Democracy Alliance Blog / From The President / November 16, 2020

Moving on after 7 years at the DA

Gara LaMarche

I am writing with personal and institutional news:  I plan to step down as Democracy Alliance President after seven years in the position.  John Stocks and the DA board will soon be sharing the plans they have developed for the search and transition ahead. I will remain in my post until a successor is chosen in the early months of next year.

As the DA Board knows, I have been thinking about this for a while.  Now that the election is over, I think the time is right.  We did the crucial thing we had to do in ending the Trump regime, in a clear and convincing vote. The work ahead, in a sharply divided America, will be challenging.  It’s a good moment for new leadership with fresh energy and ideas.

I am not leaving the DA for another full-time leadership job, but I’m not retiring yet either. I am 66 years old, and I’ve been working in human rights, social justice and philanthropic organizations since 1976 – most of those years as a CEO – and I’ve had a good run. At this point in my life I want to advise, counsel, teach and write more than run things. We’re extremely fortunate, both within the DA and the progressive movement as a whole, that there are younger people, women and people of color who are more than ready to take the reins.  I want to make way for them and support them in any way I can. 

For my final career chapters, I want to focus more on thinking about and fighting for civil liberties and human rights, since the assault on democratic norms by the Trump Administration and the extent of the damage it has wrought has pulled me back toward my roots in those movements.  I want to do more teaching and writing, and spend more time mentoring social justice leaders, which over the years has given me as much satisfaction as anything I have done. I know a bit about strategic philanthropy, and will likely have a few projects in that realm. I’ll of course be available to the new DA leadership for advice or particular projects if I can be helpful.

This is not the place for valedictory remarks, since I am not going anywhere for a number of months, but I do want to share a few thoughts on what I feel proud about achieving together. 

We recruited a diverse and talented staff team of recognized leaders, and I have been privileged to serve with our current team – who are exceptional at every level — particularly in the crucible of this year as we have tried to rise to the challenge of a critical election waged during a pandemic and accompanying recession.  We now have a portfolio that reflects the centrality of people of color-led groups and grassroots organizing in the progressive ecosystem. Our conferences – physical and virtual! — feature a much wider range of new and diverse voices, and are more than ever a crossroads and gathering place for the progressive community. The strategic vision that was adopted in a highly inclusive process in the year after I got here remains in force and put our strategies on a longer time horizon and united a big-tent Partnership around a core set of aspirations for an inclusive economy, democracy, climate change and equity.

We centered the states in this work, and the translation of these goals into the State POWER Funds moved the DA into more strategic management of Partner financial resources.  The Strategic Victory Fund – which John Stocks, the best board partner I could have wished for, has done so much to build – has commanded meaningful resources and fostered genuine alignment among donors.  In the last few years we regained significant ground in the states and are in a better position to improve people’s lives and influence redistricting for as the next decade.

The New American Majority and Climate Equity Action Fund steer tens of millions of dollars each year to organizations serving communities of colors in critical fights.  While I am particularly proud of the work we have done to support grassroots BIPOC organizations in states through these funds, we have a long way to go in resourcing them at the level the work demands, and I hope that the entire DA community, led by my successor, will redouble our efforts to do so.

While growing the Partnership significantly over this period, we’ve also marshalled more and more funds from donors outside the DA.  And we have become much more transparent in the process about our strategies and about the investments we recommend to other donors inside and outside the DA. We have plenty of unfinished business –  including further diversifying the Partnership and fostering more robust debate and long-term thinking — but as I prepare to move away from the leadership role I have been privileged to have here I am filled with confidence that those who follow me will be more than equal to the task and will take the DA to higher levels.

It has been an honor to serve the DA Partnership and, most importantly, the frontline activists and advocates in the progressive infrastructure we have worked so hard to build and support. I look forward to seeing you as circumstances permit in the coming months, and to the work we will do together in the coming pivotal months and in building a progressive future in the years to come.


Gara LaMarche

President, Democracy Alliance

Democracy Alliance and Movement Leaders Comment on
Gara LaMarche’s Announcement

John Stocks, Chair, Democracy Alliance

Gara LaMarche’s commitment and dedication to the Democracy Alliance has been extraordinary. He has masterfully led the DA Partnership and staff through incredibly challenging times in our country.  It has been an honor and a privilege to partner with Gara during his tenure as President of the Democracy Alliance. I will profoundly miss his vision, wisdom and leadership.

Kim Anderson Executive Director, National Education Association

Gara is a remarkable leader, thinker, talent scout, mentor, and social justice warrior.  His humor, appreciation of storytelling, voracious reading, sharp analysis, wise counsel, and recognition of each person’s humanity are not only gifts he has shared with DA Partners and staff, but they also shape the way in which Gara pursues making change — in organizations and in the hearts and minds of others”

Rea Carey, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force

Today we celebrate the outstanding leadership Gara LaMarche as he moves on from the Democracy Alliance. As it turns out, Gara’s leadership in the strategic alignment of resources behind our country’s most important progressive and democracy strengthening organizations could not have been more timely. We’ve needed, and will continue to need the strong infrastructure of state and national organizations for many years to come in order to gain back and solidify the best parts of our democracy. Gara’s visionary stance has extended beyond the DA as he has used his voice to challenge the philanthropic sector to be more inclusive, more transparent, and more grounded in the work to make visible and to counter racial injustice. Gara’s seven years leading the Democracy Alliance will no doubt result in seven decades of impact. We are a better country because of his leadership. Thank you, Gara, for showing us what thoughtful, principled and strategic leadership looks like.

Farhad Ebrahimi, Chorus Foundation, Former DA Board Member

It’s been a tremendous pleasure working with Gara over the past six years. It’s no secret that there are a lot of strong personalities within the DA community. And, as one of those strong personalities, I’ve always appreciated Gara’s ability to meet challenging conversations with both grace and integrity. Gara’s never been shy in sharing his own perspectives, and yet he’s consistently able to do so in ways that have the best interests of the entire community at heart. It’s a quality that the rest of us could learn a great deal from.  We’ve been incredibly lucky to have him at the helm through all the twists and turns!

Tory Gavito, President, Way to Win

Gara LaMarche is leaving the Democracy Alliance with a legacy of opening doors– to new thinking, new strategies, and for new leaders. I give him a heartfelt thanks for the allyship he’s always offered me especially in the years he served on the board of the Texas Future Project. I am grateful to Gara for his kindness, generosity and warmth. Here is to another round at the Mandarin, someday soon!

Bob Greenstein, President, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Congratulations to Gara LaMarche as he prepares to step down as president of the Democracy Alliance and move on to the next stage of his impressive career as one of America’s most important social justice leaders.  For decades, Gara has helped catalyze and elevate an extraordinary array of causes and movements in areas from health care to civil liberties to so much more.  To take just one example, without him, the Affordable Care Act might well have lacked the backing needed for it surmount numerous obstacles and become law.  As someone who has had the honor and privilege to work with him on various issues over the past quarter century, I look forward to what he will accomplish next as he continues his efforts to make ours a more just and equitable nation.

Vanita Gupta, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Gara has devoted his entire career to social justice and progressive change. He has always centered the importance of cultivating leaders and building strong movements, and brings deep compassion and strategic thinking to every conversation he’s in. So many of us have relied and will continue to rely on his wise, accessible counsel as we push for a more just world. We are grateful for and inspired by his leadership and look forward to his next chapter.

Mary Kay Henry, President, Service Employees International Union

Gara LaMarche drove an important cultural shift in the Democracy Alliance. He opened the doors, included critical voices of leaders/donors of color and more women that reflected all of America. 

Gara led a VISION 2020 project that created a strategic frame and connected progressive donor values of equity, democracy, an inclusive economy and a healthy climate for a comprehensive and impactful approach as a donor community. He entered DA with his full self and used his masterful listening and leadership skills to build a donor advocacy community that learned to care about each other’s well-being.  Gara advanced dialogue between donors, labor leaders and philanthropy to consider how we could build a truly inclusive, anti-racist America.

Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA 7)

My good friend Gara LaMarche has been one of our strongest champions for bold ideas—from economic solutions to immigration and criminal justice reform to democracy reforms– that benefit the largest number of poor, middle and working class families across this country.  In every one of his roles, he has paid particular attention to elevating and supporting women of color and those who are too often unrepresented at decision-making tables.  The movement for justice is deeply grateful to him for all the work he has done in every sphere of his life—and we know we will all continue to benefit from his participation going forward in any capacity.

Rob Johnson, President & CEO, Institute for New Economic Thinking and former DA partner

Gara is a broad-minded creative individual who from the outset provided a cohesive and creative impetus to the evolution of the Democracy Alliance.   When he took over the leadership, I remember being enthusiastic as I reflected on the integrity with which he had operated since the very early formative days when I joined the team to help get the DA started.    Managing the balance between the donors and the need to inspire broad based participation, both in funding and in design, was a formidable task and Gara was a wizard in managing the balance.   I am grateful to know him and will always remember and admire his talent, integrity, and creative vision.

Alexis McGill Johnson, President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America

I am so grateful to have benefitted from the support, friendship, and mentorship of Gara LaMarche. Under Gara’s leadership at the Democracy Alliance, our infrastructure is more inclusive and aligned, more innovative and better performing. Our strength is immeasurably in part to Gara’s steady vision and investment in us as progressive leaders reimagining our intersections and communities. 

Weston Milliken DA Partner and Former Board Member

The DA has been lucky to have Gara as President.  He is supportive of good governance, unafraid of feedback, articulate and attuned to the issues of our time.  It has also been great for the organization that he’s supported member-led initiatives such as the Southern Working Group and efforts to fix the Democratic brand.  

Maurice Mitchell, Executive Director, Working Families Party

I wish Gara a joyful next chapter of life as he transitions from the helm at Democracy Alliance. His leadership — from the Democracy Alliance, to Atlantic Philanthropies, to Open Society Foundations — has demonstrated his commitment to social movements. Gara has helped to shift the field towards social justice approaches that center communities of color and all working class people. This helped to clear the way for a new generation of political and movement leaders like myself. Gara has been a true ally and advisor, and I am deeply grateful for his leadership.

Shekar Narasimhan, Chairman and Founder of Asian American Pacific Islander Fund, DA Partner and Board Member

Many consider him a mentor and a friend; others, like me, who were lucky to see him in action at the DA, viewed him as the most effective organizer we have known. Soft- but well-spoken and a brilliant writer. Committed- but not dogmatic and a patient listener. Above all, focused! Thank you, Gara for all your contributions to our democracy.

Tom Perriello, Executive Director, U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations

Gara is the godfather of progressive philanthropy, and I would be hard-pressed to think of a leader or organization he has not helped to shape, fund, advise or mentor. He has quietly wielded enormous influence building and shaping the progressive infrastructure we see today. He’s transformed philanthropy while bridging divides between those in power and those speaking truth to power on the frontlines of activism. We are all indebted to Gara as a mentor, friend and thought lease, and know that will continue into his next chapter.

Ai-jen Poo, Co-founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance

Gara’s leadership is defined by a racial and gender equity lens. It has strengthened key organizing infrastructure, especially organizations led by people of color in states and nationally, who have helped to transform what’s possible in our politics. 

Sabeel Rahman, President, Demos

We know that to build the kind of inclusive democracy and economy our communities need, we need a larger ecosystem and infrastructure with which to build power and drive transformative change. Gara has been a tireless champion for social justice and social change, leading the funder community through vital discussions about building movement infrastructure, shifting power in community, and advancing systemic reforms. Thank you Gara for all the support and guidance you have offered over the years to so many leaders, organizations, and changemakers across the landscape. Congratulations and best wishes for your next chapter!

Cecile Richards, Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Founder of Supermajority

Gara LaMarche has dedicated his entire career to the fight for social justice, and he brought that passion and commitment to the Democracy Alliance at a critical time. Under Gara’s leadership, the Democracy Alliance provided essential support to both the new resistance efforts along with legacy grassroots organizations fighting back against the worst abuses of the outgoing administration. 

Gara played such an important role during this movement moment in America, where we have experienced the explosion of progressive organizing for racial and gender justice, the election of historic numbers of women and people of color to office, and the most recent victories of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to lead our country. This is a record to be proud of, and we are all grateful for his leadership during one of the most important and challenging periods in our history.

Rashad Robinson, Executive Director, Color of Change

Gara has been enormously helpful in creating the space required to have the hard conversations that need to be had, especially when it comes to rethinking the intersection of racial justice and politics. Whether it’s opening doors or opening minds—including being willing to listen to new perspectives himself—Gara is truly committed to doing what it takes to build progressive power. He is an ally in understanding the essential role of racial justice movements and Black political power in increasing progressive power overall, and I know he will always use his many talents to continue supporting and institutionalizing that connection. I am thankful for his leadership.

Anthony Romero, Executive Director, ACLU

Gara LaMarche’s leadership of the Democracy Alliance during one of the most challenging moments in modern American history made a real difference when it mattered most. Gara was able bridge NGOs, donors, and political operatives in the all-hands-on-deck moment that the Trump administration required. The Democracy Alliance helped ensure that all of the ships in the armada were aligned and moving in the same direction: in pursuit of justice.

Lee Saunders, President, AFSCME and DA Board member

Gara helped usher in a new era at the DA, one which was more focused on the states, more strategic in its investments and more collaborative in its approach. His focus has led to growth and success across the progressive movement, as we’ve built greater capacity, a durable infrastructure and a strong foundation for the future. On behalf of everyone at AFSCME, I’m grateful for Gara’s vision and leadership. We wish him the best on these next steps in his journey.

William Schambra, Hudson Institute

Excellent news for conservatives:  Gara LaMarche is stepping down!  In all seriousness, Gara is one of the most thoughtful political opponents for whom one could wish.  Unlike others who simply demonize conservatives, Gara sought to understand what we believe and how we went about supporting it.  And he never hesitated to explain his own views honestly and openly, in civil debate.  For our nation’s sake, I hope we can cultivate more of the kind of discourse Gara relished and practiced.

Scott Wallace, Co-Chair, Wallace Global Fund; DA Partner

I’ve been pleased to know Gara LaMarche for decades — as a fellow advocate and activist, as a fellow foundation leader, and then as the leader of the greatest network of progressive funders in American history. He has always been the smartest, calmest and most strategic voice in the room. He knows how to shape change at every level, from grassroots communities to the corridors of power, with every tool, from movement-building to bold long-term reform. He has been an invaluable ally to countless leaders, thinkers, advocates and organizers. We in the DA have benefitted mightily from his fellowship and leadership, and he will be mighty hard to replace.

Dorian Warren, President, Community Change

For decades, Gara LaMarche has steadfastly built institutions and invested in progressive infrastructure with his eye on the long game. What’s he’s built at the Democracy Alliance is just the latest in a long history of investing in new leadership—particularly of women and people of color—and especially in grassroots organizing and infrastructure. Gara leaves the DA with a much stronger and deeper commitment to long-term power-building in the infrastructure necessary to transform the country and bend the moral arc toward justice for all. And I know he’s not done just yet. I look forward to what’s next for Gara and the continued contributions he will make to the social justice ecosystem.