BY ED MORAN
PHOTO COURTESY ROW NEW YORK
Eighteen years after founding Row New York and leading its development into one of the most successful inner-city rowing programs in the country, Amanda Kraus felt it was time for a new challenge.
Monday, she accepted a new leadership position that will fulfill that wish when she was named the new chief executive officer of USRowing. Kraus replaces Patrick McNerney, who was hired to lead the national governing body of rowing in August of 2017, but resigned from the position just after the first of the year.
“I’m excited and optimistic,” Kraus said of being named to the post. “I started Row New York so that it would exist, and it’s definitely been a privilege and a joy to lead it for 18 years, but it is in a good place right now, pandemic aside, in terms of stability and reputation. It has great fundraisers and a fantastic, functional board, so it doesn’t need me anymore.
“So, when this role opened up and I started talking with a couple of board members at USRowing, I thought, well I know there is a lot of work to do and I know that there is a lot of change that needs to happen to make USRowing successful, and I have enough humility to know that there is a chance I won’t be successful, but I would like to try.
“I think we’re at an exciting inflection point at USRowing where we have an opportunity to change and grow. I look forward to leading us into that future while building on our strong foundation. I plan to do a lot of listening to all of the stakeholders. I need to understand what everyone wants and needs from USRowing.”
Kraus, who becomes the third woman to lead USRowing in the association’s history, and the third CEO since the 2016 Olympics, said she will begin work on November 1. The two women who preceded her were Sandy Hughes and Paula Oyer, who held the position under the former title of Executive Director.
Following McNerney’s departure, Susan Smith, USRowing chief domestic officer, was named interim CEO. It was her second stint in that position. Smith had also served as interim CEO following the departure of Glenn Merry, who held the role of CEO from 2005 to 2017.
“We are thrilled to announce that Amanda will be joining USRowing as our CEO later this fall,” said USRowing Board Chair Marcia Hooper. “She brings tremendous leadership and fundraising skills, community development and outreach experience, and diversity and inclusion efforts to our team. She is a proven leader in our sport, having built Row New York into one of the country’s most admired rowing organizations.”
Kraus will assume the helm during a tumultuous year at USRowing which has been significantly impacted financially by the Covid-19 pandemic. Her hiring comes at a time of increased pressure to diversify the sport in the wake of a national public outcry and the proliferation of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Given that Kraus is the founder and chief executive officer of Row New York, a program designed to introduce young people from different socioeconomic backgrounds to competitive rowing, while also providing academic support, she is well placed to help USRowing address its diversification efforts.
Leading that effort is among the priorities that Kraus will focus on, and something she believes she knows how to do.
“What I do feel confident about, one thing I know needs to happen, is there needs to be a culture shift,” she said. “I think the sport needs to be more inclusive. I think the sport better needs to reflect the diversity of our country. I think a lot of people are thinking that now, so that, to me, is the low hanging fruit.
“I think the organization itself needs to work on transparency and vision and direction and communicating that back to its stakeholders, and really being an asset, learning how to be an asset and to be a value to members and membership organizations.
“It is one thing to want to diversify a boathouse, or a club, a program, a team, and it’s another thing to actually do the work. All I can say for sure is I know how to do the work. You have to want it to happen, you have to really want it.”
In addition to leading a diversity effort, another of Kraus’ immediate challenges will be finding a way to rescue the organization’s financial situation. USRowing has historically found it difficult to stay financially healthy, and has lacked the kind of outside sponsorships that fuel some of the bigger sports governing bodies in the United States, relying heavily on membership and money from running regional and national regattas.
With the Covid-19 pandemic wiping out the rowing season, the financial loss has left USRowing revenue-challenged. As much as she is experienced in leading a large and successful rowing program, Kraus has also been recognized for her ability to find funding, resources, and grants.
Since starting Row New York in 2002 with a borrowed shell and eight teenagers, Kraus has raised more than $30 million for the program. The non-profit organization currently has an operating budget of more than $5 million and serves youth of all ages in three New York City locations and in a central community boathouse and learning center.
Row New York is also in the process of constructing a new state-of-the-art facility in Manhattan, to be named the Row New York Community Boathouse and Learning Center, next to the organization’s existing boathouse. The new boathouse will enable Row New York to expand both its rowing facilities and the space it uses to run academic programs and college prep classes.
Of the projected $40 million cost, almost half—$19.5 million—has already been raised during an ongoing large-scale capital campaign. In addition to the boathouse and learning center, the project will include revitalizing a surrounding city park and the installation of a community dock.
“I think (USRowing) hasn’t had the resources it’s needed for as long as I have known about the organization,” Kraus said. “Maybe it had better revenues in years past, I don’t really know. But I do know that’s a big piece right now, how do we work on the income side and generate more revenue?”
Kraus graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Honors College with a BA in English, and was captain of the university’s DII national championship rowing team. Following her undergraduate education, Kraus earned a MA in Technology in Education from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.
It was during her time in Boston that she sought an opportunity to coach girls from under-resourced communities at GROW Boston, an outreach program run from Community Rowing, Inc.
When she returned home to New York City, Kraus started Row New York.
In addition to leading Row New York, Kraus has been an adjunct professor at the New York University Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, teaching graduate-level classes in Social Entrepreneurship and Fundamentals of Fundraising since 2014.
Kraus has been recognized for her efforts and was named by President Barak Obama’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition as winner of the 2012 Community Leadership Award. In 2014, she was named winner of the New York Community Trust-New York Magazine Nonprofit Excellence Awards.
Kraus has participated in and presented at numerous USRowing panels on diversity outreach and fundraising and was twice honored by the association.
She was the recipient of the John J. Carlin Service Award for “significant and outstanding commitments in support of rowing,” in 2008, and in 2011 she was presented with the Anita DeFrantz Award, awarded by USRowing for “achieving measurable success in expanding diversity opportunities in rowing.”
Rowing News had a question and answer session with Amanda Kraus prior to the announcement to look more into what she hopes to accomplish at USRowing. Read the full Q&A here.