Phillips Oppenheim

CEO, San Francisco, CA




All young people have the opportunity to discover who they can become. All adults can have a role in equipping them for that journey.


Spark inspires 7th, 8th and 9th graders in underserved communities to succeed in high school and beyond by engaging them with mentors and future careers.


Spark is an innovative, fast-growing, highly respected national nonprofit organization that inspires 7th, 8th and 9th grade students to succeed in high school and beyond by connecting them with mentors in leading workplaces and supporting their academic journey with skill-building and resources. By engaging working professionals and connecting businesses with local communities, Spark empowers the next generation to perform better in school, graduate on time and lead fulfilling careers and lives.

Spark seeks a world class Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who is passionate about tackling the inequity in educational opportunities and lack of access that keep all too many middle school students from reaching their potential. An experienced leader and manager who values the importance of metrics, the CEO will be both inspirational and aspirational with a sense of urgency and an unwavering spirit for growth to leverage the organization's successful track record and scalability. S/he must care about creating opportunity nationwide for middle school students to unleash their intelligence, creativity, ambition and sense of direction to realize what's possible for their unique future.

Under the next dynamic leader, Spark is positioned to become a more broadly recognized, national organization with the realistic potential to impact tens of thousands of young people and to significantly change American middle school education through its groundbreaking program. Spark's experience and track record of impact will position a new CEO to shape local and national policy and influence broader discussions around youth development, self-discovery, career exploration and successful transitions to high school and beyond, while connecting major corporations and organizations to this unique approach.


Spark is an award-winning national nonprofit, with a unique and innovative approach that leverages the business community, volunteer working professionals, mentorships and skill-building to show students what's possible and keep them engaged and on-track. In partnership with public schools reaching underserved communities and businesses in the surrounding community, Spark identifies students in middle school and creates one-to-one mentorships in real workplaces, where youth explore careers and develop the skills and motivation to succeed academically and socially.

Spark's proven model intervenes early to reach students in the middle grades at this critical inflection point. Supported by more than 80 hours of powerful, hands-on programming, 92 percent of Spark students have graduated or are on track to graduate on time, compared to an average of 68 percent in the districts Spark serves.

Spark was founded in the San Francisco Bay area in 2004 and launched its first expansion site in Los Angeles in 2010, then Chicago in 2011, and Philadelphia in 2013. Funded by a number of major foundations, Spark was added to the prestigious Draper Richards Kaplan portfolio in 2008, nonprofits with the highest potential "broad social impact." In 2010, Spark's co-founder was honored as an Ashoka Fellowship for his work with Spark, one of the top honors for social innovation worldwide.

In the 2016-17 school year, Spark served more than 1,700 students in Spark mentorships, High School Transition workshops or Spark Lab career exploration workshops. Over 100 companies hosted Spark mentorships or Spark Lab career exploration workshops. Approximately 2,000 corporate mentors volunteered their time to work with a Spark student logging in over 40,000 hours.

Led by a National Board of Directors, with 13 members representing senior experience in a variety of sectors, Spark has also built regional Executive Boards and Advisory Boards, which are non-fiduciary and managed by regional Executive Directors.

Spark's 2016 budget was $4.4 million, with approximately 40 staff. In 2016, with the help of Bain & Company, Spark developed a 10 year plan, which lays the foundation for the organization to effectively implement Spark's high-touch, high-impact model at scale.


  • Be a student and a mentor. We embrace change, curiosity, new challenges and innovation as we aspire to a growth mindset - believing that each person can reach their full potential when we are always learning and always teaching.
  • Work with Passion and Compassion. We are passionate about our mission to positively impact students' futures, and compassionate towards others and ourselves in all we do creating meaningful change in all our lives.
  • Commit to Collaboration and Diversity. We commit ourselves to building and thriving in a culture of collaboration and diversity - valuing different perspectives, cultures and experiences. When we recognize, celebrate and leverage each other's strengths and differences, our impact has exponential reach.
  • Aim High and True. Spark's mission, the students we serve, and mentors and partners we engage deserve our very best. Collectively we encourage and inspire ourselves and each other to set the bar high in our expectations - delivering quality outputs and outcomes.
  • Trust and Respect in All Relationships. We value transparency and honesty in all our interactions and model this behavior for the students we serve. When each of us operates from a position of openness and respect we are more effective, efficient and engaged in our work and our partnerships.


Reporting to a generative and highly committed National Board of Directors, the CEO will provide vision, leadership, and management, building on a vibrant, ambitious, mission-driven culture that values learning, transparency, passion and performance. The CEO will solidify the current program and operational structure, while continuing to prepare for dynamic organizational growth and impact.

The CEO provides the management acumen, intellect, conviction and passion necessary to coordinate the efforts of a motivated management and program staff. It is critical to foster a culture of collaboration and open communication among regions, the core national staff and the board. The CEO has executive-level support in addition to a national team and regional leaders with regional teams. The CEO will visit the Spark regional offices regularly.

The CEO will oversee the day-to-day operations and programs and implement the mission and goals as set forth by the Board of Directors. S/he will work with the senior team and Board to provide the strategy and direction to ensure that Spark's programs and services are delivered in a cost-effective and efficient manner while maintaining the highest level of quality, and that Spark's role and visibility are expanded in empowering middle school students to excel.

Working closely with the Board, the CEO will ensure that the organization remains fiscally and administratively sound and that finances, information systems, planning and operations are strategically managed. The CEO will represent the organization externally, developing and implementing initiatives to significantly increase financial support through innovative and active fundraising.


  • Leadership - Develop a vision for excellence and growth. Represent a culture of innovation, growth, responsible risk-taking and continuous improvement. Review the design and lead development and implementation of an inspirational strategic vision and plan, while keeping a finger on the pulse internally of day-to-day national operations and regional services and activities. Lead a highly motivated, competent, and committed team with a common vision, shared passion and sense of purpose.
  • Evaluation and Assessment - Facilitate alignment between the Board and staff on key annual priorities and performance management. Ensure those priorities are successfully executed. Assess and evaluate the organizational structure, staff, and functions. Make changes where necessary to ensure that programs and operations are effective and that collaboration, communication, and accountability are the norm. Measure efficacy of service delivery with a clear sense of metrics. Continue to work with independent evaluators on program impact. Deliver data-driven evaluation of organizational, programmatic, and regional strengths and opportunities to the Board and staff.
  • Resource Development - As CEO, oversee and participate in aggressively and significantly growing the revenue base over the next few years to enable exponential organizational growth. Grow and broaden a sound funding operation, expanding private funding, including from foundations, corporations and individual donors as well as local public dollars from school districts. Manage corporate relationships/sponsorships in particular.
  • External Representation and Relationship Building - Present in a powerfully compelling manner the organization's mission, success and growth potential in a wide variety of venues to enhance the organization's visibility and influence. Engage stakeholders nationwide around Spark's activities. Build upon existing partnerships and seek new strategic alliances to promote Spark's mission and work. Manage a diverse and active set of relationships with National and Regional Board members, key partners and funders, Spark staff, thought leaders in education, philanthropy, policy and other related sectors.
  • Board Relations - Establish a strong working partnership with the Board of Directors, bringing forth their best ideas and efforts in support of Spark's programs and fundraising activities, and continue to strengthen the Board through the effective recruitment of new members as needed. Keep the Board well informed on the financial, program, structural, and fundraising activities and issues of the organization.
  • Management, Finance, and Planning - Ensure Spark's operational infrastructure, including its administrative, and accountability systems, internal policies and procedures, and shared services structure are highly effective in support of current program model quality, as well as the growth model of the organization and its sustainability. Supervise the development of Spark's budgets. Ensure that sound financial controls are in place and that funds are spent wisely.
  • Growth and Quality Improvement - Build on Spark's history of success and its strong foundation for best practices in youth development. Achieve maximum growth in program's direct impact with fidelity to the philosophy and focus on strategies for promoting continuous improvement.
  • Public Advocacy - Serve as a passionate and persuasive advocate, and build the organization's capacity to spread best practices and influence public policy aimed at shaping local and national policy around youth development and successful transitions to adulthood. Participate in any movement for innovative and effective models to keep middle school students "on-track" and enable them to reach their full potential.


A bachelor's degree is required; advanced degree preferred. In addition the CEO will have:

  • Passion and Commitment - A deep passion for strengthening the U.S. education system and building bridges between corporations and communities; a steadfast commitment to implement effective strategies to inspire students to reach their potential. Experience in youth development and/or education can be a plus.
  • Leadership and Coaching Skills - The leadership skills to cultivate a culture of teamwork across multiple sites and provide ongoing support for a team with diverse areas of specialization; ability to make decisions quickly with imperfect information and balance long-term strategic vision with daily operational issues; experience attracting and nurturing high-performing talent; ability to address immediate organizational needs while continually driving toward long-term goals, with buy-in from all stakeholders; a self-reflective nature with the ability to listen carefully.
  • Managerial Skills - Proven managerial, problem-solving, and strategic-planning skills and commensurate fiscal responsibilities as a senior executive with a nonprofit organization, a government entity, or a corporation if coupled with nonprofit experience at a staff or board level. Demonstrated experience managing high performing executive teams;
  • Fundraising and Relationship - Demonstrated ability to effectively manage and inspire a fundraising team, personal desire and interest in securing resources from private and public funders, from cultivation to the closing of the deal; experience to rapidly build strong, trusting relationships with people from all walks of life. An ability to capitalize on public-relations opportunities as they arise.
  • Strategy and Growth Management Experience - Demonstrable success in scaling an organization; ability to envision impact and map out an effective implementation plan.
  • Cultural Competence - Sensitivity, appreciation, and skill in promoting and achieving diversity throughout the organization.
  • Board of Directors Experience - Proven experience working effectively and in partnership with a board of directors.
  • External Representation Skills - Experience as an inspirational public speaker adept at addressing a variety of diverse audiences.

Spark is an equal opportunity employer and considers all applications without regard to race, color, religion, creed, gender, national origin, age, disability, marital or veteran status, sexual orientation, or any other legally protected status.

Please send nominations, or applications with a letter of interest, to Jane Donaldson and Paul Spivey at

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