Riverside Park Conservancy Appoints Merritt Birnbaum President & CEO

By Sabrina  |  August 8, 2022  |  Featured News

Longtime nonprofit executive will lead Conservancy to expand its work caring for 400 acres of waterfront parkland from 59th to 181st Streets.

The Board of Trustees of the Riverside Park Conservancy announced today that it has appointed Merritt Birnbaum as its next President & Chief Executive Officer. With more than two decades expe­ri­ence in fundraising, strate­gic plan­ning and pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships, Ms. Birnbaum brings a strong skill set and a demon­strat­ed pas­sion for New York City’s open spaces to the role. As CEO, she will be charged with expanding the Conservancy’s mission and its capacity to care for the Park, which runs for six miles along the Hudson River on Manhattan’s western edge.

The Conservancy was founded in 1986 as a nonprofit partner to the New York City Parks Department in support of Riverside Park, one of New York’s signature Olmsted-designed public spaces. Today, with a budget of almost $9 million, the Conservancy contributes significantly towards park operations; employs a staff of forty-nine including thirty-one field staff; runs a summer sports program serving more than 1,000 children from diverse communities along the length of the Park and beyond; and manages one of the largest park volunteer programs in the city, in which community residents contribute more than 40,000 hours of their time to the park. In addition to Riverside Park and Riverside Park South, the Conservancy helps care for Sakura Park, West Harlem Piers Park, and parts of Fort Washington Park.

Ms. Birnbaum will lead strategic programmatic growth and fundraising campaigns for the Conservancy as well as shepherd major capital projects in partnership with the Parks Department, with a particular focus on intensifying efforts in the northern half of the Park, which runs up to the George Washington Bridge. She will assume her role on September 7, 2022.

Micah C. Lasher, Chair of the Conservancy’s Board of Trustees, said: “We are enormously fortunate to have Merritt Birnbaum taking the helm of the Conservancy at this critical moment. As the impact of the Conservancy has grown significantly in recent years, so, too, have the needs of Riverside Park, from horticulture to infrastructure. Merritt is exactly the right leader, not only to meet those needs, but to take our impact to the next level through innovation and long-term planning.”

“Riverside Park is one of our city’s most stunning and unique parks, and it is a vital part of daily life for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” said Merritt Birnbaum. “At a time when the health benefits of quality outdoor space have never been more recognized, I am honored to lead this extraordinary institution through its next growth chapter. I look forward to working with the Conservancy Board and staff, the Parks Department and the community to make Riverside Park even more verdant, vibrant and welcoming.”

“From all of us at NYC Parks, I would like to offer our sincere congratulations to Merritt Birnbaum on her new appointment as President & CEO of the Riverside Park Conservancy,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue. “The Riverside Park Conservancy is one of our oldest park conservancy partners, and we look forward to working with Merritt and the conservancy as we continue to collaboratively work towards our shared mission to maintain and improve this historic Manhattan greenspace.


About Merritt Birnbaum

Merritt Birnbaum is currently Executive Director of the Friends of Governors Island. In this role, she works closely with governmental partners at The Trust for Governors Island and the National Park Service to support Governors Island’s transformation from an abandoned military base to an oasis of culture and recreation in New York Harbor. Upon joining the Friends in 2015, Ms. Birnbaum led the organization through a strategic mission shift from a grassroots advocacy group to become the primary fundraiser for Governors Island’s new park and public space. She oversaw a three-fold increase in the Friends’ annual budget and the creation of an expansive volunteer program that leverages large groups from New York-based companies.

Before joining the Friends, Ms. Birnbaum was Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Development Officer at the New York Legal Assistance Group, a provider of civil legal services to low-income New Yorkers. With a full-time staff of more than 250 lawyers, Ms. Birnbaum was responsible for overseeing fundraising, strategic development, marketing and communications, technology and human resources. During her five-year tenure, she drove an increase in annual fundraising from $9 million to $23 million, including the creation of a new unit focused on assisting households in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

Prior to NYLAG, Ms. Birnbaum worked for two different Israel-based nonprofits, Youth Renewal Fund and the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, where she created and led programs that connected US donors with international educators and scientists in the US and Israel. Earlier in her career, she held roles producing corporate and nonprofit marketing videos and events.

Ms. Birnbaum serves on the Board of Global Empowerment Theatre, an educational theatre organization working to overcome gender discrimination and empower young people in the developing world. A classically trained figurative painter, she majored in Studio Art at Vassar College.