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Managing Director, Discovery, Exploration, and Programs (MacArthur Foundation)

Company Name

MacArthur Foundation

Company City


Company State


Job Location

Chicago, Illinois

Company Information

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. The Foundation makes grants across six strategic areas: Climate Solutions, Criminal Justice Reform, On Nigeria, Nuclear Challenges, Journalism and Media, and the Chicago Commitment. In addition, it supports Field Support programs (Technology in the Public Interest, Impact Investments, and Philanthropy) and special awards, such as the Fellows Program and 100&Change.

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur were quiet philanthropists in their lifetime and gave primarily to organizations in the cities where they lived: Chicago and Palm Beach. John’s longtime friend and attorney, William T. Kirby, convinced John that a foundation would allow his money to do good long after he was gone and on October 18, 1970, the documents for the Foundation were filed. The direction presented to the Foundation’s first Board was twofold: divest responsibly the assets of the Foundation and shape a forward-looking organization that could change with society’s evolving challenges. From its inception the Foundation funded programs in Chicago school reform; international programs in Mexico, Nigeria, India, Russia, and Brazil; human rights; international justice; juvenile justice; affordable housing; and community and economic development. Since narrowing its focus for greater impact, the Foundation has created groundbreaking awards like 100&Change, a global competition for a single $100 million grant to enable real and measurable process in solving a critical problem in our time.

Current President John Palfrey is leading MacArthur as it seeks to make significant progress in 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 historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsive democracy. Organizations supported by the Foundation work in about 50 countries. In addition to Chicago, MacArthur has offices in India and Nigeria.

Job Description

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, one of the world’s most prominent Foundations, supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. The Foundation works on a small number of Big Bets and a few enduring commitments that strive toward transformative change and impact in areas of profound concern. Now at a pivotal moment of reimagining the direction of several of its Big Bets and in the midst of societal change, threats to our democracy, and existential threats like climate change, the Foundation is evolving its leadership team structure to forge next level innovation for philanthropic programs.

To that end, the MacArthur Foundation seeks nominations and applications for Managing Director, Discovery, Exploration, and Programs (Managing Director). The new Managing Director will design, operationalize, lead processes, and manage a team of professionals to surface, test, and translate innovative program goals into program strategy for the Foundation’s next Big Bet investments. Reporting directly to President John Palfrey, the Managing Director will lead a strong team in next level identification of new and innovative programmatic areas for the Foundation, while also leading select priority programs.

The ideal candidate will be a creative, agile, and values-based leader who is an expert in strategy and design processes that advance transformative ideas. They will bring 15+ years of multidisciplinary experience as an innovator and thought leader in relevant fields. They will have demonstrated the ability to collaboratively develop, manage, evaluate, and adjust strategies that advance innovation in both practice and program relevant to communities served by philanthropy. They will also bring 10+ years of organizational management and leadership experience relevant to supporting a high performing team to achieve measurable results.


The Managing Director, Discovery, Exploration, and Programs will lead process and a team that surfaces, tests, and socializes new grantmaking opportunities and strategies for the Foundation. As a member of the Leadership Advisory Team (LAT) and reporting to the Foundation President, the Managing Director will engage immediately in the following opportunities for impact:

Support next level ideation and innovation for MacArthur’s new investments work by surfacing practices, programs, and strategies that result in transformative progress for the world’s most pressing challenges.

The new Managing Director will lead the development of a methodology and framework for surfacing innovation and determining new investment opportunities that enhance and clarify processes for robust ideation, testing, and development phases in the incubation and launch of new investments. They will also bring learning, perspective, and next-level analysis of opportunities to the Board of Directors and harness the wisdom of the collective while disciplining Board-led processes in data to drive informed decision-making processes as the Foundation makes its next Big Bet commitments in areas of profound concern. The Managing Director will harness the power of innovation in philanthropy to impact and improve research, communication, grantmaking, and grantee management to meet current and future organizational goals. The Managing Director will also guide programmatic strategy, including select priority program areas, and oversee all aspects of the strategy’s grantmaking and maturation to ensure its success, while sustaining excitement and energy throughout the lifecycle of these programs.

Represent MacArthur’s work at the national level and evolve the Foundation’s platform and influence through building and nurturing relationships with relevant stakeholders who help ensure innovation, best practices, and learning are both shared from the team and brought to the team from the field.

The new Managing Director will serve as a strong, visible, and proactive philanthropic leader for MacArthur, representing the organization and building relationships with key stakeholders across public, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors. The Managing Director will also be a critical field connector, brokering relevant sector partnerships to advance programmatic success.

Provide executive leadership to MacArthur as a member of the senior leadership team identifying opportunities for collaboration in strategy and decision-making across the organization.

The new Managing Director will be an internal leader in service to the Foundation’s cross-functional learning and collaboration by developing and leveraging relationships at multiple levels within the organization, including with international offices. The Managing Director also will collaborate with other members of the leadership team in making critical assessments and decisions for the Foundation, recommending organizational policies, and contributing to institutional strategic planning processes whilst ensuring that the Discovery and Exploration portfolio aligns with the organization’s budgetary and operational framework.

Lead and manage a team of committed professionals dedicated to discovering new bodies of work for MacArthur, developing a culture of engagement, innovation, and collaboration that drives impact.

The Managing Director will provide strategic vision, direction, and management for a talented team in a manner that upholds MacArthur’s core values of Creativity; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Empathy; Integrity; and Learning. The Managing Director will mentor staff and recognize each team member’s unique strengths and perspectives to provide professional development opportunities while strongly advocating for internal policies and systems that support the Discovery and Exploration team’s success.

Job Qualifications

The Managing Director, Discovery, Exploration, and Programs will be an innovative and strategic leader committed to the mission of the Foundation and philanthropic excellence. While no one candidate will embody all the qualifications enumerated below, the ideal candidate will possess many of the following professional and personal abilities, attributes, and experiences:

• A design thinker, strategist, visionary, and process leader with demonstrated experience developing and implementing innovative and complex initiatives with direct relevance to communities served by philanthropic or large, knowledge-focused institutions.
• Demonstrated ability to ground innovation in the theory, history, and trends in relevant areas of work; a strong grasp of relevant empirical research and theoretical literature; and a good understanding of the substance and dynamics of public policies relevant to the work of the programs.
• High equity fluency and a proven understanding of how to weave equity values throughout program, process, and managerial practices.
• Significant experience in the design of operational systems and processes to support programmatic excellence, and significant experience setting clear and strategic operational visions with exceptional skills in translating vision into immediate and long-term action plans.
• Ability to identify and leverage all of the tools in the philanthropic toolkit including, but not limited to, directing capital to seed effective innovation and impact.
• An agile, mindful, and effective people leader who attracts and retains great talent by building a positive, trusting, and inclusive team culture that inspires all to achieve excellence.
• Great performance manager with ability to coach, lead, be open to feedback, be trustworthy, and be a good advisor.
• Demonstrated ability to collaboratively establish and manage toward the progress of end goals while remaining adaptive to changing circumstances and competing priorities.
• A collaborative leader, lifelong learner, and natural educator with a growth mindset who integrates the best ideas, no matter the source, and supports others to do the same in a way that activates, unites, and builds trust and shared understanding across a variety of stakeholders while nurturing a culture of accountability to impact.

Required Qualifications

• Bachelor’s degree required.
• Minimum of 15 years of experience in strategy, programming, innovation, and other related fields including at least 10 years of deep leadership, supervisory, and management experience.
• Demonstrated ability to make effective connections among research, policy, and practice and to work productively with government, community-based organizations, and academic institutions, and working knowledge of relevant government policies and programs.
• Exceptional written and verbal communication skills.
• Excellent diplomatic, meeting facilitation, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills.

Preferred Qualifications

• Master’s degree, PhD, MBA, or other advanced degrees in a relevant fiend strongly preferred
• Experience in policy, research, or as a practitioner in relevant philanthropic, nonprofit, or academic fields strongly preferred

Physical Requirements and Work Environment

The work environment is an office setting. Intermittent physical activities will include bending, reaching, sitting, and walking during working hours. Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable a person with physical disabilities to perform the job.

MacArthur has a commitment to pay equity and target salary will be shared with all qualified candidates during first round interviews.

How to Apply

More information about the MacArthur Foundation may be found at:

This search is being led by Katherine Jacobs and Sharon Gerstman of NPAG. Due to the pace of this search, candidates are strongly encouraged to apply as soon as possible. Candidates may submit their cover letter, outlining their interest and qualifications, along with their resume via NPAG’s website.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is an equal opportunity employer and proudly values diversity. Candidates of all backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

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