The Foundation to search for next leader as longtime CEO Jonna Ward announces departure

Jonna Ward

The Board of Directors for The Seattle Public Library Foundation will search for a new leader.

Foundation CEO Jonna Ward, who joined the organization in 2001 and became its executive director in 2008, will depart her role this summer. She said the timing is ideal for a transition at the helm of the library’s nonprofit partner.

“The Foundation’s team, board, finances, and leadership position in our sector are incredibly strong, thanks to our amazing library supporters,” Ward said. “I am grateful beyond words for what we’ve been able to do for our library over the past 22 years.”

Under Ward’s leadership, SPLF grew to become the largest public library foundation in the nation, based on assets. The Foundation has significantly increased private funding for The Seattle Public Library’s programming, collections, and capital improvements, providing more than $87 million in total support since 2008. Ward oversaw a shift to a trust-based philanthropy model of grantmaking, allowing for greater flexibility and innovation in how library programs respond to patron needs. She also helped lead successful ballot measure campaigns for the 2012 and 2019 Seattle library levies, which invested more than $340 million in the library with overwhelming voter approval.

“Jonna is a skilled and passionate leader, and she’s been an invaluable partner to our library,” said Tom Fay, chief librarian and executive director of The Seattle Public Library. “As her work demonstrates, libraries achieve much more when they work hand-in-hand with their foundations. So many of the programs, books, and spaces that SPL patrons enjoy would not be possible without the support of the Foundation during Jonna’s tenure.”

With a strong base in Seattle, Ward and SPLF have served as a model for public library fundraisers and advocates across North America. Ward’s leadership efforts include Library Giving Day, which began as an SPLF pilot in 2019 and has become a critical fundraising tool for more than 500 libraries in the U.S. and Canada. The Library Support Network, an SPLF-led project to share efforts around fundraising and advocacy, has grown to include more than 400 participants from 193 library systems. 

“This transition presents a great opportunity for the Foundation to chart our course for the future,” said Board President Sarah Stanley. “Under Jonna’s leadership, our position locally and nationally is stronger than ever, and we are poised to make our libraries more accessible, more equitable, and more resilient.”

The SPLF Board has begun the search process for a new CEO. A job announcement and description for the position will be posted in the coming weeks.