NEW YORK - The National Audubon Society (“Audubon”) today announced the appointment of two key senior hires to join the organization’s leadership team following broad national searches. Dr. Elizabeth Gray will join Audubon as President and Chief Conservation Officer, reporting to CEO David Yarnold. Dr. Gray will be the first woman to hold the title of President in the organization’s 115-year history. Jamaal Nelson has been appointed Chief Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Officer, and will also report to David Yarnold. These appointments will become effective March 8 and March 1, respectively. Audubon has also announced the promotion of David Ringer to Chief Network and Communications Officer.
Audubon Board Chair, Maggie Walker, said, “This is an exciting moment for Audubon as we welcome two outstanding leaders – Elizabeth and Jamaal – to the organization’s executive team. Elizabeth’s exceptional credentials as a scientist, fundraiser and strategic leader will give Audubon much-needed executive capacity as we continue to grow. While we did not originally set out in our search to hire for the role of President, meeting Elizabeth presented us with a golden opportunity to build on a doubling of our budget over the past decade and our vastly increased influence and capabilities. She and David will make a terrific team.”
Ms. Walker continued, “Audubon and its Board and leaders are all deeply committed to ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the core of what we do and how we operate every day. That is why we could not be more excited to welcome Jamaal to lead Audubon on this journey. The organization will benefit greatly from his expertise in advancing social and environmental justice as we work together to put our values into practice.”
Dr. Elizabeth Gray
Dr. Elizabeth Gray is a renowned expert in the field of conservation and climate change. She was selected after an extensive search process involving both internal and external candidates, led by Isaacson Miller. During the search process and in recognition of the outstanding candidacy of Dr. Gray, Audubon elected to split the roles of President and CEO. Dr. Gray will serve as President and Chief Conservation Officer, with responsibility for the organization’s conservation, policy, international, and science teams, as wells as the national network of chapter organizations. As CEO, Mr. Yarnold will continue to serve as the organization’s senior leader, strategist and fundraiser. Dr. Gray will report to him, as will the heads of development; equity, diversity and inclusion; operations; state offices; and marketing.
Trained as an ornithologist, Dr. Gray has spent more than three decades as a dedicated conservationist, spending considerable time in the field nationally and abroad. She joins Audubon from The Nature Conservancy where she most recently held the role of Global Managing Director for Climate. Dr. Gray has a significant track record on climate change leadership at the national and global level including: serving as a global spokesperson for the Conservancy’s climate change work at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meetings; launching regional programs in climate adaptation and natural climate solutions across the United States, Canada and the Caribbean; and, publishing numerous scientific papers focused on her research in climate-impacted areas such as Latin America, East Africa, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest.
Dr. Gray served as one of five members of The Nature Conservancy’s Global Gender Equity Council, advising the CEO, President, and COO/General Counsel on gender issues across the organization. She founded the first urban conservation program in Washington, D.C., and has worked to empower the next generation of conservation leaders through a young professional’s network and youth advocacy program. Dr. Gray earned her Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Washington and holds an A.B. with highest honors in psychology from Harvard University. She will be based in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Yarnold, said, “When we embarked on the search for a Chief Conservation Officer, we could not have imagined a better candidate than Elizabeth. Her unmatched track record as a global leader on climate and conservation, together with her deep commitment to diversity and inclusion make her the ideal fit for our organization. Audubon will benefit tremendously from her strategic and creative approach, not to mention her scientific and policy expertise. I am thrilled to welcome Elizabeth to our team as President and look forward to working alongside her to build an Audubon for the future.”
Dr. Elizabeth Gray said, “Audubon’s mission resonates deeply with me; my love of birds began as a college student when I studied how homing pigeons navigate. I am excited and honored to join the Audubon team as President and CCO. I look forward to working with Audubon’s wonderful talent to advance new and innovative solutions to the most pressing challenges facing birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow.”
Audubon’s conservation priorities reflect the opportunity that a bipartisan membership base offers. From working across the aisle on climate and clean energy, to a “30x30” agenda for America’s lands and waters, to bedrock bird conservation policies, Audubon brings 115 years of trust and an entrepreneurial approach to bear for birds and people and the places they need.
Jamaal Nelson will join Audubon as Chief Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Officer. His appointment is the culmination of a national search process that included internal and external candidates and was led by Russell Reynolds.
Mr. Nelson is a widely recognized leader in issues of diversity and inclusion and has a track record in helping some of the most important and visible organizations in the country transform their cultures in support of social justice. Mr. Nelson previously served as Partner and Advisor with The Management Center, a nonprofit management consulting and leadership development organization that supports social justice leaders in building and running more effective organizations. In this role, Mr. Nelson led DEI, coaching, and organizational effectiveness services to leading national nonprofits and their leaders, including organizations such as Generational Citizen, the NAACP, American Red Cross, Common Cause, the Legal Defense Fund, and the Democratic National Committee.
Mr. Nelson also held various leadership roles at Leadership for Educational Equity, a nonprofit leadership development organization focused on supporting civic leaders who are working to end the injustice of educational inequity. He continues to serve a senior advisor to the Executive Director of LEE. In addition to these roles, Mr. Nelson’s career spans many years in education and labor organizing. Mr. Nelson holds an M. Div. from Harvard Divinity School and received his B.S. with honors in Human and Organizational Development from Vanderbilt University. He will be based in New York.
David Yarnold commented, “There has never been a more important time in Audubon’s history – or the history of the conservation movement – to ensure that we are fostering a workplace that values and lifts up diverse voices, ensures everyone feels that they belong, fights systemic racism and injustice, and that our work in communities does the same. Jamaal stood out for his deep expertise and experience leading organizations through transformational change – and for his strong values and commitment to justice. He is the passionate, experienced, and accomplished leader that Audubon needs and we will again budget an additional discretionary $1 million to help jump start our ED&I work — as we did this year. I look forward to working with Jamaal to ensure Audubon lives up to its mission of being an Audubon for all.”
Jamaal Nelson said, “I am honored to be joining Audubon at this important moment in the organization’s history. Audubon’s mission is one that I admire greatly, and I am looking forward to driving positive change in the conservation movement so that it is more inclusive and equitable for the BIPOC community especially. The passion and talent that I have seen across Audubon’s staff and leadership make me excited for what we will be able to accomplish towards this goal.”
In addition to the appointments of Dr. Gray and Mr. Nelson, Audubon has announced the promotion of David Ringer to Chief Network and Communications Officer. This elevation follows the changes made to the organization of Audubon’s executive team with the now-separate roles of CEO and President and reflects the expanded scope under Mr. Ringer’s responsibilities. Mr. Ringer joined Audubon in 2009 and was appointed as the organization’s first Chief Network Officer in 2016.
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at www.audubon.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.
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