March 08, 2019

After a Rocky Year, IOA Announces Search for Executive Director

The member-led, professional association for Organizational Ombuds is seeking applicants to be its Executive Director. The part-time, contract position will be the public champion and representative for the IOA, its members, and the organizational ombudsman profession. The Executive Director will carry out the strategic plan and policies as established by the IOA Board and managed by a staff team at an association management company, SBI Association Management. 

If successful, this search will yield the first executive director selected through a competitive search. In 2013, IOA's then management company, the Sherwood Group, announced plans for a executive director. The external search was unexpectedly abandoned when Sherwood nominated a long-time employee, Rick Koepke, for the position. Although many IOA members and directors were initially pleased with Koepke's leadership, the move by Sherwood was seen by many as unilateral and undermined the working relationship between the association and its management company. 

In 2015 Sherwood was acquired by Kellen Company, a leader in the association management field. In March 2018, Kellen insider, Marla Schrager, stepped in as executive director. Many hoped that Schrager would improve the relationship between IOA and Kellen. But, Sherwood Kellen then abruptly canceled its contract with IOA in July 2018, leaving the association to scramble for another management partner. 

IOA signed a service agreement in November 2018 with SBI Association Management, which took over management duties in January 2019. Although the new executive director will manage SBI's staff, the search is being managed by an outside consultant, Michael Reed of Bloch & Reed Association Advisors. Reed's partner, Ralph Block, consulted with IOA when Sherwood was hired in 2013 and his firm also assisted with the transition to SBI.

Applicants must be a college graduate with at least seven years of applicable leadership experience, and a commitment to IOA’s values of diversity, inclusion and equity for membership, the profession and staff. Experience as practicing ombuds (or closely related profession) and work with a volunteer-led, mission-driven organization are preferred. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until April 18, 2019 (two weeks after the IOA annual conference). (IOA ED Search.)

Updated 3/9/19: In the third paragraph, the second sentence was revised to better reflect the relationship between IOA and Sherwood, and an incorrect reference to Sherwood was changed to Kellen. 

Related posts: International Ombudsman Association to Hire First Executive DirectorIOA Annual Report: Association Builds on Strategic Plan in 2015IOA Selects New Executive DirectorKellen to End Contract with IOAInternational Ombudsman Association Selects New Management Company for 2019.


  1. Marcia Martinez-Helfman, IOA President 2018-20193/11/2019 8:16 AM

    In the spirit of full and accurate disclosure to our members and the Ombuds profession more broadly, and after consultation with current and former leaders of the IOA, I am sharing the following corrections to this post.

    The revisiting of IOA’s relationship with the predecessor of our predecessor management company seems of limited value. Nonetheless, it should be recounted correctly. Accordingly, we note that the selection of an executive director in 2013 was within the purview of our association management company (AMC) at the time, Sherwood. It was to be one of their employees, whose services were provided in exchange for the fee paid by the IOA. The suggestion that this particular aspect of the IOA’s negotiations with Sherwood shaped the relationship for the subsequent four years with a successor AMC, Kellen, is incorrect.

    IOA’s relationship with Kellen (not Sherwood) ended in December 2018 (not July 2018) at which time SBI Association Management very capably stepped in as IOA’s new AMC. While our experience with SBI has not been long, we have been quite pleased with their enthusiasm for and support of our organization; this new relationship and the future of the IOA is indeed promising.

    It is important to note also that both SBI staff and the Executive Director will report to the Board of Directors through its Executive Committee. Therefore the description in this blog post of the reporting relationships is also incorrect.

    Finally, while the transition from one AMC to another can be challenging, the IOA was able to smoothly execute the handover from Kellen to SBI. This is largely attributable to the leadership of the Management Transition Task Force, appointed by IOA’s Board of Directors, and comprised of seasoned IOA volunteer leaders who dedicated dozens of hours to this undertaking; an accommodating and agile management partner, SBI; and an experienced management consulting partner, Bloch and Reed. The hard work and commitment of this team professionals has brought our organization to this exciting moment. We believe we are now on the cusp of witnessing the IOA and our profession reach greater heights.

    Rocky? No. Challenging, demanding, stretching? Yes. Exhilarating, exciting and promising? Absolutely yes, yes, and yes!

    Marcia Martinez-Helfman, President 2018-2019, International Ombudsman Association

  2. A big reason I write this blog is to provide historical context for the profession. In this particular post, the history has value for IOA members and potential applicants for the executive director position. Transparency will improve the conversation between IOA members and the Board, and ensure that applicants know more about the job.

    I stand by the facts of my post.

    • It is a fact that IOA and Sherwood opened an external search for an executive director. I provided a link to my post on this in December 2013 without contradiction. Over the subsequent years, multiple IOA leaders have commented to me on how Kellen’s decision to cut short the search was unexpected and impactful. Indeed, I believe this to be conventional wisdom within the membership.

    • The end of Kellen’s contract with IOA was not misreported. IOA announced that Kellen was ending the service agreement in July 2018 and said the decision “was not expected.” I provided link to a contemporaneous post on this announcement.

    • I did not misstate the reporting relationship for the new executive director. My summary simply did not include details about reporting lines. A link lets readers glean that information themselves. The fact that the position will report to the IOA Executive Committee is an entirely new detail that was not mentioned in the IOA announcement.

    Nonetheless, I respect your optimistic characterizations. As I’ve made clear in the past, this is not the “IOA blog” and I have no duty to report only the good stuff.

  3. Tom,

    Thank you for the work you do in running this blog and keeping it current. Marcia's retort to your original report is indicative of the a propensity of those currently in IOA leadership to sugar coat issues and to ignore deficiencies in IOA. There is a profound difference between serving as an ombuds and serving as a leader of an ombuds association. Unless and until the IOA membership identifies and elects into leadership positions members who have actual organizational leadership skills, IOA will suffer. More importantly, the new Executive Director is unlikely to succeed unless the IOA board acts like a board, and not like a group of ombuds attempting to ombuds each issue that comes to them.

  4. Tom,

    This is hands down the most important site for ombuds in the United States and maybe the world. Keep up the great work. I'm happy to see that you are not allowing IOA leadership to bully you into white washing this post. Transparency is needed now more than ever.

    1. Thank you. I don't feel bullied, fortunately. I think this is a respectful disagreement.

  5. The work that Marcia has done this year, the possibly thousands of hours dedicated by her individually and by other volunteers is something to greatly admire and respect. Also, it is important to recognize Tom's valuable service to the profession in maintaining this blog for all of us. His is also an important service. To all of them, sincere thanks. This profession is so much better for it.

    1. Volunteering on the IOA Board is a difficult and often thankless job. I hope that the new executive director can improve the experience for our directors.

    2. I am at awe at the investment of time and effort by IOA´s leadership, particularly their top officers. In the past, I have participanted in other boards and have never seen so much being asked from board members on a daily basis. Neither have I seen so much selflessness, sacrifice and dedication for the benefit of all members. On top of it, like any other leader, they open themselves to criticism. I also hope that a good part of this weight will be lifted from their shoulders by the new Executive Director.

  6. There's a slight misunderstanding regarding the selection of an ED when we transitioned to Sherwood. The agreement was for them to provide an ED from their roster. At the time, most of their exec staff were at capacity and that might've merited the need for them to initiate a search from within their industry. In that case, IOA might've had SOME input in the process. One thing to note, though, IOA’s ‘involvement’ in the ED selection, was more of a courtesy than a right. The deal we brokered was for Sherwood to provide the necessary services and personnel and we would pay a flat fee. We didn’t have a say on who that staff would be. Obviously, they wanted us to be pleased with the staff, but these were their employees and, ultimately, their decisions to make, not ours. Rick was identified before the search was initiated, this happened very quickly and the change-decision-switch, whatever you'd like to call it, caught us off guard and both Sherwood and IOA leadership moved forward to build a good working relationship. It happened 6 years ago, that horse has been dead a long time, let's stop beating it.

    That aside, I know the Board, current and past, has continually attempted to be more strategic and efficient. It's a work in progress, but I've seen this current board make a number of important decisions to move the profession forward. Do remember that the IOA's leadership, which includes directors and committee chairs, are limited by time, resources and sometimes expertise in the areas that would propel IOA further.

    For those highlighting the lack of organizational leadership and/or 'to act more like a board and less as an ombuds', I would encourage to bring forward their expertise in this area or propose willing leaders who possess them.

    I'd also like to know how deep these feelings of disappointment in leadership run through our membership. Is it a handful of very vocal individuals or is it more than that? And what can YOU do to change it? 'Be the change you want to see'.

    Anamaris Cousins Price

  7. Thank you, Anamaris. Well said. As an IOA Board member now for the last year, I see the huge demands and effort required and the complexity of the decision-making. Our Board Officers and the Management Transition Task Force have done an amazing job with the "hand we were dealt" by Kellen. I have never been more optimistic about the possibilities, the profession and the IOA. Looking forward to seeing everyone in New Orleans!
    Elaine Shaw

  8. I appreciate the post and discussion that has followed, including the varied opinions on what these changes have felt like and mean for IOA now. As someone who has been around for nearly five years now, I also want to reflect that the discussion here seems to follow the same patterns that I've seen at the annual conference (and especially the annual business meeting): IOA members ask questions or voice concerns about something they're observing or feeling, and IOA board members - understandably - feel a certain way because members do not have all of the context or background that they do, and almost certainly have not put in the same level of personal exertion into making IOA work.

    My question for this community is how we can interrupt this cycle in a productive way. It's frustrating to me as a newer ombuds, and it seems as though it's frustrating to just about everyone involved regardless of how long they've been around or what seat they occupy. Can we find a better way to communicate with each other, while continuing to rightly push and hold each other accountable for making both this organization and this profession stronger and better?

    1. Marcia Gee Riley3/15/2019 4:41 PM

      I appreciate the respectful civil discourse in this chain. I am grateful for Tom and Marcia's leadership in IOA (past and present) and with the blog. ALL OF IT takes a lot of selfless time and energy that could have been spent otherwise in pleasure and leisure. Our profession relies very heavily on it's members and whether that is sustainable or not, it is important that we give each other the benefit of the doubt and treat one another with respect and humanity.
      For those of you attending the conference, this year's Undebate will hopefully lend opportunity to proactively discuss the ways that we can engage with one another to support us moving forward as individuals and as an organization:

      The Howard Gadlin Undebate
      Ombuds proudly follow generally accepted standards of practice in their professional work,
      including the IOA standards of practice. Are there unwritten standards of practice about how
      we as professionals interact? Join us as panelists reflect on the implicit and explicit norms,
      expectations, and challenges the ombuds community faces as we interact with each other.

      I look forward to seeing many of you there!
      With gratitude, Marcia Gee Riley

  9. Dear Ombuds friends and colleagues! -- Thanks for the great discussion here! Looking at the wide range of comments, let me chime in along with the others to THANK YOU, TOM for your sustained commitment to providing an independent information source and venue where people feel safe to share perspectives. I find the comments here to be very helpful and candid, and I resonate with many of them. Based on my long involvement with the OO community, my view is that, at almost every level, we have challenges to address. It seems that sometimes we tend to focus on a few, select accomplishments because they are easy to define and tangible. Meanwhile, fundamental identity and practice issues loom unresolved. I resonate with the comments that encourage the IOA Board to become a more effective, decision-making and leadership body. Yet, I have also observed that, as a larger professional community, it seems bred into our culture to avoid larger issues around practice and standards. Perhaps this is out of fear that to make hard decisions might lead to excluding friends whose practice structures and approaches fall well outside the norms established by the SOPs. We do seem to value a culture of consensus and belonging and our leaders surface within this culture. So, it will take very conscious effort and development for all of us to come to grips with making decisions that sometime have a downside.

  10. IOA leadership has been asleep at the wheel for too long. Lots of hours given does not equal hours focused on the right stuff. Sorry, but true. The OO practice as we know it, through IOA, is going to get totally smoked by technology if drastic measures aren't taken. Online platforms are popping up -- see Bravely, which seems to be really growing and taking market share that IOA should have had but has shot itself in the foot by, among other things, coming with CO-OP, which excluded so many! -- and IOA is going to become irrelevant if we don't make drastic changes. Old timers will poo poo me, but flying cars, self driving cars...... it's all not that far off, as is the ability of an online platform to offer up high quality individuals that provide OO-like services, possibly for a fraction of the cost of an office. With each passing generation, a mobile device with an App become more important, and an office with the IOA Standards framed and hanging on the wall becomes much less.... Sweet dreams, IOA, hopefully not to the profession.

  11. Hi There, Anonymous, Despite the agism implied in your comment, as an "old-timer" I agree with the essence of your comment that the profession needs to come to grips with understanding that the concept of providing confidential, neutral, assistance is not necessarily wedded to a "brick and mortar" approach. I don't quite understand your conclusion that CO-OP "excludes." CO-OP simply assesses an ombuds' practice gauged against the current SOPs. I believe the majority of IOA members are not CO-OP, but still practice and participate equally. The whole concept of eliminating membership categories was aimed at inclusiveness. It seems one of our principle challenges in this age of Apps and Website services, will be to offer the public and stakeholders some sense of professional competency. As we all know, almost anyone with WiFi access can host a site. The relatively minor technical prowess required to utilize the technology is simple compared to the competence required to help visitors navigate thorny workplace or campus issues. BTW, my Ombuds program is a global, non-brick and mortar program, which has been in place for nearly a decade and there are a number of other similar programs. All this said, I agree with your observation that the profession needs to come to grips with the new era, where communication is far less dependent on face-to-face modalities. :-)