Washington Director

PEN America, a nonprofit organization working at the intersection of literature and human rights, seeks a dynamic, visionary, and collaborative Washington Director to lead PEN America’s Washington office and drive forward the organization’s advocacy agenda in Washington, D.C. This is a full-time position based in Washington, D.C. and reports to the Chief Program Officer, Free Expression as part of the larger Free Expression Programs department.

The Washington Director will bring robust advocacy experience, deep knowledge and contacts in D.C., a formidable work ethic, an affinity for fast-paced environments, and a tenacious approach to representing PEN America on critical and urgent free expression issues in Washington. PEN America is headquartered in New York, and our Washington advocacy team, led by the Washington Director, carries forward the organization’s advocacy agenda on federal policy by engaging with Congress, executive branch agencies and departments, think tanks, civil society organizations, and the media. The Washington advocacy team ensures that subject matter experts from across the organization are connected to policymakers and plugged into Washington-based policy conversations, serving as a nerve center and ambassador who facilitates bringing the breadth of the organization’s expertise and insight to the policymaking process. The Washington advocacy team works with staff across the organization to advocate on key U.S. and international free expression issues, including educational and academic freedom; press freedom and local journalism; disinformation, AI, and tech policy; cases of individual writers, artists, and intellectuals under threat around the world; and free expression in PEN America’s priority countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Ukraine, and Myanmar. 

The Washington Director will bring a deep knowledge of, familiarity with, and insights into the Washington policymaking process across the legislative and executive branches and the NGO community, as well as a penchant for engagement, coordination, advocacy, and campaigning to promote and defend free expression. The Director will manage the staff members constituting the Washington advocacy team, currently numbering four full-time employees. The Washington Director also manages the organization’s office in Washington, which currently includes the advocacy team as well as several additional staff members from other parts of the organization who are based in D.C.  Like most programmatic directors at PEN America, the Washington Director will engage, with the support of PEN America’s development team, in fundraising to support and build the Washington presence.  An opportunistic,  connected, energetic fundraiser will thrive in this role and be able to grow the visibility and influence of the office.

The Director and their team will work closely with staff across PEN America to set and advance the organization’s advocacy agenda in Washington. This will include: working closely with staff across the Free Expression Programs department to shape and advance federal-level advocacy goals and priorities; identifying opportunities for PEN America’s expertise to inform and shape policy conversations in Washington; and ensuring seamless coordination with those working on state-level policy advocacy. As the head of a PEN America office, the Director will contribute to PEN America’s management and join in leadership discussions shaping organization-wide strategy.

The successful candidate will have a strong background in Washington policymaking, experience working in or with the executive branch and Congress, and an extensive Washington network; a track record of creative and effective advocacy; proven ability to recruit and develop staff; a commitment to advancing freedom of expression and familiarity with key relevant issue areas; fundraising prowess; and excellent diplomatic and communication skills. They will be highly collaborative, proactive, and able to manage multiple advocacy efforts on a range of issues at once; have experience with public speaking and media engagement; exceptional people management and interpersonal skills; and be a program and organization builder with experience in fundraising and relationship building.

PEN America’s current policy is that all applicants must be available to work on-site in the office at least three days per week. Most organizational leaders are on-site four to five days per week to effectively supervise staff and fulfill leadership responsibilities. This policy is subject to change.


  • Lead PEN America’s Washington, D.C. office and driving forward the organization’s D.C.-focused advocacy agenda, in coordination with the rest of PEN America’s Free Expression Programs team and other relevant staff
  • Work with staff across the FEP department to set federal policy advocacy goals and develop advocacy strategies 
  • Manage the four-person Washington advocacy team (with a goal of increasing the team’s size as resources allow)
  • Cultivate and expand working relationships, coalitions, and partnerships where appropriate with members of Congress and their staff, representatives of the executive branch and relevant agencies, the media, non-profits, think tanks, universities, and other important actors and institutions in Washington, D.C.
  • Connect the organization to D.C. policymaking by actively monitoring developments in Washington on key free expression issues, providing analysis of the political and policy landscape, and coordinating consistently to bring PEN America staff experts into those conversations
  • Oversee the development of written products – e.g., policy papers, press releases, op-eds, etc. – relating to a range of free expression issues, as well as Congressional material, including legislation, resolutions, letters, etc.
  • Develop, cultivate, and steward relationships with institutional and individual funders
  • Engage and cultivate relationships with media, especially Washington-focused outlets
  • Organize virtual and in-person events to spotlight critical issues
  • Participate as a member of PEN America’s leadership team and play a role in the overall management of the organization

All PEN America staff are considered to be stakeholders in the development of our shared organization. As such, staff play a role in varied activities within the workplace as part of their job responsibilities. These may include committees or task forces to work on office issues, diversity and inclusion, strategy projects, training, or other initiatives.


  • A minimum of approximately 10 years of relevant experience, including in public advocacy, free expression, human rights, democracy, civil liberties, press freedom, international affairs, and/or related areas
  • A deep network in Washington and familiarity with the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. Government 
  • Ability to multi-task in a fast-paced, dynamic workplace
  • Willingness and ability to engage an ideologically varied set of stakeholders
  • Knowledge of human rights and familiarity with current and pressing issues around free expression in the U.S. and internationally
  • Demonstrated leadership and program-building success, including a track record for effective fundraising and constituency building
  • Demonstrated ability to execute key hires and manage a team and to effectively collaborate and coordinate with colleagues across an organization
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills necessary to build relationships and facilitate remote engagement with supervisor and colleagues
  • Polished and meticulous communication skills; exceptional writing skills, including ability to write quickly and persuasively
  • Commitment to and strong understanding of PEN America’s mission, centered on the celebration and defense of free expression, including the defense of speech reflecting a wide range of political opinions and ideologies, regardless of personal views

Salary and Benefits: PEN America offers competitive compensation and full benefits. The salary range for this position is $150k-$180k, commensurate with experience. Candidates whose expectations are outside this range are welcome to apply, as PEN America is open to considering talented individuals at varying stages of their careers. PEN America’s benefits package includes medical, dental, and vision health insurance, paid time off, 10 paid holidays, pre-tax commuter benefits and a 403b retirement plan.

To Apply:

Please submit a cover letter, resume, and unedited writing sample to [email protected]. Use “Washington Director” with your name as the subject of your email (for example, “Washington Director – Jane Doe”). Please also share where you heard about this position in the body of your email. Only complete applications will be reviewed, and only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

PEN America is an equal opportunity employer that does not discriminate in its hiring practices, and in order to build the strongest possible workforce, actively seeks a diverse applicant pool.

No phone calls, please.

About PEN America:

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.