National Underground Railroad Freedom Center President and Chief Operating Officer COO Executive Search Arts Consulting Group

National Underground
Railroad Freedom Center

President and Chief Operating Officer


The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Freedom Center) opened in 2004 on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati and stands as one of the nation’s most inspiring modern monuments to freedom. The impressive 158,000-square-foot structure is located in the heart of downtown and features three pavilions that celebrate courage, cooperation, and perseverance. The location highlights Cincinnati’s significant role in the history of the Underground Railroad. Drawing more than 120,000 visitors per year, the mission of the Freedom Center is to reveal stories of freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom today.

The Freedom Center connects the lessons of the Underground Railroad with modern issues of freedom, especially through two innovative initiatives. The Freedom Center was the first American museum to develop a permanent exhibition on modern day slavery, “Invisible.”  The staff also manages the End Slavery Now website, which attracts approximately 70,000 visits per month from around the world. A second initiative on implicit bias includes an in-house laboratory, a traveling exhibit, and corporate training programs. This effort was developed in collaboration with Dr. Mahzarin Benaji of Harvard University. Both initiatives extend the impact of the Freedom Center to national and international audiences. Through exhibits, artifacts, films, hands-on activities, and interactive galleries, the Freedom Center creates a compelling arena for dialogue and invites visitors to contemplate the meaning of freedom in their own lives.

The Freedom Center hosts more than 40,000 students annually and offers powerful educational experiences, including youth-centered tours, docent programs, think tanks, and panel discussions. Educator support programs are available to help teachers bring the Freedom Center’s message to life in the classroom. The International Freedom Conductor Award, which recognizes the contributions of contemporary individuals who reflect the spirit and courageous actions of conductors on the historic Underground Railroad, and the Open Your Mind learning lab, which explores implicit bias, are two of the many groundbreaking programs created at the Freedom Center, bringing national and international attention to the organization. Through its world-class cultural and educational offerings, the organization has built partnerships with key industry leaders, including Google, GE, Toyota, and Major League Baseball. The Freedom Center is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institutions and is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

A merger with Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) was finalized in 2012 with the goal to leverage the full potential of both organizations. Each retains its own 501(c)(3) status and is responsible for its own development operation. CMC is the sole member of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center with ultimate fiduciary responsibility led by the CMC Board of Trustees. Together, the organizations have created a long-term sustainability plan that includes refreshment of Freedom Center exhibitions, utilization of a shared services agreement, and a lease of the café space to an outside vendor for a high-traffic restaurant to open beyond museum hours in late 2018.

The Freedom Center has a staff of 21 full-time and six part-time employees and is governed by a 31-member board of directors led by Chair Reverend Damon Lynch, Jr. Annual revenues in fiscal year 2016 were $5 million, with $1.3 million in earned revenue and $3.8 million in contributed revenue. The endowment is $10 million.


Known as the Queen City, Cincinnati was the first major city founded after the American Revolution and is widely thought of as the first purely American city. Located at the mid-point of the Ohio River, Cincinnati served as the gateway between the North and the South and as a magnet for tens of thousands of German and Irish immigrants after 1830. That influx fueled Cincinnati’s growth, making it the New Nation’s first boom town and its fastest growing and sixth-largest city by 1850. In the decades after the Civil War, growth leveled and city leaders turned their attention to developing the artistic and cultural infrastructure of the city. The legacy of those efforts is a region rich in music, theater, and cultural institutions that rival much larger cities.

Today, metropolitan Cincinnati is home to 2.2 million residents who live in 15 counties in southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky, and southeast Indiana. Like many other mid-sized cities, in the last 15 years the center city has experienced a revival that has restored downtown living. The Banks development has transformed the historic riverfront. Stadiums for MLB Cincinnati Reds and NFL Cincinnati Bengals bracket The Banks while the Freedom Center anchors the center between, along with nearly 1,000 new apartments, restaurants, and a hotel. A new GE Global Operations Center for nearly 1,800 employees is immediately across the street from the Freedom Center. The Central Riverfront Park serves as the expansive front lawn of the Freedom Center. Taken together, The Banks has become one of the activity magnets in the region.

With a wide variety of neighborhoods and small distinctive communities, the region has a remarkably reasonable cost of living, especially in terms of real estate costs. The residential character of the region is enhanced by an extensive park system for recreation and greenspaces of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. The economy is anchored by nine Fortune 500 company headquarters, including Procter & Gamble, Kroger, and Macy’s. In recent years, the region has also invested in building an entrepreneurial culture. Especially important are biotech efforts, centered at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, which now employs more than 14,000 people and is consistently ranked as the third best children’s hospital in the nation. Included in this arena is the Hillman Accelerator, serving minority-led tech companies, located on the fourth floor of the Freedom Center.


Position Summary

Reporting to CMC and Freedom Center President and CEO Elizabeth Pierce and to the Freedom Center’s board of directors, the President and Chief Operating Officer (President and COO) is charged with leading the organization into the next phase of its journey, with strategic direction and financial stability as a guide. A visionary leader with a commitment to cultural history, freedom, and social justice, the President and COO will serve as the organization’s chief spokesperson, representing the Freedom Center to many external stakeholders and responding to public issues. The scope of responsibility includes providing leadership and strategic direction in support of the museum’s mission and long-term objectives. The President and COO will ensure the operational excellence to drive the growth of contributed and earned revenue, support cooperative working relationships between the Freedom Center and CMC team members, and manage staff in support of quality facilities and operations. Equally comfortable building relationships with key stakeholders, leading projects, setting priorities, and managing budgets and schedules, the President and COO will set the tone for the organization. The President and COO will also guide and advise the board as its members embrace their roles as fundraisers, policy makers, and community ambassadors. Regional and national travel is required.

Roles and Responsibilities

Leadership and Administration

  • Develop and foster an internal culture that maintains the highest standards for customer service; excellence of visitor experience; and fiscal, operational, and organizational integrity as part of a larger organization with a shared vision and common direction.
  • Oversee all day-to-day operations, programs, facilities, and educational activities to ensure that patrons, students, and community members have a safe and high-quality experience.
  • Work in conjunction with CMC Financial Officer in the preparation, monitoring, and monthly reporting of the annual budget, expense policies, and cash management.
  • In conjunction with CMC Financial Officer, oversee all internal corporate matters, including legal issues, lease negotiations, and supervision of all real property such as maintenance, improvements, and capital projects.
  • Participate in industry meetings and organizations to share and implement current best practices and industry standards with staff.
  • Ensure that the necessary organizational structure, policies, systems controls, and procedures are in place and regularly reviewed for effectiveness.


Revenue Enhancement and Community Engagement

  • Internally and externally communicate the Freedom Center’s direction and strategies to build commitment and support for the organization’s mission, driving contributed and earned revenue strategies.
  • Guide the board and staff in identifying stakeholders, developing strategies, and defining key messages to individuals and institutions to ensure that contributed and earned revenues meet organizational goals.
  • Strategize the organization’s development programs, including its annual fund, memberships, and sponsorships, and lead giving efforts with the Vice President of Institutional Advancement.
  • Build relationships with individuals, foundations, corporations, and government agency funders and empower board and staff to do the same.
  • Engage with marketing and communications staff to maximize earned income from program and ancillary activities.
  • Participate in community activities and organizations both regionally and nationally to build partnerships and to strengthen the Freedom Center’s brand.


Strategy, Planning, and Organization

  • Lead an inclusive strategic planning process, working with the board, staff, and community stakeholders to develop a visionary plan for programming, financial growth, and partnership opportunities.
  • Provide concise, relevant, and timely information to the board so that it can fulfill its policy and decision-making responsibilities.
  • Guide, direct, and support the board and its committees in their fundraising, governance, and community ambassador duties for the Freedom Center and its activities.
  • Identify, cultivate, and assist in the recruitment of board and committee members whose skills, experience, financial connections, diversity, and capacity meet the needs of the Freedom Center.
  • Collaborate with the board to refine and implement the institutional strategic plan to meet annual goals and priorities.

Traits and Characteristics

The President and COO will be a dynamic and driven leader who values frequent interaction and collaboration with others. This individual will be people oriented and will appreciate the skills, experience, and input of others in formulating plans and achieving successful outcomes. As a tenacious leader who understands the Freedom Center’s unique operations, the President and COO will inspire the development of a long-term vision with achievable goals and a strategy that embraces many stakeholders. The selected individual will bring energy, passion, and an appreciation for cultural history, freedom, and social justice.

Other key competencies include the following:

  • Leadership – Organizes and motivates others to accomplish goals while creating a sense of order, direction, and active participation among a variety of stakeholders.
  • Self-Management and Personal Accountability – Prioritizes and completes tasks necessary to meet or exceed the agreed upon expectations of the role and to assume accountability for personal actions.
  • Planning and Organizing – Sets and prioritizes relevant, realistic, and attainable goals and objectives. Anticipates effects, outcomes, and risks and then manages resources according to set priorities.
  • Interpersonal Skills – Builds rapport and demonstrates a sincere interest in others. Effectively communicates and relates well to all kinds of people.
  • Diplomacy and Tact – Demonstrates respect for others, treats others fairly regardless of personal biases or beliefs, and maintains positive relationships.
  • Resiliency – Quickly recovers from adversity or setbacks and moves past obstacles without delay.


A master’s degree, or equivalent, and 15 years of related experience, with at least seven years at a senior leadership level, are required. The President and COO must have demonstrated success in a senior leadership position, ideally in a cultural organization. Possessing a passion for community outreach and partnerships, the successful candidate will be people-oriented, versatile, and tenacious. Candidates should also have knowledge of museum management.

Compensation and Benefits

Compensation is very competitive and commensurate with experience. Appropriate benefits, including health and dental insurance, vacation time, and participation in 403(b) retirement plan, are also provided.

Applications and Inquiries

Please submit a letter and resume (electronic submissions preferred) with a summary of demonstrable accomplishments to:

Ms. Wyona Lynch-McWhite
Vice President
292 Newbury Street, Suite 315
Boston, MA 02115-2801
Tel         (888) 234-4236 Ext. 225

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is an equal opportunity employer
that welcomes any qualified applicant and values diversity of all kinds

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