Chief Operating Officer

Full Time
Senior Executive


Founded at the University of Michigan Medical School, TRAILS (Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students) is among the most innovative and rapidly-growing school-based mental health solutions in the country. After a decade in the academic setting, TRAILS spun out from the University in 2022 and became fiscally sponsored by Tides Center with approximately 35 staff. Within a year, the staff size had more than doubled. Today, the growing team is working toward the TRAILS mission of transforming the landscape of youth mental health care delivery by equipping school staff with the training and resources they need to provide evidence-based and culturally responsible programming to their students. 

To date, TRAILS has brought essential skills and resources to more than 14,000 teachers, administrators, and school mental health professionals. The best-in-class program materials are built specifically for the school setting, and the unique training model is driven by research from the field of implementation science. TRAILS’ website and library of materials are utilized by educators and clinicians across the United States and in more than 100 countries around the world. While the organization’s impact today is greatest in its home state of Michigan, TRAILS is expanding nationally with strong support from education and health sector leaders, public offices, and state policymakers. 

On July 1, 2024, TRAILS is set to become an independent 501(c)(3) organization, a transition that underscores the need to evaluate and fortify its foundational systems, processes, and policies to mitigate risks and ensure smooth operations as a standalone entity. This shift aims to bolster TRAILS' mission and capabilities in delivering mental health programs to schools across the U.S., with a particular focus on serving Title I schools and students facing significant mental health challenges. Amidst growing demand, TRAILS emphasizes equity and cultural humility, seeking team members dedicated to creating inclusive environments and ensuring equitable health access for all students.

Position Overview

The inaugural Chief Operating Officer (COO) at TRAILS will play a pivotal role in guiding the organization through a period of significant growth and transformation. As a key member of the Senior Leadership team, the COO will work in close partnership with the rest of the C-Suite, the CEO, and the board to refine and execute a strategic plan that aligns with TRAILS' guiding vision of a future in which all children and teens have equitable access to effective mental health services. This role demands a strategic thinker with a robust background in people strategy, operations, finance, and team leadership, capable of translating broad visions into actionable plans that drive long-term sustainability and impact.

The COO will oversee three primary areas—organizational operations, people and culture, and finance—guiding the leadership within these verticals, including a VP of Finance and Operations with eight direct reports, and a VP of People, whose team is poised to expand to four direct reports. Tasked with spearheading the development and enhancement of systems and processes, the COO will play a crucial role in collaborating with these functional leaders to elevate organizational efficiency and effectiveness amidst rapid program expansion. The COO will have highest level accountability for the financial health of the organization and will oversee a budget of approximately $20m. The COO will support high-level leaders in the management of diverse funding streams, including private and foundation philanthropy, publically allocated revenue, and earned contract income. They will craft and implement sustainable economic models and ensure the organization's financial operations are conducted with the highest level of integrity and compliance.

A significant part of this role will entail people management and fostering an organizational culture that prioritizes well-being, integrates DEIB values into all operations, and supports high performance. The COO will lead efforts to create and implement performance management systems, strategize on talent acquisition, and oversee human resources functions, ensuring that TRAILS is not only a leader in mental health advocacy but also an exemplary place to work.

The ideal candidate for the COO position at TRAILS will have a proven track record of navigating fast-pace startup environments, managing organizational growth strategically, and working with non-profit, mission-driven boards. They will bring a business excellence mindset to the role, balancing staff experience with a steadfast commitment to the organization's core mission and responsibility for delivering an unmatched program that achieves meaningful impact at scale.

This role is perfect for a mission-driven executive who is ready to tackle challenges head-on, lead with compassion and integrity, and inspire a team to achieve extraordinary results.

This remote position reports directly to the CEO and requires the flexibility to travel as needed.

Key Responsibilities

Team Management

  • Manage two direct reports across key organizational verticals: Finance, Operations and People. 
  • Provide mentorship and development opportunities to build a strong, high-performing team capable of leading their respective areas with autonomy and excellence.
  • Actively pursue opportunities that foster professional development, career advancement, and job satisfaction for their direct reports and reporting teams through conferences, training, mentorship, and other growth activities.

Strategic Leadership and Vision

  • Collaborate closely with the CEO and the board to enhance and execute the strategic plan, ensuring it aligns with TRAILS' mission and growth objectives.
  • Transform strategic goals into operational and financial strategies, leading key initiatives that secure the organization's sustainability and extend its reach and effectiveness.
  • Manage day-to-day operations and adjust as needed to ensure alignment with broader strategic objectives, facilitating agility and responsiveness in meeting milestones.
  • Engage with the Leadership Team to integrate financial insights into program development, expansion strategies, fundraising efforts, and strategic planning sessions, ensuring a cohesive approach to growth.
  • Cultivate a culture of innovation and continuous improvement, encouraging the team to explore new ideas, technologies, and methodologies that can enhance TRAILS' operational excellence and impact on mental health care.
  • Employ adept change-management skills to lead the organization through transitions and growth phases, effectively managing resistance and ensuring team buy-in for new directions or strategies.
  • Spearhead clear, transparent, and consistent internal communication, ensuring all staff members are informed, aligned, and motivated towards shared goals.

Financial Management and Sustainability

  • In the first months, conduct a thorough evaluation of TRAILS' technological and financial systems and oversee completion of priority upgrades needed to effectively support program expansion and organizational growth and ensure scalability.
  • Ongoing partnership with and management of VP of Finance and Operations and their reporting team to:
    • Develop and implement a sustainable economic model that optimizes a mix of diverse funding sources including public, private, and contract. Administer comprehensive budgeting, financial forecasting, and fiscal management processes, establishing a strong foundation for the organization's financial well-being. Manage advanced, accessible accounting systems to facilitate strategic budgeting and financial decision-making.
    • Identify, evaluate, and recommend potential partnerships that provide financial or operational benefits to the organization.
    • Implement detailed financial planning and reporting systems, enhancing the organization's ability to make data-driven decisions and transparently share progress with stakeholders.
  • Align the work of the finance vertical and the external affairs team across diverse funding sources, including public, private and contract, ensuring compliance and optimization of funds:
    • Manage and coach the VP of Finance to successfully build and adapt systems that align to the needs and systems of the external affairs team
    • Partner with the development team to establish goals, identify gaps, and strategize on filling those through collaborative and strategic efforts.  
  • Collaborate with policy colleagues to set legislative funding goals and outline public revenue strategies, focusing on optimizing state, federal, local, settlement, departmental, and grant funding sources.
  • Collaborate with organization’s leadership to ensure that spending decisions are data driven and appropriately transparent across stakeholders

Operations Management

  • Initiate a comprehensive audit of existing operations, identifying efficiency gaps and areas for improvement, and swiftly enact changes to enhance organizational stability.
  • Oversee the development and management of IT infrastructure, data management practices, and physical assets, ensuring they meet the needs of staff and program delivery.
  • Hold accountability for finance, legal compliance, and contract management, including setup, review, execution, and oversight, adept at navigating disputes, terminations, and liability issues to safeguard organizational interests.
  • Ensure streamlined and standardized operational processes and systems across departments, promoting efficiency, effectiveness, and alignment with the organization's strategic goals.
  • Work across reporting teams and the broader organization to develop and execute risk management strategies as needed, proactively addressing potential operational and financial challenges to ensure stability and integrity.

People Management & Organizational Culture

  • In the first months, conduct a thorough evaluation of TRAILS' people systems, processes, and structures and oversee completion of priority deliverables as needed to effectively strengthen and evolve the organization’s people function.
  • Partner with VP of People and their reporting team to:
    • Develop and deploy a holistic people management framework that encourages accountability and professional growth across the organization.
    • Enhance existing competencies to guide performance evaluations, promotions, and staff development.
    • Create and implement a comprehensive and sustainable performance management system that supports attracting, developing, and retaining top talent. 
    • Build and maintainHR functions, including payroll, benefits, compensation models, and staff wellness programs, ensuring a supportive and nurturing work environment.
  • Assume responsibility for the organization's health and operational stability, safeguarding its assets and ensuring the strategic allocation of resources to maximize impact and ensure long-term sustainability.
  • Champion diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives throughout the organization, ensuring that DEI principles are deeply integrated into all aspects of operations, culture, and strategic planning to foster an inclusive and equitable workplace.

Experience And Qualifications

What you’ve accomplished (required):

  • 10+ years of relevant experience, including 5+ years in a senior-level leadership role
  • Experience in leading operations within high-growth or scaling environments
  • Demonstrated business acumen via experience leading the business operations of a team, including building processes, goal setting, budgeting, progress monitoring
  • Demonstrated experience leading full-cycle employee experiences rooted in DEIB frameworks including, recruitment, performance management, retention, and staff satisfaction
  • Demonstrated ability in financial planning, budgeting, and managing financial operations, in a mix of funding environments (e.g., public, private, philanthropic) 
  • Demonstrated success in managing and developing direct reports and teams, with a strong commitment to nurturing the growth and skill sets of finance and operations personnel
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills, fostering confidence and clarity, with a proven ability to influence and adeptly navigate through ambiguity
  • Proven capacity to identify and solve problems to advance the goals of the organization
  • Proficient in operating autonomously, with a keen sense of when to seek collaboration with the CEO and other key stakeholders

Skills you have developed and knowledge you have:

  • Comfort and skill working in virtual environments with remote team members
  • CPA, MBA or equivalent experience preferred
  • Professional experience in a non-profit or consulting setting that serves high-poverty and/or otherwise marginalized populations, education and/or healthcare sector

Salary And Benefits

The salary range for this position is $255,000 - $273,000.

TRAILS offers a comprehensive benefits package including medical, dental, and vision as well as a 403B with a safe harbor match and short and long term disability. Additionally, TRAILS offers a generous holiday and paid time off package. 


To Apply

TRAILS is partnering with RCG Talent Solutions to find our inaugural Chief Operating Officer. Please use this link to submit your application. If you require a reasonable accommodation to submit an application or to participate in the application or interview process, please direct all concerns or questions to [email protected]

TRAILS is an equal-opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, handicap, age, religion, sexual orientation, or national or ethnic origin. We welcome a diverse pool of applications, believe it is critical that our staff represent the larger labor movement, and are committed to building a culture and community that fosters diversity, equity, and inclusion. By submitting this online application form, you consent to be contacted via email with important updates and other information from RCG Talent Solutions.


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