Inspired By: Molly Schar, new JAWS executive director

JAWS executive director Molly Schar sits at a picnic table in a park with her laptop

By Lottie Joiner

Molly Schar started as executive director of JAWS in April with lots of experience, a full plate for now and ideas to carry JAWS forward.

A Maryland native, she attended the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where she received a bachelor’s in journalism with a focus in public relations.

After graduation, Molly worked for an art museum, then ran a regional women’s magazine in Columbia. She moved to Washington, D.C., and worked in public affairs for a federal agency before moving into trade associations. Molly also did some international development work, where she got the opportunity to travel. After a stint at the American Red Cross, she signed on as the campaign director for the Women’s Funding Network and Women Moving Millions campaign in San Francisco.

During her time in Washington and San Francisco, Molly, who once dreamed of being a novelist, lived on boats for a time. But these days, the nonprofit maven is working on JAWS business on dry land.

She took time out of her busy schedule to talk with former JAWSDC regional captain Lottie Joiner about her journey to JAWS and the organization’s future. Answers have been lightly edited.

 JAWS: Tell me a little bit about your background. Where were you born? Where did you go to school? What were some of the jobs that you’ve had?

Molly Schar: I am from Maryland — Baltimore until about second grade, and then we moved to a very small town in Western Maryland, Keedysville. It’s got one main street. We lived on Main Street, and it was very, very different from being in the city in Baltimore, but also great in a lot of ways, also, limiting in some ways.

I went to college in Columbia, S.C., [University of South Carolina] and ended up in the j-school there. I graduated with a B.A. in journalism, focus in public relations, and then a cognate in Spanish. By the time I graduated from college, I was already working full time. I had started with a dream job working at the local art museum. I still look back on that job and think about how fortunate I was to get to plan parties and have an art museum as my office. To walk around and decompress in the galleries was pretty fantastic. But it was also a great learning experience in terms of it being a small organization in a smallish city, but it had all the components that I now do regularly around membership development and fundraising and communications and so forth.

JAWS: Before becoming executive director of JAWS, what was your role?

Molly: This is my third executive director role. The first one was with an organization called Ophthalmic Women Leaders. I did that for about five years. Then I was the executive director of an organization called the National States Geographic Information Council, which is an organization primarily for the folks in state government who are in charge of geospatial technology.

While the organization did very well through the pandemic, two things happened. One was that I realized how incredibly burned out I was. I was working crazy hours and under crazy pressure. My work-life balance was nonexistent. It was not healthy, and that was Thing One. And then Thing Two was I think I had something similar that happened to other people in the pandemic: It made me reconsider what I was spending my time on. And it got me to thinking that I wanted to be working in an organization that meant something to me personally, that really spoke to me, was something that I could be passionate about. Not just something I was good at, but something that I could be passionate about.

I left my job with the National States Geographic Information Council and I did a lot of work on burnout recovery. I did some coaching and consulting as part of that. I knew that I wanted to get back to being an executive director at some point, but wanted to be intentional about what that looked like. I wanted it to be with the right organization; I wanted to make sure I could have an impact, that I’d be part of something that was moving the needle.

JAWS: What was it about JAWS that made you say, “This would be a good fit for me”?

Molly: One is that I have had some experience working in the women’s issues space. It’s something that I feel a good connection to. I think we have an opportunity to look at intersectionality and to look at a more complex view of women’s issues. That was one thing.

I would say that the subject matter was really important, but then I got to dig into who’s behind the organization. So, who are the founders? Who are the members? Who are the leaders? I got to look at what an impressive group this is, but it’s not just leaders. It’s not just people at the top of their game. It’s not just people who have established a name. It is such a cool mix of those folks and students, people coming into the field in their early career. And I think that there’s a ton of opportunity to build on the foundations and to grow. There’s so much that’s already here in terms of people who are super committed to the organization and the mission. And that, to me, is very exciting.

JAWS: How can JAWS better communicate with the membership without the formerly active listserve and with social media platforms in flux?

Molly: I have some ideas for member-to-member or member-to-all membership communications. It’s clear that we need to build something. We could be doing a million things, right? But what we have to do is find three things that we’re going to do that we’re really going to do well, and we’re going to have to ask the membership to come on this journey with us. That is part of how this works, is that people have to give it a chance. And my goal is to create a space with content that is so valuable and so well-organized that it is worth the effort that goes into actually engaging with it.

JAWS: What does successful fundraising and development look like for JAWS?

Molly: There is a lot of potential in this space, and I certainly envision a future for JAWS where we are well-funded to the point of being able to take advantage of opportunities when they come before us. That we are able to build a reserve where we aren’t feeling like things are so tight that we might have to hold off on doing something we think would advance the mission, or so we have a staff that is able to match the workload and able to move the organization forward and freeing up volunteers from some of the more mundane administrative tasks that right now are still handled a lot by volunteers. So, I see a future for the organization where volunteers get to focus on their subject matter expertise, on what they’re excited about and passionate about, and not have to take on any of the admin pieces that’s really a staff function.

I also think that it is making sure that we can cover all the bases for the organization to keep moving for the next 38 years, but also building partnerships as we talk about intersectionality, building partnerships so that we are increasing our impact because we are doing something bigger than ourselves. 

There’s a real opportunity cost when you’re always focused on living paycheck to paycheck as an organization. You don’t have the space to organically grow and to innovate and to come to things with this sort of generative approach. You’re always a little bit hungry and you’re just trying to get food on the table. I think that there’s a huge opportunity in a lot of ways: foundation funding, individual giving, fundraising events, maybe new ideas around giving circles or house parties, things to do in regions. I think there’s a lot that we can explore, but my goal is to create a culture of giving, but also a culture of enough, that we’re not coming at it from the starvation perspective, because that ultimately really limits what you’re able to do.

JAWS: Is there anything else you wanted to add about your new role as executive director at JAWS or just about JAWS itself?

Molly: I’m absolutely thrilled to be in this position with this group. I’m learning a lot. I’m so impressed with the work done by so many of our members. I’m finding myself becoming a fangirl of our members, which is actually really cool. It’s cool to wake up in the morning and be like, “Oh. I’m going to read this article that one of my members wrote with my morning coffee.”