Sept. 11 Memorial CEO Stepping Down

June 24, 2016       Mark Hrywna      

For the third time in the past week, the chief executive of a New York-based nonprofit has announced their departure, this time at the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum.

Joe Daniels has led the organization from its pre-construction infancy to its first full year of operations. He started as general counsel in June 2005, the 11th employee of the organization, before being appointed acting president in May 2006. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg became chairman of the board and made Daniels the permanent president and CEO in October 2006.

Last week, the Rockefeller Foundation announced that President Judith Rodin would step down and a search for a successor would begin this summer. Also, Girl Scouts of the USA announced that CEO Anna Maria Chávez will depart June 30.

Daniels headed the development, planning, design, construction, and operational ramp-up leading to the opening of the memorial on the 10th anniversary of the attacks and the opening of the museum in May 2014. More than 26 million visitors have passed through the memorial. The museum has had more than six million visitors since it opened.

Daniels led a capital campaign that included raising more than $450 million in private donations. During his tenure, the organization has grown from $12 million and a staff of less than 40 into an operating institution with an annual budget of $80 million and about 50 in-house and contracted staff.

The organization in 2014 reported total revenue of $134 million, up from $87 million in 2013. The total included, for the first time, program service revenue from admissions, tours and membership fees, which totaled almost $42 million. The organization also received $59 million in government grants that year, according to its Form 990.

More than 85 percent of operating expenses are covered by earned revenue, according to the nonprofit.

“With your support and the devotion and faith of 9/11 family members, rescue and recovery workers, survivors, generous contributors, and so many others, we have built a world class institution that serves as a fitting reminder of all we lost on that terrible day and a testament to our commitment to remember and rebuild,” Daniels wrote in a 726-word letter to the board.

“That work will endure; but for me, after a decade as president, the time is right both for me to seek a new challenge, and for the 9/11 Memorial to begin the next phase of its life with a new leader who can build on our work,” he wrote.

Daniels said he would remain to ensure a smooth transition, with a goal of the end of the year.

“I am so proud of what we built here, but as the memorial and museum transition from the start-up phase, I recognize that I want to again dedicate myself to building something from the bottom up, and at the beginning,” he wrote, thanking Bloomberg, the board and staff for the honor of working with them and leading the project.

In a statement, Bloomberg thanked Daniels for everything he did to make the museum and memorial a reality. “When Joe was first hired a decade ago, Ground Zero was a hole in the ground and the memorial and museum were plans on the drawing board. Thanks in no small measure to Joe’s outstanding leadership, we now have a magnificent tribute to all those who lost their lives and gave their service on 9/11,” he said.

Daniels’ tenure was not without some bumps in the road. In addition to criticism over the length of time it took to construct the memorial – thanks in no small part to the involvement of various government and quasi-government agencies – the museum has taken flack for charging admission and executive compensation.

Daniels earned total compensation of $489,266 in 2014, including base compensation of $434,684. Some 31 individuals received more than $100,000 of reportable compensation in 2014, according to the organization’s federal Form 990.