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Leveraging Systems for Sustainability and Opportunity with Jim Shelton

This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking Jim Shelton. Jim is the Chief Impact and Investment Officer at Blue Meridian Partners, a philanthropic vehicle that identifies and scales solutions to the problems trapping youth and their families in poverty. He also serves as a Senior Advisor to KKR Global Impact and is a nonresident Fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Jim was the co-founder of Amandla Enterprises and the former Deputy Secretary of Education and founding Executive Director of My Brother’s Keeper under President Barack Obama. He also worked in business, government, and the non-profit sectors as an operator, investor, and entrepreneur. In these roles, Jim has utilized management, policy, and programmatic innovations to increase access to opportunity.

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About Jim Shelton

Jim Shelton, is the Chief Impact and Investment Officer at Blue Meridian Partners a philanthropic vehicle to identify and scale solutions to the problems trapping youth and their families in poverty. He also serves as a Senior Advisor to KKR Global Impact and is a nonresident Fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Jim was the co-founder of Amandla Enterprises and the former Deputy Secretary of Education and founding Executive Director of My Brother’s Keeper under President Barack Obama. He also worked in business, government, and the non-profit sectors as an operator, investor, and entrepreneur. In these roles, he has utilized management, policy, and programmatic innovations to increase access to opportunity.

Jim holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Morehouse College and Master’s degrees in both Business Administration and Education from Stanford University. He lives in his hometown – Washington, DC – with his wife and two sons.

Read the podcast transcription below:

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: 

You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast and I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity, and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Nic Campbell: 

Hi, everyone. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking Jim Shelton. Jim is the Chief Impact and Investment Officer at Blue Meridian Partners, a philanthropic vehicle that identifies and scales solutions to the problems trapping youth and their families in poverty. He also serves as a Senior Advisor to KKR Global Impact and is a nonresident Fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Nic Campbell: 

Jim was the co-founder of Amandla Enterprises and the former Deputy Secretary of Education and founding Executive Director of My Brother’s Keeper under President Barack Obama. He also worked in business, government, and the non-profit sectors as an operator, investor, and entrepreneur.

Nic Campbell: 

In these roles, Jim has utilized management, policy, and programmatic innovations to increase access to opportunity. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Morehouse College and Master’s degrees in both Business Administration and Education from Stanford University.

And with that, here is Jim Shelton.

Nic Campbell:

Hi, Jim. I am really excited to have you joining us for our Fast Build Leader Series and to get us started, can you tell us about Blue Meridian Partners, your role there, and Blue Meridian’s immediate priority?

Jim Shelton:

Sure. So Blue Meridian Partners is a pretty unique non-profit vehicle where high net worth individuals and foundations come together to invest at scale and solutions that take people out of poverty. In recent days, we’ve made sure that our work focuses in two areas. One is accelerating and improving economic and social mobility. And the second is centering on the issues and the systems and structures that will allow for greater racial equity. Those two things go together as you well know.

Nic Campbell:

And can you talk about what you do there and…

Jim Shelton:

Sure. So I’m, what’s called the Chief Investment and Impact Officer. So I help with setting strategy across all of our investment areas. We invest in solutions that work on national scaling. We have a place-based portfolio, we have a portfolio that’s focused on, we call it justice and mobility. So not only focusing on getting people out of the criminal justice system, but if you are involved in criminal justice system or impacted by it, how do you actually get a real second chance and get mobile. So involved in each of those strategies, as well as working across the strategies to look for alignment and ways to get maximize our impact?

Nic Campbell:

When I think about the structure of Blue Meridian, what should come to mind for me? Is it similar to a donor collaborative, a giving circle, or is it something else?

Jim Shelton:

Yeah, I think that for folks who are familiar, it is a lot like a giving circle, right? There’s a set of folks who have committed to working together to invest. The thing that is distinct is that there is a professional staff that’s in place to source new opportunities, to bet the opportunities, to frame up the investment in a way that will drive the kind of improvement in organizations’ impact, and reach, and influence that they aspire to most importantly, but also that the philanthropic investors would aspire to. And so if you think about it almost like a private investment firm for impact, right, but where the investment committee is made up of the partners who are the largest investors.

Nic Campbell:

And given the time that we’re in, Jim, I know you talked about the two focus areas for Blue Meridian, how is that showing up in terms of the work that you’re doing now?

Jim Shelton:

Sure. So it was really interesting is like we had, in 2019, we had actually made applications to our strategy to kind of make these adjustments to the overall strategy, to move from youth development to broader focus on economic mobility, understanding of racial equity. So what’s really interesting about it is, is we had COVID and everything else, taking a hard look to say, so what needs to change about the core of our strategy? And the reality is the core of remaining the same, right? Like economic and social mobility still remains critically important. It is actually, in many ways, the issue of the day when you get past the fundamental rights of human beings and taking a systemic look at that is also critical, which is the way we tend to approach the work. And then what we’ve seen is both for COVID and through the racial unrest that has come after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd Mathers is that our country was just showing us the fault lines that we already had around inequity and that the work that we were doing to lean in to the criminal justice system to lean in on economic mobility was more important.

Jim Shelton:

What we did was we took a hard look on what would be immediately relevant, right? What kinds of things could had a special need right now? So we had a set of relatively early stage organizations for Blue Meridian that we had invested in. And we decided to say, not only what we helped stabilize our overall portfolio, but were there any that, because of the context, might have a real opportunity to expand to meet need. And so, for example, you may have heard of the Family Independence Initiative, that is one of our investees. And we had the opportunity to help invest in scaling their infrastructure, as well as doing some emergency response, to pass through some additional dollars to families that might need some crisis intervention. Again, the bulk of our work basically remained the same, right? We’re trying to build solutions to the problems that actually getting the people’s a way to coming up really mobile and then having more power in their lives.

Nic Campbell:

Jim, I like how you phrased it, right? Which is this, this pandemic, this unrest, is just showing us the fault lines in our system. And we were talking about Blue Meridian and saying, okay, what is immediately relevant to us? And what should we be focused on? And along those lines, I’m wondering if you could tell me what kind of advice would you share with nonprofits that fundraise as part of generating revenue during this time, when you’re thinking we need to focus on things that are immediately relevant, look at the fault lines to really instruct us where we need to go. But you have organizations that are trying to raise money during this time as well. So how do they prioritize and what should they be prioritizing?

Jim Shelton:

Yeah. So I think that it’s important to remember that people have now gotten clear that this is not going to be quick, that even the health crisis has been protracted, the economic impact is going to be protracted. The racial issues that we have to address are not going to resolve quickly. So while people are still…philanthropists in particular, are still interested in being responsive to the need. People are also starting to think, okay, how do I make sure that what I’m doing today is going to have a lasting impact? How do I make sure that it doesn’t…there’s not just one time aid, but it’s something that can go a bit further. There is still an interest in emergency relief and things like that, but people are saying, how does this set up someone to make it to the next run? As opposed to there was, I think, early on, Hey, people are going to be hurting, let’s just get more resources in their hands.

Jim Shelton:

And so for the nonprofits, what I would say is, I think that you wanna keep yourself in that context of saying, here’s how we’re being responsive, but here’s why we were a part of the recovery. And frankly, here’s why we’re important to the systems in the long-term. Relevance in this near-term, the medium-term, and in the long-term, is I think still one of the most compelling arguments. And I think that there’s going to be too, did you have a compelling value proposition that you bring it to the folks that are going to be most impacted. Or at least your particular population, wherever that might be.

Nic Campbell:

Right, and just really looking at it in terms of sustainability at the end of the day. Like when you’re thinking about what’s relevant now, what’s relevant in the immediate future, and then what’s relevant longer term. You’re thinking about how can you yourself as an organization be sustained throughout those periods, as well as the communities that you’re working with. Right? And then trying to really show your value proposition to donors or partners or other stakeholders. So that makes sense to me. Now, if I’m a funder and I’m receiving that message, you know, it’s still COVID, we still have all these issues happening around us. What advice are you giving me? I’m having a lot of these conversations. I’m getting a lot of these inquiries. What do I need to do during this time?

Jim Shelton:

So one, I’d say there’s no cookie cutter answer because a lot of philanthropic investing is tied to both the values and the preferences of the folks who you are representing. And also whatever particular mission you set out, with the funding that you may have access to. And what I mean by that is that there are still going to be pressing needs, right? And it is not in Blue Meridian’s history that we would invest in short-term meat. But when COVID hit, we set up a hundred million dollar emergency relief fund and a little bit more than half of that went to ways of providing aid to people who might not get it otherwise. And so leaning into domestic workers, leaning into restaurant workers, leaning in African-American communities around the country that were particularly hard hit. And so I think that for folks for whom that opportunity is something that fits within their value set, either in the long-term or in the shor- term, that there’s a critical role for them to play in doing that in ways that are strategic and that leverage the resources and infrastructure that exists out there.

Jim Shelton:

So we were really excited to partner with organizations like Propel to get dollars out or CDO, which works with folks who’ve recently been incarcerated, to get…they’re not eligible for lots of benefits, so we were able to utilize them to get dollars using their pay card system out to folks who were not going to be employed in this current context. So use the infrastructure that’s there to reach the target populations that are most in need and maybe frankly, hard to reach otherwise. Look for those efficiencies to look for scale. Then there is the opportunity to really think about how you are leveraging this opportunity, for lack of a better word to describe it, where people are suspending their belief about how things have to work. Whether you’re an education person and now, all of a sudden, online learning has been off the table, off the table, off the table for many, many people for a long time, not it is required in many contexts.

Jim Shelton:

And so how do you make sure that you’re not just enabling that, you know…a quick patchwork effort to get people online, but you’re starting to say, what would it look like to help us get much better at understanding what it looks like to use online learning where it could actually have a real benefit to the students. Where it can provide greater access or can provide better use of tools and resources to meet student needs? I mean, how do I use this as an opportunity to have people to experience that in a way that can shift mindsets about what’s possible? And the third thing is how do I do that in ways that builds an infrastructure that I can leverage later and that is sustainable, to your point, over time, right? It’s really important that, for example, we’ve made an investment through Code for America and trying to get the…there’s normally a very robust infrastructure of people who do with tax preparation for low income people.

Jim Shelton:

And that’s what you basically had to do to get access to your stimulus check. Well, what we realized is that that infrastructure was broken down at the time because the centers were closed. And so a lot of the people who needed the money most were not going to get access to those supports and services. So we worked with a nonprofit called Code for America to develop the online platform to work with those providers to be able to do their work, even though their offices were closed. We hope to reach scale, reach millions of people with it. Actually, didn’t reach millions of people with that, but it doesn’t…it’s two things. One is that infrastructure is going to be there no matter what. Now people who are amending their taxes, people who filed tax extensions to October 15th next year, that infrastructure is going to be amortized over many, many years.

Jim Shelton:

And by the way, like we made a very relatively small grant we already got, that looks like three to four X just on that part of the investment. And there’s another small investment alongside it. We invested in something called Pandemic PBT Infrastructure, which is context. It basically is, they allowed the dollars for free and reduced lunch to go home to the parents. And so they had to put together a plan, the state had to put together a plan, for how the dollars would get there. The first thing that Code of America did was partnered with states to figure out a better way to match parents with their kids. And so I’ll give you an example of California, in California there were like 3 million kids in this category. The algorithm got them to half of them without ever having parents have to apply separately. And then…but that still leaves like 1.7 million kids and families without having been connected.

Jim Shelton:

So they built their quick application online that allow people to sign up for the benefits. Let’s put it up on a Friday morning at eight o’clock and by three o’clock, there were 200,000 plus signed up, by the end of the weekend, Sunday night, close to a million people had already signed up. Two weeks later, 1.5 million people had signed up. So very quickly, like tens of millions, like 50 X on the investment, 50, 75 X on the investment was able to be returned and an infrastructure that now when they do to the stimulus round two, it’s going to be used again. So those are the kinds of things that if we’re thoughtful about the ways in which infrastructure, the ways in which organizations that are doing smart work can do this work. It’d be great. And the last thing I’ll say is notion of providing access to benefits and making it easier for folks to get the things to which they’re already entitled is the high leverage infrastructure investment. People don’t usually love plumbing, but that you couldn’t make last for a long time.

Nic Campbell:

Wow. So, you know, Jim, from everything that you just described, I think at the core I’m hearing, you know, be thoughtful, understand the environment in which you’re, you’re operating so that you know who’s out there to inform the kind of infrastructure you can build to start to be able to be responsive to the needs of the communities that you’re working with. Right? So you’re talking about looking for efficiencies and then looking also with an eye towards scaling and in the midst of all of this that, you know, central to it, is innovation, right? Like thinking creatively about how you can put together solutions. So I’m hearing all of these things and I want to ask a pretty technical question around if I’m a funder and I start to think, okay, I have all of these things in my mind. What does the grant look like? Can I do that through general support? Can I do that through capacity building? I’d love to hear how you’re thinking of then getting the funding to groups ands individuals that do the work.

Jim Shelton:

Lots of people have lots of perspectives on this. I’ll give you mine. Mine is, in particular, when you’re trying to do work that is innovative, I think that providing funds that are more flexible, donor operating support grants, if possible, where the folks who are closest to trying to solve the problem have the flexibility to move at the pace that they’re learning is one of the best things you can do if you really want to invest in innovation. And that’s particularly true when you’re trying to work on problems where there is no roadmap already, right? Because there’s the more framework you put around it, the more constraints you put on the organization and the leaders trying to do the work. The second thing is that frankly, there’s a level of trust that you ought to have in the folks that you’re betting on, that providing that kind of flexibility gives you a really good opportunity to see if you made a smart decision.

Jim Shelton:

If you give that flexibility and it’s not rewarded with the responsible investment and impact, then you don’t need to make that investment anymore. But to be honest, you actually can’t hold your grantee accountable if you prescribed what they’re going to do, and they feel like they are negotiating their strategy with you, as opposed to actually having the autonomy to actually go into the rest of it, I think is best. So I know people have different points of view on that, especially when they work with innovation. I’ve just always found that being over prescribed is a recipe for a suboptimal solution. The last thing I’ll say, because I want to blend these two things together, is you want to find mechanisms for finding the folks who you don’t already know about. And what I find in philanthropy is that our referral networks are usually really small and that being more open, even when you’re in a hurry about the process, by which you identify folks tapping other people’s networks, opening up prizes, short windows, things like that. So that leaders and organizations and solutions that you might not be familiar with at the table is really important.

Jim Shelton:

If you want to do things that give you a different view into what’s possible. And that’s something that they’re in the crisis period, it’s kind of hard to do, but as time goes on, I think we are going to be looking for more and more creative ways to become aware of other parts of the solution space. And frankly, that is going to create more opportunities for investing in leaders of color and others who normally might not be in the channels. Those referral networks turn out to be kind of excluding a lot of leaders who were approximate to the work.

Nic Campbell:

We’re talking about these tenants that underline all of this funding, you’ve mentioned being flexible, having trust, and then just being inclusive at the end of the day, right, in order to create the best solution. And I think they all resonate with me. And I wanted to ask you about the sector generally, right? And maybe some of your, what you’re going to say, builds on the flexibility, trust, and inclusiveness that we’re talking about. What does the sector do you wish we were doing less of and what do you think we should be doing more?

Jim Shelton:

Yeah. So these two things go hand in hand for me, I wish we were doing more collaborative work in a way that reduces the fragmentation and incoherence of which both the field at large, meaning the social sector, operates. But in particular, the way that the organizations that we fund have to respond to all the different funders in their demands. And so to the extent that we can come together to use common reporting to reduce common metrics, to get behind the plan of the grantee, as opposed to each of us having our own special project that we want them to do to get our money. the more impactful and strategic and innovative every organization we invest in is going to be. That’s number one on my list. And number two is I wish that we lived into our rhetoric of investing in the things that work and really starting to ask our questions.

Jim Shelton:

One, to have a robust definition of what success looks like. So we’re not looking at very narrow metrics to define these things, but also that we’re really being clear about what does success look like at every stage of development. And that might not mean that you produce the outcome you were looking for, but you have to produce the learning that you were looking for and then a path to the next level of output or outcome. And I think that people talk a big game about doing that, but the reality is it gets really easy to keep giving money to the same people, whether they’re producing or not, or get people to the folks that everybody’s excited about, whether or not they’re producing outcomes or not. And if we just all were much more disciplined about saying, what are we hoping that this produces for the world and for the people we’re trying to serve, and then being really hard nosed about saying this either it looks like it’s going to do it or it doesn’t, or it is doing it, or it’s not, I think the deal will move much more quickly.

Nic Campbell:

Yeah. And I think it’s about developing that discipline to ask that question, right. Does this work, will this solution be viable? And really holding ourselves accountable to doing that. Because I think it has implications as we think about evaluation, right? Like that then provides the framework and all the fundamentals for how we then go about evaluating.

Jim Shelton:

Yes. And it also requires that we all have a more shared perspective about what does evidence or rigor look like at every stage of development. So my evaluation framework for the at-scale organization with tons of resources and a model that’s been demonstrated over and over again, that they use in lots of places, it should be very different than the way I think about what rigor looks like for a relatively new organization, with a relatively different model that others are taking that shows tremendous promise. We should know what rigor looks like at that stage of development, but know that it’s not going to look like the evidence that these more mature organizations are producing. And we can get clearer about how we think about that collectively. And then frankly, it’d be crucially invest in organizations being able to produce that kind of rigor, which means adequate investing, flexible investing, so technical assistance and support that will allow us to build a field that is many other sectors, especially [inaudible], like they have natural mechanisms by which the things that are better products, quote, unquote, ultimately win. Doesn’t always work that way, but there’s definitely a feedback loop that says resources flow to things that people are saying are better than the others in our sector, because we don’t track outcomes against the things that are happening. Resources can flow for a whole lot of different reasons. And if we don’t begin to fix that basic mechanism in our ability to get the things that work to the most people and give them a scale is also going to suffer.

Nic Campbell:

You’re talking about things like less fragmentation, so encouraging more collaborative work, really having that kind of rigor to approach the kind of impact we want to have. And these were, you know, in many cases, seismic shifts, right? So it makes me start to think about the infrastructure of organizations and what needs to be in place to make sure that you have an environment where you can start to make these shifts and start to get more collaborative and develop that rigor at Blue Meridian. I’d love to hear how you all are thinking about infrastructure capacity of organizations and, you know, the sector generally, to be able to do their best work. What are you focusing on when it comes to, for example, boards, governance, the way they’re set up, the vehicles that they’re using, and even how they’re organized internally?

Jim Shelton:

Yeah. So I think for us, we’re on a learning journey on this ourselves, in some ways I think our founding principles was about investing in organizations to give them the assistance and competence and infrastructure to actually scale, right; give them enough capital and then allow them to invest in the things that are going to allow to provide that, as you described, core infrastructure, so that they’re not just growing, they’re growing with quality and in a way that will be able to be sustained over time. Earlier stage organizations have an even more challenging thing where they need to figure out what the infrastructure needs to look like to scale and increase their impact on the ground. And so we have to be willing to invest in them, both in what I’ll call more bespoke ways, so, Hey, we’re not ready to give you a big, giant, scaling grant, but it seems like you really need to build out your capability around measuring and evaluation, or you really are trying to figure out new ways of applying technology to your work.

Jim Shelton:

And so where can we do some selective investment to help you get to that next stage? And then once you’re there, we can come back and say, Hey, you look like you might be ready for a real scaling opportunity. So I think we have to be let the grantees do their best work, provide our perspective about where we might be able to assist them on things where it looks like they’ve gotten to the kind of capability that they will need to go to scale and be willing to fill those gaps and then to tie opportunities for more scaling, to having those gaps filled.

Nic Campbell:

That approach really requires, you know, a thoughtfulness; being analytical, but also empathetic, right? And trusting your grantees, the organizations that you’re working with. You know, Jim, your responses have been so incredibly thoughtful and relevant and insightful. And I want to ask you a question to help us continue to build knowledge through books and people we should learn from or about to close this out. What do you think we should read next? Or what artists do you think we should be paying attention to?

Jim Shelton:

So I would say that anyone who has not read ‘Biased’ by Jennifer Eberhardt needs to read it. I read a bunch of books on race, but the intersection that she brings between history and neuroscience does two things. One is, it just makes plain the issues that we’re all feeling. And it’s really interesting because she started her work in criminal justice. So a lot of the examples are really relevant that way. The other thing it does is it makes it clear how hard this work ultimately is going to be for us to shift the way we actually behave as individuals. And as a country, it gives you a sense of possibility because there are things to be done, even though they’re hard, we don’t know all the answers, but there are things to be done. And to start, we have to actually look at like how difficult it’s really going to be.

Nic Campbell:

Thanks so much for that recommendation, ‘Biased’. I will put the information about the book and its author in the show notes. So everyone will be able to have access to that. You have shared so much knowledge and have been so insightful so that leaders can practically use the information that you have shared in their own organizations to help them build bravely and think about how they can collaborate with others. So I just want to thank you so much again for joining us today, Jim.

Jim Shelton:

Nicole, thanks so much for what you’re doing. And for the work you put into supporting so many organizations, it makes a huge difference. Not everybody likes plumbing, but everybody knows when plumbing breaks down. And so, just really appreciate you leaning in on it.

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Nicole, thank you for all the work here, and it’s a pleasure and a privilege. Thank you.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources, and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely.

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Investment and Innovation for Impact with Lawrence Mendenhall

This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking with Lawrence Mendenhall. Lawrence is the Chief Operating Officer of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the 32,000-member association for America’s eye surgeons, where he leads the Academy’s communications, memberships, marketing, finance, technology, facilities, security, and corporate services functions.

Lawrence has held operational and legal leadership roles for philanthropies ranging from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to Humanity United, a startup human rights foundation created by eBay’s founder. Earlier in his career, he spearheaded The Pew Trusts’ change from domestic grantmaking foundation to international operating nonprofit as well as its successful effort to save Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation.

Listen to the podcast here:


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About Lawrence Mendenhall

Lawrence Mendenhall, MBA, JD, is COO of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the 32,000-member association for America’s eye surgeons, where he leads the Academy’s communications, memberships, marketing, finance, technology, facilities, security and corporate services functions. He also oversees the Academy’s affiliated foundation, with programs that range from EyeCare America, which has served over 2 million patients free of charge, to the newly founded Museum of the Eye.

He has held operational and legal leadership roles for philanthropies ranging from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to Humanity United, a startup human rights foundation created by eBay’s billionaire founder.  Earlier in his career he spearheaded The Pew Trusts’ change from domestic grantmaking foundation to international operating nonprofit as well as its successful effort to save Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation.

He attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, New York University School of Law, and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Read the podcast transcription below:

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: 

You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast and I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity, and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Nic Campbell: 

Hi, everyone. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking with Lawrence Mendenhall. Lawrence is the Chief Operating Officer of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the 32,000-member association for America’s eye surgeons, where he leads the Academy’s communications, memberships, marketing, finance, technology, facilities, security, and corporate services functions. He also oversees the Academy’s affiliated foundation, with programs that range from EyeCare America, which has served over 2 million patients free of charge, to the newly founded Museum of the Eye.

Nic Campbell: 

Lawrence has held operational and legal leadership roles for philanthropies ranging from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to Humanity United, a startup human rights foundation created by eBay’s founder.  Earlier in his career, he spearheaded The Pew Trusts’ change from domestic grantmaking foundation to international operating nonprofit as well as its successful effort to save Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation.

Nic Campbell: 

He attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, New York University School of Law, and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. And with that, here is Lawrence Mendenhall.

Nicole Campbell:

Hi, Lawrence. I’m so excited to have you joining us for our Fast Build Leader series.

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Thank you, Nicole, for having me. I’m excited to talk with you.

Nicole Campbell:

I am looking forward to it. So to get us started, can you tell us about the American Academy of Ophthalmology, your role there and the Academy’s immediate priorities?

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Sure. My organization AAO, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is the association for America’s 32,000 eye surgeons. And it also has a related foundation where I am COO and CFO for these orgs. Our group also includes a related management company that provides that operational infrastructure to other nonprofits, as well as a political action committee and a state legislative advocacy fund. Now the immediate priority for our group is ensuring that we’re serving our members, right? They include not just the USI surgeons, but surgeons from around the globe who have been hard hit by the pandemic. What many people don’t know, Nic, is that the first victim of COVID-19 was a Chinese ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital. He was one of the first to raise warnings about the virus in China. He was condemned as a whistleblower, and then he later died. Now he’s since been exonerated, but he really just illustrates the risks for our members.

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Some of whom have given their lives, working on the front lines to fight COVID-19. And now treating injuries in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police. Eye injuries are one of the most common injuries from the rubber bullets and tear gas that are often police responses to the protests. And we’ve spoken up before around gun violence because they also result in a lot of eye injuries. And we’re also one of a handful of medical orgs that publicly condemned the recent killing. So ensuring that our member safety and livelihoods are protected are our top priorities so they can continue to serve the community of patients. And another high court priority, I would just say for me, is ensuring that our org, which is responsible for one of the largest in-person meetings in medicine ,is coping with the financial impact of the virus. I mean, how do we ensure the safety of our meeting and the viability of what we offer to our members and their patient is really what I’m spending a lot of my time on.

Nicole Campbell:

Wow, that’s a really wide remit, Lawrence. Thank you for that background. You mentioned that you were both CFO and COO and that is fascinating. So can you talk a little bit more about those roles and how they play out essentially within that network, you named a few entities that you are also responsible for.

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Sure. So I was using the little shorthand, I’m the COO for the Academy and then the CFO for the Foundation, as well as the Executive Director of the foundation reports to me. Really what it is, I feel very blessed to work with such an incredible team and incredible CEO, David Park, who’s been our CEO for 10 years and has been involved with the Academy for decades. But essentially I am responsible for harmonizing our very diverse operations here. We go from membership and meetings to patient education, to member education, continuing medical certification, a real range, to public serving programs like Eye Care America, which has provided over 2 million exams for free to the public, to a museum of the eye that we’re trying to launch. So you can imagine trying to launch a new public museum in the middle of the pandemic. So it really is that harmonizing role. It was brought in because so often we see in not-for-profits, whether it’s funders or NGOs, just too many direct reports to the CEO, right? They need to be able to be out in the world and to advance the mission with the public and with the members, if you have members, but then someone needs to really be translating and making sure that that vision is moving forward internally. And it’s harmonized, especially when you’ve got a large team, we’re lucky to have a large team.

Nicole Campbell:

I just think it’s great that your organization and the work that you’re doing is really showing up for everyone during such a tense time for our country. So I appreciate that. And you are a nonprofit and I would love to hear just how you would talk to other nonprofits who fundraise as a significant part of their budget. In other words, what do you think should be top of mind for these organizations, particularly now during this time of uncertainty? We’ve got so much unrest, we’ve got the pandemic, what should they be concentrating on? What should they be doing?

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Sure. You know, my top advice for others who are fundraising at this difficult moment is don’t give up. Your donors are still out there and many are looking for ways to help even more. Now I know that’s easy to say right? Going to our experience, the key has been to divide the donors into segments, which is of course a good practice generally, but it’s critical right now. If you have a strong market segmentation in place, you’re ahead of the game, but you probably need to go through the steps again, re-segment based on how COVID is impacting it. Who is going to go into your stewardship category? This isn’t the right time to be asking them they’re going through a lot. This isn’t the right time to approach them with big aks. And then who can you approach? So even though there are some who aren’t going to be able to help now.

Lawrence Mendenhall:

So for example, at my organization, our average donor member have been hard hit. I sort of alluded to before by COVID-19 they stopped seeing non-emergency patients and the impact has been severe. So they’re focused on protecting their patients and their staff and their community. So it’s not the time to go to them for money, but there are others for us, and I think for many other not-for-profits, there are significant segments, particularly corporate sponsors and other corporate partners in our space, for example, that are eager to help. They want to create that goodwill with members in the community, especially now. Their budgets weren’t necessarily impacted, or they’re not being impacted as quickly. So they’ve still got money for this year, right? And they’re eager to support long standing partners and highly visible challenges at a time like this. And so for us, it’s been large pharmaceutical and medical device companies that have stepped up to fund additional education for doctors and patients around say telemedicine, at a time when in-person visits are only for urgent cases. We do also have some high net-worth donors who’ve been able to contribute.

Lawrence Mendenhall:

You know, they’re not suffering from this. And I think there is a significant set out there. The second thing I would just mention, it’s similar, is that there’s a significant funding available specifically for COVID response and COVID responders, or for people who are impacted by COVID. Sometimes it’s an embarrassing amount of funding, including government funding, there’s money that’s just looking for a home, for a place to be effective. So for example, medical societies we’ve found that are focused on emergency care or emergency providers and emergency service for the indigent. Those societies are in short supply and they’re incredibly popular donors. Of course, they’ve, don’t always have the infrastructure yet to deploy that money effectively, but they’re very popular with donors. So what I would say is any of your programs that directly benefit impacted communities are uniquely positioned to succeed with the funders. And I would say, depending on your capacity and others in your space, even if you don’t have a program in place, if you can quickly ramp up and make a difference with integrity, the dollars may be there to support your efforts. And that’s what I’m seeing. Nicole.

Nicole Campbell:

That makes sense, because essentially you’re saying, well, be strategic about your outreach. Also look in different places, right? Not just keep tapping the same sources for funding, because there might be additional funding sources out there, particularly around COVID or around funds that are working with impacted communities. And so that really makes a lot of sense. And so if you were to look at the other side of the conversation and look at the funders who are providing these resources to nonprofit organizations, beyond the advice of give more money, what advice would you provide to funders to support nonprofits sustainability, both within the moment that we’re in and to get us past it, and when you are past it, what does that look like? And I know that you are experienced, you know, you’ve been with funders. So you have that really unique perspective of not only having a leadership role within a nonprofit organization currently, but also haven’t had leadership roles within philanthropy, as well as I would love to hear what your advice would be to funders.

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Well, it’s a terrific question and sort of looking at it from both sides. Unfortunately I think the answer, for the donor mindset, the answer isn’t funders just need to provide more advice. You need to provide more thought partnership. I think that’s what a lot of funders think, but that’s not going to be enough standing alone. Like I said, it’s off in the view of these smart well-meaning funders and program officers who say, well, our thought leadership is more valuable than our funding. There’s a point in there, but for true sustainability, I think that funders need to be willing to be thought partners and to support the infrastructure and health of the org beyond the short term, not just a particular program that is of interest to that funder. Now I’m not saying that funders should embrace, you know, 50% overhead rates, but they should be willing to pay reasonable overhead.

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Yes. But to go further to support those specific organization strengthening initiatives and work, whether it’s developing fundraising expertise, recruiting board leadership, and putting in place strong work practices, creating compliance infrastructure, building tech platforms, they need to be willing to support those things that benefit the whole organization and not just a slice of it. So that’s the first piece of advice. And of course, many funders say they’ve made a shift, but in reality, I think there’s still a long way to go. The second piece of advice I would say to funders is to make longer term investments, not one to two or even three to five years, but 10 year plus investment. I think the larger your investment is the more true this is. So what’s large? Well, that’s going to be determined by the funding that already exists in the space, but large short term investments, they can really distort the mission of the organization in the field. When they end, they may have co-opted the direction of the org and the space and leading other funders to that source to bow out. So then the org in that field can end up diminished, which harms the exact community that you intended to help.

Nicole Campbell:

You are definitely speaking my language because I’m hearing you say, you know, support infrastructure needs beyond the immediate needs that are cropping up. And I liked when you said support the whole organization, not just the flight, because it really resonates with me. I talk a lot about just making longer term investment in an organization, not in deliverables, right? So that makes complete sense to me. I’m going to ask you a question about this overhead support. Talk to me about why you think there are so many organizations, so many funders out there who are saying, well, we’ve determined that you can’t spend more than 25% or 10%, whatever their percentage. Why do you think that those percentages are introduced if they are, as you put in that language, like if they decide to make longer term investments in an organization for their sustainability, how do we reconcile the percentages of overhead?

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Right. Sure. I think what’s happening and want to really give credit to funders. I think they want to be responsible. I think they want to share that they are delivering on their mission and that they’re supporting the mission of the organization. But what I think has happened is it’s become misguided. It’s become a rule of thumb. Say we’re not going to go beyond this percentage because somehow that signals that this isn’t a responsible investment. And I think what’s happened over the last 20 years. We had some very visible scandals at hundred million dollar organizations, billion dollar organizations, the Stanfords of the world. Now there is a question, how do I, as a funder, for example, in the social justice space, do I want to place a project at Stanford or another large university, which may have a 30% overhead rate? I think that question is very different than whether for this small 10 person not-for-profit, which may be in South Sudan, which may be a couple of people in Northern Nepal.

Lawrence Mendenhall:

I think the question would be it’s a very different issue. And unfortunately it becomes sort of one size fits all. This is our policy and we don’t fund beyond this amount. And so I think it really is a desire to be accountable, but I think there has to be a built-in flexibility there. And it’s hard though. It’s hard because a lot of the funders they’ve gotten larger, they’re bigger. They need to have sort of…I know this from the operational perspective, black and white rules are always easier to implement than sort of, it depends. And so I think that’s part of the challenge that also is another aspect for philanthropy. Philanthropies themselves, they say, well, we want to stay small. We don’t want to get too large. That’s their idea of humility, but if you need to grow to do your work well, I think that for philanthropies themselves is an investment that’s worthwhile. So this obsession with overhead comes from a good place, but I think it needs to be examined in specific cases.

Nicole Campbell:

Right. And just be tailored to the organization that the funder is investing in. We’ve talked about the advice that you would provide to nonprofits, the advice that you would provide to funders, with all of that in mind, what do you wish we did less of as a sector? And what do you think we should be doing more of?

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Sure. And here I’m putting my kind of funder hat on. I know what I’d like to see less of is really honestly, less self-reflection and more other reflection. You know, I look across the philanthropic sectors, funders are often incredibly skilled at looking inward, at examining their own notice and practices, and there’s a place for that. This is a good thing, but listening to you and reflecting the grantees and NGOs that they’re supporting is the number one job for me. It’s similar to the conversation my team and others are having around privilege and around race for folks who are part of a dominant culture that’s the funder culture in this case, they need to be listeners and to not expect to be catered to. They need to open up space for others to be heard, take the time, to educate themselves to the extent possible, and then still be willing to defer to the expertise and these lived experiences of others. Now, in some ways, it’s the exact opposite of the strategic and venture philanthropy models that many funders have cycled through or are still in. But that’s what I wish we would do less of as a sector.

Nicole Campbell:

Well, how do you think this shows up from an infrastructure perspective? So you’re a funder and now they listen to you and they say, okay, well, we’ll do less self-Reflection, we’ll listen, we’ll let our grantees be the experts. How does that show up in terms of a funders grant making? And I’m speaking in terms of infrastructure, like the type of award, type of monitoring evaluation, like what could we be looking for to say that is a funder who is listening to their grantees?

Lawrence Mendenhall:

I think some terrific practices are to fund group of grantees with general operating support, working in an ecosystem where you are hoping to see systemic change, opening the spaces for them. So whether that’s hosting a monthly call, whether that’s actually giving them financial support, coordinate advocacy, public education efforts, it’s supporting that without tons of strains, perhaps providing staff support for those meetings, introducing the systems that will allow them to create sort of a shared portfolio. Or do you begin to think about it? Right? I think so often we jump to that, we’ve done the mapping, we know what needs to happen, and now let’s just plug it in. And I think funders have tried to get away from that, but it’s that, I think that hangover of that approach is it’s still very much out there.

Nicole Campbell:

And remove the strains. What do you think then we should be doing more of?

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Well, of course, through the flip side of that is the listening. And it’s also what I would love to see. And I’ve not seen a lot of this. I know, Nic, you’re so deeply involved in these conversations, but there is some great writing in philanthropy. The state of the art and best practices continues to evolve. But I also think there is a, and this is from part of my work here, there’s a communication aspect to helping the rest of the world understand the various ways that effective philanthropy can show up. And sometimes it is just opening the space. It is writing that check. That doesn’t mean that we’re not effective philanthropists. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to eventually create the change that we all want to see. It’s just that we’re committed to a longer timeframe. We’re committed to doing it in this more collaborative way.

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Take the focus off of wow, who pays for 30% overhead versus 15% overhead. And can you believe X large foundation funded this work, helping the public and helping our policymakers understand that this is not a command and control economy. We are putting the dollars out there to let this work bubble up, to let these good ideas and these movements advance. We are not controlling them. So there’s a role for communications and messaging to change from that strategic philanthropy model, where it’s my funding, I’m responsible for it. It’s like if I’m funding it, I’m trying to open a space.

Nicole Campbell:

And so getting out of your own bubble your own way and using communications to fully integrate within the world, right within the economy in which philanthropy is trying to make a difference. And that resonates. And so I know that the focus of many nonprofits is often on programmatic strategy and their own development needs and fundraising apps, which makes sense because fundraising is a large part of their budget and their app and what they’re doing to get money into their work and to support their operations. Is the Academy thinking about building infrastructure during this time? I know you talked about how you were being responsive to your members and showing up to support communities in need. Are you thinking about how you were building your own organizational infrastructure? And if so, how is that showing up and how are you thinking about this beyond the moment that we’re in?

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Sure. You know, we are a hundred year old organization that really reinvented itself in the eighties, nineties. And so we do have a lot of infrastructure in place. And I would just make one point as I go into this, it’s often harder to change existing infrastructure, strong infrastructure, than it is as I’ve been, for example, in a philanthropic startup environment, where if you had a system for three years, it’s not really hard to get rid of it. But if you had a system, whether it’s technology, whether it’s a process, that’s grown up over decades, it’s more challenging. So for us in the short term, we’ve had to get comfortable in some cases with really quickly assemble infrastructure, for example, holding a dozen webinars a week, educate our members of the public on COVID-19. When we would normally host a fraction of that number for a fraction of the viewers. When we’re doing that, responding to this immediate need, how do we right-size our investment? They’re urgent needs, but they may not be permanent.

Lawrence Mendenhall:

So that’s one of the things so lowering our standards, being willing to say, Hey, you know what? Some of this is going to happen quickly and we’re going to test it and we’re going to decide then what we do next. But looking at the longer term, we are asking ourselves daily, how will the needs of the communities we’re serving be different after COVID-19? How do we build the infrastructure we’ll need to respond to those needs? Then the reality is that in this fiscal environment, though, we also have to ask, what are we going to stop doing so that we can meet the new reality? You know, in my humble view, every org, whether it has sufficient reserves or a deep pocketed funder who can help plug the current funding gap, I think every org should be asking the strategic question about the long-term. What’s changed permanently and what hasn’t changed. And why do they have to ask this?

Lawrence Mendenhall:

I think it’s because the reality is that we don’t know what the new normal will be after this period we’re in. And we want to be prepared to continue to serve our communities, the ones that rely on us, even if our funding model turns out to be very different. So for us, for example, as I said, we hold one of the largest meetings in medicine. Well, what is that going to look like? Right. Are folks going to be comfortable going to meetings in the future? Is the whole world going to permanently go more virtual? We don’t know, but we need to be asking those questions so we’re ready.

Nicole Campbell:

It’s such an interesting perspective, right? Because you are within an organization that has a tremendous amount of infrastructure. And your view is that even within that infrastructure, you want to continue to innovate so that you are responsive to the needs of the community that you are serving and you’re working with. And I really appreciate how you’re saying changing an infrastructure that already exists is a lot harder than, you know, just creating one. And I understand there are a lot of considerations around why you…convincing someone to create infrastructure in the first place. But I agree with you, I think changing that infrastructure that has been hardwired, not only into the processes and the policies, but into the people, because people are a large part of that infrastructure. And it’s like, how do you not only change the policies and change the processes, but then change the people and have them be innovative in that way.

Nicole Campbell:

So I really appreciate that observation, Lawrence. And you know, your responses, I appreciate them a great deal, particularly because they’re coming from a COO who has that programmatic vision, has the organizational vision, but is also able to think about the details within the infrastructure to hold up those visions. And I think that your advice has been so thoughtful and so practical and just powerful. And I want to ask you a question to help us continue to build knowledge through books and people we should learn from or about to close us out. What books do you think we should read next? Or what artists, the think we should be paying attention to?

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Well, I thought hard about this. I was thinking about what I’ve been reading lately. I’ve been rereading though, what’s really impacted me, is I’ve been rereading ‘I Will Bear Witness’ which was written by Victor Klemperer as a diary of his experience of one of a handful of Jews who was able to survive in Nazi Germany through the entire prewar and world war II period, right through Germany’s liberation. He was this accomplished professor, married to a Christian woman, the cousin of a famous conductor, some folks know Otto Klemperer, and he kept a daily diary of his experience beginning in 1933. Now there’s so many comparisons, you know, folks drop between the 1930s and our present era, including global trends toward populism, potentially fast fascism, but to see his daily count of how’s German society, you know, this fame cosmopolitan, at that time, society that would produce an erudite converted Jewish professional like him, to see how that imploded and almost brought the entire world down with it. It’s just incredibly powerful. What I find is that it’s a reminder that our engagement as individuals, as not for profit leaders, and as funders, that our engagement just isn’t negotiable. You know, it’s easier, and the risk is, it’s easier for the world around us to change us than for us to change it. And we really need to fight for what we value. That’s not hot off the presses, but it is one that I think is worth a read.

Nicole Campbell:

So ‘I Will Bear Witness’ by Victor Klemperer. Thank you for sharing that, Lawrence, fight for what you value. You have shared such knowledge and insights that I think leaders, as I mentioned, can practically use in their own organizations to help them build bravely. And I think that that’s, what’s really important that we’re not only sharing our thoughts and our insights and talking in cliches, but actually saying here’s what I think. And here’s what I think you can do next. Here’s what I think we can do next. So I want to thank you for sharing that level of insight, that level of practice, just how practical your suggestions and recommendations are. And I want to thank you for joining us today, Lawrence.

Lawrence Mendenhall:

Nicole, thank you for all the work here, and it’s a pleasure and a privilege. Thank you.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources, and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely.

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Investing in Systems Change for Sustainable Impact with Geoffrey Canada

This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking with Geoffrey Canada. Geoff is a leading advocate for children and an innovator in the field of education. He created the Harlem Children’s Zone, a birth-through-college network of programs that today serves more than 13,000 low-income students and families in a 97-block area of Central Harlem in New York City. The unprecedented success of the Harlem Children’s Zone has attracted the attention of the media and leaders around the world.

In this episode, Geoff shares tremendous insight, knowledge, and practical advice for everyone listening, helping us to build and lead bravely.

Listen to the podcast here:


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About Geoffrey Canada

Geoffrey Canada is a leading advocate for children and innovator in the field of education.

Canada grew up in one of the most devastated communities in the United States, the South Bronx, raised by a single mother. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College, and eventually went on to earn a master’s degree at Harvard University. He vowed to help children who grew up in disadvantaged circumstances to succeed through education.

Canada created the Harlem Children’s Zone, a birth-through-college network of programs that today serves more than 13,000 low-income students and families in a 97-block area of Central Harlem in New York City.

The unprecedented success of the Harlem Children’s Zone has attracted the attention of the media and leaders around the world. In 2011, Canada was named one of the world’s most influential people by Time magazine and as one of the 50 greatest leaders by Fortune magazine in 2014. President Barack Obama created the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone model across the country,

Canada has been profiled extensively in the media, including The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, 60 Minutes, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and Forbes, among others. He was featured in the documentary about the dire state of American education Waiting for Superman, and has received more than 25 honorary degrees including ones from Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania.

He has also influenced a new generation of education reformers through his writings, having published essays in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Chronicle of Philanthropy as well as two critically acclaimed books on poverty and violence: Fist Stick Knife Gun and Reaching Up for Manhood.

After 30 years with the organization, Canada stepped down in 2014 as Chief Executive Officer of the Harlem Children’s Zone, but continues to serve as President.

 

Read the podcast transcription below:

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: 

You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast and I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity, and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Nic Campbell: 

Hi, everyone. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking with Geoffrey Canada. Geoff is a leading advocate for children and an innovator in the field of education. He was raised by a single mother and grew up in the South Bronx (where I also grew up) in New York City. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College, and eventually went on to earn a master’s degree at Harvard University. He vowed to help children who grew up in disadvantaged circumstances succeed through education.

Nic Campbell: 

Geoff created the Harlem Children’s Zone, a birth-through-college network of programs that today serves more than 13,000 low-income students and families in a 97-block area of Central Harlem in New York City. The unprecedented success of the Harlem Children’s Zone has attracted the attention of the media and leaders around the world.

Nic Campbell: 

In 2011, Geoff was named one of the world’s most influential people by Time magazine and as one of the 50 greatest leaders by Fortune magazine in 2014. President Barack Obama created the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone model across the country. And with that, HERE is Geoffrey Canada.

Nic Campbell: 

Hi, Geoff, I am really excited to have you join us for our Fast Build Leader Series. To get us started, can you tell us about Harlem Children’s Zone, your current role there, and what the Harlem Children’s Zone’s immediate priority is particularly given our current environment. 

Geoff Canada: 

So, first of all, thank you for having me as a guest. You know, I founded the Harlem Children’s Zone more than 20 years ago as an answer to what do we need to do to sort of end generational poverty in communities, historically black communities, that had this going on for 40, 50, 60 years. And we came up with a holistic, comprehensive set of strategies that begin at birth and stay with young people, the same group of young people, until we get them in college and then get them through college. But that is combined with an effort to rebuild the community; a community infrastructure where the adults are playing a much more powerful role in kids’ lives, the physical environment, because so much of what we think about ourselves is reflected in the places we live. So if your community is filled with trash and graffiti and seems to be chaotic, well, you think the adults have no power, that the likelihood that I’m not making it out of this place is pretty high, that success is the exception and not the rule. So we came up with this comprehensive strategy to try to do all of those things at the same time. And 20 years later, we have essentially accomplished those goals. We’ve got more than 940 kids in college, we graduated more than 800 kids in college, in schools that we run ourselves, we’ve eliminated the black-white achievement gap in math and ELA. So we feel like we’re an example of what needs to happen in communities of color all over this country. 

Nic Campbell: 

It’s just so impressive that you had this vision years ago and it has really come to fruition. When you think back to that time, when you said I’m going to found and start this organization and you look at where you are now, is this what you had in mind? 

Geoff Canada: 

Well, you know, it’s funny because a bunch of us knew what the answer was. The answer was to replicate what’s working in the rest of middle-class America, right? Decent schools, decent housing, decent healthcare, decent nutrition, exercise, you know, places that you can play and go as kids. That’s what’s necessary. What I was told is what I believe and what I think most people believe, is that we couldn’t afford to do that for poor kids of color. Right? We just couldn’t figure out how to do it for them. So this idea that we could do all of this, they said, choose one or two, but you can’t do it all, but there’s no evidence that if you do one or two, it will actually work. And so the question became, how do you raise the dollars to do it all? Because that’s what…we actually know that works. 

Geoff Canada: 

There’s no one who I know who thinks the answer to success is to be poor and trapped in poverty, right? I don’t think anybody said, that’s how you’re going to really be successful. Right? We know the answer is to be in communities that are healthy, that have good schools, where jobs are plentiful, and transportation to work is available, whether you own a car, you can get there. All of this stuff we actually know. And so therefore, this idea became just about money. And this country has invested huge amounts of money to build the middle class, right? After world war II, we did it with the GI bill. We had low interest loans to buy housing for all groups, except one, African-Americans were excluded, and we had a free college, except that in ;45 and ’46, you couldn’t go to white colleges in the South. So we excluded blacks again, from that. This country invested literally tens of billions of dollars to build a current middle-class. The wealth gap between blacks and whites right now, it’s basically the equity in their homes that was created by government support. And now we’re saying we can’t afford to do it for kids of color. And I reject that as a theory. We raised some money privately, but this should be a public function. 

Nic Campbell: 

And just the way you’re explaining it, it’s just basic needs, like meeting basic needs. When you’re talking about having employment opportunities and decent health care and decent education. And you know, we’re in a very similar moment now. When you look around, Geoff, what are you thinking might be a start to addressing what’s happening currently, the moment that we’re in? If it’s still let’s just go back to basics, let’s just see, look, what do these communities need? And just start to reduce that wealth gap and give basic services, basic needs. Or do you think it’s something much more radical that’s needed in this moment? 

Geoff Canada: 

So we have a moment now, we have spent trillions of dollars to try to save the American economy and the American, sort of, employment structure. The group that has not benefited from that money: businesses of color, right? Everybody said, “Oh yeah, everybody, the businesses all work with the PPP, except for, oh yeah, small business of the people of color, it didn’t work so well.” Right? Well there, we have this issue about jobs and preserving jobs, oh yeah, except one group, the jobs, they’re unemployed at record numbers, depression level numbers. Oh, it’s African-Americans. So even as this country has spent trillions, not billions of dollars, somehow people of color have gotten left out of that equation. Again, when you say do something radical, I don’t want to do something radical. I want to do the same thing that we’ve done for white America, for black America. 

Geoff Canada: 

I want to make investments that protects jobs, that protects businesses, that protects education. And I want to do it intentionally. So this gets equalized among all groups. So here again, people think, well, you’re preaching an exception for African-American. I am not preaching for an exception. I’m preaching for inclusion to what’s already going on and what we’re doing for white America, that somehow keeps skipping over black America. And I think, at this time of an election, that we have to demand that this country treats people of color equally. That we have to take the blinders off, that we’ve done an equal job of preserving jobs and equity in this country. And admit not only that, it didn’t happen, but that we need to do something about it. And we need to do something significant about that and equity right now. 

Nic Campbell: 

And so when you think about the nonprofit sector and nonprofits that are raising funds, with that in mind, what kind of advice would you provide to those nonprofits? What would you say to them that they should be doing right now? What should be top of mind for them? 

Geoff Canada: 

There’s two challenges. Number one, foundations and corporations have realized they’ve done like the rest of America. They’ve invested in white organizations. They built the infrastructure in white organizations. They’ve created an unfair advantage for white organizations, because the moment you say, “I want outcomes and data”, if I don’t have any data collectors, if I don’t have any evaluators that work for me, if I don’t have the resources to hire the folks to actually drive those outcomes, I can’t compete with the groups that have been invested in for decades to build their infrastructure. So folks can simply say, “Oh, they couldn’t deliver. That’s why I’m not investing in these organizations.” So now there’s an interest in what do we need to do to support these organizations of color? So my message to them is you need to do two things. One is you need to build a competitive infrastructure. 

Geoff Canada: 

And what is that? That’s development because you’ve gotta be able to raise private dollars and development people are expensive and they’re this hard to find talent. You’ve got to build data systems and evaluation. You have to build an internal evaluation capacity by hiring folks with PhDs in evaluation to help you think about how to design more effective programs and to be able to show the impact that your organizations are having. So at this moment white folks are saying, “We want to help you.” Don’t take money just to do more great programs, take money to build your infrastructures, take money that allow you to hire the talent so that you can compete more effectively when it comes to demonstrating impact right now. And you know, 25 years ago, if someone had said, “Geoff, we want to give you more money.” I’d say, “Great. I can save more kids. Give me the money.” 

Geoff Canada: 

I’d spend it right on kids. I wouldn’t have thought I need to build an infrastructure because this moment is going to pass. And two years from now, no one’s going to be coming to me and saying, “I want to give you more money.” And how am I going to ensure that these investments I’m making right now are protected. You’re going to do that by building significant infrastructures that allow you to compete on data, on evaluation, and on development, which means you have to have a strong communications department, as well as an evaluation department so that you can talk about results and framing these issues. So that would be my advice to folks. There’s a moment right now. Don’t just let people push you in the programmatic response. Yes. We need to feed more folks. We need to help folks with rent. We need to make sure that children have access to the technology. We have to do all of that, but we also have to build stronger organizations. 

Nic Campbell: 

Well, you know, Geoff, you’re speaking my love language, right? So about building the organizational infrastructure of a nonprofit to make sure that you can have sustainable programmatic outcomes. And I think that you’re exactly right, having the time and the foresight to invest in people and build your own capacity is how you’re able to then say, here’s how we’re going to go out and create this great program or deliver this amazing service. So if we look at the other side of that, now you did mention, you know, a lot of funders, new funders are stepping in and saying, “Well, how can we help? What can we do?” What are you saying to funders? We have the advice to nonprofits. Like, let’s start to focus in on your organizational infrastructure, get that stronger. What are you saying to funders? What advice are you giving to them? 

Geoff Canada: 

There are two things I’m saying to funders. Number one, we can’t expect organizations to be able to deliver the outcomes and the objectives that they agreed on six months ago, COVID has changed all of that. We’re all dealing with an online environment, a non-touch environment, and very difficult to drive outcomes in this brand new world. So they need to suspend those parts of the grants that said, we expect you to serve 300 kids by providing two hours of X, Y, and Z. Or we need to say, “Okay, okay. We realize that this is a different time. You need to come back to me, organization, you have to come back to me, funder, with a strategy of how you protect families during these sort of COVID times.” And then with a plan of how you’re going to rebuild the community infrastructures necessary for you to begin your work again. 

Geoff Canada: 

So that’s the two parts of the coin. You want to suspend right now, folks still need the money. We still have staff. We still have rent. We still have to keep the lights on. So we need the money, but we can’t be held to a set of outcomes that becomes impossible for us to deliver. So take that stress off of organizations. Tell them instead, talk to me about how you’re going to use this money right now to deal with the emergency you’re dealing with. And then once this emergency passes, let’s plan on how we’re going to do recovery. So those are the two things that I think I would say. Continue the support; actually, folks need extra support, because these communities are really in dire need, but also encourage organizations to think about how to plan now for recovery, so that when this subsides and it will – it may take you 12 months, it may take 18 months – that these organizations are able to go back on the same trajectory they were on without literally starting from scratch of where they were three years ago. 

Nic Campbell: 

And what’s coming through in your response, Geoff, is flexibility, right? Encouraging funders to be much more flexible than they might have wanted to be a year ago, even a few months ago. And so for me, when I think of flexibility and funding, I think of general support. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on providing general support grants or providing project support grants during those time. And is there a significant difference in providing general support or project support with some flexibility. 

Geoff Canada: 

You know, I think it’s hard to do project support right now, unless that support is around a set of COVID relief strategies, right? That’s designed to deal with the epidemic we’re dealing with right now. Just think about how quickly this has all happened. Right? Five weeks ago, Arizona seemed fine. No one would think Arizona fine, I don’t care what your plans were in Arizona and Phoenix five weeks ago. You’re not trying to do those plans right now. You’re trying to think about how you can keep families safe, provide emergency relief for folks. We don’t know what’s going to happen three months from now. This is one of those times where the best laid plans can be just destroyed by a second wave, by a current wave, by the facts that schools do open, that they don’t open. So I think right now I’m much more in favor of general support. 

Geoff Canada: 

Even when that general support is tied to COVID relief, because COVID relief that you think is of what it is today could be something totally different three weeks from now. So my sense is…and the other thing I would the foundations is, this is a time to give organizations in particularly odd cities, more support. So if you went in for $400,000 to this organization, let them use that money for general support, but think about additional support to actually help them during this time of crisis, a mess, we are extremely unlucky. This will be the biggest crisis this country faces in our lifetime, right? It’s not like we think, oh yeah, three years from now, we’re going to face this again. In the biggest crisis of your lifetime, are you prepared to spend more money to help folks who are literally desperate? And that’s the challenge I will send out to foundations. If you can’t believe yourself, you’re stuck on some 4%, 5% spend out and therefore you don’t have the money. This is the time to say to your trustees, no, that’s not going to be sufficient. We need to spend more than that this year. It may be next year because this country is in the worst crisis it’s faced literally since world war II and we need to respond to this crisis. 

Nic Campbell: 

I really liked that challenge, just to increase funding and be flexible with grantees and with the nonprofits, we’ve talked about building organizational infrastructure to really have sustained impact. So now that we have that advice to both nonprofits and funders, with all of that in mind, what do you wish we did less of as a sector? And what do you think we should be doing more of? 

Geoff Canada: 

I think the thing that we’ve done less, or there’s something that’s not going to surprise anybody right now, organizations of color have been systematically discriminated against by a funding entities. And we might as well say what it is, it’s been systematic. And when I’ve talked to funders, I have said to them that there are all kinds of excuses, folks have come up with for why they’re going to invest in the white organization versus the next organization or the Native American organization or African-American organization. And that has gone on for decades, my whole career. So when you look around and you say, so which of the top African-American organizations in education, you keep thinking, which of the top African-Americans organizations in environment, keep thinking, which are the top African-American organizations…you can name a couple in social justice. You can, but there’s no other place that you really find the level of, I think, significant organizations at the threshold that we should have as a nation. 

Geoff Canada: 

Because so much of the work that’s being done in these communities of color. How is it that folks who are working in those communities aren’t getting any funding? And so that I think we have to do less. We just got to do less of coming up with excuses for why we don’t support these organizations run by men and women of color who are on the front lines, doing the toughest work. So that’s what you should do, less of that. Let me tell you what we should do more of. We should do more of, the kind of, what I would call, dual funding. And this is the interesting part. So most of us will say, Geoff, if you want to build infrastructure within organizations, I’m going to give 400,000 for that organization to do their program, I’m going to say, you have to spend 200,000 on infrastructure. 

Geoff Canada: 

That’s not the way we should deal with this. We just say, no, let’s give them the 400,000 and put an additional 200,000 on that for them to build their infrastructure. Don’t make an organization choose between serving desperately poor folks or building up infrastructure that’s not right now going to help save more lives. So I think this would be what we need to do more, not reduce, not split the grant in half. Okay. I hear you, Geoff, let’s split…no, give the same amount that they need, but then give an additional support for organizations so they can build this infrastructure. That I think we need to do more. And we need to do it intentionally if we’re going to make up for what we haven’t done in the last 30 years. 

Nic Campbell: 

I really liked that, Geoff. So just having this idea of infrastructure funding plus the needs, right? Because infrastructure funding is so critical to the organization actually doing what it says it wants to do. So just being very deliberate about that really resonates and doing much less of, you know, providing excuses as to why you can’t fund organizations that are led by people of color. But that makes me think Geoff, like when you think about Harlem Children’s Zone, how did you do it? You did it in a time, you know, some might argue it was even worse than now or just another repeat of now. And you were able to build something sustainable, something that is being modeled around the nation. What did you do that you think that others can learn from? 

Geoff Canada: 

So a couple of pieces to this. The first is that we became focused on data. At the time that we did this, we thought we were doing a great job. And when we began to really get serious about data, we felt like we weren’t doing a great job. And I was stunned. I spent 10 years championing how wonderful we were. And we began to look at the data we should share about. And we found out kids who were fine when they were 12, weren’t fine when they were 17. So that’s the first thing, data became critical. Second is we built a board. If there’s an area that I think these communities or organizations of color struggle, they not have kinds of boards that will allow them to have access to folk who can help both programmatically and financially with their goals. I don’t feel like…look, I grew up a poor black kid in the South Bronx. 

Geoff Canada: 

I don’t believe I’d have one. So there was no way for me to go and ask a friend, any friend I asked on the board, I’d have to have the loan them $50. They weren’t going to give me any money. So what we find in so many organizations is that they are looking locally for board members, which is great. Seems like it, but it excludes the ability to go into areas that you don’t have any contacts. So my board was built by folks who had contacts into wealth and into expertise. And you know, there was a trade off because a lot of folks thought, yeah, Geoff, but that’s a lot of white men and you got to worry about diversity. I want a black organization, white men have money. I can do the math. I’m sorry. People don’t like it, whatever, but I know what I needed. 

Geoff Canada: 

I could find all the help I needed. What I needed was literally tens of millions of dollars. And that’s what we focused on. And I never felt the pressure, right? My board was saying, you can’t say black kids, or you can’t do it this way, or you can’t do it that way. I’m not saying people need to replicate what I do. I’m saying that all in all, the ability, I think, to raise significant dollars so that you have the flexibility to do what’s right means that you have to think differently about how your board gains access into wealth in your community. So if it’s in Kansas city, guess where the money is in Kansas city, if it’s in Minneapolis, guess where the money is in Minneapolis. I don’t care where you go in this country. If you want to tap into private dollars, you’re going to have to use your board to do that. 

Geoff Canada: 

And I think that’s intentional and we built a board to help us do that. The last thing I’m going to say, if people have always thought oh, Geoff,, no, you’re wonderful. You did this. I built a team of folk that I would tell folks, I would match my team against any fortune 500 team in this country. These were smart, talented men and women. They will very diverse. White, black, Latinx. We all were focused on this work. And when I looked at my team, there were about 20, 25 folk who were serious senior members of this team that did this work. People think you can do this with one or two people. Not possible, just not possible. So if you, yourself, as the leader find it difficult to give up responsibility. I mean, there’s no way I can manage 20, 25 people. I’ve got to hire really smart people and let them do their job. 

Geoff Canada: 

Right? And if you struggle with that because you micromanage or you find it difficult to you, don’t like somebody, you don’t necessarily want them being part of your team. You can’t do this kind of complicated that we’re doing right now. I built a team, one of the things I was really good at and we help use the data to hold everybody accountable. And everybody understood. You kept your job if you delivered for kids, you lost your job if you didn’t. I didn’t care…it didn’t matter whether Geoff Canada liked you or not. If those numbers weren’t going in the right direction, you couldn’t stay part of this team. And I think that’s, what’s critical in doing this. 

Geoff Canada: 

I’ve got to go. I’ve just got a call, so I literally have to go right now. I’m sorry. Hopefully you got enough. 

Nic Campbell: 

No worries! 

Geoff Canada: 

Thank you for having me. 

Nic Campbell: 

Thank you. 

Nic Campbell: 

Incredible. Geoff shared tremendous insight, knowledge, and practical advice for everyone listening. And that’s how we learn how to build and lead bravely. So, thank you again for your time, Geoff.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources, and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely.

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Creating an Ecosystem of Collaboration with Carol Baldwin Moody

This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking with Carol Baldwin Moody, President and CEO of Legal Momentum, The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund. Carol has developed a reputation for her outstanding efforts to fight for equality. Her work specifically focuses on educational, economic, and gender equality. She’s widely recognized for her broad regulatory experience, domestically and internationally. With a strong focus on organizational culture, her specialties include global risk management, regulatory compliance, and corporate governance.

Carol’s passion and expertise are so clearly illustrated in this episode as she speaks about the work of Legal Momentum and its focus on providing support during the inequities of the pandemic. She also shares practical advice for nonprofits and funders about the power of prevention in social justice and the importance of shifting from an ecosystem of competition to collaboration within the sector. This conversation is going to encourage you to embrace new ways of working and collaborating within the nonprofit sector.

Listen to the podcast here:


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About Carol Baldwin Moody

Carol Baldwin Moody serves as President and CEO of Legal Momentum®, The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.  Carol assumed this role in April 2018 after serving on the Legal Momentum Board for two years and receiving its Aiming High Award in 2011.

Carol has developed a reputation for her outstanding efforts to fight for equality.  Her work specifically focuses on educational, economic and gender equality.  Known as a tireless mentor and advocate for diversity for decades, Carol has taken on many roles to serve the community. For the University of Pennsylvania, she served on the Minority Permanence Committee, which celebrated the 25th anniversary of its launch of the Brister Society of the University of Pennsylvania in 2018.  Brister members, by power of example, support and promote the University’s efforts to attract, encourage and maintain a culturally diverse community.  Carol served on the board of the Toigo Foundation, an organization dedicated to preparing under-served professionals for leadership roles, and she held a prominent seat on the Board of the New York Chapter of INROADS, working to help businesses gain greater access to diverse talent.  She served as pro bono counsel to the 214 Bradhurst Housing Development Fund and served as Associate for the seminal case of Berkman v. the City of New York.

In addition to receiving numerous awards for her advocacy work, Carol is widely recognized for her broad regulatory experience, domestically and internationally. With a strong focus on organizational culture, her specialties include expertise in global risk management, regulatory compliance, and corporate governance. In 2010, Black Enterprise named Carol as one of the 75 most powerful women in business. In honor of her work and influence on diversity, Nationwide Insurance African American Women’s ARG established the Carol Baldwin Moody Impact Award. Carol moved to full-time service in the public sector in 2011, taking on the role of acting Chief Operating Investment Officer for CalPERS, the nation’s largest public pension fund with a fair value of investments of over 300 billion dollars.  She was honored for her work overseeing all business operations and her work on diversity in the Investment Office.

Carol sits on several other Boards that include Security Mutual Life Insurance Company of NY, Grasshopper Bank, N.A.  and Germantown Friends School.  Her professional associations include the Executive Leadership Council and the Council on Foreign Relations.  Carol holds a JD from Columbia University School of Law and a BSE from the Wharton School.

 

Read the podcast transcription below:

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: 

You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast and I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity, and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Nic Campbell:

Hi, everyone. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking with Carol Baldwin Moody, President and CEO of Legal Momentum, The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund. Carol assumed this role in April 2018 after serving on the Legal Momentum Board.

Nic Campbell:

Carol has developed a reputation for her outstanding efforts to fight for equality. Her work specifically focuses on educational, economic, and gender equality. She’s widely recognized for her broad regulatory experience, domestically and internationally. With a strong focus on organizational culture, her specialties include global risk management, regulatory compliance, and corporate governance. Black Enterprise named Carol as one of the 75 most powerful women in business. In honor of her work and influence on diversity, Nationwide Insurance African American Women’s ARG established the Carol Baldwin Moody Impact Award.

Nic Campbell:

Carol and I recorded this conversation in May 2020 as we navigated our way through the first few months of the global pandemic and were wrestling with issues of equity. Carol’s passion and expertise are so clearly illustrated as she speaks about the work of Legal Momentum and its focus on providing support during the inequities of the pandemic. She also shares practical advice for nonprofits and funders about the power of prevention in social justice and the importance of shifting from an ecosystem of competition to collaboration within the sector.

Nic Campbell:

Carol also shares how Legal Momentum is thinking about its infrastructure to protect the rights of the most vulnerable women and girls, and highlights the importance of revenue diversification, being thoughtful about the role of volunteers, and being deliberate about including diversity in decision making. This conversation is going to encourage you to embrace new ways of working and collaborating within the nonprofit sector. And with that, here is Carol Baldwin Moody.

Nic Campbell:

Hi, Carol, it is so great to have you join us for our Fast Build Leader Series.

Carol Baldwin:

Hello, Nicole. It’s so great to be here. Hello to you.

Nic Campbell:

I think it’s going to be a wonderful conversation. I’m really looking forward to it. To get us started, can you tell us about Legal Momentum, your role there and Legal Momentum’s immediate priority?

Carol Baldwin:

Certainly, certainly, Legal Momentum, we are the first and the oldest – sometimes that’s not a good thing, but in this case, it is – legal defense and education fund for women. And we were originally the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, NOW started. And that means we were their legal department 50 years ago, 50 years ago. We’ve always been at the forefront of what has been a controversial battle for gender equality. I mean, that’s NOW. And so we then changed our name in 2004, just because we wanted to have a 501(C)(3). So I’m the CEO. I think the important thing is I started off actually being on the board of Legal Momentum, which often not a path for CEOs and even more different is that I stepped off the board to be the Chief Operating Investment Officer, because that’s my background.

Carol Baldwin:

I run huge operations. That’s my background. And I decided that I would better serve Legal Momentum if I stepped off the board and just took a look at how well the organization was organized and managed. I love doing that. I’m good at it. And that’s what I did. And then one day I was in a board meeting and it was time for succession. And I said, okay, cause our CEO went on to do something very specific that we were part of, which is the ERA, the Equal Rights Amendment, we’re part of that, she wanted to do that solely. And so she went to do that. And then I came in at a board meeting and then they all were clapping like, yay, we have a new CEO. So there, it was. That’s how it happened.

Carol Baldwin:

And so we’re a women’s organization, and really what we do is our focus is to ensure economic and personal security for women and girls. And that’s a broad, broad statement. That’s a broad statement, but we do it because as we say, we lead, we litigate, we educate, we advocate, and we defend. And the great part about that is that means every aspect of any kind of inequality for women we can effect. We can effect. So when it comes to…I like to deal with education first, because that is education fund. I’m a strong believer and we have always been a strong believer that the best way to serve inequality, any kind of harm, is to try to prevent it, try to prevent it from happening. You know, you can litigate, you can do all kinds of things, well wouldn’t it be great if it didn’t happen in the first place?

Carol Baldwin:

Wouldn’t it be great if sexual assault didn’t happen, sexual harassment, pay inequality, discrimination, wouldn’t it be best if it didn’t happen in the first place and that’s our education piece and advocacy. Because you can’t deal with any kind of issue, as you well know, until you know what the issue is. And once you…and we’re so good at that, and we’re deep at that. And once you know what the issue is, you have to educate the people who are affected and that’s everybody. And that’s why our program is really broad. We educate, you know, warriors, we educate judges. One of our great programs is our National Judicial Education Program, because believe it or not, eventually, if something does happen, a lot of things are going to be right in front of a judge. They’re deciding your fate. And we created this phenomenal program where we teach judges how to deal with bias in the court when it comes to issues of gender.

Carol Baldwin:

Very, very important, because no matter if you have a law, that’s good, which we probably helped write. But if you get before a judge and they can apply the law without bias, you haven’t done what you’re supposed to do. So we focus on doing all those things across a spectrum. We spend time and it takes time to advocate for new laws. If you know anything about how legislation is, it could take five years, but you know, here it is 25 years later, and the Violence Against Women Act, which we were the pioneers and part of writing that, it’s 25 years later and what’s happening right now? It needs to be reauthorized. And it hasn’t. And the amount of time and hours and months that we as an organization spend, trying to advocate to Congress, you know, the House and the Senate, about why…I think the number is more like a hundred billion dollars has been given out to organizations because of the Violence Against Women Act, it’s huge, it’s 25 years old.

Carol Baldwin:

But what happens is as time goes on, we see where there are weaknesses in the law. We see that they didn’t anticipate transgender protection. And so we need to go back and say, okay, this was a great law at the time, but you have to be out there. And the reason why we can be out there is because we have our ear to the ground. We have a helpline that people call in and we don’t necessarily represent them, cause we have a small legal team, but we’re hearing what their questions are. And we tell them where they need to go, no matter what state they’re in. You’re being discriminated at work, this is where you need to go. But out of that help line, that’s where we find out what’s really, really affecting people. We find out for instance, that right now at the most vulnerable women, as you well know, if you’re looking at the crisis right now, women are more than 50% of the people who are at the front line.

Carol Baldwin:

You know that, you know that. And sadly, or it’s just a fact, like you said, what’s being highlighted is the most vulnerable women who are being effected. These are women of color, low income women, immigrants, and transgender. They are being affected the most. And so what we’ve done all along and we did something incredible two years ago, we put out the most comprehensive…we call it the Legal Toolkit, that outlines every right a woman has in the workplace in the state of New York. It’s 75 pages long, took two years to write it. And that goes back to my education. First, you had to educate. And so we’re happy because a lot of those laws we have, right? Well, if you don’t know about it, it’s not helpful. And when we put it out there, we got a note from RWA, which is the Restaurant Workers Association. The 4 million members, they said 4 million people, now know how to deal with wage theft, tip theft.

Carol Baldwin:

These are all the things we talk about in that toolkit. And the great part about it is once it came out, we just got together a bunch of those organizations that are affected domestic workers. And we said, what’s missing? And what we’re focusing on now, we took that and in this environment, as you said, it’s highlighted, we now have a policy statement saying, Hey, we did some good stuff with some good laws, but this is what you didn’t get to. And you need to do it because we talk about, you know, women’s rights during the pandemic and after. This is not going away, it is not going away. And like you said, we just highlighted the things that we’ve been talking about. It’s nothing new. It’s nothing new. I mean, we put a series of…when this happened, you know, we’re lawyers and we tend not to, you know, we got to think and think and think and think, but we immediately created our new series called LM Action, every single week shown where the information is for everybody.

Carol Baldwin:

And so it’s across the spectrum. You may not pay attention, but Title Nine, Title Nine, you know, deals with, you know, sexual assault on campus. The new rules just came out. We fought, fought, fought, fought, wrote papers, told them what needed to be done. And frankly, the new rules, they greatly weaken protections of students. And why would you weaken the protection of students to go back to school in a pandemic? We’ve wrote about why that’s an issue. We wrote about pay transparency. And we all know, everybody knows, what the pay gap is between women and men, but you add race into that picture? The number, the disparity is huge. And so here you have, you know, good laws out there, which we advocate for like the EOC, which was collecting data based on gender and race. But then they stopped. They stopped because certain people didn’t want them to do it.

Carol Baldwin:

So we of course are opposing their decision to stop collecting pay data, because you can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what the data shows. So we’re fighting for that. COVID-19 reproductive rights, I mean, come on as a first-grade part of reproductive rights, people don’t realize that there are a bunch of States that are using the COVID-19 to stop reproductive rights. We just filed one of the biggest cases. And we joined up with our NOW organization, which is huge. Huge case, where in Alabama, somebody decided to use an executive order that said, hmm, abortions are not essential. What? So you can wait, what do you mean wait? There’s no going back. I mean, what are you talking about here? And it is women of color and poor women who’re being affected by this. So we got together and we actually, I mean, we worked day and night on this case to file a brief in the courts to overturn that executive order.

Carol Baldwin:

It took weeks. The good news is for technical reasons, you know, the executive order went away, but the underlying statute in, you know, Alabama, Texas, still need to be litigated to protect reproductive rights. So here you are, you’ve got Roe v. Wade, and here we are, here we are. And then about education. One of our news programs, which I’m really proud of is our peer educator program. And we put out something just a couple of weeks ago about young girls of color in these times of crisis. A few years ago, the city council decided to put together a leadership program for young girls of color. And one aspect of it was healthy sexual relationships. Again, try to rebid. What can you do to teach young women about how not to get in these dangerous situations? We started a program a few years ago.

Carol Baldwin:

It is now off the charts. It started off with four and we decided to make it a peer educator program. We would take the young girls of color, bring them in and train them for nine weeks. And then they would go out to schools and talk to their peers. Nobody wants to, you know, they don’t want to listen to me. You know, if you’re 15 or 16 and that plus they have terminology they’ve never heard of. They were like, what? And so we started this program a few years ago and it has now tripled in size. They go out there and when school’s closed, this is what I’m saying, we’re always there to pivot. When the public schools closed, we had a bunch of presentations ready to do and schools closed. But then after people got situated, they asked for a lot of afterschool programs and they said, we need this, people are stressed, domestic violence is going on, kids are home. We need to do this. Can you change your program to be 100% virtual? And we did. And we did. We are now giving the whole series virtually. And it was good that, you know, to have the young peer tutors, because they know how to zoom and all that kind of stuff. They’re like, Carol, you can’t miss it because you’re ghosting the meeting. I’m like, what, what are you talking about?

Carol Baldwin:

Anyway, you know, you hear those young girls talk to the other young girls who’re at home, you know, and no outlet. That’s really, really important. And the last thing I want to say in terms of what’s happening with the roller ball, what we did last week, when we talk about this toolkit that’s 75 pages long that tells you what you need to do. We reached out to people who really are in trouble right now. And we had a phone call with domestic workers in New York, Spanish speaking only, with a translator, virtually, and we said, okay, tell us what’s really happening. And it’s eye opening what is happening, but we were able to reach out because that’s what we do. We have those mechanisms. So we continue to really reach out to the most vulnerable women and girls across the board. And then lastly, ultimately we do bring litigation.

Carol Baldwin:

We do bring litigation. We had two of the most important equal pay cases last year, you know, very, very hard to win, very, very prominent tech company. Can’t say the name, you know, and it was clear that it was a woman and a man, same job, different pay, that’s common. And at the end of the day, not only did we get her money, we got them to change their practices. And that’s what we talk about. We only take litigation that is impactful. Cause we, you know, we don’t have 60 lawyers. If we take litigation, it has to be something that will impact lots of people. That means that case will affect lots of people. And that’s how we choose our litigation. When people call in to the helpline, you know, we refer them, but if they call in for something, we go, Oh, Oh, this is big.

Carol Baldwin:

We have a lot of pro bono lawyers. We give millions of dollars of donations of free legal work. That’s how we do it. We reach out to our law firms and say, this is a big case. On one of our cases on sex trafficking, which was all over the news, we’re the ones that brought the Backpage case. If you know about Backpage and the sex trafficking, we brought that case, caused millions of dollars of pro bono work. And because of that case FOSTA and SESTA, which are the federal trafficking laws were passed. So again, we go from education, we advocate, we’re the ones that gave a testimony in the Paid Leave Family Law for New York City and New York state. They didn’t follow everything, but we gave testimony. And then we got to review their drafts. They ask us, you know, what are missing? You know, how can we do this better? So our priorities haven’t changed, but every single thing we work on is nailed at the top. Everything we do. Does that answer your question?

Nic Campbell:

No, it definitely does. And what it paints for me is just a really thoughtful organization. So you’re able to play the long game, but you’re also very proactive. So you’re able to say what do we need right now. And then stepping up for the rights of the vulnerable and fighting really hard for them and being creative and focused at the same time. So it just shows just the tremendous history and breadth of what you do and the kind of work that LM is doing now. So thank you for that. I know you mentioned within that explanation that you’d received millions in pro bono work, and I’d love for you to talk about the advice that you have for nonprofits that fundraise as a significant part of their budget. So in other words, what do you think should be top of mind for them right now, particularly during this time of uncertainty? You know, you’ve raised, at least even in kind support, millions of dollars, and you’re doing such huge, you know, huge projects and work with a long lasting impact. So what would you say to those nonprofits that are also trying to fundraise and trying to affect change?

Carol Baldwin:

So a couple of things and the pro bono stuff. So definitely, if you can, find…there are a lot of people, listen, even when times are hard, people like to volunteer. If you don’t have any money, that’s a way you can volunteer. And to the extent that you can free your staff to do other things, because you’ve partnered, it’s really, really important. And you got to think out of the box, it means ease for us because we’re lawyers. So we know what we need. We need pro bono lawyers, write briefs, and go to court. We know what that means. We know what that means, but for other organizations, it means different things. And they need to think about what that means, because that frees up their resources. So think a little better about what your volunteering support is. The second thing is diversification. Listen, you know, I was in charge of a $300 billion portfolio.

Carol Baldwin:

I know about diversification, right? And unfortunately, and we’re victim too, we’re victim too, that over time, you rely on your same funding sources, because it’s easy. It’s easy because it’s hard to get new funding sources. I’m sorry to say. It’s very difficult to get new funding sources. And once you get a funding source, you just stay there. You just stay there. But the reality is, certainly for us and other organizations, as you see, we’re struggling, we have got to diversify our funding sources. We really do. And I’ve been talking about that for a couple of years. I mean, for instance, there are a lot of organizations like ours, who depend on events, right? As their fundraising. I told you I was in San Francisco. We had to cancel that event. We had to postpone our biggest event that normally happens every year.

Carol Baldwin:

It’s almost 60% of our revenue, the combined events. What do you do? And that’s why, as you’re thinking about this, and you’re, you know, obviously we’re figuring out how to do virtual, but the point is I advise a lot of not-for-profits who have gotten, you know, so, okay, we’ve got this, this is how we raise money. You’ve got to think differently. You’ve got to think more out of the box. And then for funders, you know, you got to, you know, push a little more. I know it’s easy to give money to the same people all the time. I get it. I know, I get it. You know, you don’t have to do the extra research, but I do feel that I ask funders to, you know, be more thoughtful about where the money should go. We know that there’s a peanut hole, just like I said, when we were giving out money to invest.

Carol Baldwin:

There’s a finite pool of money. We get it, we get it. But we shouldn’t have to compete as much as we do to get the money. I think it can be a more collaborative process than it is because I’m competing. I was like, okay, you know, I’m trying to get money from this. And I’m talking about the big ones, not the little ones. I’m talking, you know who I’m talking about? The big ones, yeah, the biggest, the biggest. It was the 300 pound gorillas. So I know what it is to be the biggie. When everybody’s competing against the biggies, it really isn’t the most effective way. They should allow us to be more collaborative amongst ourselves, instead of us all saying, okay, let me try to get this money from that. We should be able to go to our funders in a more collective way. And I think that’s something that has not happened in this industry.

Carol Baldwin:

It would serve funders well, it would serve organizations, that we can actually go in a more collective way. Because the way grants are done now, everybody’s got to put in their grant proposal. Everybody’s got to answer questions. Everybody’s got to put in the metrics. And I’m a good, listen, I believe in numbers, I believe in measurement. I do. But some things are not measurable. I mean, when we got that grant is somebody going to, you know, say my God, 4 million people got to read that? How do you measure that? That you can measure. But what you can’t measure is the fact that one of those peer educators who’s in the program, single mom, the only way she could do that program at the school was to bring her five-year-old. Immeasurable. And at the end of that process, he actually got to see his mom in a leadership role teaching others, life changing. How do you measure that? Life changing. So my answer is gotta be more the collaborative in this fundraising initiative, because you know, the money’s going to get…you know, you see what’s going on has always been that way, but I’m a big believer in collaborating, and we need to do more of that.

Nic Campbell:

And it’s something I wanted to jump back on what you said, Carol. And that was about diversification of funds. You are really just singing music to my ears when you, when you talk about diversification. And I wonder if you could just give some advice to nonprofits that are at that point where they’re saying, I only get my funding from one particular source or a couple of sources. I see it a lot, even in terms of government funding for example, or just working with the same foundations as their funding sources, what advice would you give them to transition out of that and start that diversification process? What should they be looking at or considering?

Carol Baldwin:

They should be looking at partnering with some other organizations, don’t do it alone. Here’s a good example. There’s an organization that’s up in Harlem, we’re big time lawyers and we do stuff like that. But we actually thought of a way to put in a joint proposal. We are bigger, been in business for much longer time, it goes back to what you say. You know, some people don’t want to fund you not-for-profits. I said, you know what, partner with us, we’ve been in business for 50 years. We know how to run million dollar grants. You partner with us, and we put that grant proposal in together. So people need to start thinking that way, because you can diversify by, like I said…I mean, they never did. They would get like $25,000 grants. Now we get million dollar grants, but partnering with us really opened up an avenue that they would not have been able to do.

Carol Baldwin:

So that’s number one, you can partner. And they get different sources that didn’t get because of what they do. And then it just goes full circle. You know, it just…I help them and then we say, Oh my goodness, we can see how…so that’s number one. You really need to look at partnering with other organizations who have different funding sources, because when you can connect things, you can actually diversify your funding sources. The infrastructure, I mean, raising money, when you have a small staff. You know, you get penalized, you know that you’re in the not-for-profit world. You get penalized when the percentage of time spent raising money, right, is a larger percentage. And you get penalized because of that’s the way the not-for-profit, that’s how they count it. So, you know, if you’re the CEO, I mean, I’m fortunate in that I’m a lawyer.

Carol Baldwin:

So most of what I do is programmatic. I’m the CEO, but when I raise money, I’m doing it in a programmatic way. I’m not just out there, you know, you know, just raising money. We do it that way. But if you’re, you know, you’re a CEO of a small, not-for-profit. You get penalized if you say 60% of my time is raising money, because those statistics go out there. So that’s the other thing we got to get the funders to stop using the traditional guidelines for what’s efficient. You know, you can’t spend more than 10% on this. You can’t. I mean, when you think it, you know, that person who wrote that the toolkit for two years, you know, we got a grant, but that was only for 10% of her salary. The rest of the time, she didn’t work for free, you know. And then you have to…she didn’t, they don’t make that much money anyway. You know? They don’t. You know, these are people who are passionate about what they do. So the other thing is, you know, as you’re looking at how you define operational costs, which you know, is the big no no, I think that you got to really try to look at, you know, what you do, programmatically and what you do with what you call operations.

Nic Campbell:

I like that because it really conjures up for me what I talk about a lot, of the ecosystem of actors. So it’s not, when you say don’t go it alone, it’s like, it’s not just you, you’re a part of a whole ecosystem that’s providing resources and benefits to communities in need. So that the more you’re able to collaborate with other organizations that like you said, are receiving different sources of funding. Then the stronger you are. And I’m going to touch on some of the things that funders might want to do differently. And that’s to make sure that they themselves are more collaborative and that they stop using these sort of traditional risk management tools. Even though many times, they want their grantees to show up as innovative organizations but then turning back and relying on the traditional risk management tools that are pretty rigid. So is there other pieces of advice that you would say to funders now in addition to, you know, give more money, but how would you suggest that they show up so that they can support nonprofit sustainability both within the crisis, as well as beyond it?

Carol Baldwin:

So in the crisis, we see all of this emergency funds, right? Emergency funds, emergency funds. And I don’t like that terminology so much because it makes it seem like it’s going to go away and it’s not. So first of all, what I say to them is, I know you want to jump in there and give them money, but don’t be thinking of it just as emergency funds. I like the term transitioning toward the future because emergency has a negative connotation to it. And I think then people go, okay, I did it. And also the not-for-profits sometimes look at it that way. Okay, let me get through this emergency. So that’s number one. I think that, you know…it is an emergency. I get it. But if you’re looking at that from a mindset of risk, it doesn’t put you necessarily on the right trajectory for the future.

Carol Baldwin:

That’s number one, sometimes how you call things really makes a difference in the outcome. First of all, whatever you do, because we’re moving, please, I say to funders, this is not the time not to continue to fund those you do fund while we’re figuring out new ways. I mean, because this is not going to happen overnight. We’ve been talking about this for a long time. I mean, infrastructure and what we need to do, particularly those not-for-profits where, you know, they are run by CEOs of color, we’ve been talking about just like we talk about diversity. I mean, we’ve been talking about diversity and what that means in the decision-making process for how long? In corporate America, it’s no different, it’s no different. And I would hope that to the extent that…I mean, getting on the board of a big, big, big non-for-profit, you have to have money because you know, board members on not-for-profits.

Carol Baldwin:

They donate money. So how many of us of color have been around long enough to have that kind of income to put us into the decision-making process on a big, giant board? I mean, I’ve been giving money myself since I was young, because I was fortunate that I went to a school that, you know, that’s what we did. And I went to a Quaker school. So that’s what we did. But most people, I don’t know how many of my friends I talked to who, particularly minorities, who don’t have a history of giving. And so that is, you know, difficult for you to get on to a big board and diversify the board. If people don’t understand, I mean, I’m on, I’m on a couple of boards. I get money being on that board. And I sit in that boardroom and I’m telling you, it makes a difference because, you know, we were building, you know, an addition to the school. I said, hello, did you guys make sure that the people who are bidding for this, that there’s a diversity factor in there? They’re like, Ooh. That’s cause I was in the room.

Carol Baldwin:

I was in the room. I was on the board. They didn’t think about that. So it does make a difference who’s in that room as they’re thinking about collaborating and understanding that it is not…just like, you know, diversity in general, this is not, you know, like a blame game. It’s not a blame. It’s not a blame game. It’s just a reality that having diverse thoughts in the room make a difference. I’m telling you. My last example was I was talking to someone at a big bank and they were talking about diversity and something or another. And then I said, have you guys ever heard of susu? They’re like, no, what’s that? I said, do you know that my West Indian nanny, who, by the way I paid on the books and she got unemployment, but that’s aside. When it’s time for your son to go to college, they put that money in a susu and they have a 100% repayment rate.

Carol Baldwin:

Okay. And I said to that banker, you’re trying to get to that community, but you didn’t invite anybody in the room who’s in that community. And that’s what happened to you. So I say the same thing, you know, to the funders, you know, invite somebody and they don’t have to be on the board. But instead of the only opportunity for you to get to know organization is through their grant proposal. It’s just like the only way to get a job through a resume doesn’t necessarily work. So I’m just saying they give more opportunity for them to learn about these organizations when they’re not applying for a grant that they can do for free. You know, invite them in, not applying for a grant. Let’s just talk. But the way it is now, the only time you get to talk to your funders, you’re asking for money. That’s something they can do very concretely, invite us in.

Nic Campbell:

I really like that because it’s really talking about the power of voice and the power of being heard and making sure that your voice is part of that funding conversation, even when you’re not talking about funding. But I wonder if you are, like you said, we’re talking about access, right? And if you are a leader of color that is heading up one of these organizations, you know, there was just an article that came out about how much funding is going to organizations that are led by people of color. And one of the issues is access, being able to say, I know this particular person at this philanthropy or this foundation or this grant maker. And so the question is, how do you say, let’s talk, let’s have a conversation outside of funding? How do you even raise your hand and gain that sort of access so that you can be in a room to have a conversation to say, learn more about my organization when normally you’re being invisibilized.

Carol Baldwin:

And I thought about that because, you know, I talk a lot about…you talk about diversity and then getting on boards. Okay. So you know that whole conversation about the…and I’m on I’m on some boards and, and how does it work? It’s the same thing, access, sadly, it really is the networking. It really, really is. I don’t care how many times people tell you that, you know, okay…well no, it’s you’ve gotta get close. You’ve gotta be in the settings. You gotta get out there. You gotta get out there and network. We talk about in the board world, you need to make sure that you know where the person on the nominating and governance committee, you know, where are they going? That’s where you need to be and be invited to. So the same thing here is that I know it’s difficult when you’re running something day to day, but you got to build into your time.

Carol Baldwin:

And I do. Build into your time where you can be to get access. And it has to be part of your job. It has to be part of your job. And it has to be intentional that you get yourself access and we can have help. And the ones who do it well, the same thing about diversity, you know, the ones who do it well, then they can lift up the ones who do do this. Then they can say, this is how we did it. And it will move faster. And you can laud the ones, like in the diverse world, we always rank, you know, corporations that are, you know, diverse. And you go, okay, these are the ones that are doing well. And then the ones who have found a way to do it, share, share, this is how we did it. I’m not the name the big ones, but this is how we did it. This is how we invited them into the room, because that is the biggest problem, number one, that the only time they see us is when we’re asking for money.

Nic Campbell:

And I just think that your response, like to lean back again into what you were saying, just about being collaborative, right? So helping each other and working together. So when we’re looking at the advice that we’ve given to nonprofits and to funders, with all of that in mind, what do you wish we did less of as a sector? And what should we do more of? I know we’ve talked about collaboration, but what do you think we should be stepping away from that we’re doing now? And what should we be leaning more into?

Carol Baldwin:

I think we should be stepping away from feeling that being a non-profit or not for profit, however you want to call yourself, requires you not to have innovative thoughts. You know, sometimes people feel that because you put that title on yourself, that unlike corporations who have shareholders and, you know, we’ve got to look at your profits and all that, get away from feeling like, well, because we’re nonprofit, it doesn’t mean that we have to think in an old fashioned way. That’s just a tax thing. Stop using that as the way you frame yourself. And it really does make a difference because sometimes I’m on calls with other organizations and I go, Hey, Hey, Hey, it’s 45 minutes into the call. You know, you have 10 more minutes, be efficient. You know, because if you were in a board meeting, they wouldn’t let me talk for two hours endlessly, you know, get to the point.

Carol Baldwin:

So stop saying that as a way of thinking, because you’re a nonprofit. And that’s my first thing, stop doing that. Okay. Stop doing that. And the other one, keep doing more collaboration, but that first one’s hard. And I see it. And I see it in action. You know, you put that title. I think it’s like a negative. Think about it. It’s a negative, I’m not for profit. What? We’re really trying to show that you’re philanthropic, but in a way using that terminology can be negative because you get like, Oh, well, yeah, they’re not for profit. They could just do anything, kind of thing, you know? And that’s not it. So I really don’t like that. You know, I don’t call myself, I don’t call us that. We have to for tax reasons, but that’s not what I focus on. I focus on our mission, who we serve, how we get it done, how we account for it, how we action for it. And yeah, by the way, we’re not-for-profit so that you can take advantage, but that’s, by the way. So I know that’s different. I go, and by the way.

Nic Campbell:

Right, right. Well, you talked about you’re fully focused on how you get it done. And I know that the focus of many nonprofits right now is on their programmatic strategy and fundraising, for example. But if we’re talking about being focused on how we get it done, I’d love to hear how Legal Momentum is thinking about building its infrastructure during these times to get it done. And how you’re thinking about building your infrastructure after the pandemic.

Carol Baldwin:

So we’re at a point now where we spent the last couple of years, really, really, really putting depth to all of our programs. We have five program areas and we did that. We’re done with and it’s reflected in our website that’s coming out on Thursday after two years of work. But we did that. And now what we look for, we said, okay, now we need to leverage. You can tell I’m a financial person here. I’m talking about leverage. But anyway, we need to leverage. So what we said was, okay, now let’s get out front. That’s really focused on getting to the legislators as they were making their agenda for the coming year. Okay. This is cool. This is really important. So how we’re doing it is, we said, okay, let’s get in front of the various legislators. And before you set your priorities, think about this, get ahead of it.

Carol Baldwin:

Because what normally happens is something comes out and we get to comment on it, but we’re ahead. So that’s one of our big change is and big push is, getting on the agendas of the various legislative bodies and we’ve gotten invited. So it was great. Say, okay, while you’re figuring out what your priorities are, this is what we think will be helpful in this arena. So that’s number one, and we’ve got invited. And like I said, normally it’s reactive, but we said, okay, we’ve got our programs together that we can leverage if we can get in front of what’s happening. And particularly after the pandemic, where money is going to be an issue, it’s going to be even harder. And so we are at the table as they’re setting in their priorities, this is going to be really, really important when you’re in difficult economic times. And unfortunately, as I said, the other thing in terms of building infrastructure, got to find a way to spend more time fundraising.

Carol Baldwin:

I have to, I do, but I’m going to do it in the way I talked about, I’m going to focus on not just getting 50 grant applications out. Nah, not going to do that. I know that’s what people…if you look at the literature, they go, you have to have ten to one ratio of how many applications you have out. You know, that whole literature. That’s not really…you know, that literature, right. And I know, okay, but I’m not going to be doing that. I’m going to be doing what I just said. I’ve been talking to some other organizations. I said, I think we can collaborate and we can share. And we can get…because some of them know this person, I know that person, and we can share. And I want to spend my time getting ourselves in front of funders in a non-grant way, and I’m going to do that.

Carol Baldwin:

And I started doing it before this happened, but now…we had a board meeting like two hours ago and we were talking about that. And then I said to my board…and that’s the other thing is you got to look at who’s on your own board. I had to look at who was on my board. Right. I didn’t look at who’s on my board. And you know, because it’s historically been around for 50 years, like I said, some of the people, I mean, they’ve been around for a long time. They know people. And they said today, and they did, they said today, everybody think about how you get Carol access to who you know. That’s your job. And that was today. That’s what you need to do. You need to get, because they are, I mean, they’re on the board, which means they contribute money. Your job is to get Carol access.

Nic Campbell:

So even like, thinking about when we’re talking about building infrastructure, looking at your governance, looking at the composition of your board, and looking at the way that your organization is set up so that you can start to think innovatively. And say, we’re going to get, and proactively, we’re going to get in front of legislators, for example, or whoever that target audience is before they even start to do their thinking around issues so that we are top of mind. And to be able to have that kind of those systems in place to say, this is how we’re going to move forward and impact decision-making is extremely important when we’re building out infrastructure. You know, Carol, your insights have been so amazing. I want to ask you a question to help us continue to build knowledge through books and people we should learn from or about to close us out. So what book do you think we should read next? Or what artists do you think we should be paying attention to?

Carol Baldwin:

Does it have to be in this space or just in general?

Nic Campbell:

Just in general.

Carol Baldwin:

Well, when you asked me that question, I was very sad. I was very sad because I’m old school. I read hard books. I don’t read online. I’m sorry to say. I read books. I go to my local bookstore. I buy used books, and then when I’m finished, I give them away. And I’m a speed reader. I’m a speed reader. I really am. I am really, really, really. And I haven’t been traveling so I haven’t gotten a chance to read the book I wanted to read next by Colson Whitehead. You know, ‘The Nickel Boys’. I mean the underground railroad. I don’t know if you’ve got a chance to read it, but I know I should just go on Amazon and order the book, but my I’m so tired of being online. But you have inspired me because I now have it, here it is. I cut it out of the New York Times this weekend and I’m going to paste it into my little office, and I’m going to order this book before the week is out.

Nic Campbell:

Why do you think we should read ‘Nickel Boys’?

Carol Baldwin:

You know, I’m just fascinated about young black boys and particularly what’s going on with Black Lives Matters and look at what just happened last week. I mean, I of course, I have a young son. I mean, he’s not young anymore, you know, but I have a black son. And to see how things start and where it all starts is really, really important if we’re going to get ahead of what continues to be a crisis in the United States, that it is a crisis. You know, that’s why, I mean, and I see it in my own work. Unfortunately, what’s going on now is just shining that, you know, a lot of this racism is still there. It’s still there. It’s still there. It’s just that, you know, it’s coming out in a different way. And so, you know, when I look at the headlines and he is a master storyteller, I just want to get into that. Of course. My other book that I tell everybody to read is ‘Just Mercy’ by Bryan Stevenson. Everybody should read that book. Everybody should read that book. I know they made it into a movie, but everybody should read that book.

Nic Campbell:

Okay. So you’ve got two really outstanding recommendations, ‘Nickel Boys’ by Colson Whitehead, and ‘Just Mercy’ by Bryan Stevenson.

Carol Baldwin:

I mean, in some ways they make you sad because ‘Just Mercy’ is just one of the most…but it’s true. But it just…as sad as it is. But I mean, obviously there’s a positive part, you know, about the work they’re doing, but I still recommend them.

Nic Campbell:

Yeah. We definitely need that knowledge and particularly now. So thank you. And, you know, you shared such knowledge and so many insights that I know leaders can practically use in their own organizations to help them build bravery. So thank you so much for joining us today, Carol.

Carol Baldwin:

Thank you for inviting me. I really, really, I just thank you for getting this out and getting the word out and us helping each other. So thank you so much.

Nic Campbell:

Yeah, of course.

Carol Baldwin:

Bye bye.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources, and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely.

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Building Momentum through Relationships with Jay Williams

This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking with Jay Williams, President of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. Jay is currently leading the Foundation’s commitment to dismantle structural racism, achieve equity, and improve social and economic mobility, in partnership with nonprofit organizations and community stakeholders.

Jay is so thoughtful and clear in how he explains the role of democracy in dismantling systemic racism and how to build and maintain this momentum, particularly through advocacy. And Jay explains the role of community foundations as critical capacity builders and their role as a support and resource within communities.

During this conversation, Jay speaks to the importance of compromising positions (instead of compromising principles) and why we need to shift the mindset of failure and risk in philanthropy. This conversation forces us to ask ourselves a critical question: “Am I willing to redefine the way I see and understand my organization’s role and what it means to be in relationship with others?”

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About Jay Williams

Since July 2017, Jay Williams has served as president of the Hartford Foundation. He is currently leading the Foundation’s commitment to dismantle structural racism, achieve equity and improve social and economic mobility in our region, in partnership with nonprofit organizations and community stakeholders. In his role, Jay serves on the boards of the MetroHartford Alliance, AdvanceCT, and the CHEFA Community Development Corporation. In addition, he is a member of the Governor’s Workforce Council and the Community Foundation Opportunity Network Governing Council.

Prior to coming to the Foundation, Jay served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development where he led the federal economic development agenda for the United States. He also served as Deputy Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House where he was the principal liaison between the President of the United States and local elected officials. Previously, Jay served as the executive director of the federal Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers. He arrived in Washington, DC after serving as Mayor of the City of Youngstown, Ohio where he helped lead regional economic development initiatives to improve the city’s global competitiveness. Prior to being elected Mayor, Williams led a Community Development Agency in Youngstown.

 

Read the podcast transcription below:

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast and I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity, and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Nicole Campbell: Hi, everyone. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking with Jay Williams, President of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. Jay is currently leading the Foundation’s commitment to dismantle structural racism, achieve equity, and improve social and economic mobility, in partnership with nonprofit organizations and community stakeholders. In this role, Jay serves on the boards of the MetroHartford Alliance, AdvanceCT, and the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority Community Development Corporation. In addition, he is a member of the Governor’s Workforce Council and the Community Foundation Opportunity Network Governing Council.

Nicole Campbell: Prior to joining the Hartford Foundation, Jay served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development where he led the federal economic development agenda for the United States. He also served as Deputy Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House where he was the principal liaison between the President of the United States and local elected officials. Previously, Jay served as the Executive Director of the federal Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers. He arrived in Washington, DC after serving as Mayor of the City of Youngstown, Ohio where he helped lead regional economic development initiatives to improve the city’s global competitiveness.

Nicole Campbell: Jay and I recorded this conversation in the beginning of this year, 2021, shortly following the insurrection at the United States Capitol. Jay is so thoughtful and clear in how he explains the role of democracy in dismantling systemic racism and how to build and maintain this momentum, particularly through advocacy. And Jay explains the role of community foundations as critical capacity builders and their role as a support and resource within communities. He also talks about creating wealth for historically marginalized communities by focusing on creating and supporting cross-sector partnerships. He highlights the critical nature of revenue diversification and financial sustainability and how they both allow for nonprofit flexibility and greater impact.

Nicole Campbell: During this conversation, Jay speaks to the importance of compromising positions (instead of compromising principles) and why we need to shift the mindset of failure and risk in philanthropy. This conversation forces us to ask ourselves a critical question: “Am I willing to redefine the way I see and understand my organization’s role and what it means to be in relationship with others?” Let’s challenge ourselves. And with that, here is Jay Williams.

Nicole Campbell: Hi, Jay, I am so excited to have you join us today. I think it’s going to be a really great conversation.

Jay Williams: Nicole. I’m looking forward to it. Thank you for having me.

Nicole Campbell: Okay. So to get us started, can you tell us about the Hartford Foundation, your role there, and what is the foundation’s immediate priority?

Jay Williams: Absolutely. I am the President and CEO of the Hartford Foundation. I have been with the organization for about three and a half years. The Hartford Foundation is the largest and one of the oldest community foundations – it’s the largest in Connecticut, and it’s one of the largest and the oldest community foundations in the country. And our focus area geographically are the 29 communities that are surrounded by the city of Hartford. So the city of Hartford and 28 other communities. So it’s a fairly broad region. And I can tell you that we are focused in lifting our mission, which is strategically zeroed in on dismantling racism and increasing social and economic mobility. That is how we are describing it. And the really undergirding of that is our mission to put philanthropy into action, which creates lasting solutions to add to the vibrancy of communities in the greater Hartford area. But we know we can’t do that, as we have come to evolve, without addressing some of the structural inequities and barriers that have plagued our nation, our state, and certainly our region for generations. And that’s how we’ve really just been describing our strategic focus, which has evolved over the last 18 to 24 months.

Nicole Campbell: So, thanks so much for that, Jay, and I know you talked about being a community foundation and I tend to get a lot of questions around what exactly is a community foundation. Is it a foundation? Is it a nonprofit? So can you talk a little bit more about your structure and what being a community foundation involves?

Jay Williams: That’s a great question. And I shouldn’t take for granted because foundations are so often talked about. There are three broad characterizations or foundations or classifications, a community foundation, corporate foundations, and private family foundations. Corporate foundations are what they sound like, for-profit corporations that have a philanthropic arm, family or private foundations are similar to what they sound, individuals or families who seek to engage in philanthropy through a mechanism. These are all defined by the IRS tax code. And then a community foundation, which is a special type of foundation that has a geographic focus. So we are rooted geographically. We are a philanthropic organization, nonprofit organization, whereby we accept donations and we can accept donations for our region or from anywhere. But our primary investments, or grantmaking, is in a geographically defined area, particularly from the foundations under stripping funds, donors can give wherever they’d like to give.

Jay Williams: And in doing that, we invest the money, and we manage it with an obligation for perpetuity; that we have an obligation to manage our resources, such that future generations will benefit from the growth of those resources and continue to put them out into the community. And in doing that, we take that fiduciary responsibility very seriously while simultaneously understanding that we exist to then deploy those resources and those financial resources and back out into the community, to our nonprofit partners. We also believe very strongly that we are convener, that we are a capacity builder, and helping to build the strength and capacity of partners and stakeholders in their region, and we also engage in public policy. But at our core, it’s about being able to accept donations from individuals who are very generous, invest those, and then make grants to stakeholders in our region.

Nicole Campbell: I really like the way that you have described the role of the community foundation, that it’s rooted within the community and really focused on growing that community with the resources that the foundation has today. So thank you for sharing that. I also really love the emphasis on capacity building and acknowledging the role that community foundations play there. And you talked about the Hartford Foundation being focused on economic mobility. Can you talk a bit more about how you all are approaching that focus area, particularly now in the time that we’re in, the kinds of things that have changed for you, and maybe where your priorities are sitting within that area?

Jay Williams: Absolutely. And really this has been an evolution over the past two or three years, and I credit our previous board chair along with all the current board members for the evolution of having us lean into community and economic development, and economic opportunity more intentionally. And particularly, even more with the focus toward the communities of color that have been overlooked, under-invested in, that have not had the wealth building opportunity, the gainful employment opportunities that have been a pathway to increasing wealth for so many people across this country. And it’s not because of lack of talent, or lack of effort, lack of intellect, lack of innovative creativity. It’s been often because of the barriers that have existed, that the structural racism that has existed had such a detrimental effect over the course of generations. We believe that if we’re going to fulfill our mission, that we have a role in helping to help build and create those wealth building opportunities.

Jay Williams: We can’t do it alone; we don’t do it alone. It is through partnerships with nonprofit organizations. It is through partnerships with employers, with for-profit organizations, it’s through partnerships with institutions that can bring about the types of skill and knowledge and training, entrepreneurship training or otherwise, that are part of building wealth. So it’s broad, but we have a specific and intentional focus on the areas that we think that are appropriate for a community foundation and understanding that it takes time, that it is, like I said, through various partnerships that we can do that. But we think that those communities of color that have just…the data, and this is all data driven, the data that demonstrates the net worth of households of communities of color are a fraction of their white counterparts, that they are not afforded the same employment opportunities. And even with the same skillsets, the same intellect, the same drive and ambition, the systems as they have existed and were designed in this country, just did not permit the same ascension through the economic classifications that we have. So we think that there’s a lot of work to be done, but we just absolutely are committed to doing it.

Nicole Campbell: And you’ve talked about this generational effect, like considering the role that a community foundation can play looking forward to generations and setting them up for success. And it’s showing up here in the work that you’re doing within economic mobility. And I particularly like how you talk about this partnership approach. And it really resonates with me because I know we talk a lot, or I have spoken about, this ecosystem approach that is not just one organization or one individual within a community, but it’s all this interconnected organizations and individuals working together. I’m really enjoying the way you’re approaching and thinking about the work. And you talked about some real structural issues, on systemic problems, and that leads me into my next question. I know you also are focused on dismantling racism and again, we’re sitting now in 2021, I would love to hear how you are focused on doing exactly that, how you’re able to remain hopeful in that space and work with partners to do that work.

Jay Williams: That’s a great question, and when you think about whether to remain hopeful, what’s the alternative? I mean, it is to be lost and consumed by despair, to be paralyzed by fear or anger, and that to me just doesn’t seem like a viable alternative. And that’s not to say that remaining hopeful means that we’re naive or Pollyanna-ish, because we’re not. And the recent events that we have all lived through, the horror of the insurrection that occurred against the democratic institutions of this country remind us, and in a lot of the undergirding of that being racism and antisemitism. On the day that the state of Georgia elected its first black Senator, a black preacher, and a young man of Jewish faith, and then to just hours later see what we saw in Washington, DC, reminds us that this dismantling of racism, and when I say racism, it includes antisemitism and it includes all the isms, but racism is often the most visible and has certainly, arguably existed for as long as any of us can remember. And it doesn’t diminish or take away from the others, but it reminds us that we use the term dismantling because that means piece by piece.

Jay Williams: You know, this isn’t something that can be demolished or bulldozed. We would all love that, but it has to be taken apart piece by piece, sometimes in very visible ways and sometimes working in less visible ways, but still weakening the hold and the grasp that it has had on our society. And it manifests itself in very different ways, but always through partnerships through the deployment of resources. And I think that in doing that, I would love for it to be done in my lifetime. You know, I’ve got a 10 year old son and I would love for him to grow up in a society that is much less racist, and the structures are much less present than they are for the society that I grew up in. I don’t know how far we’ll get, but I know that I, and we as an organization, feel we have an obligation to push forward and to try.

Jay Williams: And again, it manifests itself in so many different ways, but what has been encouraging and inspiring is to see that this has become a cause not just taken up by people of color. As we saw in the spring and summer of 2020, that the streets were filled with people who are black, white, red, yellow, and every ethnicity and race, saying, “Enough is enough.” It was sparked by the death of George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and you name them, that list is too long, unfortunately. And the goal is to keep that momentum going, even absent a viral video, because we know that for every viral video, there are 10, if not a hundred instances that are just as heinous and tragic.

Nicole Campbell: And you’re using different approaches and different tools because as you’re explaining, and I like the way you put it, we’re dismantling, going piece by piece and being very deliberate about it. You mentioned Jay, that you’re doing this in visible ways and in sometimes not so visible ways. And I think that at this point in 2021 and with everything that has happened over the past year, that a lot of organizations are now exploring advocacy, particularly foundations, and some organizations have already been in that space. But for those that are newer, they’re thinking about, wait, how do we raise our hands and our voices and become more engaged? And so how is the Hartford Foundation thinking about advocacy? How has it thought about it previously and how is it thinking about it now?

Jay Williams: That’s a great question. And to the board’s credit, you know, we have been in this space for a number of years, but that being said, it was more along the lines of some issues or issues that could be generally, universally agreed that this was a space that was important, but didn’t get into areas that people might’ve been less comfortable. And to the board’s credit now, we are approaching the board about being able to get into legislative advocacy and issue advocacy, and to be able to fund and support groups; not pushing anything that isn’t aligned with our values or our mission, but that they may advance that in ways that are more, I don’t want to say controversial, but more forthright, more visible, that begin to speak more plainly, more clearly.

Jay Williams: And the question was, “Oh, well, what if this protest is sponsored by the Hartford Foundation?” Well, if the protest aligns up with our values and is within the bounds, our rights, and our religion, and our freedoms to express our descent, then why wouldn’t we support that? And knowing that there are those protests that do cross a line, but that doesn’t justify. And for that, we shouldn’t say, “Well, we’re not going to do anything because they may cross a line.” We want to make sure we’re clear of what we’re supporting, what our expectations are, but the fact that some people who may be the target of protests are uncomfortable when you’re talking about systemic injustices, well, people should be uncomfortable. And we shouldn’t always have to think that the discussion around systemic injustices should be comfortable and should be you don’t advocate and would never advocate violence or public instruction or writing. But the notion that people can be made uncomfortable around issues that are just completely unacceptable and go against the tenant of who we are is absolutely right. So the board has been wonderful in terms of taking their own journey, really empowering us to explore new ways to advocate for, you know, the issues that are squarely within our mission values and strategic focus.

Nicole Campbell: Yeah. I think we’re definitely in a moment where we’re realizing that we can have real impact and systemic change. And I think that is really appealing to organizations that are working with vulnerable and marginalized communities that have been historically left out of the conversation. And so to now be able to use your voice and advocate for this type of systemic change makes a ton of sense. And as you mentioned, it’s systemic injustice and we should be uncomfortable with it. So with the organizations that are on the fence, or they’re thinking about this, what advice would you have for nonprofit organizations that are fundraising money from donors, from funders? And they’re thinking, how can we be engaged in advocacy and also do our work? Particularly since they had not been engaged in advocacy up to that point. And now it seems like a sort of pivot for them.

Jay Williams: That’s a great question. And I will acknowledge that there are those who would give much better answers than I. And I say that because I recognize how fortunate and blessed we are at the Hartford Foundation to not have to fundraise in a traditional sense. We absolutely are always engaging donors and seeking to expand our donor base, while at the same time benefiting from an endowment that provides us a significant stream of revenue to engage in our activities. But as we put it in the context of seeking to inspire new donors or existing donors to give more, it really goes back to, I think, ensuring that the mission and our work are both relevant and timely, relatable to the issues I have. I do not believe, and I’m not criticizing organizations that think otherwise, but I do not believe that we need to cater our mission to raise funds or to, in our case, inspire donors.

Jay Williams: I think that we, in fact, quite the opposite, many of our donors are coming to us looking to be inspired and wanting to be educated and saying, “What are you doing? How can we partner with you strategically?” Not all of them. Some of them have a very clear view of what they want to do, and we support that wholeheartedly. But I think if organizations, really at the core, review their mission and their work, make it clear how they’re being impactful. And I understand it’s easier said than done because there might be a dozen or a few dozen others doing that. But to me, that’s what’s most important. And then it becomes easier because you’re just naturally able to talk about what you’re doing. And it becomes compelling to donors or potential donors, as opposed to saying, “Hmm, how can we put this together in a pitch that might appeal to donors.” And recognizing that what you’re doing, how can appeal to everyone, not every donor on the planet will find what we’re doing at the Hartford Foundation appealing.

Jay Williams: Not every one of our current donors jumps on our strategic focus and says, “Yeah, I want to go, you know, we want to go that way.” They want to, some of them, want to do their own thing. But increasingly more and more of them have come to us and said, “About time, we’ve been waiting, we’re inspired, this is exactly what we hoped and wished that our community foundation would do.” So it’s been affirming to us. In disparate by saying, yes, there was one particular instance where a daughter said, “You know what? This is not what we think you should be involved in, and we’re going to go elsewhere.” And I was happy to have a conversation about trying to ensure that the donor was clear about why we took the position that we took, that we welcomed dissenting opinions. That daughter did not want to have that conversation and perhaps chose to go elsewhere, but that’s a risk and an outcome that does not negate the direction and the commitment that we have.

Nicole Campbell: So what I’m really hearing you say, Jay, at the core of it is to have a compelling vision and mission that you stick to. And you make sure that you understand your unique value proposition that you’re putting out there and how you’re problem solving with communities. And I liked the idea of not twisting and turning to sort of fit each donors or funders wishes and needs. And I think that’s going to resonate with a lot of people listening, but a follow-up question I have for you on that is how do you get to that point? How do you get to the point where you, yes, you have this compelling vision and mission. You have a compelling strategy, but you also need funds. How do you get to the point where you say, “No, we’re not going to alter the way we’ve been working just to fit this particular donor.” Assuming that it doesn’t align with what they want to do.

Jay Williams: Right. And I’m glad you followed back up on that because I realized I’m speaking from a position of having a significant base from which to operate our endowment, generates significant dollars, but we still need and want and look to inspire new donors. And the way I would respond to that is one, it is not easy, it does take time, but it’s the same principle that I used when I served in elected office is that I ran for office with a view and a set of principles that were inspiring me up that I wanted to try to execute, you know, as the mayor of the City of Youngstown, where I served as mayor. But I also recognize going in is that I would sometimes have to compromise my positions. So what I said is, I would never be willing to compromise my principles, but in elected office, in order to move my agenda forward and advance the community in the best interest of the community, I might have to compromise my position on a particular issue. And understanding that your principles and your positions are sometimes aligned, but sometimes you, as long as you maintain your principles, you should be willing to be flexible on your position.

Jay Williams: So, I would say the same thing could apply to organizations when they’re talking about their donors, don’t let a donor move you off of your principles, but absolutely if a donor’s interest is there and you could position, you know, take a slightly different position to appeal or align with that donor. Absolutely. And you’re not selling yourself short, you know, by taking a different position, as long as you maintain your principles.

Nicole Campbell: Yeah. I like that. And I like the distinction that you’re setting up between principles and being flexible then on your position. I think that’s a really important thing for organizations that are fundraising to keep in mind. Another thing I would add is that one of the reasons you can be so flexible, as you mentioned, is you have diversified revenue streams, right? So you’re not overly dependent on one type of funding source. And I think that that’s something that we should really start to explore a bit more in the sector that we’re not just relying on one type of donor, one type of revenue source, and that increases our flexibility.

Jay Williams: So even, Nicole, even in a situation where we’ve got an endowment that’s approximately $2 billion, so that generates significant revenue, but we still need to diversify our funding sources, even with an endowment of a billion dollars. For a while that generates tens and tens of millions of dollars for us to operate and do grantmaking, it still has its limitations. When the market is down, that revenue is down. So somebody said, “Oh, it’s down from 50 million to 40 million.” Well, yeah, I mean, don’t get me wrong, $40 million is a lot of money, but it still limits our ability to impact the community. So things such as our own exploration of how do we try to have other sources of revenue, other assets under our influence or management, you know, is there a revenue generating idea or entity that we might acquire to your point, even diversify further beyond our endowment, which has diversified itself, but how do we diversify even beyond the endowment?

Nicole Campbell: And it’s impressive that you all are still thinking about diversification of revenue when your endowment is so significant. And I hope that is a message that resonates with many, because at no point, should you stop and not think about how you should further diversify your revenue sources.

Jay Williams: Absolutely, you never arrived. The more diversification, that means, again, you weather those storms. And at the end of the day, it’s not for our own self wealth building. It’s the more diversified streams of revenue we have, the more diversified streams of revenue we can put out into the community.

Nicole Campbell: Agreed, agreed. And it just all ties into sustainability. So I know we’ve been talking about what the nonprofit organizations should be doing and focused on. If I were to flip that now and ask about what kind of advice should we be sending to funders? What kinds of messages should we be sharing with them at this point?

Jay Williams: Yeah, I’m always hesitant, you know, with advice and messages, because again, we have not arrived. We’re still learning. We make our mistakes. We come at this with, from a position of humility, which is always important. I think that is it, is as one thing I would say with organizations is being flexible, having a position of humility. And with funders, I would hope that the funders would be open to being also not compromising of their principles, but their position. So every funder has a set of principles and all funders have a set of positions. If funders are equally willing to be flexible in their position, I think that bodes well for organizations, because organizations of various sophistication and capacity to align themselves with a donor. So if you’ve got both parties coming to this, the funder and a potential recipient saying, “Here’s our principles, but yes, we can compromise on positions to sort of meet and marry on a particular issue.”

Jay Williams: That would be of significant, I think, benefit. The notion to funders that sometimes what an organization needs is just core operating support. You know, we have to be, and I’m sure we’ve been guilty of this in the past, of having all these programmatic supports that we provide. So an organization will say, “Oh, that program, yeah, we don’t quite do that. But if that means I can get a grant from the Hartford Foundation, yeah, we could do that program. Or we can do this program.” So you don’t want organizations chasing donors or dollars trying to make sure that they’ve got the programs that they think are appealing. I would hope that funders would look, and again, we’re both a funder and an organization that receives funding. So I think in that regard, we have to look at both sides of the coin. So funders who can look at our organization and say, “You know what, you’re doing great work. So perhaps I’m looking to support you just for continuing to do that great work. I’m not asking you to have a new program. I’m not asking you to sort of create this new way of doing it.” If what you’re doing is impactful and is appealing to a need, maybe just saying here for general operating support and the reporting such of just continue to share with us, as donors or funders, what you’re doing and how so. I think that’s the other message. Then again, I would love for, as a funder, that we need to take into the account for organizations we’re funding, but also as a recipient of funding for potential funders to any nonprofit organization.

Nicole Campbell: I appreciate that, first in terms of funder flexibility and increasing that, and then in second, general support. That core operating support that organizations definitely need. And as you said, you’re not asking these organizations to create a new program, to do all these things, but they still can do it with that funding, right? That’s the beauty of the flexible unrestricted funding

Jay Williams: Here’s a secret that I hope it doesn’t get me in trouble. We’ve heard the old axiom: he or she who has the gold rule. He or she who has the gold makes the rules. I say it sort of tongue in cheek, but sometimes the nonprofit organizations themselves know best. There’s a deep well of expertise. So, you know, a funder who wants to come in and change the world very well-intended, and this is how I think the world should change, and I’m going to write you a check as long as you’re willing to change the world in the steps that I think. Maybe saying, “Well, they’re in that space, they’re doing this day in and day out. So maybe let me ask, even as a funder, how can I help you continue to change the world, impact the world?” And if it is the program, boom, here, let me support.

Jay Williams: But if it is, hey, just helping us continue to exist through this horror, you know. So that expertise, and I think this goes to one of your early comments, how we view our relationship with our grantees. We have to not always say, “Hey, well, we’re the funder. So, here’s the rules and the terms.” But instead look at it as partnerships. And that’s particularly important as we talk about our organizations of color. And we’ve made a very intentional shift and investment in dealing with organizations that are led by people of color, that are born out of the experience of communities of color, and looking at them, not as grantees or recipients in a subsidiary role or subservient role, but as equal partners. So transferring and sharing some of the power we have, and I’m defining power right now by our wealth or financial resources, said, “You know what? You’re in that space, you know best. So we’re going to take some of this power or wealth, you have it, and now you go forth in the way that you think is best.” And you need not sort of…we would ask that you share with us what you’re doing, but you need not sort of ask us, how do we deploy the resources or wealth you’ve now shared with us or invested into us.

Nicole Campbell: Yeah, I think that is the critical transformational piece. So what you’ve just articulated is really about that mindset shift that needs to happen within philanthropies, foundations, funders, Because I think we focus on a lot of the technical pieces. Like how do we actually transition from project to general support? And instead, we should spend that rethinking, like how we’re viewing our relationships with our grantees.

Jay Williams: Absolutely, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, the community foundation or the funders are positioned as the saviors. And we think, oh, again, sometimes well-intended, these communities of color oh, they need to be saved. They need someone to come in and be the hope and inspiration. And instead of looking at it that it’s not saviors that they need, it is often opportunity or resources that they have been systemically excluded from obtaining. They are able in many instances to write their own narrative, to write their own success, to be their own saviors, and don’t need saving. And I think to your point, it’s that fundamental mindset, a shift of how we view those relationships and being partners, as opposed to funder and recipient, sort of always making sure they stay in the good graces of the funder.

Nicole Campbell: And I know you mentioned that you all have increased the amount of funding that you’ve provided to organizations that are being led by people of color. For funders that have not yet made that significant investment, but are thinking about it. They’re talking about it. What do they need as a next step? The one thing that they should be focusing on now to make that pivot and start to invest in organizations that are led by people of color.

Jay Williams: Again, careful not to sound like I’m dispensing wisdom or profound knowledge, but I mean, the empathy, the putting oneself in the shoes of the other on the other side of that transaction. Every organization that we know today, virtually, as the most high performing effective, non-profits start off as some fledgling idea. The organization that, you know, people give to now without hesitation. And I hesitate to name them, but I mean, I’ll just use some broad, you know, whether it’s the Red Cross or you name it, Those organizations, first of all, aren’t perfect because no organization is, but they started off as an idea. They started off with somebody saying, “Ah, man, what a risk…should I…what does this Red Cross thing or this Red Crescent thing?” As it started. There is some risk. Funders have to be….I would hope are savvy and wise, but are not so risk averse that they’re unwilling to take that step.

Jay Williams: Think of the technology companies today, the Uber, and Google, and Facebook, and Apple. These start off with, I’ll say kids, tinkering around in their garages and with these ideas. And now the culture there is in startup, you’re nobody, unless you’ve had two or three failures. If you haven’t had a failure, a failed business IPF, at that point, there’s less trust in investing in someone who hasn’t had a few failures versus like, oh yeah, you got those three bombs under your belt. Yeah. And it’s like the opposite in philanthropy. Oh, that didn’t work out well, that last grant didn’t work out. Heaven forbid we should have another. And if you think about it, when now we’ve got, you know, these multi-billion dollar, I think a couple of them that have achieved trillion dollar, market capitalization, every last one of them, every last one of the individuals who started those will share with you a story of one or more failures they had before they got it. So how do we take a little bit of that mindset and apply it to our struggling nonprofits? Who, yeah, that grant didn’t turn out just right. But that doesn’t mean we should now not have that same mindset. Learn from it, build on it, and here’s the next opportunity.

Nicole Campbell: You hit again at the core of it. I completely agree. I think at the core of all of this is how are you defining risk and are you willing to redefine it? Right. So I think yes, having that conversation initially before moving into anything else is so critical and I could go on and on about risk. But I did want to say that this conversation has been, just like the others that we’ve had, so thoughtful and you have been so clear on the role that not only the Hartford Foundation plays, but that community foundations, as intermediary organizations, can play and really providing sound next steps for leaders within organizations. So I think, you know, I’ve just been so inspired by this conversation.

Jay Williams: You’ve made it easy, Nicole.

Nicole Campbell: I appreciate that. And I want to ask you a question that I ask all of our guests to help us continue to build knowledge through books and people we should learn from or about to close us out. What book do you think we should read next? Or what artists do you think we should be paying attention to?

Jay Williams: That’s great question. So let me start with the artists. You know, I was trying to think of any particular artists, but my 2 cents would be to be culturally and intellectually curious. I have stumbled upon artists, whether they are musical artists, performance artists, artists of any medium, sometimes just through curiosity, hearing a sound or sort of just exploring. And if someone were to look at my playlist right now, they would have no idea. I mean, from rap to gospel, to Taylor Swift, I mean, you name it. I mean, it is all there. And in terms of a book and I have not read the book, but I heard the author being interviewed on one of the NPR stations. And it will be the next book that I read. Claudia Rankin, who is an African-American poet. And she wrote a book called, ‘Just Us’.

Jay Williams: I think it’s ‘Just Us in American Conversation’, and it’s a view on how white supremacy has just become such an almost ingrained, acceptable part of the culture that we sometimes, I think, don’t even recognize it. And when I say we, I mean, we, as people of color and people in the white community. Not necessarily the white supremacy that has the proud boy, flag-waving, sort of, you would typically see. But I just heard her being, yeah…it was on the NPR show. It’s been a minute. I think Sam Sanders is a host, but just that interview in the car, you know, I was like, you know, who is this? Let me try to catch it while I’m driving. And it was Claudia Rankin and the book is called ‘Just Us’.

Nicole Campbell: Okay. So great. Thank you so much for sharing that, you are the second person that has mentioned that book. So it is now on my list as well, and great advice about being both culturally and intellectually curious. So thank you for that. We’ll put all of that information into the show notes so people can see it. Jay, again, I just really want to thank you for this conversation. I’m inspired to do even more. And so I want to thank you for sharing all of this knowledge and insight about your foundation, about foundations, generally the sector. And I appreciate how practical your advice and guidance has been. And I think that that’s the piece that helps leaders and organizations build even better. So thank you again so much for your time.

Jay Williams: Well, thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure. I look forward to the next time we have a chance to talk.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources, and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely.

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