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Project Return

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Project Return


Job Summary


Project Return is solely dedicated to the successful new beginnings of the men and women returning to the community from incarceration. Project Return is nationally known for our innovative, high-volume reentry program resulting in high employment, low recidivism, and changed lives. Our vision is a full and free life after incarceration.

Each year, thousands of people in Tennessee are released from incarceration and returning to our community, only to face often insurmountable odds as they strive to build their new lives.  Their motivation brings them to the doorstep of Project Return, where we’ve served this vulnerable community for over 40 years, continuing to grow and deliver hope and life-changing opportunities. Project Return works with people who want more than anything to start a new life after incarceration and leave prison behind. We are committed to every person’s humanity and dignity, and their right to live fully and freely in this world.

Mass incarceration is one of the defining dilemmas of our day. Nothing about addressing mass incarceration can be effective, unless we assure that people have opportunities to succeed when they are released. Gainful employment is the key that opens the door to a new life. Project Return provides the resources and services needed to gain employment and successfully reintegrate back into society.  Over 80% of our participants succeed in getting employment. This is the opposite of the national averages, in which up to 70% of people are unemployed for their first year after incarceration.

Project Return measures the success of our services through high employment and low recidivism. While the state and national recidivism rates exceed 50%, the rate for people coming through Project Return is lower than 15%. We build relationships with people, walking alongside them and encouraging them every step of the way.

Prison in-reach – We are in jails and prisons every day, sparking connections with the men and women who are currently incarcerated and will soon gain their freedom in our community.

Workforce development – Employment is the most important factor for successful reentry. We deliver a 3-day curriculum – every week, to a new group of just-released individuals – that emphasizes soft skills and gets people job-ready.

Employment opportunities – Our Business Development team builds relationships with employers across the city and region, and engages to meet their workforce needs.

Through our social enterprise, we engage our people as productive members of society generating revenue for economic growth.

Three Social Enterprises:

PRO Employment (“PROe”) is Project Return’s social enterprise for transitional staffing to bridge the critical chasm between prison and regular employment for individuals who want to live productively and leave prison behind. (Launched in 2013)

Property Solutions (“PROPS”) is a subsidiary of Project Return that operates as a full-service maintenance property solution for commercial and residential needs. PROPS also allows Project Return to generate more employment opportunities for the people it serves and provide hands-on job readiness training.  (Launched in 2017)

PRO Housing (“PROh”) is an affordable housing initiative dedicated specifically to meet the permanent housing needs of people who’ve returned from incarceration and have gotten their new lives on track, but unfortunately are excluded from rental opportunities due to their conviction history.  Currently PROh owns 32 units across six zip codes in Nashville. (Launched in 2017)

In 2021, Fast Company named Project Return “one of the 10 most innovative not-for-profit organizations.”

Founded in 1979, Project Return is an innovative and expanding organization, with an annual budget of $7.5 million and locations in Nashville and Chattanooga.


Reporting to the Board of Directors, the Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) of Project Return is responsible for the successful leadership, management, and growth of the organization. The CEO is responsible for evaluating, developing, and overseeing the delivery of all programs and services in accordance with the agency’s stated purpose and strategic directives, and in such a manner that optimum results are achieved in relation to the resources and impact of the agency.

The CEO will provide strategic leadership and management for a vibrant and committed, professional 50-member team. As one of the primary external faces of the organization, the CEO will be both inspiring and inspired, and will have the capability to speak passionately and compellingly about Project Return’s mission to broaden awareness and support of Project Return’s services while also sharing empathetically with participants and staff.

The CEO will have an understanding of traditional fundraising strategies and the capacity for new business development across our multiple social enterprises. The CEO will stay present to the needs of participants and employees while keeping a close eye on external opportunities. The CEO will capitalize on opportunities, identify challenges, and prioritize, leverage, and secure the resources necessary to meet those challenges. In partnership with a talented and dedicated senior leadership team, the CEO also ensures that fiscal, operations, fundraising, marketing, human resources and programmatic strategies are effectively implemented with fiscal soundness.

Job Responsibilities



  • Collaborate with the Board of Directors to identify, create and implement strategic plans to actualize business objectives
  • Cultivate a strong and transparent working relationship with the Board and ensure open communication about the measurement of financial, programmatic, and impact performance against stated milestones and goals


  • Identify, recruit, train and develop a talented team of employees who can lead critical departments and manage strategic business functions
  • Ensure that staff have adequate support, resources, and training to successfully do their job and fulfill mission and vision
  • Develop organizational culture and promote transparency and collaboration
  • Lead and inspire to advance inclusion, equity, and diversity in all aspects of the organization
  • Ensure that comprehensive development, marketing and sales strategies that will help meet revenue targets are in place
  • Identify potential risks and opportunities within the organization and its environment to protect business interests
  • Monitor company operations and ensure employees and business practices comply with regulatory and legal requirements
  • Oversee the financial status of the organization including developing long and short-range financial plans, monitoring the budget and ensuring sound financial controls are in place; set financial priorities accurately to ensure the organization is operating in a manner that supports the needs of the program and staff


  • Build brand strategy; represent the organization at social and corporate events in ways that strengthen the brand and communicate the organization’s message
  • Raise awareness and bring thought leadership to the broader community
  • Determine revenue-generating efforts to pursue for funding and potential earned income efforts, etc.
  • Lead, launch and grow entrepreneurial pursuits; contribute to development of potential new programs and initiatives
  • Develop and sustain partnerships with company stakeholders, industry regulators and other relevant parties
  • Partner with Board of Directors, staff, and stakeholders to secure the development of diverse sources of income including: foundation, corporate, and government grants; individual and major donations
  • Communicate Project Return’s mission and program impact effectively, both verbally and in writing



  • Minimum 10 years’ experience in nonprofit, social enterprise, or business, with a track record of success in a leadership role
  • Demonstrated effectiveness in management and team leadership; experience managing a senior team of direct reports as well as the ability to work collaboratively across all teams and levels
  • Strong commitment to the professional development of staff; successful track record of recruiting and retaining a diverse team
  • Proven ability to develop and execute financial strategies; excellent understanding of finance-related performance standards
  • Experience in fundraising, with proven experience cultivating successful relationships with grant-makers, funders, and donors.
  • Experience developing strong and effective relationships with a diverse group of Board of Directors is preferred
  • Demonstrated knowledge of corporate and regulatory best practices
  • Knowledge of the field of incarceration and re-entry, preferable
  • Bachelor’s degree required, Master’s desirable; relevant experience may be substituted


  • Strategic thinking and analytical skills
  • Emotional and cultural intelligence
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Commitment to equity, inclusion, and continued learning
  • Commitment to social justice and justice-impacted individuals
  • Willingness to engage partners, community funders, and clients
  • Team and Action-oriented
  • Innovative and entrepreneurial
  • Ability to prioritize and/or adapt programmatic needs for transitioning communities and expanding geography
  • Passion for the mission of Project Retur

Additional Information



  • Project Return partners with the state of TN for our benefits package which includes full coverage of vision, dental, and medical for the Project Return employee.



How to Apply


Project Return has retained the services of ThinkingAhead Executive Search. Please submit your resume and expression of interest to: Chris Spagnola at cspagnola@thinkingahead.com and Ryan Rasmussen at rrasmussen@thinkingahead.com. The application screening process is ongoing until a candidate is hired.


  • Date Posted: January 27, 2023
  • Type: Full-Time
  • Job Function: Executive Leadership
  • Service Area: Social / Human Services
  • Salary Range: $150,000 - $170,000, depending on experience.