservation expert, the CCO will have to become fluent in all of Audubon’s areas of interest and be able to be persuasive, smart, and nimble in making the case for support. The CCO will steward key relationships with Board members, individual donors, and institutional funders and will be expected to play an active role in identifying, cultivating, and securing new major donors.

Qualifications and Experience

For this pivotal role, Audubon seeks a conservation leader and spokesperson who is passionate about the organization’s mission and legacy, committed to its deep-rooted standards of excellence, and farsighted about its future potential.

Although the CCO does not have to be an experienced birder, they must embrace Audubon’s birds-first approach to conservation and must be sufficiently knowledgeable about conservation and climate issues to be a highly credible representative of Audubon in the public sphere. There is an especially strong call for a CCO who can work well within an ever-fluid, complex, matrixed organization and who will lead as much through influence as through formal authority. The CCO must have high energy and excitement about Audubon’s bright future, with the determination, vision, and drive to help take it there.

An ideal candidate will bring many of the following professional experiences and personal attributes:

  • Deep and broad experience in conservation, including field experience, and ideally ranging from work on major restoration efforts, to pursuing market-based solutions, to influencing conservation and environmental policymaking.
  • Senior-level leadership experience in a complex, operationally intensive conservation or environmental organization. A keen sense of organizational strategy and structure. Proven business acumen, including discipline and focus in setting priorities and meeting or exceeding goals. Experience leading through organizational change preferred.
  • Demonstrated personal and professional commitment to and experience in advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion.
  • The ability to trust and hold the allegiance of a dispersed group of high performing professionals and to maintain a climate in which these individuals can flourish. Strengths in team building, effective delegation, and transparent, consultative management.
  • Public presence. Outstanding communication and story-telling skills and the experience and inclination to be an effective, outgoing spokesperson for Audubon in its communities of interest
  • Fundraising Significant experience raising funds from a variety of sources strongly preferred. Without question, an enthusiasm for fundraising and a ready willingness to be very actively involved in development.
  • Excellent nonpartisan advocacy skills and sophisticated understanding of conservation politics. Tenacity, grace, and resilience in the face of political pressure, media scrutiny, and bureaucratic resistance. Strong negotiation skills.
  • Track record of building and participating in effective cross-sector partnerships.
  • Openness to new and innovative models of outreach, collaboration, and movement building. Experience with new technologies and social media would be a distinct advantage.
  • An outgoing, open interpersonal style. Authenticity and approachability. The ability to connect genuinely with people at all levels and from diverse communities. High integrity, gracious self- confidence, and good humor. Tenacity, flexibility, decisiveness, and high energy.
  • An advanced degree in science, law, policy, or other relevant field would be an asset but is not required. International experience would be a plus.
  • Experience reporting to or working closely with a Board of Directors and other volunteers.
  • Willingness to travel extensively once the pandemic has abated.

Although the CCO is expected to be located in Audubon's DC office, exceptional candidates from other locations will be considered.


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