The Board of Directors of East Lansing Info has officially begun the search for a new executive director.
The executive director of ELi runs the business side of our nonprofit corporate operations, managing the staff, providing help to the board’s activities, overseeing budgets, managing fundraising, and attending to all legal and financial obligations of the corporation.
The position is part-time and the salary is set at $20,000 with a marketplace health insurance stipend being negotiable. The full job description can be found here.
The board will begin consideration of applications on April 4 and the application system will remain open until the board fills the position.
The rest of this article tells you the backstory to this job search.
We are providing this backstory because it is very important to the board and me that we be transparent with our readers and donors about ELi’s operations. We are a community organization – this is your news organization – and we want you to understand what is happening so that you can tell us what you think and hopefully continue to trust us with your news needs.
The executive director position is one of the jobs at ELi that I currently hold, and I am very grateful to the board for working to replace me in this position.
At ELi, besides serving as the executive director, I have also been serving as the publisher, social media monitor, assistant to the managing editor and lead investigative reporter. I’m also a general services reporter – that’s probably how you know me best. This is far too many jobs, and my best use (and the job I most enjoy at ELi) is being a reporter.
ELi has been working for several years to replace me in the top staff position, to shift me to being a reporter. Last year, an attempted transition failed and ELi ended up ceasing publication for four months.
Recognizing the need to analyze and address the crisis, we convened a task force that included myself, Chris Root, ELi Tech Manager Morgan Lees, Nathan Andrus (who is now ELi Board Treasurer) and Amalia Medina (who was then ELi Board Secretary and is an MSU Journalism student).
The Task Force recognized in its report that ELi cannot be sustainable with me playing so many roles. Because we wanted to get back to publishing, we agreed we would first work on hiring a managing editor and would later work on hiring an executive director, and that I would serve in the latter role as a temporary measure. I also stepped into the other roles to get back to publishing.
We were incredibly fortunate to hire Julie Seraphinoff as Managing Editor. Julie has been an exceptional managing editor – the best ELi has ever had – and she has been a joy for me to partner with. Without Julie, it would have been impossible for us to get to this point.
But now we are at the point where our sustainability is in danger if we do not transition to more staff.
Staffing implicates budget, and we are in a difficult position at ELi because we have so little budget space.
With current assets plus monthly commitments (thank you, donors!), we have just enough to get us to what ELi General Manager Jodi Spicer and I budgeted we would need to reach the next annual campaign funding cycle, which starts on Nov. 1. That figure was $175,000 for the year.
But expenses have been about $5,000 higher than I budgeted for in 2023. That’s occurred for two reasons.
First, as you may have noticed, it has been an extraordinary season of reporting, with high need for our work. This has increased costs in the area of reporting, including photography. Anytime reporting goes up, so do the costs of support personnel: tech for help with posting problems, lawyers for pre-publication review for stories that have high defamation risk, Jodi and Donor Relations Manager Al Hargrave Jackson picking up extra hours to cover for me.
Second, the necessary ELi website theme conversion has been rockier than we had hoped, with more things breaking in the conversion than expected. This is because the theme we had been using, the Largo theme of the Institute for Nonprofit News, had so many features “baked in” that transition to a new WordPress theme has required much more coding fixes than expected. This has also raised costs.
We hope the expenses now level out, and we also hope the new Executive Director will be a strong fundraiser. All of that remains to be seen. We don’t like running an operation on a thin wire. But we also don’t like backing off on reporting that needs doing. As a reminder, we are a nonprofit public service; we aren’t here to turn clicks into profits, we are here to turn donations into meaningful news. So, we spend your donated money doing just that.
Here’s how we foresee the transition working:
I am currently paid $30,000 per year in my position as Executive Director and Publisher. After much consideration by the Board and top staff, we decided it makes sense to break that $30,000 into two of the jobs I’ve been doing and to hire separately for them.
One is the Executive Director job, which will now pay $20,000 per year and will cover running the corporation, as described above and in the job ad.
The other will be a Senior Editorial Advisor job, at $10,000 per year. This person will take over the work of being a journalism adviser and helper to Julie and to our reporting staff. Because we don’t want to undertake too many transitions at once, I’ll be formally stepping into Senior Editorial Advisor job once the new Executive Director is hired. We’ll then work on transitioning to a new person in the Senior Editorial Advisor role, to keep diversifying and strengthening our ranks.
I am not leaving ELi! So, if you appreciate what I do, please don’t panic.
What we are trying to do with these changes is to provide for the sustainability of ELi and its core workers, including me. I have every intention of continuing to be a key player at ELi, providing important reporting, helping with fundraising, and being an all-around helper and cheerleader.
But we all know that the best thing that can happen for ELi is for new leadership to take my place, to be vigorous and vibrant, and to let me move into the position of supporting rather than leading.
No public service organization is at its best if the founder leads for too long. An organization like that is in danger of being a shadow of its founder, dependent on one person. ELi is so important, so beautiful a community endeavor, it deserves this next stage of life.
And to be a little selfish, I also deserve to not be so tired.
I’ve done this now for almost nine years and I am definitely not getting younger. You probably know Friday is St. Patrick’s Day. It also happens to be my birthday, and I’m turning 57. I will be observing my annual tradition of doing a 6-mile run on the Northern Tier Trail, no matter what the weather! (Please, let it be warmer with no wind…)
If you would like to help me celebrate my birthday, what I would ask is that you celebrate ELi with me by sharing this good news of our job search so we can reach as many people as possible, and that you consider making a tax-deductible donation as a way to say thanks to this awesome team.
Let’s keep this extraordinary public service partnership going!