Organization: Adler Planetarium

Location: Chicago, IL

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About Adler Planetarium:

Countless galaxies, unfathomable distances, exploding stars, diamond planets, black holes, there’s no way around it: Space is Freaking Awesome. The Adler Planetarium (“The Adler”) has inspired people to learn and explore the Universe for over 85 years. America’s first planetarium, the Adler invites people to explore space along with active space scientists. It is a nucleus for frontier research, technology that advances human knowledge and one-of-a-kind educational programming. On the most fundamental level, the Adler is driven by other peoples’ curiosity about space.

The mission of the Adler Planetarium is to inspire exploration and understanding of our universe. The Adler is focused on the audience experience; it cares about seeing new generations get excited about STEM, space and everything in between. The Adler hosts lectures with accessible, low-priced admission fees engaging audiences both at the Adler and across the world. Adler’s astronomers could have chosen to research at a university, but instead found their calling in interacting with the public, whether it is answering questions among exhibits or hosting a science-themed bike ride across state borders. Everyone at Adler is driven by an internal sense of purpose, and a fundamental approach to ignite the explorer in us all.

The Adler Planetarium has a rich history and is one of the leading science-oriented cultural institutions in the United States. Under the leadership of the Adler’s first female President and CEO, Michelle Larson, the museum is on an ambitious path of growth and expansion that embraces the ways people engage today.

Since launching its award winning marketing campaign, “Space is Freaking Awesome” in June 2015, attendance has increased 22 percent from the previous year, to over 550,000 visitors. The Adler is creating more opportunities to make the science of space accessible beyond visitor hours and seeks ways to extend the brand in constant iteration – living and growing with the speed of curiosity.

The values of the Adler include:

  • An engaging, user-friendly museum serving diverse audiences;
  • Excitement and curiosity about space science and space exploration;
  • Programs based on credible science and educational research;
  • Well-managed collections;
  • Adherence to results-oriented planning;
  • A professional work environment and highly motivated, diverse staff; and
  • Long-term financial stability and the economic viability of our endeavors.

Currently the Adler receives 31% of its funding from admissions, 40% from contributions, memberships and fundraising events, 17% from city, state and federal sources, and 12% from other earned revenue.

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The Opportunity:

The Vice President, Development (“VP”) will be the leader for all fundraising strategies and initiatives for the Adler Planetarium. The VP will work in close partnership with the President & CEO and other leaders at the Adler to implement strategies for growth and build a culture of philanthropy throughout the organization. Through this hire, the Adler will transform and reach a new and aspiring level of philanthropic success – one that will put the Adler on a sustainable path for accomplishment in the coming years.

Reporting to, and partnering closely with, the President & CEO, the VP will work with the Trustees, Women’s Board, senior team, development team, donors and other key constituents to advance the Adler’s development efforts. S/he will be responsible for setting the strategy for the Adler’s development efforts and executing on that plan.

The VP will be an entrepreneurial and creative thinker, yet hands-on executor who will lead best-in-class individual giving and corporate and foundation programs.

The VP will actively manage a donor portfolio by personally participating in cultivation, solicitation and stewardship as well as collaborating with the CEO to ensure that she is effectively supported and leveraged to achieve fundraising goals. The VP will develop tailored strategies for individual, corporate and foundation donors that lead to sustainable fundraising achievement.

Key success factors of this new senior-most development role include:

  • Establishing state-of-the-art development capability by inspiring a high-performing development operation with a high level of professionalism and dedication;
  • Cultivating new revenue sources by creatively and strategically expanding the donor base, ranging from high profile individual donors to major national foundations and corporations;
  • Increasing the effectiveness and productivity of the development team by serving as a coach and mentor, motivating team members with energy and passion and ensuring clear expectations and accountability; and
  • Positioning the Adler for long-term sustainable success through strong and growing philanthropic support, leading and inspiring a culture of philanthropy throughout the organization.

Candidate Profile:

The Vice President, Development will be a focused, self-motivated proven development executive who is deeply invested in Adler’s vision. S/he will be a natural leader and collaborator with a curious mindset.

The ideal candidate will have the following personal qualities and characteristics:

An Expert in Development

The VP will be an experienced leader in the field of development with a measurable track record of success within a fast-paced and entrepreneurial environment. S/he will have demonstrated expertise with a wide range of fundraising channels. S/he will be energized by the prospect of building and leading the development department, implementing processes and best practices. S/he will be a confident partner with Trustees, Women’s Board Members and others with the ability to provide strategic guidance and support in the cultivation of donors. A tactical leader, s/he will have a strong data and analysis orientation and a proven ability to use metrics to drive development decisions and achieve strategic objectives.

Strategic Leadership and Management Acumen

S/he will be a strategic leader who, along with the President and CEO, sets and articulates a vision for the organization’s next fundraising chapter, builds and executes a clear development plan, and evaluates outcomes with a metrics-based approach. The VP will have the skills to effectively build, develop and lead a best-in-class development team. S/he will offer creative, yet practical, ideas to achieve the strategic direction of both the team and the overall organization. S/he will be an assertive and results-oriented leader with the ability to translate the Adler’s development goals into clear objectives for Adler’s Boards, senior team and the Development staff. The VP will be a ‘builder’ with the ability to set priorities decisively, delegate responsibilities, assure accountability and allocate resources to ensure results. Fundamentally, the VP will be a ‘change agent’ who will successfully lead a diverse group of staff and Trustees through a period of fundraising transformation.

Relationship Builder and Collaborator

The VP will have a motivating approach to building collaboration and buy-in and generating support from stakeholders. S/he will be a charismatic leader who can establish rapport and open communication with all constituents and successfully convey Adler’s mission and objectives. S/he will be able to develop a strong working relationship with key leaders and be a proactive communicator at all times.

A Passion for the Mission

The VP will have a curious mindset, sense of humor and belief that ‘Space is Freaking Awesome’. S/he will embrace Adler’s culture while continually innovating to help expand its brand and reach. The VP will have strong faith in humanity and will be an empathetic, charismatic leader who treats others with respect. S/he will be an individual of unquestioned integrity, ethics and values; someone who can be trusted without reservation.

A bachelor’s degree is required; an advanced degree in a related field is preferred.


Marissa Martin and Turner Delano of Koya Leadership Partners have been exclusively retained for this search. To express your interest in this role, please submit your materials here or email Marissa and Turner directly at All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.

To effectively educate and serve its community and constituents, the Adler Planetarium strives to achieve diversity among its Trustee leadership, staff, volunteers and programming.

About Koya Leadership Partners:

Koya Leadership Partners is a national retained executive search and human capital consulting firm that works exclusively with nonprofits and social enterprises. We deliver measurable results, finding exceptionally talented people who truly fit the unique culture of our client organizations and ensuring that organizations have the resources and strategies to support them. For more information about Koya Leadership Partners, visit