Chief of Staff

Chief of Staff

Innocence Project

New York, NY   |   September 30, 2020

About Innocence Project

The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization whose mission is to free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated and to reform the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment. Founded in 1992 as a legal clinic at Cardozo School of Law by civil rights lawyers Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, the Innocence Project – now an independent non-profit affiliated with Cardozo – was the first organization to systematically utilize DNA testing to prove innocence in cases of wrongful conviction. To date, the Innocence Project has helped to exonerate over 200 people. Overall, more than 360 people in the United States, who cumulatively served more than 5,000 years of wrongful imprisonment, have been exonerated through DNA testing.

The Innocence Project works with people who have been exonerated to advance criminal legal system  reforms in the courts and through partnerships with policymakers, defense attorneys, law enforcement, and other stakeholders. Successful policy reform efforts on the federal, state, and local levels have protected millions of people by ensuring that the law facilitates identifying, rectifying, and preventing wrongful convictions. In 2019, the Innocence Project and its allies won 21 major policy victories in 17 states.

The Innocence Project works in collaboration with the Innocence Network, an affiliation of almost 70 independently governed member organizations across the world that also litigate cases of wrongful conviction and have helped hundreds of people to be exonerated and freed. The Innocence Project is a founding member of the Network and serves as its headquarters.

For more information on the Innocence Project, please visit

The Opportunity

The Chief of Staff reports directly to the new Executive Director, Christina Swarns. This is a dynamic role dedicated to advancing the objectives of both the Executive Director and the Innocence Project as a whole and requires the ability to quickly pivot attention and focus to emerging areas of priority, including assisting in the development of a new strategic plan. The Chief of Staff supports and advises the Executive Director, ensures the implementation of cross-functional programs and projects involving the Innocence Project’s Senior Leadership Team, and provides overall organizational leadership, facilitation, and coordination.

Initially, the Chief of Staff will supervise the Director of Human Resources and the Director of Innocence Network Support Unit, with flexibility to transition areas of supervision based on the evolving needs of the organization.  The Chief of Staff is responsible for keeping the teams under their supervision aligned, focused, motivated, and high-performing and ensuring the effectiveness and quality of work in each area. The Chief of Staff will model the Innocence Project’s values of an inclusive and respectful workplace and encouraging the same from their staff.

The Chief of Staff also works closely with all members of the Senior Leadership Team – including the Chief Program Strategy Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Communications Officer and the Chief Development Officer – to advance the vision, strategy, goals, integration and cohesion of the Innocence Project.

The Chief of Staff role encompasses three areas: (1) providing advice and counsel to the Executive Director; (2) exercising organizational leadership, including creating, nurturing and leveraging cross-departmental relationships and filling important gaps; and (3) defining, driving, and managing key projects and departments.

Candidate Profile

The Chief of Staff will enable the Executive Director to focus on broad strategic initiatives both within and beyond the organization, and will follow up on critical projects, carrying initiatives forward with the Executive Director, planning for and representing the Innocence Project at key meetings and keeping the Executive Director apprised of important updates and developments. They will bring the skill and experience to integrate quickly into the Innocence Project to work successfully organization-wide, operating at maximum effectiveness.

The ideal candidate will promote the mission and work of the Innocence Project through the following professional and personal qualities, skills, and characteristics:

Stakeholder Engagement Skills

  • Ensure that the Executive Director’s assets, skills and relationships are maximized and leveraged to advance the Innocence Project’s mission and goals;
  • Advise the Innocence Project’s Senior Leadership Team and staff on behalf of the Executive Director;
  • Help set and implement the Executive Director’s strategic vision, assisting staff to interpret, understand and carry out the Executive Director’s vision and strategic intent;
  • Serve as a thought partner to the Executive Director, helping her resolve key challenges, offering perspectives that may be less visible to her or her direct reports, and helping identify risks and tradeoffs;
  • Convene important stakeholders in time sensitive, crisis moments to ensure organization-wide collaboration and strategic vision;
  • Host monthly office hours open to the entire Innocence Project staff to align priorities, facilitate communication and increase internal transparency.
  • Act as an “early warning system” for issues growing in priority from all parts of the organization;
  • Lead and engage in strategic meeting preparation and follow-up;
  • Ensure the Executive Director’s timely involvement in organizational projects/decisions;
  • Listen actively, offer and question ideas, challenge status quo, and anticipate risks and, where appropriate, pre-negotiate outcomes;
  • Exercise exceptional discretion and judgment.

Strategic Leadership & Organizational Development Experience

  • Build, maintain and leverage relationships with the Innocence Project’s Senior Leadership Team, paying close attention to their concerns and challenges;
  • Bridge intradepartmental gaps and maintain continuity during leadership and structural change;
  • Work with the Senior Leadership Team, Department Heads and others in assessing, formulating, and establishing priorities for key operational goals;
  • Serve as a key organizational problem solver and innovator, collaborating on creative and effective solutions;
  • Contribute to the design and implementation of new management processes and tools to improve strategy development and execution across departments;
  • Work closely with the Senior Leadership Team to integrate tools and timelines into priority setting and decision-making processes;
  • Identify and evaluate creative opportunities for continuous improvement of broader Innocence Project strategy and processes;
  • Serve as a spokesperson for the Innocence Project, along with the Executive Director, Chief Program Officer, Department Heads and staff, articulating the Innocence Project’s positions on a broad range of issues to the public and diverse stakeholder constituencies;
  • Serve as a liaison to external funders, stakeholders and partners as necessary;
  • Supervise and work closely to provide strategic guidance, set goals, monitor progress, and evaluate outcomes, solve problems, assist with staff supervision, and evaluate resource allocation:
    • With the Director of Human Resources to promote and advance diversity, equity and inclusion, to maintain clear, consistent processes regarding performance evaluations, compensation and promotions;
    • With the Director of the Innocence Network Support Unit to ensure adherence to the Memorandum of Understanding between the Innocence Network and the Innocence Project;
    • With the Innocence Project’s In-House Counsel.

Project Management Expertise

  • Excellent organizational skills, with the ability to set and juggle multiple priorities, manage cross-functional organization-wide projects or initiatives, support team members, and track complex tasks across multiple stakeholders;
  • Strong facilitation skills to bring together multiple stakeholders and help drive decisions and outcomes;
  • Ability to execute on deadlines and deliverables and create systems and processes to streamline operations;
  • Demonstrated ability to plan effectively and the flexibility to handle the unexpected;
  • Facilitate the sharing of lessons learned and best practices, while creating a culture that values continuous education and improvement throughout the organization.
  • 15+ years of relevant experience supporting and/or directing operational activities for a non-profit organization, with a significant track record of success in senior leadership roles;
  • Minimum 10 years of supervisory and management experience;
  • Well-developed management style and expertise;
  • Comfortable and effective at managing challenging conversations and situations;
  • Strong and engaging interpersonal skills;
  • Demonstrated track record of success in driving organizational change and results, building and managing teams of people, facilitating strategic decision making, developing and managing complex projects;
  • Commitment to diversity, racial equity and inclusion;
  • Excellent presentation and communication skills;
  • Masters’ or other advanced degree or BA + equivalent work experience.
Compensation & Benefits

The Innocence Project offers an excellent benefits package and salary for this role is expected to start at approximately $200,000 commensurate with experience.


Koya Leadership Partners, the executive search firm that specializes in mission-driven search, has been exclusively retained for this engagement. Molly Brennan and Shelby Woods are leading this search. To make recommendations or to express your interest in this role please visit this link: or email [email protected]. All nominations, inquiries, and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.

The Innocence Project considers the diversity of its workforce to be vital to the organization’s success in meeting its mission. The Innocence Project strongly encourages applicants from all cultures, races, educational backgrounds, life experiences, socio-economic classes, sexual orientations, age, gender, and physical abilities to apply. Individuals with personal connections to the criminal legal system are strongly encouraged to apply.

As an Equal Opportunity Employer, it is the Innocence Project’s policy not to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, familial status, marital status, predisposing genetic characteristics, actual or perceived domestic violence victim status, unemployment status, caregiver status, or any other category protected by law.

About Koya Leadership Partners

Koya Leadership Partners, a member of the Diversified Search Group, is a leading executive search and strategic advising firm dedicated to connecting exceptionally talented people with mission-driven clients. Our founding philosophy—The Right Person in the Right Place Can Change the World—guides our work as we partner with nonprofits & NGOs, institutions of higher education, responsible businesses, and social enterprises in local communities and around the world.

For more information about Koya Leadership Partners, visit