Meet NYC Audubon's Next Executive Director, Jessica Wilson

NYC Audubon's next Executive Director, Jessica Wilson.

NYC Audubon  |  January 20, 2022

New York City Audubon is delighted to welcome Jessica Wilson as its next Executive Director. Jessica will begin her new role on January 27, 2022, and has been working in transition with the organization’s Board of Directors and Kathryn Heintz, who retired as Executive Director in December 2021.

A lifelong New Yorker and birder, Jessica comes to NYC Audubon with deep experience in fundraising and community engagement. Through her work with organizations such as the National Audubon Society, Prospect Park Alliance, and the Friends for Governors Island, Jessica has built a successful career dedicated to helping preserve our City’s natural areas and conserve urban wildlife. 

Understanding Kathryn’s vast importance to the organization over the past seven years and the lasting legacy she was leaving behind, NYC Audubon’s Board of Directors led an extensive search for the next Executive Director. “Jessica’s energy, expertise, and vision for this important leadership role were evident throughout the search process,” says Board President Karen Benfield. “We are thrilled that she will bring her many talents and passion for our City’s parks, green spaces, and migratory birds to New York City Audubon as we work to preserve habitat and save avian lives in the most dynamic city in the world.” 

In her most previous role as Chief Development Officer for the Friends of Governors Island, Jessica led the organization’s fundraising efforts and built support for the Island’s broader climate, public space, and art initiatives. Working with board, staff, and partners at the Trust for Governors Island, Jessica doubled the fundraising revenue for the organization during her tenure, enabling the Friends to build their volunteer program, improve visitor services, and provide more funding for the care of the island’s landscapes—which happens to provide terrific habitat for more than 200 bird species.  

Prior to her work on Governors Island, Jessica served as VP, Development & Marketing at the Prospect Park Alliance, where she developed partnerships and strategies to enhance outreach, build community, and drive fundraising capacity. Jessica has also led engagement efforts in alumni relations at Columbia University and at the National Audubon Society, where she built brand awareness and expanded digital outreach and online fundraising efforts to reach a broader and more diverse audience. Additionally, Jessica worked for a number of years managing marketing programs for American Express and for several science education organizations in marketing and publishing.

Growing up in New York City, Jessica discovered NYC Audubon bird walks as a teenager and was captivated by our City’s most famous Red-tailed Hawk, Pale Male, and his community of ardent hawk-watchers. While she’s been connected to NYC Audubon for years as a member and also as a volunteer in the early days of Project Safe Flight, she is excited to build on the organization’s rich legacy in outreach, conservation, engagement, and advocacy.

“I’m thrilled to be joining NYC Audubon and its passionate and motivated community —from our 10,000 members, 1,500 volunteers, and many valued partners, to our top-notch staff,” says Jessica. “As a wildlife enthusiast, I’m committed to bird conservation, and as a New Yorker, I’m committed to the health and vibrancy of the City. The two go hand in hand.”

Jessica succeeds retiring Executive Director Kathryn Heintz, whose stellar vision and stewardship helped lead the organization to unprecedented growth and significant achievements benefiting the City’s birds and people. Among her many accomplishments, Kathryn was instrumental in working with the New York City Council and stakeholders to successfully pass landmark bird-friendly buildings legislation, positioned NYC Audubon as a leader in the study of green roofs with the creation of the Green Roof Researchers Alliance, and geared the organization towards inspiring the next generation of conservationists by increasing NYC Audubon’s offering of free bird walks and festivals, establishing a seasonal nature center on Governors Island, and launching the Feathered Friends after-school birding program. The organization’s Board and staff express their immense gratitude to Kathryn for her exemplary leadership. The accomplishments of the last seven years are testament to her passion and commitment.

As Jessica takes over as new Executive Director, among her priorities is strengthening the organization’s work with green roofs to create new habitat and engage more New Yorkers in conservation. Another priority is to continue bolstering the organization’s advocacy efforts: building upon recent organizational successes in passing bird-friendly buildings legislation in the New York City Council in 2019, Jessica is eager to work with the new City Council on passing comprehensive Lights Out legislation applying to all privately owned buildings in the City and mobilizing support for the Dark Skies Act, a statewide Lights Out bill introduced in early January by Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Patricia Fahy. 

Jessica will also focus on expanding the organization’s audience in order to marshal a wide-ranging and dedicated coalition of supporters to take actions like participating in community science, volunteering, and advocating on behalf of the City’s birds. It is important to Jessica to build on the strong diversity and inclusion efforts already in place within the organization, engaging all New Yorkers in protecting birds and their habitats. 

“What’s good for birds is good for people and the city of New York,” Jessica says. “By protecting birds and habitat, we protect all New Yorkers and improve the quality of life for everyone. This is already the essence of the organization, and I’m just so excited to be a part of that mission.”

Look forward to hearing directly from Jessica here on our blog and in our eGret eNewsletter as she starts later this month and becomes NYC Audubon’s eighth Executive Director in its 42-year history. She plans to attend as many bird walks, trips, and events as she can and is looking forward to meeting all of our members, supporters, and partners.