National Audubon Society Announces CEO David Yarnold to Step Down

President and Chief Conservation Officer Dr. Elizabeth Gray to Serve as Interim CEO
Great Egret. Erin Smith/Audubon Photography Awards

NEW YORK – The National Audubon Society today announced that its board of directors and David Yarnold have mutually agreed that David will step down as CEO, effective May 14. The board has named Dr. Elizabeth Gray, president and chief conservation officer, as interim CEO while a search is conducted for a successor. Yarnold will remain available to the board and Dr. Gray through June 2021 to ensure a smooth transition.  

“David has accomplished a great deal for Audubon in the almost 11 years since he joined us,” said Maggie Walker, board chair. “He articulated a vision for all of Audubon, recentering our work on bird conservation while greatly improving fundraising capabilities and building our membership from 350,000 to well over two million. He gave Audubon a strong voice full of creativity and passion.”  

Walker continued, “Over the course of the last few months, the board and David have discussed succession planning and reached the mutual conclusion that now is the time for Audubon to find new leadership to create its next strategic plan and to address many of the culture issues that have come to light. As we have met with and listened to a significant number of our staff in recent months, we have heard their messages that there is much we can do to improve our organizational culture. We have a highly committed staff and a grassroots network that is second to none and the Board believes it’s critical that this organization has the right plan and leadership to fulfill its mission and live up to its values for the long-term.” 

Dr. Gray joined Audubon last month as the first woman to hold the title of president in the organization’s 115-year history. She brings exceptional credentials as a scientist, fundraiser and strategic leader to the role of interim CEO. She has spent more than three decades as a dedicated ornithologist and conservationist, spending considerable time in the field nationally and abroad. She previously held the role of global managing director for climate at The Nature Conservancy. 

“I am honored to take on the role of interim CEO” said Dr. Gray. “I am deeply committed to Audubon’s mission. I look forward to building on Audubon’s track record of success and to building the next generation of Audubon where we seek to cultivate new audiences and where differences are respected, valued and essential to mission success.”  

Dr. Gray will work closely with Audubon’s executive team, including Jamaal Nelson, who was recently appointed chief equity, diversity and inclusion officer. Mr. Nelson is a widely recognized leader in issues of diversity and inclusion and has helped some of the most important and visible organizations in the country in support of social justice. 

“From my first day in 2010, I asked Audubon’s members and staff to teach me about birds and it’s been an amazing learning journey,” Yarnold said. “Audubon’s nonpartisan base and its geographic breadth – from Latin America to the Boreal Forest – brings with it unique opportunities among conservation NGOs. And that includes helping to lead America’s conservation organizations to change their priorities and fully reflect a commitment to the hard work of equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging.”

The board has appointed a CEO search committee that, with the assistance of an external search firm, will consider both internal and external candidates.


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 and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety. 

Media Contact:  Lisa Hardaway, VP, Communications;