Executive Director, New York
Drug Policy Alliance

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the leading organization in the U.S. promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. DPA believes that people shouldn’t be punished simply for what they put into their own bodies, and that drug policies should be based on health and science, not fear and stigma. Recognizing that the drug war disproportionately targets people of color, DPA approaches its work with an emphasis on racial justice.
DPA’s core policy goals flow directly from these beliefs: incarceration needs to be drastically reduced, addiction must be treated as a health issue, and marijuana should simply be made legal.
  • Reforming the criminal justice system. DPA seeks to reduce the number of people arrested, convicted, incarcerated, and otherwise punished for drug offenses, to address the profound racism in the criminal justice system, and to overhaul policies that support the drug war, such as civil asset forfeiture and monetary bail.
    • DPA has been at the forefront of many, perhaps most, major drug sentencing reforms over the past two decades, and as a result, tens of thousands fewer people are behind bars today—and hundreds of thousands either did not go to jail or prison, or spent less time there.
  • Empowering public health approaches. DPA advocates for effective, evidence-based harm reduction policies and public health interventions to minimize the negative consequences of drugs, such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, overdose fatalities and addiction.
    • DPA has played a key role in changing state laws to facilitate access to sterile syringes and the overdose antidote naloxone, and has championed “911 Good Samaritan” laws that protect individuals who summon emergency responders upon witnessing an overdose from being arrested.
  • Ending marijuana prohibition. Even as more states legally regulate marijuana, in 2015 more than 643,000 people were arrested for marijuana, 89 percent just for possession, with vastly higher arrest rates among blacks and Latinos. DPA promotes policies to reduce the number of arrests and to legally regulate marijuana for medical and other purposes.
    • In 2016, DPA was instrumental in passing California’s Proposition 64, which legalizes the adult use of marijuana in the nation’s largest state, enacts retroactive sentencing reform for marijuana offenses, and establishes a comprehensive system to tax and regulate marijuana.
Since its inception, DPA has expanded to include eight offices, including its New York City headquarters, 80 staff, an annual operating budget of approximately $15 million, 25,000 dues-paying members, and more than 200,000 online subscribers.

The Opportunity

The Drug Policy Alliance seeks a visionary and dynamic leader to leverage public policy change, movement-building, and public education as tools to end the war on drugs. This political moment demands a strategic and analytic voice to fulfill DPA’s mission with a seasoned and highly skilled approach. The new Executive Director will follow Ethan Nadelmann, the founder of DPA, and will be the second Executive Director in the organization’s 16-year history.
The ideal leader at DPA will bring substantive intellectual leadership, a command of fundraising, and a powerful voice that can serve as the external representative of DPA and the issues surrounding drugs and drug policy on the global stage. Internally, the Executive Director will oversee a diverse, highly engaged staff of 80 working to achieve DPA’s mission and vision from offices across the country.
This is a full-time position, based at the DPA headquarters in New York City.
The Executive Director reports directly to the Board of Directors. Her/his responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Promote, strengthen, and extend DPA’s public presence and brand by serving as a leader in the drug policy movement and with aligned movements related to human rights, social justice, criminal justice and public health
  • Ensure fidelity to the DPA mission through oversight of all programs, communications, and development activities
  • Lead the successful development and execution of new and current initiatives and programs; Oversee campaigns, policy, and advocacy strategies and implementation, ensuring that these core activities are robust and strategic
Communications and External Relations
  • Serve as DPA’s primary liaison and spokesperson to the public, funders, media, and other audiences
  • Build political connections with legislators, with focus on the National Black Caucus and National Hispanic Caucus
  • Manage the development and execution of DPA’s strategic communications initiatives and strategies
  • Identify, build, and nurture coalitions and collaborative partnerships with other drug policy, social justice, and human rights organizations and allies

Fundraising and Resource Development

  • Cultivate and solicit key individuals and institutions in collaboration with the Development Team and Board of Directors; Oversee the design and implementation of fundraising strategies to maintain and grow revenue
  • Develop and strengthen partnerships with key stakeholders and constituencies, including funding organizations, individual donors, and other nonprofit organizations
Organizational Leadership
  • Provide inspirational and motivational leadership for a diverse range of extraordinarily passionate, committed, and highly skilled staff members in offices throughout the country
  • Assume overall fiscal and operational management and accountability for the organization, ensuring that DPA meets the highest standards in stewarding its financial and other resources
  • Lead the implementation of measures that advance DPA’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion
Board Relations
  • Partner closely with the Board of Directors to drive strategic vision, leverage its experience and expertise, and thoughtfully grow the Board as the organization moves forward
  • Serve as an advisor, keeping the Board informed with appropriate information to support its policy-making responsibility
  • Design and implement clear expectations in partnership with the Board for its contributions to the governance and success of the organization

Candidate Profile

Ideal candidates will be seasoned, collaborative, and inspiring leaders who can provide substantive leadership around the full range of DPA’s issues. Successful candidates will bring previous leadership experience in the drug policy, human rights, and/or social justice sectors, along with exceptional management and communications skills and a commitment to racial justice.
Skills and Experiences
  • Deep expertise and visionary leadership in relevant social justice work, such as drug policy, criminal justice, human rights, or civil rights, with a strong understanding of and attention to racial justice
  • Outstanding fundraising skills and ability to develop relationships with a diverse range of high-net worth individuals and institutional funders
  • Effective management and organizational leadership experience, particularly in a movement-focused organization with a multiracial, multigenerational, and geographically dispersed staff
  • Exceptional interpersonal communications skills; The ability to communicate a vision and motivate a broad range of stakeholders through inspirational and compelling writing and speaking in the media and with policymakers, partners, and funders
  • Strengths in intersectional movement-building with a campaign approach; Skills in building and navigating key alliances
  • Experience partnering with a Board of Directors to set vision, raise funds, and provide overall organizational leadership
  • Understanding of federal and local policy and legislation as they relate to drug policy, criminal justice, and harm reduction preferred, but not required
  • Previous experience working in an organization with national or international scope strongly preferred

Personal Characteristics and Values

  • Passion for the complex issues related to drug policy work and an understanding of how drug policy is inextricably intertwined with a host of connected issues
  • Intellectual power and grounding in understanding of social and political movements
  • A strong racial justice and gender equity lens and approach
  • Comfort partnering with range of stakeholders across the political spectrum
  • Desire to work with highly skilled, motivated, and engaged colleagues to create social change
  • Ability to hold on to a vision or desired outcome regardless of obstacles, coupled with the ability to change tactics and approach when necessary
  • Extremely high level of emotional intelligence and flexible, intuitive relationship management skills
  • Comfortable giving and receiving critical feedback and having difficult conversations
  • Ability to travel extensively


Molly Brennan and Melissa Madzel of Koya Leadership Partners have been exclusively retained for this search. To express interest in this role, please submit materials here. All inquiries will be considered strictly confidential.
The Drug Policy Alliance is an Equal Opportunity Employer and does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, disability, personal appearance, family responsibility, political affiliation, or any other status protected by applicable law. Women, people of color, and people with disabilities are encouraged to apply. DPA is particularly interested in hiring people who have been adversely affected by the war on drugs.

About Koya Leadership Partners

Koya Leadership Partners is a national retained executive search and human capital consulting firm that works exclusively with nonprofits and social enterprises. We deliver measurable results, finding exceptionally talented people who truly fit the unique culture of our client organizations and ensuring that organizations have the resources and strategies to support them. For more information about Koya Leadership Partners, visit www.koyapartners.com.

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