On Monday, Oct. 4, Jennifer Lazewski of Wauwatosa, will begin work as WSO’s first executive director.
Lazewski accepted a hiring offer from WSO President Mary Korkor and Vice President Sunil Gopalan after a unanimous vote by the Board of Directors to accept the recommendations of its search committee. That vote followed a virtual meet-and greet with Lazewski on Sept. 13. On Sept. 26, the board, in a unanimous electronic vote, approved her terms of employment.
“I am so very happy and excited for us to begin this journey together. There is a lot of work to be done. The need to protect and preserve birds has never been greater and I feel an urgency to see that WSO is doing everything possible to address that need. With your help and the support of this wonderful board, I know we can accomplish important and great things.”
The Search Committee was chaired by Korkor and included Gopalan, immediate past president Myles Hurlburt, Grants Chair Jack Coulter and Membership and Governance Chair Mary Murrell. In its report to the board, the committee, which devoted 115+ hours to its task, said:
“Jennifer brings to the position the skills of a trained lawyer with a business career of over 25 years as well as experience as an impassioned volunteer in environmental education and nonprofit leadership in the Milwaukee area.
“Jennifer grew up in Milwaukee on the South Side, where her love of nature was influenced by her grandfather (who was a high school biology teacher), Jackson Park and the Kinnickinnic River
“Some WSO members may have already visited Jennifer’s yard when she hosted an Anna's Hummingbird in late 2016. (Former WSO Treasurer and Milwaukee County Zoo avian zookeeper) Mickey O'Connor has banded hummingbirds in Jennifer’s yard several times.
“Jennifer has a wide range of skills and experience but underneath them all is a keen intelligence and a thoughtful person who cares deeply about the success of the organizations whose mission she shares. For the past 5-6 years, Jennifer has worked, in volunteer capacities, with various groups but most importantly the Wehr Nature Center and the Southeast Wisconsin Master Gardener (SEWMG) Association. She has had progressively responsible leadership positions with both groups and has succeeded in various initiatives: helping to transition from all-volunteer to paid staff, rebuilding boards, strategic planning, fundraising through a now well-established native plant sale that she started, starting education programs from scratch, virtual programming, and coordinating volunteers.
“She is also personable and conducts herself in a highly professional manner.
“Although Jennifer has a background deeper in plants and gardening than in birds and birding, she describes herself as an “intermediate” birder and, more importantly, she understands the importance of the interconnections between plants and animals.”
From 2001 to 2020, Lazewski was vice president and director of operations at Combined Marketing, Inc., and CMI Lites LLC, import companies in the seasonal gift and floral industry with offices in Milwaukee, Hong Kong and the Philippines. From 1997 to 2001 she was an associate attorney with Quarles & Brady in Milwaukee.
She received her law degree from Northwestern University after graduating cum laude and With Distinction with a Bachelor of Arts from Duke University. She was an Angier B. Duke Scholar, winning a merit-based, full-tuition scholarship.
Lazewski will report to the Board of Directors and have strategic and operational responsibility for executing WSO’s mission, as well as oversight of volunteers, staff and programs. Rebecca Gilman, hired as an administrative assistant for WSO earlier this year, will now report to Lazewski instead of Gopalan. Both will, for the time being, work from their homes.
After deciding in May to move away from its previously all-volunteer structure, the Board of Directors spelled out these roles and responsibilities for the executive director:
--* Work with the Board on developing/refining a strategic plan that supports our mission and annual goals to support that plan
--* Build upon, evaluate, and extend existing outreach programs to increase their effectiveness and efficiency. Ensure proper and periodic communication of these aspects of operations to the Board.
--* Assist the Board with the transition from operations to governance of a staffed organization by taking over operational ownership of staff committees, volunteer coordination, and other aspects of daily business and the communications/processes that govern them.
--* Develop and maintain an engaged board, assist with board recruitment processes, serve on board committees and seek/build board involvement with fundraising
--* Assist with management and future planning around our 372-acre Honey Creek Preserve
Fundraising and Communications
-- * Build and expand a fundraising program to improve revenue and capacity, including major gifts and grants to support programs and strategic plan objectives
--* Assist with donor engagement and communication, including the development of an annual report process that assists with fundraising
--* Deepen and refine all aspects of communications – from internal updates to web presence to external branding
--* Improve numbers and diversity of membership by developing programming to engage new audiences with our mission
--* Develop a robust process for establishing and maintaining volunteer opportunities to meet operational needs
--* Engage with members to improve volunteer capacity and allow for resilience in operations
--* Maintain existing and build new partnerships with other conservation organizations for a mutually beneficial impact
--* Oversee the newly established regional coordinator program throughout the state
--* Reignite the WSO’s Research mission by coordinating with avian conservation and ornithological experts throughout the state