How Fountain House built out their senior leadership team to expand their platform and impact on a national level

For more than 70 years, Fountain House has empowered people with serious mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression, to live and thrive in society. Today, Fountain House is the most widely replicated community-based mental health model for people living with mental illness in the world. There are over 300 replication programs serving over 100,000 people throughout the US and in more than 30 countries. All of these programs are operated by people with mental illness and built from the ground up to respond to the economic, social, and cultural needs of their individual communities.

Fountain House engaged Development Guild at a transitional moment in the organization’s history. Their President of 27 years was preparing to retire, and Fountain House was seeking to expand their platform and impact on a local, regional, and national level. We began our partnership with a thorough assessment. Through interviews with each board member, senior leadership, and select members of the organization, we gained a deeper understanding of Fountain House’s organizational opportunities and challenges and what experience and characteristics were most important for a new President/CEO moving forward. We recruited a diverse pool of candidates with strong track records of success in targeted sectors including healthcare and social services.

In 2019, Fountain House welcomed Dr. Ashwin Vasan, M.D., Ph.D. as the organization’s new President and Chief Executive Officer. An expert in public health policy and political and social advocacy, Dr. Vasan joined Fountain House from the New York City Department of Health and Hygiene where he was Executive Director and Founder, Health Access Equity Unit. Dr. Vasan continues to practice at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons where he is an Assistant Professor and works as a primary care internist for low-income patients.

In conducting his due diligence during the interview process, Dr. Vasan developed a vision for Fountain House: to leverage its unique and successful community-based mental health model in elevating the organization’s mental health advocacy role and impact. To support Dr. Vasan’s ambitious vision and agenda for Fountain House, the organization needed to strengthen its senior leadership team with two additional talented and accomplished professionals. We continued our partnership with Fountain House with executive searches for a Senior Vice President and Chief External Affairs Officer and a Vice President and Chief Development Officer. These two positions required a close partnership with each other and with Dr. Vasan.

A key responsibility for the new Senior Vice President and Chief External Affairs Officer would be to bolster Fountain House’s brand and effectively communicate the organization’s expanded role in advocacy. We also needed to convey to exceptional candidates that Fountain House was committed and capable of expanding its service and advocacy platforms. This was critical to securing Mary Crowley for the SVP role. Mary came from the Vera Institute of Justice, a leading national justice reform nonprofit, where she served as Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs and a member of its leadership team. During her tenure, narrative change and communications became key pillars of Vera’s justice reform efforts and achieved national recognition, and the robust communications and public affairs infrastructure Crowley built resulted in major media attention.

In addition to strengthening their external affairs strategy, Fountain House needed to elevate their philanthropic program to deliver on their plans for the future. They were seeking a Vice President and Chief Development Officer candidate who had proven success leading fundraising operations at a national organization and a demonstrated commitment to social impact and justice. Fountain House hired Kevin Taylor, whose previous role was as Chief Development Officer at the American Red Cross’ Greater New York Region – the fundraising base of the national organization. Earlier in his career, Kevin held senior development positions at the Robin Hood Foundation and United Way of New York City. He welcomed the opportunity to join Fountain House, where he would partner with Dr. Vasan, Crowley, and the Board to chart the organization’s strategic direction, while witnessing firsthand the role of philanthropy in bettering the health of members living with serious mental illnesses.

Fountain House’s commitment to defining an ambitious future and recruiting the leadership needed to achieve it, coupled with our partnership throughout the process, means they are well poised for continued growth and impact. In the past few months throughout the Coronavirus crisis, Fountain House, under Dr. Vasan’s direction, has played a critical role in advocating for the marginalized communities who are disproportionately suffering. Learn more about how Fountain House has adapted their services – and continues to bring about change in the New York community and far beyond – on Fountain House’s website.

We partnered with Development Guild on our search for a Vice President and Chief Development Officer and a Senior Vice President and Chief External Affairs Officer. Their team was dedicated and communicative; they understood our organization’s direction – and the key role these positions would play. We made two great hires, who are both strong fits for their positions and Fountain House.

- Dr. Ashwin Vasan, President and CEO

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