As it prepares to welcome a new president next month, the Council on Foundations has laid off its top policy and communications executives, while at least three other positions in those departments remain vacant, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.
Janelle Brevard, vice president for communications, and Hadar Susskind, senior vice president for government relations, were told last week that their employment with the council was being terminated. Interim president Gene Cochrane told the Chronicle that the cuts were not related to performance but meant to clear the deck for incoming CoF president Kathleen Enright, who previously led Grantmakers for Effective Organizations.
"It gives her the opportunity to build the staff she wants," said Cochrane. Staff headcount at the council has fallen to thirty-three from eighty-five a decade ago.
The departures leave key positions vacant just before Foundations on the Hill, an annual pilgrimage by sector leaders to Capitol Hill, where they press their case to lawmakers. To represent the council on federal policy matters until Enright formally takes over in March, she, Cochrane, and board chair Javier Soto have named a four-person policy transition team that includes Rob Collier, who retired last year as president of the Council of Michigan Foundations; Stephanie Powers, the council's executive-branch liaison; Sandra Swirski, executive director of the Alliance for Charitable Reform; and Robin Ferriby, of international law and lobbying firm Clark Hill.
Enright is succeeding Vikki Spruill, who stepped down as head of the council last June to lead the New England Aquarium and whose tenure saw the continuation of a decline in membership that began before her arrival in 2012 — from two thousand foundations in 2009 to seven hundred today. In an attempt to close the organization's budget gap, Spruill cut back on programming, particularly for community foundations, and as of last June had narrowed the gap to $500,000. The council expects to break even this year, according to Cochrane. However, the programming cuts led some community foundations to question the value of continued membership, the Chronicle reports.
Cochrane and Soto said that over the next few months the board will consider Enright's and Collier's recommendations for restructuring the organization and resetting its priorities. Following Spruill's departure, board members held meetings with more than two hundred council members and, according to Soto, "[j]ust about everybody said we need a strong voice in Washington, D.C., for the sector and that the council should be that voice. That came through as a very central pillar of the council's value and core work."