Executive Director

Mission: Sustaining the Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory is an icon of Los Angeles, a national leader in public astronomy, a beloved civic gathering place, and one of southern California’s most popular attractions. The observatory is located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, just above the Los Feliz neighborhood. It is 1,134 feet above sea level and its spectacular architecture is visible from many parts of the Los Angeles basin. Among many claims to fame, the observatory is the best vantage point for observing the world-famous Hollywood sign.

Griffith Observatory is a free-admission, public facility owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks in the middle of an urban metropolis of 10 million people. It is one of the most popular informal education facilities in the United States and, with 2 million visitors a year, the most-visited public observatory in the world. The observatory is dedicated to preserving and explaining the complex astronomical discoveries made in research observatories around the world and through the space program. A unique hybrid of public observatory, planetarium, and exhibition space, it was constructed with funds from the bequest of Griffith J. Griffith (who donated the land for Griffith Park in 1896), who specified the purpose, features, and location of the building in his 1919 will. Upon completion of construction, the observatory was given to the City of Los Angeles with the provision that it be operated for the public with no admission charge. When it opened in 1935, it was one of the first institutions in the U.S. dedicated to public science and possessed the third planetarium in the U.S.

Since opening, the observatory has welcomed over 81 million visitors. Open late nearly every evening, Griffith Observatory’s audience is “the general public,” and it is one of the rare places where you will see people from every part of the region and from all parts of the world. Fulfilling the observatory’s goal of “visitor as observer,” free public telescope viewing is available each evening skies are clear and the building is open. More people (8 million) have looked through the observatory’s Zeiss 12-inch refracting telescope than through any other on Earth. More than 17 million have seen a live program in the observatory’s Samuel Oschin Planetarium.

The building operated continuously from 1935 until January 6, 2002, when it closed for a comprehensive renovation and expansion. This ambitious $93-million project renewed the observatory’s world-class standing and restored and enhanced the observatory’s ability to pursue its public astronomy mission, all driven by a commitment to excellence and enabled by a successful public-private partnership between the City of Los Angeles and Friends Of The Observatory. The renewed building reopened to the public on November 2, 2006.

To learn more about the Griffith Observatory, please visit their website: www.griffithobservatory.org.


Friends Of The Observatory

Friends Of The Observatory (FOTO) is the member-based support organization for the iconic Griffith Observatory. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, FOTO’s members, employees, volunteers, and Board of Directors work as the observatory’s fundraising organization to ensure that Griffith Observatory has the resources to inspire the future, one imagination at a time. FOTO is committed to helping Griffith Observatory remain a vital community centerpiece of learning, exploration, and inspiration and to continue to bring astronomy to life for millions of visitors. Griffith Observatory is owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles. The city provides public funds for staff, facilities, and on-going operating expenses of the observatory, but it is FOTO’s support that ensures that Griffith Observatory can remain one of the few museums that is free of charge for entry to the parking, grounds, or building.

FOTO was founded in 1978 by Debra Griffith, the spouse of Harold Griffith, grandson of Griffith Observatory founder Griffith J. Griffith. She was assisted in FOTO’s creation by Harold Griffith, Griffith Observatory Director Dr. Ed Krupp, and a small group of dedicated supporters. The intent of the organization was to support the observatory in its mission and to advocate for its restoration and renewal. Over the years, with support from its volunteer board and thousands of members, FOTO has provided funds for the purchase of equipment, artifacts, materials, and services not covered by the annual operating funds from the City of Los Angeles. This included helping to lead the planning and development for the renovation and expansion of Griffith Observatory in 2002. FOTO headed up the ambitious effort to raise the necessary funds, helping to secure $93 million in foundation, corporate, individual, state, city and federal commitments. The organization also negotiated, managed, and funded contracts for the purchase of all equipment in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium; managed the design, content development, acquisition, and installation of the new exhibit program; and directed the media relations and advertising for the reopening. FOTO continues to work on behalf of the observatory to:

  • Help support the special programming and activities that Griffith Observatory produces annually for the millions of children, youth, and families who visit each year, including the full-dome planetarium shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium theater, demonstrations in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater, teacher development programs, and more.
  • Be a strong voice in the community encouraging on-going support of Griffith Observatory at local, state, and national levels to ensure the observatory gets the help it needs to function optimally.
  • Find and develop innovative programs for members highlighting astronomy in all its implications. FOTO’s member activities include bringing world famous speakers to the Cosmic Musings Lecture Series and satellite feeds from eclipses.
  • Fund the cornerstone of the observatory’s educational programming, the acclaimed free School Field Trip Program that annually brings nearly 28,000 5th graders to Griffith Observatory for an in-depth, personal, and educationally exciting visit. Due to budgetary cutbacks in the City of Los Angeles, Griffith Observatory’s School Field Trip Program for 5th graders that addresses state science standards was once suspended. Beginning in fall 2008, FOTO committed to funding the program, which costs approximately $205,000 annually. This funding, derived from private donations, provides free bus transportation that allows these school children to participate, approximately half of whom are from schools in low- and moderate-income districts, for whom the field trip would be unaffordable without this aid.
  • Assist in the development of planetarium shows, including the current signature show, Centered in the Universe, which was created 10 years ago and has been seen by more than 3 million people. Currently, FOTO is working with Griffith Observatory scientists and staff to create a groundbreaking new show about life in the universe, Signs of Life, which will premiere in the first quarter of 2020. FOTO has been a partner to the observatory since the show’s inception and provides both production financing and project management of production staff as needed. The City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, Griffith Observatory management, and FOTO have jointly undertaken this multi-year project, the most ambitious since the renovation.
  • Continue to collaborate closely with the Department of Recreation and Parks and observatory leadership to keep the observatory at the forefront of worldwide public astronomy and science education. FOTO helps drive, define, and fund what is needed for future Griffith Observatory success in fulfilling its broader mission.


Mid-City, Los Angeles, California

Position Concept

The Friends Of The Observatory Board of Directors seeks an experienced, results-oriented Executive Director for the operational management and strategic fundraising of the organization, assuring the provision of mission-centric services. Together with the board, the Executive Director will provide inspired direction and operational leadership for the organization’s future growth and development. FOTO continues to develop and fund projects that keep Griffith Observatory a vital and constantly improving part of the fabric of Southern California. Initiatives focus on enhancing tourism, culture, and scientific understanding, while promoting an institution known and respected throughout the world. Future plans include both enriching the experience of visiting the observatory, but also sharing the astronomical and scientific knowledge and imagination that is a hallmark with broader audiences.

The Executive Director is a highly visible representative for FOTO and is responsible for developing and maintaining strong relationships with various constituencies including major donors, members, the board, funders, volunteers, and governmental and partner agencies. The Executive Director must lead by example and, therefore, create an environment in which staff and volunteer leaders work in tandem to advance and cultivate the mission of the organization. Working in close partnership with the board, this leader will take primary responsibility for promoting philanthropic awareness and create a sustainable case for support of the Griffith Observatory.

Reporting Relationships

The Executive Director is an exempt position that reports to the Board of Directors through the President. This executive presently manages a total team of three full-time staff responsible for membership, development, observatory public relations/communications, and broad administrative support. There is also an additional half-time support staff member who handles database administration.

Specific Duties

Under the direction of the board, the Executive Director is responsible for the financial and key administrative aspects for FOTO, as follows:

Fundraising: Ensure that philanthropic and fund development are carried out in keeping with the organization’s values, mission, vision, and plans. Lead, manage, and direct the funding/revenue base while focusing on a comprehensive fund development plan that identifies prospects and donors, corporate and community partners, and foundations to encourage diversified funding sources both for the immediate present and the future. Partner with the board to leverage existing donors, identify prospects, and steward supporters up to and including the solicitation of philanthropic support. Establish measurable goals and objectives and ensure they are met annually.

Financial Oversight: Lead the development of budgets for submission to the board, ensuring they are regularly informed on the financial status of the agency; provide the appropriate control and accountability of all funds, physical assets, and other property. Serve as a strategic partner to the board to develop both short- and long-term financial goals and plans for the organization.  Currently, the organization’s operating budget is approximately $1 million (not including special projects) with ongoing growth planned.

Board Relations: Facilitate the operations and administration of the board by promoting proactive board development, advising and keeping board members informed, interfacing between the board and staff, and supporting the board to fulfill its governance and fundraising function. With the Chairman of the Board of Directors, work to focus board attention on long-range strategic issues while ensuring optimal performance by the board, its committees, and individual board members in an ongoing manner. The Executive Director will help engage and empower the board to be proactive and active stewards of the organization.

Management and Staff Development: Lead the staff to strengthen and support FOTO’s programmatic, financial, and operational goals. The Executive Director will secure the strength of the organization by focusing on recruiting, developing, and motivating staff, identifying training needs and ensuring the creation and implementation of programs to address them. This includes the continual review of current practices and methods, as well as the development of new ones as necessary to reduce costs, encourage growth, and improve efficiency. The Executive Director will specify accountabilities for personnel and evaluate performance regularly. This executive will help the organization achieve its goals and make the most of existing strengths by creating a clear infrastructure and policies based on best practices. This leader will promote a culture that reflects FOTO’s values, encourages excellent performance, and rewards productivity.

External Relations: Assure that the agency and its mission, programs, and services are consistently presented in a strong, positive manner to relevant stakeholders, maintaining FOTO’s leadership and program advocacy role by interfacing with other community organizations and key constituent groups. The Executive Director will therefore be responsible for acting as a champion and liaison to city officials and representatives from the Department of Recreation and Parks to advance the observatory’s mission; to observatory leadership to maximize FOTO’s support; and to neighborhood councils, homeowner’s associations, and other cultural and scientific community entities.

This individual will provide leadership to a 1,600-person membership organization supporting the observatory’s mission. This includes the oversight of newsletters and email communications, and the coordination of a lecture series and events.

The Executive Director is responsible for designing and implementing a comprehensive, proactive communications strategy that aligns with FOTO’s goals and supports ongoing growth. This leader will define the voice of the organization and make a compelling case for support. This includes public and media relations functions, social media, and writing brochures, newsletters, and appeals. FOTO’s next Executive Director will have broad responsibility for developing the organization’s use of social media and expanding the web presence to present the organization in a captivating, vibrant, and contemporary way.

Leadership and Project Management: Responsible for the overall management of FOTO initiatives, events, and ventures. This will include the fiscal oversight of FOTO contributions to joint efforts with the Griffith Observatory and the City of Los Angeles. The Executive Director will ensure that all activities and operations are in compliance with local, state, and federal regulations and laws governing business operations. S/he will establish systems to regularly and systematically evaluate the results of overall operations and programs. Additionally, the Executive Director will ensure that third-party events have the highest return on investment.

Candidate Qualifications and Personal Attributes

The Executive Director must possess and project the utmost integrity and highest standards of professional conduct and must be qualified by accomplishment and experience to garner the trust of a committed, discerning, and motivated philanthropic community. This individual will have an inherent appreciation and passion for science and astronomy, while respecting the role that the Griffith Observatory plays in inspiring a love of learning and exploration for the Los Angeles community. The Executive Director will play a range of roles from adviser and strategist to hands-on implementer.

This leader will have a demonstrated track record of leading a comprehensive development function that includes annual and major/leadership giving, corporate and foundation philanthropy, planned giving, and special events. The successful candidate will have a minimum of seven to 10 years of leadership level fundraising experience with individuals, corporations, and foundations in a professional capacity within the Los Angeles community.

Additional expected qualifications, attributes, and characteristics include:

  • The ability to work in a complex environment with multiple stakeholders including observatory management as well as the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. This includes being comfortable with ambiguity in FOTO’s role while working to advance the organization’s mission.
  • The Executive Director will serve as a role model for staff and volunteer leaders toward the pursuit of excellence and lead in a hands-on manner, demonstrating a shared leadership approach.
  • The ideal candidate for this position will preferably have held all prior positions for meaningful periods of time, thereby establishing his/her ability to be successful and make a verifiable impact in each environment.
  • Strong multi-tasking skills, with the ability to control and move forward on several priorities simultaneously. This includes switching priorities as necessary without losing momentum.
  • Excellent organizational, administrative, and project management skills are a necessity. Demonstrated financial, administrative, and operational oversight ability, including experience with budgeting and financial analysis is a must.
  • A tested skill in shaping and leading conversations with varied stakeholders and constituents. Diplomatic in his/her ability to successfully interface with these various groups in a genuine and earnest way. This brilliant connector will have had past success building cooperation with and amongst diverse groups and have proven presentation and public speaking experience as well as negotiation skills.
  • A charismatic, forward-thinking, solutions-focused individual with a strong work ethic, as well as an energetic, imaginative, and passionate approach to work.
  • This leader will be a strategic thinker who can also adeptly handle day-to-day tactical management with the drive to see all tasks through to completion. The Executive Director will also be a detail-oriented individual with a commitment to accuracy.
  • A leadership style characterized by openness, trust, collegiality, and creativity, coupled with decisiveness and a strong commitment to the organization’s vision, mission, core values, and strategic priorities. Must perform the job in a cordial, respectful, and considerate manner.
  • Exceptional interpersonal, written, and verbal communications skills, blended with the ability to be an effective, engaged, and interested listener. The Executive Director will have a developed sense of humor and be capable of relating to people in a genial and appropriate manner.
  • A proven track record of establishing strong interpersonal relationships with the ability to relate to nonprofit leaders, donors, volunteers, and office staff. Must be able to mentor and coach these varied constituents in order to achieve the fundraising goals of the organization. Must be a goal-oriented and donor-focused professional.
  • Ability to exercise tact in dealing with sensitive, nuanced, and confidential issues and situations.

Educational Credentials

The successful candidate will hold an undergraduate degree or equivalent combination of education and experience.


A review of applications will commence immediately, continuing until the position is filled. Interested individuals are encouraged to submit their credentials by April 27, 2018, for full consideration. Complete applications should be submitted electronically and should include: a cover letter, a current resume reflecting work experience from college forward, and a list of names, telephone numbers, addresses, and email addresses for five professional references. References will not be contacted without the candidate’s approval/consent. 


Shelli Herman and Associates, Inc. is assisting FOTO with this search. All communication will be treated with the highest degree of confidentiality. Inquiries, expressions of interest, and referrals may be directed to:

Krista Haley, Associate
Shelli Herman and Associates, Inc.
Office: (800) 396-0595 ext. 7
E-mail: krista@shellihermansearch.com

Shelli Herman, President
Shelli Herman and Associates, Inc.
Office: (800) 396-0595 ext. 5
E-mail: shelli@shellihermansearch.com