Former Komen NYC Chief Tapped To Lead YWCA

YWCA USA today announced its first permanent chief executive officer in almost two years, plucking an executive who led Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s largest affiliate until four months ago.

Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron announced in March that she’d be leaving Susan G. Komen for the Cure of Greater New York at the end of April. By May, she said she was in talks with YWCA.

The YWCA’s National Coordinating Board ratified the appointment Saturday and announced it in a press release yesterday. Richardson-Heron will join the organization next month and transition into the CEO post by December. Gloria Lau has been interim CEO of YWCA since September 2010.

At the time of her departure from Komen, Richardson-Heron said she was leaving to pursue new career opportunities but made no mention of the flap over the grant eligibility of Planned Parenthood. Komen of Greater New York said it worked behind the scenes with senior leadership at the Dallas, Texas headquarters to change the funding policy that affected Planned Parenthood at the time.

The Washington, D.C.-based YWCA touted Richardson-Heron’s nearly four-year tenure at the New York Komen affiliate, including record-breaking fundraising and ranking number one nationally among more than 120 affiliates in fundraising and grants awarded.

A 14-year breast cancer survivor, Richardson-Heron said the move is a natural progression in her career, which has always been related to women’s issues. Prior to Komen, she served as chief medical officer and assistant executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of NYC.

At Komen, Richardson-Heron earned approximately $225,000 in total compensation for the fiscal year ending in April 2011. It’s unclear in her announcement what the annual salary will be at YWCA or why the organization has had an interim CEO for 23 months and officials did respond to requests for comment by presstime.

Richardson-Heron has been a CEO at a local affiliate but this is her first chief executive post on the national level. She foresees her role as one in which she’ll seek to create “effective national initiatives in leadership, governance, fund development, advocacy, leadership development, staff and volunteer development, mission fulfillment, as well as branding, communications and marketing. If I do that well, the local associations will have a much easier time” doing their jobs.

“Being on the other side of it, I’m highly sensitive to how critically important it is for both local associations and national to be respectful of the value that each brings to the organization,” said Richardson-Heron. “It’s important for the national organization to understand that their role really is a supportive one, supporting local associations doing the work of the organization on the ground,” she said.

Understanding that value of collaboration has been important whether it was during her experience at nonprofits or in the for-profit world at New York City-based Consolidated Edison. “There’s the same general tension that exists that must be worked out for the organization to work well,” she said.

Describing YWCA’s “incredibly iconic past,” Richardson-Heron said her goals are to bring the excitement and enthusiasm to “help develop the infrastructure that will allow the organization to be revitalized, in conjunction with local associations, to create and sustain a national movement.”

YWCA has nearly 250 associations nationwide. In light of recent overhauls of large, national nonprofits in the number of affiliates or chapters – including Girl Scouts of America, American Red Cross and American Heart Association – Richardson-Heron said: “It’s fair to say that, I’m going to look at every aspect of the organization that could possibly be changed for enhancement of the national movement.” She also hinted at a possible refresh of the YWCA brand.

Richardson-Heron limited her comments about Komen and the breast cancer charity’s recent struggles and transitions. Komen “is not the first or the last organization that will go through difficult times. As a 15-year-and-counting breast cancer survivor and the daughter of a 25-year-and-counting breast cancer survivor, I hope they can rebound soon and get back to serving women impacted by breast cancer,” she said. Despite the controversy, it is Komen affiliates around the world that are doing “yeoman’s work,” she added, and “people should not lose sight of that fact.”