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An open letter to Chad Griffin

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Chad Griffin

As many of you know, Chad Griffin has been selected to lead the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest advocacy group dedicated to the achievement of LGBT equality. With his appointment, Griffin instantly becomes one of the most powerful figures in the LGBT civil rights movement.

Griffin is not unfamiliar with how to be an incredible activist for LGBT causes; he played a key role in founding the American Federation for Equal Rights (AFER), which raised the money to mount the Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now Perry v. Brown) case in California that ultimately led to Proposition 8 being found unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

While the Prop. 8 decision was historic and vindicated Griffin’s efforts, he went against the advice and counsel of many established LGBT-rights organizations – advice not to mount the court challenge. Griffin guessed right and is now being rewarded for his vision.

It is the inherent conflict between his actions in successfully securing a Prop. 8 victory, and now becoming the leader of the nation’s largest and most established LGBT-equality organization, which has compelled me to write Griffin the following letter:

Dear Mr. Griffin:

Congratulations on being selected to lead the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). As a longtime supporter of, and former leader at HRC, who sat on the organization’s board of directors, I am excited about the promise of your leadership as we move toward full LGBT equality in the next decade or, hopefully, sooner.

As you know, the first year during an executive management transition is a critical one. I, as someone who, at the age of 28, led a multi-million-dollar high-tech organization with hundreds of employees – and as an avid supporter of, and leader still working within HRC, fully appreciate the challenge before you.

I offer the following advice in the spirit of amity and alliance:

Board management

While your outstanding leadership qualities are unquestionable, it is critical for you to gain the full support of the board of directors quickly. The members of the HRC board of directors bring a breadth and depth of talent unmatched by any other LGBT-equality organization in the nation. Remember, you may not always be the smartest person in the room. You must build trust. Of course, policy execution will ultimately decide your legacy at HRC.

You might want to ask senior board members and staff why Cheryl Jacques departed after just a year as the leader of HRC. She followed Elizabeth Birch, arguably the most effective HRC leader to date. It is really hard to follow a beloved leader, the next leader often does not last that long. I am sure that Joe Solmonese is beloved too, so you might learn something from the Jacques debacle.

Understanding HRC’s assets

As you embark on developing your strategic vision and priorities, it is important to assess the outstanding assets you are inheriting with the existing organization. HRC’s assets include an already present, healthy and robust culture. More simply put there exists an HRC way of doing business. There exists too, a roster of outstanding personnel; as well as a committed and engaged donor base. Add to that, more than 30 active city organizations throughout the nation and unprecedented access to the halls of power in Washington and beyond, and you could hardly ask for more. These assets must be leveraged properly and not taken for granted or dismissed out of hand in your new strategic vision.

Effective internal communication

One of your first orders of business is to develop and communicate internally your strategic vision for HRC for the next three to five years. You have a team of leaders that report to you, many of whom have decades of experience within the organization. You need to get buy-in from them about your strategic vision to ensure that you do not lose any critical management employees during this transition.

Effective external communication

What you say now will be analyzed by the detractors of HRC, ad nauseum.

Take, for example, your off-the-cuff comment in 2010 that “I will be completely honest with you and say that I’m not one that has – and I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing – but I’m not one that has necessarily followed the ins and outs of LGBT politics. I’ve worked very hard in my other hats to fund candidates and get my clients to fund candidates that are supportive of our issues, but I’m not, perhaps, the best one to have an historical view on that front – other than to say, in any significant movement, where the stakes are as high as they are, will certainly have strategic disagreements.”

An historical perspective is a fundamental part of what politics is all about, and must inform yours and any leader’s strategic decisions.

Also, making statements about LGBT political absolutes should be done with great care; the situation on the ground may later require a compromise that you do not anticipate or currently support.

Reading suggestion: Press about HRC, Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the transgender community.

Cultural change

HRC is more than 30 years old and has a well-established culture. With successful changes in leadership often comes a gradual cultural shift.

HRC is not a turnaround situation. Rather, think of the job before you as a complex surgery, requiring the steady hand of a sophisticated, master surgeon. You will need to use your scalpel effectively to trim ineffective programs in favor of adding new ones that support your vision; all the while creating a culture that will also support your vision.

If you attempt to change the culture at HRC too fast, you risk the possibility of the board and executive staff rejecting you. If you change the culture too slowly, you risk the successful execution of your vision for the organization.

There will be those grassroots supporters of yours that will suggest you perform said surgery with a cleaver; ignore them. You know that you are joining a successful organization with which you have had disagreements, but this is your opportunity to lead our movement.

Reading suggestion: Anything about the fall of Carly Fiorina at Hewlett Packard.


At the end of the day, what will determine your success at HRC is your ability to execute its mission: achieving LGBT equality. You will be judged upon the organization’s effectiveness and your fundraising – period. The mission of HRC is equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. You have been selected to lead because you embody that promise. Don’t get distracted; chronicle your accomplishments weekly in order to keep yourself focused.

Bold moves

You have become a success because of your bold move to fight Prop. 8 in the courts just as you did against Big Tobacco; each time with very successful outcomes. Unfortunately, bold moves can kill you in the large non-profit and advocacy world. If they are successful, you will be celebrated. But bold moves often fail. In a large organization like HRC, a catastrophic failure could lead to the end of your leadership. Never forget; bold moves need the support of the board and executive management. But, even with their support, you are ultimately taking the risk alone.

Reading suggestion: Anything about the Susan Komen/Planned Parenthood debacle.

Wishing you much success,



San Diego LGBT Weekly


Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=22502

Posted by on Mar 29, 2012. Filed under Editorial, Top Highlights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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