Joan Garry, founder of The Nonprofit Leadership Lab. (Credit: Courtesy of The Nonprofit Leadership Lab)

Joan Garry has worked in the nonprofit sector for the entirety of her career. After departing her former post as CEO of GLAAD, she knew she wanted to lend support to other people leading nonprofits. Garry notes, “Leaders of these organizations do not have resources for consultants and coaches – and [they] desperately need them.” In 2017, Garry launched The Nonprofit Leadership Lab to offer precisely that. Her platform functions as an online membership site, and has grown into a supportive and welcoming community for leaders around the world. 

Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.

How is your business different from others in your industry?

We bring empathy and moral support to the leaders who join our lab. Members gain a sense of belonging in our community, and can learn with and from each other.

Tell us about your biggest success so far. 

During my tenure at GLAAD, I successfully led our effort to persuade The New York Times to include LGBTQ couples in their wedding section – I believe media stories and images change hearts and minds. 

And for a time, I believed that my work at GLAAD would be my biggest success. Now, however, I would say The Nonprofit Leadership Lab is. This enterprise offers me the gift of supporting tens of thousands of leaders, who do the hardest and most important work there is.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?

Starting up a business can be all consuming, especially as they scale. However, we have worked hard to create a culture in our organization that puts family first, and allows our employees to be present both at home and at work – for example, unlimited paid time off.

Have you experienced any significant personal situations that affected your business decisions? 

As a member of the LGBTQ community, I have the lived experience of being treated as a second-class citizen in this world. When my wife and I decided to start a family, I knew I would be compelled to advocate for a world that treated our children fairly. This is what catapulted me from the sidelines into a leadership role in the LGBTQ movement, as CEO at GLAAD. Years later, my work in the nonprofit sector would lead me to start my own business, which supports other nonprofit leaders. 

What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs? 

Don’t fall in love with every vision or idea you have for your enterprise – it will constrict your ability to adapt as you go. See your new business as a kind of grand experiment, one that you will have to tweak and reshape. 

How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?

I scroll through the list of remarkable members of our Nonprofit Leadership Lab. I look at the missions of the organizations they lead. I’m inspired by these people and the work they do to make the world more fair, more just, and more beautiful.

What is your go-to song to get motivated on tough days?

If I really have to answer this, I’ll embarrass myself and say “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

Who is your most important role model?

Today, I think a great deal about aging well — and in that context, I look to my 96-year-old aunt as a role model. She reads four to five books a week, and swims regularly. She raised seven kids, and has endless grandchildren and even great-children. Her sense of humor and perspective on life are her super powers. I asked her once what she saw as the keys to longevity – she said that realizing that most big things are small things is critical, as is prioritizing family. She is really something. ◼

Facebook: @thenonprofitleadershiplab

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