Pert-ing Ways: Adam Pertman and Donaldson Head in Different Directions

Leaders at the New York-based Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) and its former CEO, Adam Pertman, all declined to discuss what exactly they disagreed upon regarding the future of the organization.

But, it is clear that there was some disagreement at the institute, a leader in research on adoption practice and policy. Both sides say they are amicably headed off in different directions.

Pertman, 61, led DAI for 12 years and penned Adoption Nation in 2011. He announced to colleagues in an email last month that he was moving on and had started a consulting firm with a division completely devoted to work on adoption and permanency.

“I got the organization to where it is today, and they have to figure it out from there,” Pertman said, in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change.

“I think the average burnout is like five to seven years, it’s not 12. I was fine with the movement in this direction.”

DAI, one of the country’s most significant contributors to the dialogue on adoption policy, will move forward with new CEO April Dinwoodie and a new strategic plan.

Was the writing on the wall? In October of 2013 the board tapped Dinwoodie – who was a board member at the time – to serve as CEO. Dinwoodie, who was adopted from foster care, comes from a business communications background, most recently as director of external media for JetBlue.

Pertman said he “absolutely could have stayed,” and was not pushed out. But he declined to elaborate beyond what he told colleagues in an email in July: “In a nutshell, DAI and I now have very different visions for the organization’s future, and so I have decided it’s time to move on.”

“It’s not controversial, there was an internal difference and I signed an agreement separating from them,” Pertman said. “There is nothing bad here, just honest differences.”

What is clear is that DAI is seeking to sharpen the clarity of its mission and establish a reputation beyond research.

“We have defined some key areas we’re focusing on for the future,” Dinwoodie said. The moves “set us on a path for growth, which is why I was brought in.”

The new strategic plan focuses on four pillars:

  • Adoption experience
  • Best practice on foster care adoptions
  • Pre- and post-adoption services
  • Modern family

[Click here for a more descriptive explanation of DAI’s strategy]

The idea is to become more strategic about the number and scale of projects DAI takes on, said longtime board chair Susan Notkin, who is the director of the New York office for the Center for the Study of Social Policy.

“We were spreading ourselves thin instead of a focus on key issues,” Notkin said. “When we take on project, we want to make sure to have the greatest impact as a result of our work.”

Part of the goal is to have a more direct role in policy and practice discussions.

“We know we’re useful from an academic standpoint,” Dinwoodie said. “There is room for us to be more practical.”

Pertman, meanwhile, is setting up his own consultancy based out of the Boston area called Myriad Strategic Partners. The company will provide consulting services to “all sectors” in business and government services.

He envisions the center as a general contractor, of sorts, for events and projects.

“If you’re a conference organizer, and you’ve got to find a keynote speaker, someone for the luncheon, and breakout presenters, I want Myriad to build to where people can come…to one place, and find pros with real expertise,” Pertman said. “If you’re an agency, and need expertise in an area, rather than hunt around, we want to build this brand that rises to level of, ‘Hey, this is where I go first.’”

Pertman said he already has a few clients, including Stewards of Change, a research group advocating for more interoperability in the human services sector.

One wing of Myriad SP will be the Center on Adoption and Permanency (MCAP), through which Pertman intends to use his background in research to assist direct service providers.

Pertman brought in Carol Biddle, who is retiring as executive director of the Kinship Center, to serve as managing partner of MCAP. There are plans in the works for an MCAP-sponsored conference in Nashville next June on adoption support services.

As for his successor, Dinwoodie, Pertman said there are no issues between them.

“I wish her well,” he said. “I assume we’ll do work together.”

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change

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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.