Atkinson will take over from David Johnston, who will stand down at the end of this year after a decade as chief executive.
'To do' list
Sustaining the existing support of corporate partners such as JP Morgan, Linklaters, and KPMG, will be a key priority, as well as building new corporate relationships for the charity, which aims to improve social mobility for young people from low-income backgrounds.
Her new role will involve creating an advocacy unit at the foundation, with the aim of increasing engagement with employers, universities and councils in helping to improve social mobility.
Rising to the challenge
Atkinson commented: "I firmly believe that now, more than ever, working to support young people to realise their potential is critical to build the economy and society the UK needs to be.
"I am deeply committed to the SMF’s mission and I have been so excited and inspired by what David and the team have achieved. I look forward to leading the charity through the next stage of development and further increasing our impact."
Atkinson told PRWeek: "Making the shift from communications director to CEO will be a big change for me."
However, she added: "Strategic communications demands the ability to understand the big picture and set out a compelling vision, and the skills to build collaborative partnerships to deliver, and these are key tools for any charity CEO."
Atkinson said her ability to simplify complex issues and tell a story will be an asset in her new role.
"The UK has a deep and profound social-mobility problem, and there are so many complex factors stopping people from low-income backgrounds from achieving their potential. I've already met some of the talented and inspiring young people who the SMF is supporting, and I look forward to helping them tell their stories and secure the opportunities they deserve to shine."
Words of welcome
Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Foundation, commented: "We're delighted Sarah is joining the SMF as our new CEO. Like her predecessor, David Johnston, I am sure she will be an outstanding leader of the organisation."
He added: "Sarah brings with her a wealth of experience in the charity world and a deep passion for social mobility. Her skills will be essential in helping SMF grow and develop as we seek to break down the barriers that stand in the way of so many young people in our country realising their aspirations."
Trajectory to the top
A PPE graduate, Atkinson started out as a consultant at public affairs agency AS Biss, where her clients included the likes of Cadbury Schweppes, the Civil Aviation Authority and UK Coal. She stayed for more than five years.
A stint as public affairs manager at Nationwide Building Society followed, before she joined the Charity Commission as head of corporate affairs in 2006.
Atkinson was promoted to head of information and communications in 2011, and in 2014 became the commission’s director of policy and comms.
She has been a trustee of health charity Endometriosis UK since 2017, prior to which she had served on the boards of Womankind Worldwide and the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years.
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