Director of Communications

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur FoundationChicago, Illinois
A few of the recently announced 2022 MacArthur Fellows

About the Foundation

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including advancing global climate solutions, decreasing nuclear risk, promoting local justice reform in the U.S., and reducing corruption in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program and the global 100&Change competition, the Foundation continues its enduring commitments to the role of journalism in a responsive democracy as well as the vitality of its headquarters city, Chicago.

The Foundation is guided by a core set of values that guide how the organization conducts itself and builds trust-based relationships with partners and grantees. These values are deeply rooted in the  Just Imperative, which charges the Foundation to lead with a commitment to justice.

Communications at MacArthur

The Communications team at the MacArthur Foundation has a unique vantage point across the organization; it partners with the program teams and collaborates with colleagues across the Foundation to create and implement strategic communications plans that enhance and amplify the impact of MacArthur’s grantmaking and the work of its grantees. The team is responsible for the Foundation’s efforts to communicate with the press, public, and policymakers, including media relations, web and social media efforts, printed materials, and events. It also provides strategic communications advice and counsel to MacArthur’s leadership, Staff, and grantees. 

Communications Officers are embedded in programs as true team members and thought partners. The Communications team of nine is made up of:  the Vice President of Communications, Fellows, and Partnerships; two Senior Communications Officers, Communications Officer, Senior Digital Communications Associate, Content Manager, Digital Communications Associate, Communications Associate, and the Associate to the Vice President. Outside consultants and firms are hired as needed. 

Community Solutions illustration (2021 100&Change awardee)

The Director of Communications Position

The Director of Communications is a new role that will serve as a key team and organizational leader. The role offers the opportunity to stimulate and expand the creative and innovative communications capacity of one of the country’s most influential and impactful private foundations.

The position will report to the Vice President of Communications, Fellows, and Partnerships who is a member of the Foundation’s senior leadership team.

The Director of Communications will directly manage the Communications Officers and a Communications Associate, while also contributing to the overall direction and strategy of the team.

This position will also serve as lead communications strategist and practitioner supporting the signature awards programs, MacArthur Fellows Program and 100&Change.

Additionally, the Director of Communications will serve as a proxy for the Vice President of Communications, Fellows, and Partnerships as needed, such as, crafting internal and external topics, collaborating on the development of new programs, and other special projects.

Sesame Workshop (2017 100&ChangeAwardee)

Key Responsibilities:

Team Leadership

  • Provide effective management, motivation, mentorship, and professional development for direct reports
  • Contribute to communications team meetings, including oversight of structure, agendas, speakers, content, and facilitation
  • Ensure the most advanced and innovative tools, approaches, and practices are being used to meet the Foundation’s communications needs
  • Balance priorities and needs of individual team members, overall team culture, and the organization as a whole, bringing in support as needed to ensure the highest standards of performance and quality
  • Serve as an editor and reviewer of all content created by the Communications team
  • Contribute to a team culture that is nurturing, diverse, and inclusive with a deep commitment to equitable practices and the values of clarity, learning, and results
  • Ensure productive relationships internally across programs as well as externally with agencies, freelancers, and other partners who contribute to the communications function

Fellows and 100&Change Awards Programs

  • Serve as lead communications strategist and partner to the Fellows and 100&Change teams, offering strategic guidance on use of communications to achieve the programmatic goals and ensuring alignment with Foundation strategies
  • Lead the fast-paced execution of cyclical Fellows and 100&Change awards announcements, including overseeing high-volume video production, and PR and production company vendor-partners
  • Develop high level of program subject matter expertise to become a valued thought partner to the Fellows and 100&Change directors and teams

Cross Foundation Initiatives and Support

  • Develop deep internal relationships, acting as a truly collaborative colleague, with a finger on the pulse of organizational priorities
  • Create opportunities to demonstrate the value of communications in supporting program strategy and organization-wide initiatives
  • Represent the Communications team on internal working groups and other cross-organization initiatives (for example: Living Our Values Working Group, Just Imperative Working Group, Social and Philanthropy Committee)
  • Spearhead partnerships and projects with other Foundation departments, such as Evaluation, to address areas of mutual concerns and achieve shared goals
  • Promote and raise awareness among colleagues internally about the services and support provided by the Communications team, and design Foundation-wide trainings, as needed

Share Communications Expertise

  • Provide program Staff with communications support and guidance for handling media interviews and crafting public statements
  • Ensure the work of the Foundation is communicated clearly and thoughtfully to its audiences
  • Respond in a timely manner to media inquiries related to assigned program areas
  • Step in as proxy for Vice President of Communications, Fellows, and Partnerships to support Presidential and leadership communications, as needed
  • Work closely with communications counterparts at other foundations, as needed
  • Protect and enhance the reputation of the Foundation
  • Manage external consulting firms and assist in program communications and content development on behalf of grantees and other partner organizations
2021 100&Change Finalists

Ideal Candidate

The ideal candidate is an experienced nonprofit communications strategist first and foremost, who has a desire to lend their skills and expertise to creating positive change in the world. Experience in one or more of MacArthur’s diverse program areas is an asset.

The candidate we seek is a knowledgeable, practiced communications professional who has significant, demonstrated management experience and a collaborative, nurturing approach to supporting work and teams. Importantly, they have honed their craft to the highest level and enjoy building as well as executing effective communications strategies. They see the connection between communications, program goals, and overall impact. The ideal candidate is a results-oriented team player who gets things done.

We are looking for a smart and thoughtful advisor with breadth of nonprofit issue and content knowledge. They should bring the intellectual curiosity to eagerly learn and engage across a wide spectrum of fields. The Director needs to be an expert in the craft of communications in the broadest sense, with the agility and flexibility to pivot between high-level strategy and implementation of detailed logistics.

Collaborative team management is key; this is not an independent contributor role. We seek individuals who are responsive and lead with a cooperative, relational approach to building and executing strategic communications plans that have a throughline from the Foundation-wide strategy to individual program strategies and impact.

Media relations is an important skill set; we are looking for demonstrated experience proactively securing coverage and responding to potentially challenging media inquiries. The Communications Director needs a strong understanding of all media channels and tactics, with a heightened knowledge of how to use them to best effect as part of a comprehensive communications strategy.

The ideal candidate has not only the skill but also the presence and confidence to build the trust of senior leaders in their writing and with their expertise. The ability and experience to write and speak about social challenges in a style that respects the depth and complexity of the issues, and is accessible to a general audience, is critical. The capacity to write effectively for varied audiences and to adjust and adapt style to represent authentic voices is essential.

Finally, and importantly, the Director of Communications role requires an understanding of and respect for the diversity of communities and grantees with whom we work; candidates must be able to demonstrate this through personal or professional experience.

Important Personal Attributes for Success

  • Strength in team leadership and management
  • Effective, clear, concise communication style; active listener
  • Superb interpersonal dexterity and self-awareness
  • Demonstrated flexibility and adaptability
  • Effective at prioritizing multiple, competing demands, and a busy meeting schedule
  • Collegial, positive attitude, and a team orientation
  • Respectful of others’ time and work needs; proactively keeps others informed; treats colleagues with respect and courtesy.

Experience we seek includes:

  • Breadth and depth in strategy (i.e., in a PR or communications firm, as the lead communications officer or public affairs officer); management of an ongoing department or team, beyond ad-hoc project teams; content creation (i.e., related early experience in writing or journalism, video production or marketing content and strategy).
  • A track record of success in developing and executing comprehensive communications strategies, preferably in complex, intellectually charged work environments
  • Work in or with the nonprofit sector and an understanding of the sector’s role in social change
  • Skilled responsiveness to challenging media inquiries and proactively securing coverage
  • Significant experience writing and speaking about social challenges and public issues in a style that respects their depth and complexity and is accessible to a well-educated general audience

Compensation and Location

Location: Please note that this position is based in Chicago, Illinois. The position requires working out of the MacArthur Foundation’s offices in the historic Marquette Building, a Chicago landmark and one of the city’s first skyscrapers two days a week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Salary: The anticipated salary range for this position starts at $175,000 with an exceptional benefits package.

To Be Considered

Inquiries, nominations, and applications are invited. To be considered, please submit a resume and cover letter expressing your interest in the Foundation’s work and fit for the role to the GoodCitizen Candidate Portal. Letters may be addressed to Melissa Merritt. Materials received on or before November 30, 2022, will be given priority.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is an equal opportunity employer, and we actively seek a diverse Staff. We benefit as individuals, and the work is better because of our Staff’s diverse backgrounds, viewpoints, and lived experiences. We value diversity at all levels, and we continually challenge ourselves to reflect this value in our actions. Diversity takes into consideration identities and characteristics such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, socio-economic status, experience, ability and disability, age, religion, and perspective.

Director of CommunicationsMacArthur FoundationChicago, Illinois

GoodCitizen has been exclusively retained by MacArthur Foundation to lead this search. For questions, please contact:

Melissa Merritt
Managing Director
Direct: 206.792.4300

Jailan Adly
Managing Director
Direct: 202.933.7976

Mollie Smith
Engagement Manager
Direct: 206.462.6190

Tonisha Idowu
Senior Associate
Direct: 202.753.9075