Alumni Profile | Sarah Courtney ’03

Alumni Profile | Sarah Courtney ’03

Sarah Courtney ’03

Out Front, with the League of Women Voters.

Since the polarizing 2016 election, the League’s membership and supporter base has grown to more than one million strong, with more than 700 chapters in all 50 states, according to Courtney.

— Sarah Courtney ’03

When Sarah Courtney ’03 started her job at the League of Women Voters (LWV), it was October 2016, the eve of a pivotal presidential election. The national nonprofit was just four years from celebrating the centennial of both its founding and of women’s right to vote in America.

“It’s never slow,” Courtney joked recently in a conversation with Fairfield University Magazine, taking a few minutes away from her job as chief communications officer for the nonpartisan organization that was formed to help women take a larger, informed role in public affairs.

While the office is always humming, Courtney did join its ranks at a particularly busy time. In the five years since she rose from communications director to chief communications officer leading a staff of seven, the League has proven itself to be a vital voice for American democracy.

Its efforts to expand voter access and fight voter suppression mean LWV staffers and supporters are involved in advocacy and litigation not just in Washington, D.C., but across the country. Since the polarizing 2016 election, the League’s membership and supporter base has grown to more than one million strong, with more than 700 chapters in all 50 states, according to Courtney.

“There was certainly a reenergizing of the advocacy space,” she said. “We’re still fighting the good fight to defend our democracy.”

Raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, Courtney knew she was destined for a transformative education and career from a young age. To that end, she visited more than 30 colleges before deciding on Fairfield.

Her parents gave her plenty of choices and space, but one fact was evident, she said.

“The message was clear: You can go anywhere you get in, but you are going to college,” she said, laughing.

Fairfield checked off all of her preference boxes – It was the right size, had a gorgeous campus, and was close to New York City but maintained a town vibe. She decided to major in communication with a minor in film and television.

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 informed her decision to enter the field of journalism.

“9/11 shaped my college experience,” said Courtney, who was already interning in the media industry on the day of the attack.

“I’ve always respected journalists as the first drafters of history.”

Courtney worked as a producer and assignment editor for major media outlets for a decade after graduation, covering the White House and reporting on multiple political campaigns. Along the way she honed her skills in a fast-paced and high-pressure environment, taking time to talk to the voters and hear their varied opinions and needs.

A brief stint as a consultant pricked up her ears to the ways nonprofit organizations were making a real difference in the world.

“It really opened my eyes to the nonprofit world,” she said.

When she spied a job opening at the LWV, it seemed like fate. “It was like the stars were aligning for me,” said Courtney, who now lives in D.C. with her husband Tim and their daughter Clara, 4.

The LWV was going through a transformation at the time, bringing in new leadership for a lean crew that was about to get much larger and focused, she said. As the Trump administration, Black Lives Matters, and the Covid-19 crisis merged, it seemed there was no shortage of hot-button issues, and women from all walks of life wanted to get involved.

“We’re still hiring,” she said of her busy team. “Democracy has been very much in vogue and continues to be an issue of national attention.”

Along with the absentee ballot and redistricting debates that have percolated since the 2020 election, the LWV is thinking “very strategically” about the state elections and midterms, Courtney said.

“There are a lot of voters who will face new challenges voting in 2022,” she said of state voting laws that have changed around the country since the 2020 election. “Young voters, women, and people of color often experience the most barriers at the ballot box. We are determined to make sure every voter has the information they need to participate in our democracy.”

On a practical front, Courtney took a lead role on the organization’s website relaunch, a crucial component in getting its message out. As keeper of the LWV’s digital presence, brand identity, media relations, and communications, Courtney has been instrumental in modernizing and shaping the League’s reputation and visibility.

Under her direction, the League has won multiple awards for website development and public service video production. Her leadership has helped her growing team broaden its engagement with key audiences. “I’m so proud of the work we’ve done so far,” she said.

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