Cal Humanities- President and CEO–Completed

Congratulations to Julie Fry and Cal Humanities for the successful conclusion of this search.

View PDF: Cal Humanities President and CEO Position Description f

Cal Humanities

President and CEO (CEO)

Position Description


Painter Executive Search is supporting Cal Humanities in their search for an established leader to guide them in developing their next strategic plan, growing and aligning their resources for greater programmatic impact, and building the recognition of the value of the humanities across the diverse landscape of California.

Cal Humanities is an independent non-profit that promotes the humanities in California with the goal of inspiring Californians to learn more, dig deeper, and start conversations that matter among the state’s dramatically diverse people. Their long-term vision aims for Californians to possess the knowledge, understanding, respect, and empathy to create a more thoughtful, open, and just state—“a state of open mind.”

Cal Humanities is focused on the public’s experience of the humanities. The humanities are understood in academic circles as the study of what distinguishes us as human beings; public humanities seeks to provide opportunities for thoughtful inquiry to all people in order to illuminate the rich diversity of experience, culture,  history, creativity and perspective that is our current social fabric. By producing, funding, creating, and supporting humanities-based projects and programs, fostering cultural experiences, and engaging in meaningful conversations, Cal Humanities promotes the humanities not just as relevant, but critical, in building a better California. Particularly in light of the significant changes in the state— economically, ethnically and environmentally—deeper understanding ourselves and our neighbors becomes a critical element in a healthy democracy.

Cal Humanities is the state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities and is consistently supported by annual grants by this federal agency. Founded in 1975 as a grantmaking organization, Cal Humanities currently re-grants through several programs including the California Documentary Project and Community Stories. It also develops programming through statewide initiatives, training programs that facilitate community discussions, and other programs such as California Reads, which creates and supports book-based programs in libraries across the state. Cal Humanities, formally known as the California Council for the Humanities, has grown and evolved over the years and recently completed a rebranding process. Developing the promise of this new brand will be the role of the next President and CEO.


The President and CEO (CEO), reporting to the Board of Directors through the Chair of the Board, will have overall strategic and operational responsibility for Cal Humanities. Working in collaboration with the Board and staff, the CEO will be responsible for executing the mission of Cal Humanities by providing vision and leadership, clearly articulating goals, and effectively implementing and evaluating programs that reach diverse audiences throughout California. The CEO will inspire and manage the staff of Cal Humanities to create relevant and engaging programming while ensuring that the organization remains fiscally and administratively sound with realistic goals and timelines.


The new CEO will lead the development of a new strategic and operating plan. This opportunity will allow the exploration of the role of public humanities in the 21st Century and evolve a vision for the shape and impact of the organization and its work. With creativity and determination, the CEO will align the existing programs and staffing to support those newly developed goals. Focused on the mission and impact, the CEO will lead a review of operations and determine the effective use of resources particularly in light of new technologies and opportunities to expand, advance and improve methods of engagement.


As the primary spokesperson for Cal Humanities, the CEO will be expected to speak articulately and passionately about the humanities, be culturally literate, and embrace the diverse communities of California. The CEO will develop and sustain effective partnerships and collaborations throughout the state and with similar organizations across the country. She/he will be a visible advocate for the humanities, locally and nationally.


The CEO will be a key fundraiser. He/she will lead the diversification of funding sources strengthening support from individuals, foundations, and corporations as well as with other agencies and funders. The CEO will ensure that the organization’s communications are well developed and that those messages support fundraising and brand development, and contribute to the pursuit of Cal Humanities’ mission.

Organizational Summary and Program Highlights

Cal Humanities is supported by a committed volunteer Board of 20 people located throughout the state. Particular care has been taken to attract a diverse Board representing a wide range of voices, cultures and geographies. The bylaws of the organization call for the Governor of California to appoint up to 25% of the Board; currently four gubernatorial appointees serve on the Board. The Board meets three times a year at alternating locations in the north and south of the state. Between meetings of the full Board, members are active in committee work. The Board is optimistic and excited to be seeking a new leader and will be interested in partnering with the new CEO to increase their engagement, particularly in developing new funding and building greater visibility.


The CEO will lead a team of nine (twelve when fully staffed) and be responsible for an annual operating budget of approximately $2.3 million and oversees approximately $750,000 in annual grantmaking. Revenue is significantly dependent upon federal appropriations through the National Endowment for the Humanities, which has awarded just over $2 million annually in the last two years. Federal funding has been relatively steady although appropriations are determined by Congress and awards have varied in size. Cal Humanities has additional support from the California State Library, individual donors, and foundations. All staff members are located in the Bay Area with the exception of a small satellite office in Los Angeles that houses one staff member. The headquarters are currently in San Francisco, with an existing office lease has been extended to June 2015.  Discussions regarding relocation within the Bay Area are in process.

Cal Humanities supports a diverse range of programming intended to highlight and explore the unexamined stories, experiences and cultures of the diverse population of California. Their work intentionally spans the fullest geographic reach, from urban centers to rural communities across California. Working together with many partners, Cal Humanities seeks to connect Californians to ideas and to one another in order to understand our shared heritage and various cultures, inspire civic participation, and shape our future.  Their current core programs are:

California Documentary Project (Grantmaking)

The California Documentary Project is a competitive grantmaking program to support high-quality, broad reach documentaries in film, radio, and new media that examine issues of significance to Californians and the nation. Cal Humanities has a long history of supporting exceptional documentaries that have won Emmy and Peabody Awards, and have been nominated for Academy Awards. Notable recent programs supported by Cal Humanities include The Case Against 8 which premiered on HBO in June; Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle which was broadcast nationally on PBS in April, Rebel with a Cause which had its world premiere at Mill Valley Film Festival where it won an Audience Favorite Award and recently aired on PBS reaching an estimated audience of 85 million households, and The Last Season, which was recently awarded the Golden Gate Award for Best Bay Area Documentary Feature at its premier at the SF International Film Festival. Through this program Cal Humanities has awarded nearly $4 million dollars (typically through $10K-$50K grants) for research and development, production, and public engagement awards to media makers who document the California experience and explore issues of significance to Californians.

Community Stories (Grantmaking)

This grantmaking program supports community-based work that illuminates the diversity of the California experience through uncovering, recording and sharing little known stories and histories of significance. Through video, photography, murals, zines, documentary theater, audio projects, and other means, more than 400 story projects have been funded and shared with audiences, both live and virtual. Grants up to $10,000 are awarded to California-based nonprofit organizations, local/state public agencies, and educational institutions.

California Reads (Both Grantmaking and Content Development)

California Reads provides grants and resources to conduct thematic, book-centered programs and encourage communities to discuss issues of importance in the state. This grantmaking program supports community-based work that illuminates the full range of voices across the state. California Reads invites Californians from all walks of life to participate in reading and discussion programs and related activities hosted by libraries, schools, colleges, bookstores and other community institutions. In 2012, Cal Humanities engaged hundreds of thousands of people in reading programs associated with Searching for Democracy, their first statewide initiative. California Reads is a core element in this year’s statewide initiative, War Comes Home.

War Comes Home (Statewide Initiative)

Cal Humanities periodically develops thematic initiatives to shine a light on issues that resonate across the state and across sectors. The current initiative, War Comes Home, fosters a statewide conversation about how we can welcome veterans home in a meaningful way. In collaboration with a range of partners, Cal Humanities has developed a variety of programs including short video interviews with veterans, scholars, and others, and a traveling exhibition of letters and writings of veterans that will tour the state’s libraries. Additionally, five public conversations in urban areas hosting veterans, authors, intellectuals, artists, social service and medical experts to discuss specific topics important to re-introducing veterans to communities. California Reads discussions will take place in hundreds of libraries across 47 library systems in the state, with the aim of increasing the public’s understanding and empathy for those who have served, as well as to spark a public conversation on how best to support the process of reincorporating veterans into the fabric of civilian life. Karl Marlantes’ book, What It Is Like to Go to War was selected as the core work for the program. Marlantes, a Vietnam veteran, Rhodes Scholar, and best-selling novelist will be also be participating in a number of live discussions across the state.

Literature & Medicine (Operating Program/Support and Training)

Literature & Medicine is a program to support scholar-facilitated discussions of literature, film photographic essays and other media aimed at deepening the empathy and understanding of healthcare professionals for their patients. Cal Humanities has been working with VA hospitals— in Fresno, Palo Alto, Sacramento and San Francisco—providing them with books, supplies, and scholar-facilitators. This program is part of a national effort initiated by the Maine Humanities Council to improve health care through humanities approaches that increase the ability of caregivers to empathize with and better communicate with patients, family members, and peers.

Now We’re Talking (Operating Program/Support and Training)

Now We’re Talking is designed to train staff at public libraries to facilitate humanities-based community conversations and promote public libraries as hubs of civic engagement. This program was developed in collaboration with the Center for Civic Reflection and uses literature, film, and art as springboards to reflect on issues in a civic environment.

President and CEO


Leadership and External Affairs

  • Provide vision and leadership to the Board and staff, ensuring that the organizational values of open inquiry and reflection, cultural sensitivity, and accountability are upheld personally and fostered within the organizational culture;
  • Deeply consider the humanities and the opportunity to transform lives through thoughtful engagement, shared experiences, and creating curiosity about our similarities and differences; bring the broadest range of creativity to the work, enlisting partners internally and externally in deepening the impact of the humanities in people’s lives;
  • Work together with the Board and staff in the development and implementation of a strategic plan including annual operating and program goals; provide regular evaluations of progress toward those goals;
  • Be an effective advocate for the humanities and represent Cal Humanities to key partners including the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Federation of State Humanities Councils, the California State Library, and well as many others who are important to Cal Humanities’ mission, impact and operations; participate in formal advocacy efforts including Humanities on the Hill in Washington DC;
  • Work closely with the Board to ensure the development of strong Board governance, establish clear lines of communication and organizational transparency; provide well-defined opportunities for committee and staff engagement; assist the Board in the recruitment, selection and evaluation of board members and actively inform and engage the Board in issues of importance to the operations and strategy of the organization.

Operational and Staff Management

  • Recruit, nurture and challenge a highly-qualified and motivated professional staff; delegate specific responsibilities with appropriate authority and establish accountability; foster open communications;
  • Lead ongoing development and improvement of organizational policies and practices—including updated bylaws, personnel policies, and operating practices, institute effective meeting structures and methods for inter-departmental collaboration to ensure that departmental strategiesare integrated and policies and procedures reflect the organization’s values;
  • Implement an effective annual budget process, working closely with the Director of Finance and other senior staff to ensure a culture of operational excellence is developed; oversee regular variance updates;
  • Lead the staff on organization-wide projects such as NEH assessment, events, annual reporting, etc.; ensure compliance with all federal, state and local laws and reporting requirements;
  • Report to the Board of Directors regularly on key information including the financial health of the organization, specific updates on fundraising progress, financial results relative to budget, liquidity, and cash flow. Provide additional reporting as required to keep the Board appropriately informed of any significant change in financial or operational status;
  • Oversee grant administration and operations and ensure compliance with all policies, as well as legal and contractual obligations.

Fundraising and Advocacy

  • Be the chief advocate and external face of Cal Humanities; effectively represent the organization and the value of the humanities to the public at large, among supporters and detractors, with passion and substance;
  • Actively develop a diversification of income for Cal Humanities including building deeper individual, foundation and government support for its work;
  • Together with the staff and Board, cultivate and maintain relationships with individuals, foundations, organizations, and government agencies to further the mission of Cal Humanities, develop a broader reach for its work, and to cultivate financial support;
  • Ensure that the Board is supported in its fundraising efforts, facilitate and train the Board in fundraising and advocacy on behalf of the organization and allocate appropriate staff time to sustain these efforts;
  • Actively works to raise visibility and reputation of Cal Humanities within California and on a national level;
  • Actively reach out to a wide range of constituents, including philanthropic decision-makers, advisors, partners, consultants, and individuals and ask for their support in the mission of Cal Humanities;
  • Assist in the preparation of grant and contract proposal budgets and reports, as appropriate.


A successful CEO candidate will likely have:

  • Significant experience within nonprofit organizations experiencing growth and change including skills in Board development, governance and engagement;
  • Experience or familiarity with the humanities; someone who values inquiry and learning;
  • Evidence of developing and implementing strategy- a strategic thinker, planner and executor with an operating style that encourages collaboration;
  • Demonstrated leadership and management skills, experienced in team building with the ability and appetite to train and mentor staff;
  • Past success in diversifying funding sources, particularly with individual donors, as well as foundations and corporations;
  • Strong financial and organizational management skills; a track record of managing on time and on budget;
  • A history of strong collaboration; someone who actively seeks strategic partnerships and develops effective relationships;
  • Familiarity with grantmaking and knowledge of best practices;
  • Experience as the face of an organization; well-developed interpersonal skills; superb oral and written communication skills, able to present ideas clearly and persuasively;
  • Experience implementing a culture focused on impact, organizational reflection and learning;
  • Experience as an advocate, able to translate complex ideas for diverse audiences;
  • Ability to work well under pressure and adapt easily to changing situations and priorities; exercises good judgment;
  • A strong commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and openness.
  • Attributes
  • Someone who values the humanities and understands how and why they are important to social as well as individual life;
  • Knowledge of and commitment to honoring the diverse experiences, cultures and perspectives of Californians;
  • A team builder with both vision and strong management skills; one who can motivate and direct diverse partners while establishing accountability and shared success;
  • Emotionally mature with a good sense of humor, someone who is both confident and competent;
  • Extremely proactive approach to work; solutions-oriented with attention to detail;
  • A good listener and strategist; comfortable receiving input from many sources and able to analyze disparate information to create a sound, well-organized plan;
  • Inspires trust, creativity and cohesiveness;
  • A hard worker; a ‘doer’ with a willingness to work hands-on with a high energy level;
  • Resourceful—able to set priorities, build efficiencies and create opportunity;
  • Exercises high ethical standards.Nancy Painter(415) 202- 6240
  • For additional details or to submit your experience for review, please contact;

Nancy Painter

(415) 202- 6240