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Scenic view of the James River against the Richmond City skyline

Friends of the James River Park system seeking executive director candidates

Recognizing the incredible resource that is the James River Park system and the need for ongoing community support, a dedicated group of citizens formed a nonprofit organization in 1999 called, appropriately enough, Friends of the James River Park. For more than two decades, the group has been encouraging public participation in supporting the park by raising money for programs, maintenance and restoration. That’s our kind of friends.

Today, much of the Friends’ work is focused on implementing the James River Park System Master Plan, a 10-year initiative that encompasses all aspects of the park, from transportation and access, to trails and greenways to park activities and much more. As these elements gain momentum, the organization is looking to install new leadership, and the search is on for an executive director. 

We talked to Mary Kay Martin, attorney and board president, about the search. 

Friends has operated almost exclusively with all-volunteer board leadership. Why are you looking for an executive director now?

In 2019, the Friends fundraised and commissioned the James River Master Plan after recognizing that the James River Park System is the most popular attraction in the City of Richmond (over 2 million visitors in 2020). The economic impact generated by these visitors to the Park is in excess of $33.5 million per year, according to a study done by VCU in 2018.  So there’s an increasing need to balance the threat of overuse against the demand for more physical access.

As volunteers, the board understands the magnitude of implementing the different aspects of the Master Plan. The projected costs of the various projects run into millions of dollars, and some of those projects will require buy-in and assistance from governmental entities and area stakeholders.

There is also growing demands from an administrative and promotional standpoint. We are consistently promoting the Park through social media outlets, encouraging and maintaining a growing list of member-donors and raising funds to assist the Park with programming, volunteer opportunities, maintenance projects, staffing and other areas not always covered by a limited City budget.

As the Friends’ goals as an organization have expanded, we recognize that our all-volunteer Board cannot turn these goals into actions without an executive director. 

Who’s the ideal ED?

Ideally, it’s someone who is organized and goal oriented, who is prepared to engage in a major fundraising effort for projects contained in the Master Plan as well as other projects.  The ideal executive director is ready to work with an active and engaged Board as well as the James River Park System staff and citizens to promote and protect the Park and turn the goals of the Friends into actions. 

Are there certain skill sets that are more of a priority?

Top of the list is the ability to work with the Board to develop the strategy to implement the Master Plan. They’ll need to identify and prioritize different projects as well as lead the fundraising and advocacy campaign that will be required to accomplish them. We envision this campaign to include private and corporate donations as well as appropriate grant opportunities. This will require an ability to work with the Board collaboratively to build consensus on strategy. 

How about challenges?  What will the new ED be tackling?

The biggest challenge is likely the fact that this is a new position. Our Board is made up of talented, engaged, hard-working individuals with a passion for the Park and a lot of ideas.  We have gotten this far by assigning Board-member led committees with different tasks and asking those committees to bring those results to the Board for discussion and approval.  While the Board has unanimously agreed we need an executive director to organize us and move our organization forward, we recognize that this will be an exciting and necessary change in how we, as a board of directors, do things.

The new ED will obviously be building on your success, especially over the past two years. There’s a lot of momentum that’s already begun.

Absolutely. Over the past two years, we’ve successfully raised over $100,000 to commission the James River Master Plan.  We helped facilitate meetings about the Master Plan in every council district in the City to get community input on the Master Plan. We advocated for Richmond’s City Council to adopt the Master Plan in January 2020. We significantly expanded our social media presence and have increased our communications with our member-donors which has led to increased fundraising. Thanks to a generous grant from the Beirne Carter Foundation, we were able to increase the hours of a native plant specialist to assist with native plant restoration in the River Park. We were able to fund improvements to the public restrooms at Pony Pasture. Last December, we sold almost 1,000 copies of a book entitled, A Photographic Journey through the James River Park System, created by local photographer Bill Draper as a successful fundraiser. And finally, we made the decision to move forward with the hiring of a full-time executive director. 

How far afield is the search?  Will the new ED be someone local who is already a park user?

We would love our new executive director to be a James River Park user, but our primary goal is to find the best person for the job no matter where that person is from. If you have someone in mind, please encourage them to apply.   

How does someone apply?

Qualified candidates should submit a cover letter, resume, references, and examples of fundraising and grant writing successes to:

Mary Kay Martin, President of the Friends of James River Park, sent electronically to staffing@jamesriverpark.org.

Alternatively, please find an application on the Park’s website. The review and interview process will begin as qualified candidates are identified. All submissions should be made no later than April 2, 2021. Specific inquiries can be made to: Mary Kay Martin, President at marykay@jamesriverpark.org.

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