About Joan Garry

The Quick Version

(This short section is here to help those introducing me at a conference or event. By the way, if you want to have me speak at your event, click here.)

Joan Garry began her career in 1981 as part of the management team that launched MTV. She followed this successful eight-year tenure with another successful run as an executive at Showtime Networks. Then, in 1997 while either having a midlife crisis or avoiding one, Garry was named the executive director of GLAAD, one of the largest gay rights organizations in the U.S.

She joined GLAAD to find an organization in deep financial crisis (18 staff and yes, $360 in the bank), led it out of the depths to a place of prominence focusing on the power of the media to change hearts and minds. From the accurate coverage of the murder of Matthew Shepard to the successful lobbying of The New York Times to include gay and lesbian couples on its wedding pages, Garry’s strategy was clear:  keep GLAAD focused on the media because the road to acceptance begins with visibility and understanding.

After her eight year run at GLAAD, Garry built on this expertise and became a successful political fundraiser, co-chairing the LGBT Finance Committee for the Obama 2008 Presidential campaign. She has been in a leadership position on a large national board and her family makes significant contributions to causes near and dear.

She brings all of this experience to her work as the Principal of Joan Garry Consulting, a boutique firm that helps nonprofits across a wide variety of sectors to untangle strategic knots enabling them to have a clearer path in pursuit of their missions. From executive coaching to strategy engagements to crisis management, Joan works with organizations across a variety of sectors – independent schools, social justice, illness based organizations, LGBT advocacy. She works with large organizations like UNICEF USA and The Union for Reform Judaism to organizations that are anxious to move to the next level.

Her blog for board and staff leaders of nonprofits reaches 100,000 unique leaders monthly from over 150 countries and her podcast Nonprofits Are Messy is frequently the #1 nonprofit / government podcast on iTunes. Lastly, she is the founder of The Nonprofit Leadership Lab, a monthly online membership site for board and staff leaders of small nonprofits who can afford neither coaching nor consulting.  Through a vast array of content and a community moderated by experts, Joan is reaching over 2,000 board and staff leaders worldwide.

Joan teaches at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania where she teaches Nonprofit Communications Strategy and Media and Social Change to undergraduate seniors

Her book, Joan Garry’s Guide To Nonprofit Leadership (John Wiley and Sons) was published in early 2017.

Lastly, in the spirit of using her voice for change, Joan was the first female singing member of the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.

Joan lives in NJ with her wife of 34 years. Joan and Eileen were plaintiffs in a 1993 landmark NJ court case granting a lesbian couple a second parent adoption. Their three grown children all legally have two mothers (whether they like it or not).

If you are introducing me at an event, you can stop here. But it’s more fun if you keep reading.


Don King was responsible for my move into gay rights.

(Yes, THAT Don King – like the boxing guy with the big hair) 

So, when I first began my career, it had nothing to do with the nonprofit world at all. I was part of the management team that launched MTV Networks in 1981 and spent the next 15 years in executive positions in the entertainment industry.

Ultimately, meeting the boxing promoter Don King was the catalyst that drove me to nonprofit.

We met in the 1990s when I was building a pay per view business for Showtime. The profits were all in boxing and so my primary role was managing the joint venture between Showtime and Don King.  I went to big fights in Las Vegas and sat close enough to see and feel the sweat fly.

OK, I hate boxing.  But I learned to be fearless and learned to advocate for Showtime Networks.   One of my roles was to ensure that Don King paid us for our share of the profits after each fight.  It was kind of like fundraising.

After a few years of this, I had this “aha moment” (which by the way is officially a word in the dictionary as of 2012). My skills and attributes could be put to better use.  And maybe I could make a difference.  And so I set my sights on nonprofit leadership.

Leading GLAAD

In 1997 I was named executive director of GLAAD.  At age 39, I figured I was either having a midlife crisis or desperately trying to avoid one.  Regardless, the experience was transformative.   For me and for GLAAD.

I was a successful nonprofit CEO and I loved it.  I brought my for-profit business and management skills with me and they added real value to a then-floundering organization.  But it was what I learned that was the greatest gift – what it means to manage and motivate people not drawn to work by their year end bonuses, how to engage people, how to build consensus and how to raise money.

During my tenure, I was a national spokesperson for gay rights in print and on television. I spoke with every conservative talk show host. Jerry Falwell and I went at it on more than a few occasions.  My favorite encounter was a debate over the sexual orientation of a purple stuffed animal named Tinky Winky.

Our team at GLAAD created campaigns that had impact.  When you open the Sunday New York Times and see the same sex wedding announcements in the Style Section, know that this did not just happen.  We made it happen.

When Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s television show was cancelled in 2000, when every major advertiser pulled away from her show, when Billy Crystal poked fun at her homophobic remarks during an Oscar telecast, this did not just happen.  This was the work of a smart, strategic team of media advocates who built an award winning campaign (PR Week, Non Profit Team of the Year, 2000).

I Have Been My Clients

Today I bring all of this knowledge and expertise about nonprofit leadership (both board and staff) to my consulting practice.  I focus on untangling the knots that stand between non profit organizations and the fulfillment of their missions.

My areas of expertise include crisis management, executive coaching and the building of strong management teams to support the work of the CEO.  And because I have been my clients, I offer a unique perspective.   My clients will tell you that I am smart, that I ask very good questions and that my advice is both clear and practical.  They will also tell you that my sense of humor comes in very handy.