News and analysis
January 13, 2016

Young-Professionals Network Names Interim Co-Leaders

The national board of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network named Amber Mohring (left) and Jamie Smith as interim executive directors until the group resumes their search for a permanent leader later this year.

In a surprise move, the national board of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network on Wednesday named two interim executive directors to share leadership of the 42-chapter organization after a search failed to produce a new permanent leader.

Jamie Smith, who was working as the communications and network-engagement director for the national organization, and Amber Cruz Mohring, previously a board member, will lead the organization through 2016.

Ms. Smith, 31, and Ms. Mohring, 28, take the reins from the inaugural executive director, Trish Tchume, who stepped down at the end of 2015.

The group will start a new search later this year for a permanent leader to assume the post, a paid staff position.

In a joint telephone interview, Ms. Smith and Ms. Mohring said their priorities include working to formalize and bolster chapter membership requirements, and overseeing the current roll-out of a software-management system across the organization. Those and other improvements, the leaders said, will allow the network to improve its work, by collecting, analyzing, and sharing data from its roughly 50,000 members..

"We have seen this huge organizational growth, and it’s clear there is demand for what YNPN does," said Ms. Smith, pointing out that membership has increased by 60 percent in recent years. "What the infrastructure work does is helps us connect all the work being done so we can be effective."

Shifting Focus

The network’s national board decided to name interim co-directors after a monthslong search process for a new director ended in October. Board members said they concluded that they had not adequately defined what the organization needed in a new leader.

The search was conducted internally. The first round of the process netted nearly 100 candidates, and the board interviewed about two dozen people.

Lindsay Jensen, the board chair, said that the candidate search overlapped with "strategic planning and strategic envisioning" that was occurring across the organization, and that what she and her colleagues thought they wanted in a new executive director changed during that process. She said she and her colleagues did not want to push to bring someone on board until they felt confident about their decision. During the search process, she added, they talked with a number of impressive candidates.

By the fall, with Ms. Tchume’s departure imminent, the board faced a time crunch to make a decision. Ms. Jensen initiated individual conversations with 15 people on the board at the time, as well as staff members, about possible options.

Ms. Smith and Ms. Mohring expressed interest.

"This isn’t a sign of trouble, but rather, self-awareness," Kate Caposella, a YNPN national board member and co-chair of the search committee, said in an email.

Spirit of Teamwork

Ms. Smith, Ms. Mohring, and Ms. Jensen all acknowledged that shared leadership structures can present challenges. But they pointed out that Ms. Smith and Ms. Mohring already knew each other well, and have worked together for two years. Ms. Smith will continue to work in New York and Ms. Mohring will remain in Indianapolis, where she is attending graduate school.

In some ways, the new structure is an appropriate fit for an organization that has always emphasized teamwork, Ms. Jensen said.

"Trish is amazing and got the spotlight, rightfully so, in many instances," Ms. Jensen said. "But I think we have always had an incredible bench, as we call it within in the organization. We are excited to highlight that bench."

The group began in 1997 with a single chapter in San Francisco. It expanded to other cities and received 501(c)(3) status in 2004. Today it has 42 chapters and about 50,000 members nationwide.

The organization had total revenue of $327,827 in 2013, according to its most recently available Form 990. Ms. Tchume’s salary was reported as $73,500. Past support has come from the American Express Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

"I don’t see our growth slowing down," Ms. Jensen said. "People are hungry for that connection with their peers. They are hungry for that leadership opportunity. They are hungry to flex their muscles in ways they don’t get to in their workplace."

Send an email to Megan O’Neil.