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Flexibility and Adaptability to Enhance Nonprofit Impact with Ricardo Castro

This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking with Ricardo Castro, the Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary of the International Rescue Committee. This conversation was recorded last year in 2020 when we were at the height of an international health crisis…that we’re still finding our way through. Ricardo is captivating in how he speaks about IRC’s work and how IRC is responding to yet another crisis and helping countries around the world. He also talks about how essential it is for nonprofits to share their stories and to consider and illustrate the impact of their interventions. He also points out how funders need to be more flexible and adaptable in what they require of grantees in moments of crisis and how the sector should focus less on process and more on support.

Ricardo also discusses the importance of funding infrastructure development to ensure that all organizations, including grassroots organizations, can share the important stories of marginalized communities. This conversation encourages us all to reflect on how we can adapt to the needs of the moment and how we can thoughtfully build more resilient organizations.

Listen to the podcast here:

Resources:

 

About Ricardo Castro

Ricardo Castro possesses that rare combination of legal background with solid strategic and operational organizational leadership. He has an extensive knowledge of the successful development and management of mission-critical NFP organizations serving a diverse global constituency. In his current position as General Counsel and Secretary of the International Rescue Committee, he is a member of the senior leadership team and is responsible for the legal affairs of the organization both domestically and internationally. In his immediately preceding position as General Counsel of the Clinton Foundation, he was also a member of the senior leadership team and was likewise responsible for the Foundation’s global legal affairs.

As Executive Vice President of Consumer Reports, also a blue chip not-for-profit organization, he was a member of the senior leadership team with the mandate to establish the strategic direction for all Business Development, Change Management, IT, Development, Customer Care, and HR endeavors. In that position, Ricardo took the reins of managing a comprehensive change management process involving seven teams dedicated to defining implementable strategic recommendations in areas of critical importance to the transformation of Consumer Reports. And as he proved at Open Society Foundations and at the Ford Foundation, his strengths also include strategic analysis & planning, US & global regulatory compliance, legal & international negotiations, and NFP start-ups and restructuring.

Ricardo has developed a reputation in the NFP field as an expert in philanthropy, particularly as it pertains to international activities — he has been regularly asked to speak at the Georgetown Continuing Legal Education Conference relating to Managing Tax Exempt Organizations, and recently completed his term on the Board of Advisors of the National Center on Philanthropy and the Law.

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 Ricardo Castro, the Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary of the International Rescue Committee. The IRC is an international organization that responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. Ricardo Castro possesses that rare combination of legal background with solid strategic and operational organizational leadership. He has extensive knowledge of how to successfully develop and manage mission critical nonprofit organizations serving a diverse global constituency. Ricardo has developed a reputation in the nonprofit field as an expert in philanthropy, particularly as it pertains to international activities. He’s regularly asked to speak as an expert at conferences and international meetings, and recently completed his term on the Board of Advisors of the National Center on Philanthropy and the Law. Ricardo and I recorded this conversation last year in 2020, when we were at the height of an international health crisis that we’re still finding our way through. Ricardo is captivating in how he speaks about IRC’s work, and how IRC is responding to yet another crisis, and helping countries around the world.

Nicole Campbell: He also talks about how essential it is for nonprofits to share their stories and to consider and illustrate the impact of their interventions. He points out how funders need to be more flexible and adaptable in what they require of grantees in moments of crisis, and how the sector should focus less on process and more on support. Ricardo discusses the importance of funding infrastructure development to ensure that all organizations, including grassroots organizations can share the important stories of marginalized communities. This conversation encourages us all to reflect on how we can adapt to the needs of the moment and how we can thoughtfully build more resilient organizations. Now, we had a few audio issues in this conversation, but please ignore them. This conversation is that insightful. And with that here is Ricardo Castro.

Nicole Campbell: Hi Ricardo, it is so great to have you joining us for our Fast Build Leader series.

Ricardo Castro: Hi Nic, it’s really good to be with you.

Nicole Campbell: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to our conversation. To get us started, can you tell us about the International Rescue Committee, your role there, and IRC’s immediate priority?

Ricardo Castro: Sure, sure. So the International Rescue Committee, or IRC for short, has been around since the 1930s, it’s one of the world’s largest humanitarian organizations. It was established originally at the urging of Albert Einstein to help Jews escaping Nazi Germany at the time. And since then, it has grown to quite a large organization. It’s probably around 14 or 15,000 employees and volunteers around the world. It operates in over 30 countries and it assists people who are impacted by conflict or natural disaster or a crisis of some sort, providing humanitarian assistance. And it also is the largest refugee resettlement agency in the United States. So refugees who resettled in the United States are resettled by a number of different agencies. There are nine, IRC is one of those nine resettlement agencies. And in fact it’s the largest of the nine. So it’s a humanitarian organization and a refugee resettlement agency that’s been around for quite some time, has a very large operating budget, this current fiscal year over $800 million operating budget. About 75% of the funding is from governments, U.S. Government, UK government, Swedish government, others as well. And the other 25% private fundraising.

Nicole Campbell: Can you tell us a little about what you do there? What’s your role?

Ricardo Castro: Oh, sure. I’m the Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary, that’s quite a mouthful. So I run the legal department, the office of general counsel. There are five lawyers and myself makes six. And I also provide executive oversight over two other units. One is called the Ethics and Compliance Unit, which among other things, investigates allegations of misconduct throughout the organization, and the Internal Audit Unit, which audits our internal controls around the world and our operations around the world.

Nicole Campbell: And in light of COVID-19 and just what’s going on in the world, what is IRC’s immediate priority?

Ricardo Castro: Well, the immediate priority is the safety and security of its personnel around the world. We operate in…obviously we operate in the United States and in Europe, but most of our country programs are in Africa, and Asia, and Latin America. And so first and foremost is the safety and security and well-being of our own staff and volunteers. And then of course, to try to ensure business continuity. Our sort of lifeblood as an organization is to provide assistance to people in dire circumstances, ordinarily due to conflict or natural disaster. And what that involves is providing for people’s basic needs, either in refugee camps or outside of refugee camps, in communities that involves providing public health and medical care services to people in need, education, cash assistance, all the sorts of things that people need to survive under difficult circumstances. So we’re trying to ensure that that work continues during this crisis and preparing for COVID-19 to impact those countries in which we operate. Because as we all know, the global North has been hit much more, at least currently, much more significantly by the virus, and the global South, we are beginning to see COVID-19 cases be reported in increasing numbers. But we work in many countries where the reporting systems are unfortunately unreliable. So we believe that unfortunately, the numbers are probably at the moment understated, even as it just begins to take hold there. So we’re very concerned about the potential impact in countries that have much weaker public health systems than we do. So it’s quite concerning.

Nicole Campbell: So, you’re doing critical work with a significant global footprint. And you’ve also explained that, you know, essentially you’re also fundraising, right? Although 75% of your budget does come from governments, the other 25% is coming from somewhere else. And so a question I have for you, particularly now in this environment that we’re in, what’s your advice to 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 during this time of uncertainty?

Ricardo Castro: Yeah, no, I think that’s a great question. And by the way, the government funds that we raise require a lot of work as well, to raise those funds. So the government funding is a separate animal, but it requires a lot of work, both to obtain those awards from governments and to manage them and to report on them. There’s a whole infrastructure that’s needed to carry out that type of work. But on the private fundraising side, which I assume your question is addressing probably primarily, private fundraising, and I think the key is to tell stories. I think storytelling about what your organization is doing that’s consistent with its mission, why it’s critical, and being able really to point to evidence, and sometimes that evidence is in the form of stories. To be able to point to of why what you’re doing is making a difference and why the interventions that you’re choosing to pursue in whatever your mission is, why those interventions are worthy of someone’s hard-earned money.

Ricardo Castro: And I think that there are many ways to make that case to the public, but I think stories are very compelling. So if you are helping immigrant families in low-income neighborhoods, I think allowing the voices of the people you’re helping to shine through in your appeals is very, very important. There are other ways, of course, as well as we all know, everyone, funders particularly these days, are very concerned about data. So this can be tricky because if you’re a small organization that is community based and doesn’t have a lot of resources, you may not have a lot of funds or means to collect data and evidence in ways that some funders require. And so you have to be creative and find other ways to provide the evidence that what you’re doing matters and makes a difference. And again, I go back to the issue of storytelling. I know that just merely as a citizen, if I receive an appeal that contains a really compelling story, I will be more apt to support that effort. So I think storytelling is really critical.

Nicole Campbell: I really like that answer Ricardo, and I really agree with you. I think that a lot of our efforts, if not all of them, should be going towards telling our story, how loud we were telling it, who are we sharing that story with, who else is picking up that story and telling it to others. So I really liked that response, and I also agree with you about the involvement of fundraising from governments and working with government funding. So even having worked with you on a lot of those cases, I know how involved it can be. And I know you also mentioned funders when you were explaining what nonprofits fundraisers should be focused on and what funders might be looking for at this point. So if we were to look on the other side of that conversation, what’s your advice to funders, beyond give more money? What’s that advice for them to support nonprofit sustainability, both within and beyond this crisis?

Ricardo Castro: Yeah, I think that for funders, I think my pitch to funders, frankly, would be to be more flexible and to adapt requirements accordingly. I think that in a moment of crisis, particularly, donors need to show some flexibility to allow the work that’s mission critical to be accomplished with perhaps some lightening of reporting requirements and things that frankly add a lot of burden and work to organizations that are maybe actually not even sufficiently funded to cover a lot of the compliance aspects of the work and really have to stretch. At a lot of the smaller organizations, people are wearing multiple hats. And if you can lighten up a little bit on some of the reporting requirements, or maybe even show some flexibility in terms of how funds can be used within an already pre-approved budget. I think that would be very helpful at this time, just to show some flexibility, be a bit agile, allow people to adapt a little bit. I think that would go a long way and would help people.

Nicole Campbell: So, we have advice for both nonprofits and funders, and I think your response is touching on this, but what do you wish we did less of as a sector and what you think we should do more of?

Ricardo Castro: So, I think that what we should do less of as a sector is probably place a little bit less of an emphasis on process and what, for some organizations really feel, like a lot of bureaucracy, if that can be minimized, I think that would be very helpful. And the thing I think that we can do more of, I think is to, for funders particularly, to fund infrastructure development a bit more. So for instance, I go back to this issue of data and evidence. A lot of funders want organizations to provide all sorts of data and evidence about the efficacy of their work, et cetera. And the impact, impact is the magic word, and I get that. I think that’s valid, but I think that perhaps I don’t quite understand what that means for an organization in practice – that is short-staffed, that does not have the technology perhaps to gather data and to report on metrics in the way that might be desired by the donor.

Ricardo Castro: So, I think it’s very important in those cases for donors to pay for that infrastructure that’s needed to meet those demands. So, I mean, I have seen many occasions where there are requirements imposed on organizations and they really have to spend their own unrestricted funds in order to comply with requirements because the grants received don’t have budget lines to support the people needed to generate that type of reporting, let’s say, or that type of data. So it really cuts into their unrestricted funds in a way that is not really intended, I’m sure, by some donors. So I think it’s important for donors to be very mindful of what requirements they’re imposing and fund the ability of the organization to meet those requirements.

Nicole Campbell: You are speaking my language, Ricardo, and it actually takes me into my next question for you, which is how is IRC thinking about these issues? How is it thinking about building infrastructure, particularly during this time when a lot of nonprofits are focused on programmatic strategy or on fundraising, which again should be important and at the forefront, but how is IRC thinking about building its infrastructure now during this uncertain time during the pandemic, but also beyond the pandemic?

Ricardo Castro: Yeah, that’s a very good question. I think IRC is fortunate because it’s a very large well-established humanitarian organization that is well-funded and has developed over the years, a significant and effective infrastructure. So for IRC, it’s not so much the question of building infrastructure, it’s actually adapting the infrastructure to new circumstances. So I’ll give you an example. We have a very sophisticated Ethics and Compliance Unit that looks into any expressions of concern by members of the public, staff, vendors, whoever, and part of what they do is to conduct reviews of situations in country. Well, in a circumstance where travel is off limits, our issue is not developing that infrastructure because we have it, It’s how does it get differently deployed and utilized in a new set of circumstances? How do you leverage technologies in a different way to permit you to carry out those same sorts of investigations and activity without the need to travel?

Ricardo Castro: How do you partner with colleagues in the field to undertake some of the activity that you might otherwise have undertaken from headquarters? So for us, and there are other infrastructural units like that, like our global supply chain team and other, our internal audit team, these are all teams that require us to do work on the ground. And in this context where travel is not permitted, where safety and the health needs of your staff are critical, for us the question is how do we change the way our infrastructure is behaving and conducting its work so that we remain effective. And so that we continue to comply with the requirements of our donors and we continue to comply with our own code of conduct and with our own standard operating procedures around procurement and things like that. All these different infrastructural functions are challenged in so far as not the number of people they may have working in those units, but the methodologies for working are challenged.

Ricardo Castro: And so, it requires us to be adaptive, to be flexible, and to be creative, actually, you have to come up with creative ways to get the same things done. But other organizations, particularly smaller not-for-profit organizations, don’t have the issue we’re having. They have the issue of actually, maybe realizing for the first time, that they need a certain type of infrastructure function and that’s a different kettle of fish. And again, it requires the organization to really assess its needs very carefully. And you also have to be careful, now’s a tricky time, because what your needs might be during COVID-19 and the pandemic may be rather different. So you have to sort of assess your needs in the immediate moment and also in the medium, and long-term, so it’s a challenging time to think about that.

Nicole Campbell: I liked that. I like that approach because it really just says, it’s not just about building once and forgetting about it and saying, “We’ve done that, it’s fine”, but it’s this continuous assessment to make sure that these powerful stories that we’ve been talking about of the communities that we’re serving are continuing to be told, right? And you have the infrastructure to support that. And for the new organizations or the newer organizations or smaller organizations that are building that infrastructure, taking that moment to say, “What do we need now and what might be needed later?” So that really resonates. Ricardo, this conversation has been incredible. I want to ask you a question to help us continue to build knowledge through books and people you should learn about or from, 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?

Ricardo Castro: Well, I’ll answer the artists question first, because I was just thinking about someone in the last few days that I really admire. So a woman by the name of…a visual by the name of Mickalene Thomas, who is a black, as she describes herself, a black, queer, woman, artist. Mickalene Thomas, she’s extraordinary, she produces beautiful work to look at, just really striking. And she also elevates the day-to-day existence of black women largely in really, like, home settings. But the way she depicts the people in her work…she works largely in collage with lots of color, she also does amazing installations, reproducing like people’s living rooms and things in the seventies. It’s really pretty cool. And she’s remarkable because she’s very interested in elevating stories of people that she grew up with in New Jersey. She’s from New Jersey. So I’m from New Jersey. So I like that about her as well.

Ricardo Castro: And she’s doing extraordinarily well now, she’s gotten a lot of attention, lots of shows all over. She’s worth listening to when she talks about her work, if you can catch her on YouTube, she was invited to be a trustee of MoMA. She’s quite remarkable. She was featured recently in a short video that was done about butch women in the New York times, a little video that was done about that. It was really terrific. And the other thing I really liked, the last thing I’ll say about her, is that she’s really using her own fame to elevate other artists of color. And she’s having them be part of her shows. And she’s very concerned about, I think she refers to it as community of practice, and bringing other people in her community into her work and giving them visibility as well as part of her own journey. So she’s a really cool person. So I think she’s very well worth looking at,

Nicole Campbell: I’m definitely going to check out her work. And can you say your name one more time, Ricardo?

Ricardo Castro: Mickalene, it’s M I C K A L E N E, Mickalene Thomas.

Nicole Campbell: Mickalene Thomas, okay. I’m definitely going to check her out. So thank you for sharing that. And you’ve also shared such incredible wisdom that leaders can practically use in their own organizations to help them build bravely. So thank you so much for joining us today, Ricardo.

Ricardo Castro: Oh, of course. It was my pleasure. Anytime. Thanks for the work you’re doing. I think it’s really, really, really valuable and the community’s in your debt. So thank you.

Nicole Campbell: 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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Increasing Access for Grassroots Organizations with Angelyn Frazer-Giles

Angelyn Frazer-Giles is honest and compelling in how she speaks about the work of NNJ and how they’re staying true to their mission. She talks about how to support grassroots organizations, leanly-staffed organizations, and organizations engaged in direct services work in the criminal justice space.

In this episode, Angelyn shares her advice for nonprofits to remain true to their mission and goals to continue to show up for the communities they’re serving instead of pivoting for short-term returns. And she discusses the role of philanthropy in increasing access for grassroots organizations that have been traditionally excluded from conversations. This conversation encourages us all to reimagine what the sector and society could become if we placed big-bets on grassroots organizations.

Listen to the podcast here:

Resources:

 

About Angelyn Frazer-Giles

Angelyn C. Frazer-Giles is the Executive Director of the National Network for Justice (NNJ). She has over 25 years’ experience in community organizing, policy analysis and advocacy on civil and human rights issues and criminal justice. Previously she was the Director of State Legislative Affairs and Special Projects for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) where she was responsible for the development, articulation, and strategic vision of NACDL’s agenda on the state level.

Angelyn is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York with a degree in Fashion Buying and Merchandising, has a B.A. in Latin American Studies from the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, studied Spanish at the Universidad De Guadalajara in Jalisco, México and received her Paralegal certificate from Delaware State University. Angelyn has traveled to Italy, Portugal, Cuba, Greece, the Caribbean and Honduras the homeland of her parents. She is also a licensed instructor of Zumba®, Zumba Gold®, Zumba Sentao™ and Aqua Zumba®. Currently she is studying to be an end of life doula.

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 Angelyn Frazer-Giles. Angelyn is the Executive Director of the National Network for Justice, a membership-led organization established to support and strengthen the work of state-based organizations, including crime survivors, formerly incarcerated leaders, youth immigration, public health, and re-entry service organizations seeking to reduce jail, prison, and detention population safely and permanently. Angelyn has over 25 years of experience in community organizing policy analysis and advocacy on civil and human rights issues and criminal justice. Previously, she was the Director of State Legislative Affairs and Special Projects for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, where she was responsible for the development, articulation, and strategic vision of its agenda on the state level. We recorded this conversation last year amiss the growing social justice and racial justice movement, and the height of an international health crisis. Angelyn is honest and compelling in how she speaks about the work of an NNJ and how they’re staying true to their mission.

Nicole Campbell: She talks about how to support grassroots organizations, leanly staffed organizations, and organizations engaged in the direct services work in the criminal justice space. She also talks about the power of being responsive to community need and how she’s doing exactly that in her role at NNJ. Angelyn also shares her advice for nonprofits to remain true to their mission and goals, to continue to show up for the communities they’re serving instead of pivoting for short-term returns. And she discusses the role of philanthropy in increasing access for grassroots organizations that have been traditionally excluded from conversations. This conversation encourages us all to re-imagine what the sector and society could become if we place big bets on grassroots organizations. And with that here is Angelyn Frazer-Giles.

Nicole Campbell: Hi Angelyn, I am so happy to have you joining us for our Fast Build Leader Series.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: I’m really excited to, first of all, be asked, and second of all, to join you. Thank you very much.

Nicole Campbell: To get us started, can you tell us about National Network for Justice, your role, and NNJ’s immediate priorities?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: So, the National Network for Justice is a national organization providing a Big Ten approach in assisting state-based organizations who are seeking to decarcerate jails, prisons, and detention facilities. And I was hired in 2018 as their Executive Director. And what we do is we have four main objectives. We provide training and webinars to help strengthen the field of state-based groups. We are trying to expand the peer-to-peer mentoring so that a lot of these groups who are up-and-coming are communicating with groups that have been around for a while and they can help offer them some level of Intel and support. And we’re looking at intersectional approaches in the criminal justice field. So for example, immigration issues, there’s a huge intersectionality with that particular line of defense, so to speak, because immigrants and there’s a criminal justice system and they’re emerging. So we’re always examining intersectional approaches to criminal justice reform. And then the final objective is promoting funder familiarity with some of these groups that are otherwise not afforded the opportunity to have either one-on-ones or communicate with funders who are funding organizations around the country dealing with criminal justice reform.

Nicole Campbell: And so, if I were to think of what your member profile looks like for an organization that wants to join NNJ, what does that organization look like?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: So, we have members that are members of state-based organizations. We have individual members and we have members that belong to national organizations. Our focus is primarily state-based organizations, and they’re not necessarily…there’s no, like, size determination. They don’t have to be, you know…have a certain number of staff or they don’t have to be in any one jurisdiction, or anything like that. We are just focused on organizations in states who are doing this work, who are trying to educate their community, decarcerate these jails, decarcerate prisons and, more and more, dealing with decarceration of detention facilities. So the objective is to make sure that we have a lot of these groups that are doing this work as part of our network, we find that there’s a lot of state-based organizations, particularly smaller ones, that don’t get the recognition of all of the work that they’re doing, right.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: They’re working out of their cars. They’re just hustling out there, just trying to make it happen and do whatever needs to be done in terms of having people really focused on the criminal justice system. So our members abroad. We have, like I said, individuals, city-based organizations, and national organizations. Our bylaws call for anyone who wants to be on a committee, with the exception of our financial committees, can be on a committee. Anyone that belongs to a state-based organization can be nominated to be part of the board, but we don’t have that international organizations on our board. We want it to really, really focus on state-based groups.

Nicole Campbell: Okay. And I really like how you’re focusing on the smaller organizations to make sure that they’re included in the conversation and have the support and resources that they need to participate and support the communities that they’re working with. I want to talk about this current environment and what NNJ is doing right now for the communities that it works with or its membership,

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Right. So we’ve had probably in the past month and a half, maybe two months, we’ve had two calls where we’ve just been focused on members who are actively doing direct action in terms of trying to get people out, right? Because we know that the prisons and the jails are just powder kegs for the COVID virus to spread, and for people to get sick, and unfortunately, people to perish. And so we’ve been working with a lot of our groups. We don’t specifically…NNJ doesn’t do the direct service, but we’re working with a lot of our organizations who are trying to do some of that direct service, whatever it is that they might need. They may need help with getting a sign-on letter out to other members and to other organizations, they need assistance with putting together care packages. And so to the extent that we can assist them with other resources that may be out there to help them get care packages together. We are going to probably be doing some father’s day cards just to get some of those cards out to members in a lot of the facilities around the country. Particularly in Mississippi, we have a member who’s working really diligently trying to put together not only care packages for members of the community who are suffering from COVID, but also trying to help some of the young people who have family members incarcerated that are about to graduate and don’t have the support systems.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And so, we’re trying to get the word out about that and really just provide an opportunity for a lot of our members to talk to each other. Everyone tends to be in silos this particular crisis, because of the fact that we cannot move around the way that organizers tend to move around. It has caused folks to have to organize online, organize via the phone, organize via these types of Zoom calls or Google calls or whatever, to get information out, and newsletters. And so we’ve tried to just be a conduit for the conversations, and I’ve been sending out information about different funding sources that I see that come up that don’t necessarily pertain to NNJ specifically, but may pertain to some of our organizations out there that are doing specific work around either young girls or young boys, or you know, some specific issue area that we don’t necessarily cover. So there’s a lot of different that we’re doing. Every day, I know there’s several calls of people that are just really trying to get the information out and trying to let other people know what their actions are in their jurisdictions, so that maybe they could utilize some of those same types of tactics in their jurisdictions, you know, letters to the governors and caravans in front of jails. So that type of thing. So we’re there to help support to the extent that we can.

Nicole Campbell: I’ve been seeing that a lot as well, this need to communicate with each other a lot more, learn from each other and collaborate. So I think it’s really critical that NNJ is providing the space for people to do that. And speaking of talking with other people, other organizations, I was wondering if you could talk about nonprofits that are fundraising as a significant part of their budgets. I know that NNJ also fundraises as part of its operations and to support its operations. So I would love to know what advice would you give to nonprofits that have to fundraise during this time? What should be top of mind for them, particularly during the crisis and as they look beyond it?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: So, we are fundraising. We’re trying to fundraise in this COVID environment. I think the biggest piece of advice that I could give to anyone out there that is seeking funding is to stay true to your objectives, your mission, and your goals, to the extent feasible and possible in this environment. What I mean by that is, I’ve seen a lot of philanthropic ventures shift their focus to COVID-19 related funding. So if there’s an organization that maybe wasn’t doing specific direct service related to health or related to any type of issue dealing with mental health or specific PPE or anything like that, supporting folks on the frontline, that because a lot of philanthropic ventures have shifted their funding focus to providing funds for COVID relief, I’ve seen organizations try to fit that mold. And I think that, if that is not what you do, I think it’s hard to try to shift yourself and try to manage a way to fit that square peg, round hole, or vice versa.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I think that because of the fact that we are in this crisis and now this funding is coming from a variety of different sources and organizations need the funding, to not stick to your mission and your goals is going to take you off track. And then you’re going to have to try to pivot and come back when we’re not in this crisis or we’re in some other type of crisis. Right? And so my advice would be to just really be clear on what your mission, your goals, and your objectives are. And if there is money out there that’s COVID related that you see a funder is offering, and you can find a way within your mission to apply for that money, except the money, and work with that money to influence what you’re trying to do, then I say go for it. But if it requires you to totally shift what you’re doing, then I think that you really need to reevaluate and determine if that’s really where you want to go. Because I know how it is when you need the funding, because everyone’s always looking for funding, we’re looking for funding. But I’m also see a lot of things that I think are interesting that NNJ might be able to apply for.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: But then I have to all say, “Okay, is this going to lead us to what we’re trying to do?” Which is assist state-based organizations in their work and their efforts. If I don’t see that, but I see maybe a funding source that one of our network members might benefit from because it’s specifically what they’re doing, then I’m passing that on to them. I’m not going to try to apply for something and it’s really not an NNJ, but it might be one of our member organizations. So that would be probably the biggest piece of advice. It was probably a long-winded response, but my biggest piece of advice to entities who are looking for funding, because I know how it is if someone’s giving you a $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 grant, you know, they want you to do some type of COVID relief and it’s not part of your mission, and it’s hard not to take it. But you really have to focus and say, “No, I really don’t want to do that.”

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I think some of the funders will respect organizations for not just jumping on the bandwagon in terms of COVID relief efforts, when that’s not what they were designed to do, even though this is something that is new to all of us. And unfortunately it’s been something we’ve all had to try to maneuver and get used to and try to be valuate our whole life existence around. I think that a lot of funders would be willing to look at someone again, knowing the future, when this crisis, I won’t say passes, but subsides enough where people are like, okay, we can go back to our work, what we were put here to do, what our mandate is.

Nicole Campbell: Right. And so being consistent to organizations’ missions. And so you’ve mentioned that funder comes to an organization, says, “We are offering COVID relief.” And that organization thinks about it and says, “You know, we really can’t take that funding right now or participate in this particular effort because we’re doing this other piece of work that’s requiring all of our attention.” And so I know you about some funders or the majority of funders understanding that. And then maybe that organization revisiting the conversation and saying, “Hey, can we have a conversation?”, later on, once that organization’s work is underway. But I wondered if you could give some advice around how do you pick that conversation back up? So you’ve stayed strategically on target and on focus, and you just determined that, you know, maybe the funding that’s being offered is not strategically aligned with your mission. How do you then pick that conversation back up with a funder? Just say, “Okay, now I’m back. And I’d love to revisit the conversation around funding.”

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I think you set that up when you have the initial conversation about this money being offered and maybe a situation where the funder doesn’t come to you and says, “You know, I have this money and we’d love for you to apply for it.” It may be something that you just see and you could send a note, a letter, to that funder and say, you know, “This is a great opportunity. I will definitely pass along this opportunity to maybe someone who is working specifically on these efforts. We are not right now. We’re really trying to stay focused on our mission at hand, but we’d love to have an opportunity when we are out of this specific crisis to come back to you for funding, either general support funding, or particular project, we’d love to be able to come back to you and have a conversation.”

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I think that funders are willing to do that. If you put yourself out there and say, “This organization is not going to apply for funds that really don’t fit us.” I think funders are like willing to say, “Wow, they’re really trying to stick with what they’re doing.” We’re all trying to manage and maneuver in this. So I think that there’ll be more open to that. And I think seeing a note from someone saying, you know, “This is a really great opportunity. We’ll definitely pass it on to one of my colleagues, but we’d love to be able to talk to you about other funding.” We think that they would be open to that.

Nicole Campbell: So, we’ve been talking a lot about funders and I’d love to hear the advice that you would give to them beyond, you know, give more money; for funders to support nonprofit sustainability, both within and beyond this crisis.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Right. So I think that because of the fact that there are these mid and large size organizations out there, they’re doing great work and they’re getting funding so that it allows them to have infrastructure in place. And it allows them to have their financial elements of their organization to be sound, and that they have people in place to do their programming and to do their marketing. Like they’ve got enough funds where they’re able to do all of these things. I think that it’s a beautiful thing, that there are organizations being funded. But at the same time, there’s a lot of organizations that are starting up that are smaller, that are also doing great work, right, grass roots, organizing work, or direct service work. And it would be great for those organizations to get their piece of the pie. And I think funders who do fund this work, criminal justice work have a great network of other people who may not fund criminal justice.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Right? And so to be able to access some of those philanthropic entities that may not fund criminal justice work, but that funders can actually talk to some of these other organizations about, I think would be helpful for smaller organizations. Because they could say, you know, “Hey, we’re not funding this particular group, but it may be a group that you might look at if you’re trying to get your feet wet in terms of criminal justice reform efforts.” If you’re trying to get your feet wet in terms of social justice or voting justice or whatever the issue is. And I think that they have these networks and they have the ability to move around and talk to different people. And I just think that that is just one way for them to maybe take some of the pressure off them just trying to do it all. But give some of these smaller organizations, give some of the other organizations different ideas of who else to reach out to. Because I think we get stuck in this: okay, we’ve got to go to the funders who normally fund us, right?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Who normally fund criminal justice because that’s what I’m in, criminal justice. And there’s like all these other entities out there, philanthropic entities that could potentially fund you, but we tend to stay focused on, you know, these big names. I think that funders also have a great opportunity to help provide, or find entities that are going to provide some of the capacity building and infrastructure development like you, Nic, for example, just helping organizations do some of this work. It’s one thing to fund an organization that is on solid footing that knows what they are doing, that has all their ducks in order, that has their financial capabilities solid. It’s another thing to work with a group that doesn’t know what the 1099 is, that doesn’t know what they need to do financially to stay sound, right, that there are reporting requirements to the IRS and becoming a 501(C)(3). There’s even reporting requirements if you’re not a 501(C)(3) but you’re under a fiscal agent.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: There’s all of these things that I think a lot of small organizations and 501(c)(3)s that they just don’t understand, what comes with the territory and putting together an organization, right? The board development and ensuring that whatever it is your mission and your goals are, that you have someone to implement all of those things, that you’re working on capacity building. And I think that some funders have the capability to put together some of this support and it’s not necessarily them. They consult it out or contract it out or however they do it, and say, “Okay, we have this team that can work with groups on capacity. We have this team that could work on groups with fundraising.” And I think that if funders did that, people would be set up for success and they would strive, right, in their organizations, as opposed to the way a lot of organizations function now.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Just kind of…they’re looking for funding before some of the infrastructure stuff. And I think if funders wanted to really get involved with that piece of it, that would probably help a lot of these other small organizations. And talking to some organizations, some organizations don’t need to be a 501(C)(3). You need to be a project under a 501(C)(3). And having those honest conversations with people about that. I think a lot of people want to be a 501(C)(3) because they want to be in control and do what they want to do without recognizing all of the logistical issues that come along with being a 501(C)(3). So that would be my advice, because I think small organizations are kind of the lifeblood of this. They’re doing this work and I’m here as someone that they could call if they’re experiencing something that they need some help getting information out or they’re trying to get into this prison and they need a letter done, like I’m here to provide that support. But there are those groups that are out there day in, day out, hitting the pavement, talking to people, protesting, doing whatever. They’re the lifeblood of this movement. And we shouldn’t take that for granted, funders shouldn’t take it for granted. We shouldn’t.

Nicole Campbell: I agree with that. And you are definitely speaking my love language when you start talking about infrastructure and building capacity. And I do think that NNJ really does play a capacity building role, for the reasons that you’ve already described. And I think that when you echo on your points, when you build infrastructure, what you do is we create access for different organizations that otherwise may not have had it. And we give them options. So like you said, you don’t necessarily have to be created, definitely have to become a C3 for example, which it could be a project, you could be an initiative. But you don’t know these things, unless you start to build your capacity and build your infrastructure knowledge. Right? So I think that having that kind of support from funders, from the sector as a whole, would be extremely critical. And so that leads me into my next question for you, which is, we have your advice for funders, we have your advice that you’d give to fundraising nonprofits. With all of that in mind, what do you wish we did less of as a sector and what do you think we should do more of?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: I think, and I’ve thought this for a very long time, that we tend to latch onto influence and celebrity in a way that leaves people out. And I’ll say this, I remember when the Rockefeller drug laws were like one of the worst types of drug laws in the country. And there were so many people working on the Rockefeller drug laws, long before I even became involved in criminal justice efforts. There were so many people involved in Rockefeller drug law reform and trying to change these laws. I mean, tons of people, and I’m not going to mention any names on any level, because I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m leaving them out. I also remember there was a celebrity who was having conversations with the mayor and the governor. And I remember I was in D.C. At the time, and there were all these protests that were happening and they were happening in downtown New York, like by the mayor’s office.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I was thinking, okay, you folks, you gotta go to Albany, you gotta go to the Capitol, you gotta go and see your legislators. Cause that’s what I come from. I come from that type of organizing where I worked with a legislator, I campaigned. And so I know that that is how things are happening. You know, I’ve worked with legislators then and we got letters, we got calls, people came to our office, and there were protests. And that is how they made changes to laws. Right. I remember being in Seattle and the Mariners wanted a new baseball stadium and the legislature was like, “No, no way. We’re not building them a stadium.” What did they do? They had him Kenneth Griffey Jr. come to the state house, like, really? He came to the state house to lobby the legislators to build this new stadium. Right. And it was just this big thing, a celebrity.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I see things on Capitol Hill where, when there’s a celebrity, you’ll see all these congressmen in the committee hearing because it’s a celebrity there. And I’m like, what about the regular people? And so I digress. I’m going back to Rockefeller drug laws; conversations that were going on behind the scenes with the governor and this person and the talks fell apart. And I remember thinking if this had not fallen apart, if this person was able to go in and speak to the governor, and have reform and have change done, what does that say for all of the people that have been working on this for all these years; all the hard work, all the tears, all the money, all of the heartache, and trying to get anyone to listen to their issues and their concerns about how they’re incarcerating Black and Brown people in this state.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: What does that say to their efforts? And I mean, that happened years ago, right? And now we’re seeing similar things happen where people…and I think it’s great, please don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great when people are able to come home. But I think that there are a lot more people that could come home if there wasn’t a celebrity pushing one particular person, like if the celebrity was pushing legislation that would get a lot of people home, that’s one thing. You know, not going behind the scenes and having conversations with legislators and governors, but really working with the activists and the advocates who are trying to change these laws. If they were really, really doing that and not just because someone did a video and then they got some notoriety, I think we could really change things. People could come home. And I think that that is one thing that I would change in our sector, in our world, in our environment.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: That is one thing I wish that we were less concerned, with celebrity. There are celebrities that have had issues with bail reform and then it becomes a big thing. Well, bail reform has been big forever. There’s a lot of people still in jails right now. People are trying to get these folks out because of COVID, they’re in jail for these little offenses and they should be able to come home. You shouldn’t have to pay thousands and thousands of dollars to a bail-bondsman to come home. And if you’re known, if you have notoriety, it seems to be easier for you to have access and get your story told, and I think it shouldn’t be like that. I think everyone should have the same options and justice should prevail across the board.

Nicole Campbell: I liked that idea of, we’re talking about celebrities, right? Or basically just some influencer who’s able to come in and make all of this sweeping change and in parallel, we have tons of activists who’ve been doing work for years, organizations who have been in the trenches and just at the forefront of the issue, and have not made as much progress. Now we need those two forces. And so I’m going to put this on you, Angelyn, to answer that, like, if you had your way, how do you marry that? How do you take advantage of the influencers as you know many businesses, right? But also take all of that expertise and all of the learning and the knowledge that comes with the activist organizations, the leaders who’ve been doing the work.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: I wish I had the answer to how to do that. I think it’s being done a little bit on certain levels, but I also know that there are a lot of tensions in the community with that celebrity/advocacy that’s going on now. And I don’t know what the full answer is to that other than a full powwow, where everyone is just…got a couple of moderators in there just to get it all out. And everyone come together and say, “We are going to be a force to be reckoned with.” And that takes a lot of tenacity. It takes probably a few strong people to come in and just say, “Hey, we need to stop all of the tensions and the bickering and ego, all of that, just lay it all out on line.” What we all should be working towards is the liberation of people, right?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And so if we’re not all working towards that, then we’re only going to get but so far in little increments. And I think having this celebrity and having the advocates come together in a way that could show unity, that this group has been around for a long time, they’ve been doing great work. And I don’t think that that necessarily happens. I don’t think that celebrity comes in and says, you know, they’ve been doing great work and we have to make sure that they are able to sustain themselves and continue this work. And we’re going to work with them to try to get legislators in their jurisdictions on board with criminal justice reform. And we’re not going to take the credit. We’re going to step back and let the advocates, but we’ll be the voice when they need us to be the voice. And I don’t think that’s what happens now.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: I think celebrity comes forward and becomes the voice. And then the groups, the people who are doing the work are kind of like peripheral, on the periphery. And then we are stuck with this situation where we’re just at this tension stand still where we could do so much more if we could all come together. And not to sound cliche, if we could all get along, we could do so much. I don’t know that that’s feasible. I don’t know it’s possible, but it’s something to strive towards. I try to do that in the work that I do, because I’m someone who has not been directly affected by the criminal justice system, though I had a family member incarcerated. I, myself haven’t been. So I have to really step back when I’m talking to people who have had that experience, because they’ve had an experience that I haven’t had.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And so being able to step back when I need to step back, right. Even though people might know a little bit of who I am, and I might have more credibility than this person who’s formerly incarcerated because they don’t know who that person is. I still have to step back and say, look, this is the expert. I’m not the expert. This person is the expert and push them forward. And I step back. And I think that’s the same thing that could happen for celebrity: you step back and push this person forward. Not in a way that trivializes them or puts them on display, but just know this person should be stepped forward.

Nicole Campbell: Right. Again, just using your platform to raise that person visibility. Right. Similar to what you said earlier. And so I know you talked about collaboration or increasing collaboration, increasing communication. What do you think you should do more of as a sector? In addition to those things.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: One thing we should do, as I say, pushing people forward is that we have to prepare people to be put forward. I think what happens now is someone comes home from being in a system that demeans them, demoralizes them, treats them as less than human. They’ve served however many years, whether it be three years or whether it be 40 years, you have people who have been through so much. And doing this work over the years that I’ve been doing this work, I’ve seen so many people come home and that’s what we do, that’s the first thing we do. We put them on a stage and we ask them to tell their story. And we put them in front of the media and we take them all around the country and we have the media talking to them and we put them in a movie and we write a book. It’s like we as a community, because we so desperately want reform, that we do sometimes whatever it takes, whatever we think it’s going to take to get that reform right.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Because the story always resonates with people. I think the story always resonates with people. And when I say people, I mean, lawmakers. Taking someone in to tell their story, it’s going to resonate. Me going in, just talking about it, not so much, but I think we have to prepare people for that. I don’t think we just throw them into the lion’s den and just expect them to just come out okay. Because they didn’t come out of the system of incarceration okay. And I don’t care what we think, what we say, folks who have been inside do not come out okay. Unless they had some work done while they’re inside, which is not necessarily the case. Or they come home to something that they can work towards that, towards a mental health, physical health. I’ve spoken to people that say, it doesn’t matter what happened when you went inside, and you could have been fine, when you come out, you’re not.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: When we come out of this COVID, we are not going to be the same. We may not even be okay. Some of us are not okay now. Right. And we’re masking it and we’re just moving on. We’re moving forward, and we’re on calls, and we’re Zooming, and we’re in these meetings and these settings where we’re not communicating in person, and we’re not doing the things that we normally did. And so I don’t think that we’re going to necessarily be okay. So why would we think that people who’ve been behind bars being demoralized, being told what to do every waking moment? Why do we think that those folks will be okay? And that immediately they can come forth and just be these great speakers and leaders. And some people can, some people can, but there’s a lot that can’t, but with that guidance and that support, they can be, they can be your spokespeople. They can be the ones that go to legislators and talk about the issues or go to, you know, some of the civic organizations, the League of Women Voters, or whatever, to talk about the issues. But I think we tend to want the immediate and we see like, okay, this person’s story has been in the news. This is great. We can put them out there and then we burn them out. We absolutely burn them out. So that’s what I think we should do better.

Nicole Campbell: I like how you put it, preparing people to be put forward and just talking about doing more preparation, more building, more supporting. And it leads me into my questions that I would love to get your thoughts on, because we’ve been talking about infrastructure in pockets throughout this conversation. And I wanted to know if NNJ’s thinking about building infrastructure during this time. And if it is, how is it thinking about building infrastructure during this pandemic? And what does that building look like beyond this pandemic?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Well, it just so happens that we had our fiscal agent since 2017. We received our designation, 501(C)(3) designation from the IRS in December of 2019. And so we are in the process of transitioning to an independent entity. So talk about infrastructure. That is a huge piece of the infrastructure for us, because it is finding an accountant/bookkeeper. It is ensuring that all of t,he financials that the fiscal agent has are transferred over it is finding someone to do our payroll and all the deductions that have to be done. It is looking for medical for the staff persons for NNJ. And that is probably our biggest priority right now, is that infrastructure, of just building from basically the ground up our infrastructure. Ensuring that we have a booklet, a packet of information, for new staff. We want to make sure that we have a employee handbook that lays out all of the issues that we had under our fiscal agent, because we had a handbook under our fiscal agent.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And so now we’re making sure all of those things in place. And so that’s our biggest piece, is just in terms of infrastructure, our biggest priority, significant priority, is putting those things in place for us right now. Because we really know that we need to build capacity. And we can’t until we have some of these things in place to ensure that when we reach out to funders, we can say, “Look, this is our accounting. This is a bookkeeper. This is how much money we’ve raised. This is our structure. This is what we have been doing. And this is what we want to continue to do for our network members.” And so we need certain things in place. We need staff in place to have that capacity to do this work. So I would say that in terms of our infrastructure, that’s where we are now, in a COVID crisis, we’re trying to do that. Trying to open a bank account during COVID was a challenge because you can’t go into the bank. So that was a challenge. And having people…our board members are around the country. And so trying to manage that was a little challenging, but we got that in place. So I feel really good about that too. That’s a huge infrastructure piece, is having a bank account.

Nicole Campbell: Yeah, agreed.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: You get it. If someone says, “Hey, I got some money for you. You have a bank account?” Yes, I do.

Nicole Campbell: I would completely agree and congratulations on building all of those building blocks, because like you said, you need to have that infrastructure in place, and you’re doing it in the midst of a pandemic because you’re thinking about sustainability and longevity of the organization. So huge congratulations again on that.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Thank you. Thank you. You know, I look at COVID funding and I’m still of the mindset that if it’s not fitting for us, if it doesn’t work, we’re just not going to apply for it. Because it doesn’t make sense to apply for a grant and then you’ve got to fit yourself into that grant. Just…I have enough to do with helping the network members that I don’t need to try to recreate something for me to do that’s not necessarily going to affect them and be impactful for them and their work. So I’m good with saying no to it, unless it fits.

Nicole Campbell: I’ve been reading a ton of business books lately and you know, they keep saying, and I’m sure you’ve heard this as well: when you say no, is actually how you move forward. Knowing what you actually can say no to and not do, that’s actually how you start to progress in a really good way and do things consistently and actually be successful because you’re not saying yes to everything, and your resources are diverted, and yes, you have additional funding, but now you’re doing things that take you off your mission, and actually end up impacting negatively the community that you actually are serving. So I hear you, and it’s not like you’re saying, don’t take any COVID funding. You’re just saying you need to strategically look at the funding and say, “Does this align with what I’m proposing to do?” I being part of the organization. And if not, then again, back to your other point, maybe talk about another organization or share that with another organization and say, “Hey, I think this is really appropriate for you. You should apply for this” Right. Or do that connection.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Really, like you said, thinking very critically and very strategically about who you are, what you’re trying to do, who you’re trying to serve, and go from there. And if it doesn’t meet some of those basic parameters then you shouldn’t bother. Initially, we thought about applying for the government funds because they were giving a grant for the payroll protection, but then you also had to apply for the loan. And I’m like, well, we’re not trying to apply for a loan to protect the salary. We’re just trying to ensure that we have that cushion on the salary. So that’s one less thing to worry about. Like, you’re going to need a salary. That’s a given, but to apply for a loan, that’s going to take us away from…okay, the loan is for what purpose? The loan is to protect the salary, but we don’t need a loan protect the salary.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: We can use a grant to help protect the salary. And outside of that, we will look for funding from elsewhere. So it’s really being very deliberate and intentional in that, looking at that pot of money. And you saw that with some of the companies that were getting funding, and then they realize, and I don’t know why they realize this after the fact, that there were all of these small businesses that weren’t getting any money because big folks have all the resources to come in and take the money. You’ve got the bank institution. You got your banker telling you, “Well, yeah, if you do this, if you do this, if you do this, we’ll make sure you get it.” So all of the little businesses don’t get any money. And then they’ve got to wait for you to put the money back in the pot. And then another build has to come through so that you can apply for funds to sustain your staff, you know, to make sure that you can pay your staff at least what they were making, or a little of what they were making, and keep your doors open. It’s insane. So that’s how I look at it.

Nicole Campbell: Angelyn, your responses have been so thoughtful, so insightful, and above all, practical. It makes me try to reimagine the sector. So thank you so much for the conversation. 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 do you think you should be paying attention to?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: I actually have two. My family says…I mean, I stay in criminal justice, I like live it and breathe it. And I don’t necessarily, but I do in certain respects. But there’s a book called ‘An American Marriage’ by Tayari Jones. And it was an Oprah Book Club selection. And Oprah is actually, I think, bought the rights to make it into a film. And it’s a great book. It’s a good read. I’m not a fast reader. I read a lot of books, but I’m not a fast reader, but I was able to get through this pretty quickly. And then I actually started reading it again, because there are nuances, you know, you’re reading, and just like, I need to go back to that book. I’m rereading that book. And the other book is ‘Small, Great Things’ by Jodi Picoult. And I like her writing, but this particular book is also going to be made into a movie.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I believe, I’m going to say, Alfre Woodard is going to play the main character, I think. This is also a good book and it wasn’t based on a true story, but I think she got the idea from a true story about a black nurse that ends up having to take care of a white baby. And the parents are white supremacists and they didn’t want the nurse to touch the baby. And so the book is based on that, but it also talks about the woman who’s telling the story, a white woman and all of the biases that she has, that she doesn’t even realize she has. So I would suggest both of those books.

Nicole Campbell: And so, ‘An American Marriage’, can you talk a little bit about that and why you recommend it?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: That book, I think I saw it maybe in Essence, they have all their books selections, and I’m like, oh, that sounds interesting. And then I heard about Oprah. I think I heard about Oprah though after the fact, after I started reading it. And basically it’s set in Atlanta, and it’s this young couple who get married, and they’re just up and coming. She’s an artist, and I can’t remember specifically what he does. But they are, you know, just your average black couple from the timeframe that is during the Atlanta murders. So it’s like in 1980s, something like that. And basically they go to visit his parents and a woman is in despair and he goes to help the woman in later on, she claims that he rapes her. And this story is about their marriage and his parents’ marriage and her parents’.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: But it really focuses around their marriage and how their marriage was a good marriage. They had their ups and downs. That’s what I liked about it is that it wasn’t perfect. They had arguments, there were jealousies, and all of that, but they were together and they were trying to build something and they were trying to support each other. And then he gets accused of this crime. And so it takes them through his years of being incarcerated and what happens to them in their relationship and how she becomes this different person. And he becomes a different person from the experience. And so that’s ‘An American Marriage’. It just tells this story about them just trying to manage, and her still be a wife to him when he’s incarcerated, and him still trying to be a husband. And what you go through as a couple, I’m trying to do that.

Nicole Campbell: Wow, so both books sound really powerful. And again, it’s ‘An American Marriage’ by Tayari Jones and ‘Small, Great Things’ by Jodi Picoult.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Yes.

Nicole Campbell: Okay, perfect. You have shared, like I said, just tremendous insights and knowledge and things that I think leaders, again, will be able to practice and use in their organizations. And that’s really important to me because going back to something you said during our conversation, which was, there’s two pieces of this, the infrastructure, but there’s also the implementation. And so just being able to get that knowledge, but then to be able to practically implement these things is extremely important. And I think that they can use all of them to build bravery. So I want to thank you so much again for joining us today

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: So much for having me. I totally enjoyed it. It’s interesting to be able to think about these things in that respect, because it’s not something you think about every day, you just do the work. So it’s been my pleasure to speak to 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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Shifting from Charity to Justice with Dr. Dorian Burton

Dorian Burton’s passion for shifting the conversation in the sector from a deficit-based framework to an asset-rich framework comes through so clearly during our conversation. He shares practical advice for nonprofits and funders on how to begin the shift from charity to justice.

In this episode, Dorian focuses on how funders can and should listen to, work alongside, and partner with communities they’re serving in order to problem solve and also about how to ensure that those communities can create ways to be self-sustaining. This conversation inspires us to reflect on sustainability models, how we can create them on our own, and community partnership in order to change the way we address the root causes of inequity.

Listen to the podcast here:

Resources:

 

 

About Dr. Dorian Burton

Dr. Dorian Burton, Ed.L.D., is currently the Chief Program Officer and Assistant Executive Director at the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust in Chapel Hill, NC, a foundation that supports building healthy and whole communities. He was formerly the Co-Director of The TandemED Initiative for Black Male Achievement and Community Improvement at Harvard University Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice and was the Wasserman Foundation Fellow in the Doctor of Education Leadership Program at Harvard. Prior to Harvard, Dr. Burton worked as an independent consultant with various non-profits and school districts between Harlem, NY; Houston, TX; and Newark, NJ. In his role as a consultant, Burton worked to provide strategic support to Newark Public School principals in the launch of their Renew School Turnaround initiative. In addition, he worked in a special projects role to develop external partnerships for the Harlem Children’s Zone College Success Office.

Dr. Burton started his professional career working for the National Football League and also served as the founding Program Director of the Education Pioneers Houston Office, the Houston Director of Stand for Children, and the Chief Strategy Officer for TandemED. In addition to his doctorate degree from Harvard, Burton holds a Master’s degree in higher education from the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University and a Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Pennsylvania State University, where he also was a member of the varsity football team.

During Dr. Burton’s tenure at Harvard as a Wasserman Family Fellow, he was selected to the Dean’s Committee on equity and diversity, served as a Teaching Fellow for Lani Guinier at Harvard Law School and was awarded the International Marshall Memorial Fellowship from the German Marshall Fund. Additionally, Dr. Burton was a Gordon Ambach Fellow with the National Governors Association Education Division and The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, as well as a non-Resident Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University.

Dr. Burton currently resides in Durham, NC. He is deeply driven by his faith and is the proud son of two wonderful scholarly parents, the father of four great children, and brother to three older sisters who serve as his inspiration, comic relief, and confidants.

Online: In 2019 Dr. Burton was selected as one of the 2019 Black Enterprise Modern Man of Distinction, and honored by The Root 100 as one of the 100 most influential African Americans in the country. Dr. Burton was also selected to the the Boston Business Journal’s “40 under 40.” list. He has his own blog on Huffington Post and tweets frequently @Dorian_Burton. He has also been published in the Boston Globe, and Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Read 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 Dr. Dorian Burton. Dorian is currently the Chief Program Officer and Assistant Executive Director at the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a foundation that supports building healthy and whole communities. He was formerly the Co-Director of the Tandem ED Initiative for Black Male Achievement and Community Improvement at Harvard University Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, and was the Wasserman Foundation Fellow in the Doctorate of Education Leadership program at Harvard. Prior to Harvard, Dorian worked as an independent consultant with various nonprofits and school districts in Harlem, New York, Houston, Texas, and Newark, New Jersey. Dorian has provided strategic support to Newark public school principals in the launch of their Renew School Turnaround Initiative and he’s developed external partnerships for the Harlem Children’s Zone College Success Office. Dorian’s passion for shifting the conversation in the sector from a deficit base framework to an asset rich framework comes through so clearly during our conversation.

Nicole Campbell: He shares practical advice for nonprofits and funders on how to begin the shift from charity to justice. This conversation was recorded last summer at a time of immense uncertainty and which in April, 2021, still largely remains. He focuses on how funders can and should listen to, work alongside, and partner with communities they are serving in order to problem solve, and also about how to ensure that those communities can create ways to be self-sustaining. This conversation inspired me to reflect on sustainability models, how we can create them on our own and community partnership in order to change the way we address the root causes of inequity. I can’t wait for you to hear the tremendous insight Dorian has to offer. And with that, here is Dr. Dorian Burton.

Nicole Campbell: Hi Dorian, I am really excited to have you joining us for our Fast Build Leader series today. To get us started, can you tell us about the Kenan Charitable Trust, your role there, and the trust’s immediate priority, particularly given our current environment?

Dorian Burton: Absolutely. Well, thank you for having me, super excited to be here. So I’m the Chief Program Officer at the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The trust is about 50 years old. We focus on roughly four program areas. So higher education, the K through 12 space – which are the early childhood through the K through 12 space – arts and culture, and I would say our most evolving portfolio is whole community health. And that ranges from everything from affordable housing, food security, to the justice system. 98% of our funding goes into four States and that’s where the families have some type of personal or professional input.

Dorian Burton: So, North Carolina, New York, Florida, and Kentucky. As I think about our work and really thinking about pressing needs and how we think about our day to day, it’s really focused on how do we get proximate to community? How do we reposition? I think the narrative in philanthropy from one that is rooted in charity to one that is rooted in justice. I would say, you know, charity makes you feel good around a dinner table. I think justice is really about riding along. And so our grant making is really targeted to that. Thinking about leaders of color, folks that are doing amazing work on the ground and that are leading the charge around change. So that’s us.

Nicole Campbell: And I really liked that shift that you’ve described; moving from charity to justice and framing your grantmaking around that. And as Chief Program Officer, what role are you playing in that shift and how does that show up for you on a day to day basis?

 

Dorian Burton: Well, I think there’s a few things. I think first, just coming into philanthropy…and I’ve been in the space about six years now. I think one of the things that I first came across, one was the governance structure. It was a space that was largely governed by 65 year old, white males. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with 65 year old white males. But I think when you think about the decisions that they were making or where they were choosing to place resources, often it was from communities that they weren’t from or had never really stepped foot into. And so as you think about leadership and the governance of philanthropy, there needed to be and there needs to be a fundamental shift. So you have organizations or institutions that are 90% to 100% white making decisions for communities that are 100% of color.

Dorian Burton: And I think if you look at the reverse, in no other place would you have that, right? So you would never have a space where you had institution that was a hundred percent black or a hundred percent Hispanic making decisions for institutions or communities that were a hundred percent white. And so really thinking about one, how do we start to make that fundamental shift around how we think about leadership and then also, how do we deploy resources? Another…I think you’ll find as we continue to have this conversation, that I think I’m very critical of the space, but critical in the way that I think is also very helpful for the work that we can do. Deploying resources in a way that was not perpetuating the inequalities that we were trying to solve for. So, for instance, if you’re giving…there was huge disparities between how we would and whether organizations would fund white led institutions versus communities of color, or institutions of color, or that are led by people of color.

Dorian Burton: You would find that money that was tied to organizations of color was often very much so program-restricted, in smaller amounts, and that was really kind of coded in a way that said, “Well, we have to wait until they grow. We have to wait until they get to pass.” On the flip side, I think you would find that organizations that were led by white leaders would get much bigger grants. The grant dollars would be around general operating costs but not be restricted in that same way. And I think what is ironic is that you would usually have those institutions sub granting the smaller institutions that we said didn’t have the capacity to actually hold that type of grant, but these are the people that are actually doing the real work. And so I think trying to flip the paradigm and the hierarchy, get onto the ground and get proximate to the folks who are leading the change and say, “Well, what are the things that you want to do?” As opposed to, I think us mapping our own reforms on to communities and on to organizations, I think which has dire consequences.

Dorian Burton: Second part of that is also thinking about how do we change the narrative of the communities that we’re responsible to and that we’re serving? One of the big things I also noticed when I stepped into this space is that philanthropic institutions were rewarding individuals that told the worst stories the best about communities that they serve. And my mom always told me, you can only treat somebody as good as you talk about it, right? And so pushing these deficit based narratives in order to build resources was counterintuitive to the work. And so how we think about framing the communities that we serve and how we understand the assets that are within those communities is key. One of the big folks that is driving that work is Trabian Shorters. I’m sure you familiar with Trabian and the work that he does BMe and has been doing for a long time.

Dorian Burton: They’re really starting to shift to an asset-based frame in this work, because it really changes the questions that you ask and the outcomes that you’re looking to achieve. So for example, a very small change, but I think it leads to a very different set of outcomes, was in our application process. You know, we changed the question from, “What is the problem that you’re seeking to alleviate?” To “What are the aspirations that you have for the community that you serve?” That switch and the questioning might seem like a small thing, but it really moves the conversation to not looking at communities as problems, as opposed to…there are deep assets there, there are leaders that have been on the ground before we ever decided that we want to be involved. There are people that were driving change. There are fully capable individuals on the ground moving this work that we can get behind, and that we can dream together and aspire for something better for communities as a whole. And so those are some of the things that I think we work on and that we’re trying to change in our own internal process, but also trying to rethink how we put resources in all of that as well.

Nicole Campbell: I think that’s really powerful. Like, particularly when you’re talking about these shifts, right. And you’re talking about the leadership shift with the way we look at governance, organizations, and how that then translates to programmatic outcomes and supporting of those outcomes. And also particularly, when you talked about shifting that narrative from deficit-based to really asset-based, asset rich narrative about the communities that we’re serving. A lot of the work that I do around infrastructure is saying, “How do we take these frameworks and how do they then show up in our processes and our policies within the organization?” And so when you’re talking about shaping that question in your application, for example, I think that that has huge implications about the kind of outcomes you’re then looking for, and supporting, and able to create. So I think that is all really powerful. And building on that, because you are engaging with nonprofits, I would love to hear what kind of advice would you provide to nonprofits that fundraise as a significant part of their budgets? In other words, what do you think should be top of mind for them right now, during this time, particularly during this time of uncertainty?

Dorian Burton: Yeah. I’ll answer that in two ways. Because I think the first is that, you know, folks that were charged with serving the nonprofits will always ask, “Well, what do we need to do to get funding into and to push?” And I think that power dynamic is the wrong dynamic. It really should be: what do our philanthropic institutions need to do to reform our space to better serve the folks that are on the ground? There is no way that executive directors need to be running around, chasing dollars, going from institution to institution. If you invest in somebody, get behind them, find a way to help them gain funding. This is not a job that you can do behind a desk. You really have to get out and into community. You have to work alongside the folks that you’re charged with serving, and it is not their sole responsibility just to raise money, right?

Dorian Burton: Because if they’re just raising money, they’re not on the ground doing the things that they’re passionate about doing, and they’re not effecting change in a way that they can be. So the first is, philanthropic institutions need to reform how we do our grantmaking process. It also can’t be this space where we are pitting nonprofits against each other in a Thunderdome, winner takes all type of mentality. So in that, it is really on us to think about, you know, how do we deploy resources? How do we convene, but also how do we help them to garner additional resources? On the nonprofit side, to get more so to the question that you asked, I think making a space where you’re not tied to philanthropic dollars, right? And that’s not that large of a piece of your capital stack.

Dorian Burton: So, what are the different ways that you can generate revenue? What are the ways that you can move effective programs into effective policy that are tied into hard dollars, right. If you are fundamentally changing the way that we think about housing and the way that we think about education through your program, that needs to be moving to scale. And to think about how do our cities adopt that, how do our States adopt the work that you’re doing, to scale it towards larger change. And that also ties it to harder dollars that I think are not as fickle. Philanthropy and the dollars…every three or four years, a new report will come out. And then all of a sudden, I think folks want to move and change into that space with the kind of changes or the wind. And so philanthropy has historically been a very fickle space around funding. And so it is not one that I wouldn’t depend on. I think it is one that can be risk-capital or innovation can help to see work and can help to create Brightspot’s models, but it is not built for, I think, that long-term pool of resources.

Nicole Campbell: And so, you’re talking about diversification of funding sources and not being, you know, 100% reliant on philanthropy, which makes complete sense to me. So I’m thinking of the nonprofits that I talk with and run into, and they’re saying, “Well, how do we do that?” So what’s their first step? How do you get to the point where you have diversified funding sources, you’re not 100% reliant on philanthropy for your revenue. But what’s their first step? Because right now they are. And so for those organizations, what do you suggest?

Dorian Burton: I think understanding what are the models that can help to pull in revenue into a space? So an example would be…and I’m not saying that this is right necessarily for everyone, but I think that I would like to see more of our nonprofits institutions, the ones that are doing really good work, being able to be adopted or to pulled into really changing systems at a larger scale. Let’s say our education partners, for some of our education partners, you know, they will come to us and say, “Hey, you know, we’re doing really good work. Can you fund us to do work in, let’s say, a school district, right?” We’ll say, “Yes, of course, because that’s what we were supposed to be doing.” Right. But at the same time, there is a very clear value that that nonprofit has to the school district.

Dorian Burton: The school district has funding that might not always be allocated in the right way. And that nonprofit is changing the way that the organization is doing work. There’s a clear value towards what their outcomes are. There’s these shared values. And so thinking at the district, or as a very clear partner as opposed to something that is transactional and only dependent on the philanthropic dollars. So removing, kind of, us from that space where they have a trusted partnership and that they are thinking about their funding and the resources, and building the capacity around them to do that. And in some cases that is using philanthropy for the first two or three years. And then that model switching, giving the district enough time to reform what they might be doing with dollars that they might be spending. I think that there is a lot of money that is out there, right?

Dorian Burton: Philanthropic dollars are a very small part of that. I use the Gates Foundation, for example. Gates Foundation is one of the top four, if not the biggest foundation in the world, right. They spend about $400 million a year, roughly, I think around that, on education and other things. When you think about one school district, let’s say the Houston independent school district, it has, you know, a multi-billion dollar budget and employees of about 29,000 people. And that’s one school district. So Gates $400 million might seem like a lot. But if you think about the total budget of one district, one large urban district, I mean, it trumps that, right. All of the spending that they do here. And so, like I said, I think philanthropic dollars can be the catalyst for change, but we have to figure out ways to support our nonprofit leaders on the ground to find more stable pots of resources and revenue. And also thinking about our government institution, how they can reallocate those dollars, how they can spend those to really adapt and bring in effective programs and turn those into corporate policy. Does that make sense?

 

Nicole Campbell: No, it makes complete sense. And you know what you’re seeing and what I want people to hear, is that you’re not saying don’t rely on philanthropy at all, but it’s like, use that as part of your model, but then expand. And I think that that second piece is what nonprofits need to hear and actually look at themselves and say, how can we use our leverage and expanding that way so that we are not just holding reliant on philanthropy. So it makes complete sense to me. And I think, you know, I want to circle back to something that you said when we were talking about how philanthropy needs to start to change that whole power dynamic and stop with this Thunderdome sort of pitting nonprofits against each other. Why do you think that happens?

Dorian Burton: So I think that there is a misconception that when folks walk into philanthropy, their IQ goes up 40 points, right? All of a sudden now that you’ve given out money, you’re the smartest person in the room, your jokes get a lot funnier and everything like that. I think that there has to be a shift between behind what we want to do versus what is already been done on the ground. And how do we get behind folks that have already created the tables to do that? So, you know, you might have a grandmother who has been running an amazing literacy program in the bottom of a church for 40 years. Why don’t we find an opportunity to get behind her and scale her work, as opposed to say, “Oh, well, we’re coming in with this brand and literacy initiative and we’re going to build this table. And then we’re going to invite you to a seat at the table in your own community.”

Dorian Burton: That doesn’t make any sense. Or we’re going to ask a focus group opinion on something that we want to do, knowing that we’re already going to do it anyways. Right. And so it’s using community as more of an insurance policy than actually valuing them as a partner or understanding that people on the ground know what they need better than we know. Right. And, you know, I know what I need in my household better than anybody else. Right. And so understanding that there is a true partnership on there. I don’t think that folks that have been in leadership fully understand and appreciate the brilliance that’s in the community. I think you put it into that, there can only be this silver bullet type of solution for work.

Dorian Burton: So let’s say, okay, well we’re only going to fund third grade reading and all of a sudden that’s going to change institutional racism and poverty, or the institutional racism and how that is created poverty-stricken situations in our community. As opposed to looking at things in a more comprehensive way. So an example would be, you know, when I bet on the things that happen or on my family, thriving, it’s not just one thing, right? I’m looking at their school for my kids. I’m looking at housing, making sure they have a safe place to live. I’m looking at their healthcare, making sure that my kids are healthy. I’m looking at my job to make sure that they have a stable financial structure. We need to make the same type of bets on our communities that we’re making in our own household.

Dorian Burton: For some reason we think because communities have not been served well by systems that all of a sudden, we can just do this one thing and it will change. And that’s not true because that’s not what we believe in our own house. And so I think it creates this ‘there can be only one’ type situation in our communities that does not serve them well. That often leads to nonprofits having mission creep and trying to do everything, because we have not properly funded the organizations to partner and find ways to collaborate, and really shine towards the things that they are really good at individually. The time to come together towards a collective action, I think would be lead to better outcomes for the community.

 

Nicole Campbell: And what I’m hearing from what you’re explaining, which makes a lot of sense, right? Is this idea that philanthropy comes in, can observe, can understand what’s happening, be more relational, and then trust the people and organizations that are already doing the work and find out how they can support them to do their own work. And so I’m going to ask the same question that I raised around how nonprofits get started making a shift. How do funders start to make that shift? Because we all talk about doing that. You know, we talk about having trust and being a partner with grantees, but how do you get started if you’re a funder that knows these things, but hasn’t historically acted that way.

Dorian Burton: Yeah. So I think one, understanding the history behind the work that you do, right? And so institutions making that organizational shift to really build it. You know, when we are going into communities and we’re trying to walk alongside them, what is the history that has created the inequality that we’re seeing? Right. You know, if you’re going to talk about affordable housing, you better know what’s going on with redlining or what has happened with redlining, right? If not, I think you walk into a space and assume that a community is inherently deficient, as opposed to there has been a set of systems that have been placed in this community over decades to be in the space that they’re in right now; that that is not just in the history, that’s happening in the present. So it’s one thing, that how you think about your work and how you think about the history behind what you’re working in and or on. Two, thinking about your staff and is it reflective of the community that you’re aiming to serve, right?

Dorian Burton: Not just your staff, but your Board. And I think what I see in a lot of institutions is that they will create a diversity and inclusion role with no real power. Right? So is your staff diverse, but do the folks on your staff have decision making power, right? Do they have power within the organization to really move money and resources in ways that they feel necessary and to be responsive to community. And the same type of diversity on your Board; in ways that I think again, will build bridges across lines of differences and that help us to see our blind spots. Third, I think, are you guys proximate to the communities that you serve, right? Are you moving to really understand and be present? Because what you can think at your office behind your desk might make complete sense until you actually get on the ground.

Dorian Burton: And so, working with folks that are on the ground, and do you value their leadership, right? Is it a space where you are creating where you’re the hero of the story versus getting behind individual being responsive in your philanthropy to help them be the heroes and the heroines of their own story. Because they’re fully capable of that. And then again, I think shifting real dollars, right? If you show me your budget, I’ll show you what you care about. Right. And I think for us at the trust, that is something that I think we can do better. Right? These are…note that when I’m being critical, I’m also being critical of ourselves, right? There’s still changes that we need to make, as we think about our Board. And we think about who we hire. And we think about our history and our paths. What does that mean? How we, in some cases, perpetuate the inequality that we’re trying to solve for. So when I’m being critical, note that I’m being critical of myself as an actor in this space, as well as the organization that I work for.

Nicole Campbell: So, Dorian, we have great advice now for nonprofits and funders, and on top of that, we have the practical next-steps. So I think, these are the things that nonprofits can do, that funders can do, to get started on that critical shift that we’re talking about. With all of that in mind, what do you wish we did less of as a sector? And what should we be doing more of?

 

Dorian Burton: Less of? We talk a lot. You know, I think we convene a lot. If you’re at a convening and it is just funders in a row, and there’s nobody from the community that you serve, then you’re in the wrong room or you’re wasting your time, right? It’s a space where, you know, you’ll find that we’ll pat each other on the back around the good work that we’re doing. Or we get in a room, we won’t bring the folks that were truly responsible to serving and getting behind into that space, because they’re scared that they’re going to ask us for money. And that’s your job. They should be asking you for money. They should be. If I get a call, I know what it’s for. Right. But that’s my job. And so I think we need to need to think about less talk.

Dorian Burton: I think that we need to also not be scared. So I think to be innovative in this work, looking at our past and looking at where this has come to, where we are now, it has come a long way. Don’t lose hope in that, we still have a long way to go and I think you have to work with the people you serve. You think about the work that Aaron’s doing at Ford, and La June and Joe Scantlebury are doing at Kellogg, and a lot folks move in this work. Melanie Brown at the Gates foundation and William Buster, all those folks that are really in there. Tonya Allen, the Skillman, that have been doing this and really driving it. Those are folks that I think that we can look towards. It’s not like we don’t have people that are doing it. I think being able to move it with a quicker sense of urgency and urgency that our communities deserve.

Dorian Burton: Right. Do we need another study? Do we need another report? Maybe in some cases, but probably not. Right. I got an organization about six or seven months ago. It was a funder saying, you know, we do a report on the opportunity gap or achievement gap. Absolutely not. You know, that’s something that has been over studied and underfunded, right? Our communities, I think have been over studied and underfunded. And so we owe it to them to work with a sense of urgency. I think, I wish that we did more of thinking about wealth creation and ownership. You know, if you are thinking about putting money on the ground for our communities, how are you tying that to making sure our communities own their own community, right? How are we thinking about wealth creation in that way? How are you thinking about wealth creation? I think Pamela and Jolly will talk about it, that it takes three generations to really move into a place of wealth. And I think we need to be moving the conversation to really getting to the root causes, as opposed to just fixing the symptoms of what, you know, long-term, unjust racial policies have put onto our community park.

Nicole Campbell:

Yeah, and that shift to thinking about wealth creation and ownership, I think if that were really at the core of a lot of the work that we were doing, I think the way we show up as nonprofits, as funders, would be so critically different. So I completely agree with that. And I like how you just put it: less talk, right? Like, you have communities that are overstudied and underfunded. One thing that you also said in your response, Dorian, is that we should not be afraid to be innovative in our work. And so one of the things that makes me think about innovation, and I don’t know if it makes other people think this way, is infrastructure. How strong is your organizational infrastructure, your Board set up, your policies, your procedures, the way you’re structured as an organization, both internally and externally. How are those things in place to support your innovation, to support your creativity as an institution? So I’d love to find out from you how Kenan Charitable Trust is thinking about building its infrastructure during this time, and generally. And how does it think about supporting infrastructure of its grantees to promote that kind of innovation?

 

Dorian Burton: So, I think one, there has to be kind of a philosophy at the philanthropic institution to really think about, are they funding outputs or outcomes, right? And so what I mean by that, you know, we should be very thoughtful about the systems in which we work, who those systems serve, and then try to create, I think, a split-screen innovation within that system. And so the split-screen, I think, recognizes that there are individuals in the current system that have daily needs that need to be met, but there also a better way to meet those needs. And I think building systems that are more equitable. So I think an example would be, let’s say, gas powered cars versus electric, right? And say, if we want to get rid of gas powered cars tomorrow, the infrastructure wouldn’t allow for that. Right. There’s too many cars on the roads.

Dorian Burton: There’s too many gas stations, too many jobs, other things that are tied into that. But we do need to think about our environment and think about how do we move to, you know, cars or vehicles that are more energy efficient, right. And so phasing out the gas power while we build the infrastructure for let’s say, Lumens will likely, build the infrastructure to be able to do that. I think currently an example for us would be, you know, a shelter will come to us and say, “Okay, well we need more beds for individuals that are in-between homes.” And that’s a very real need. That’s something that we have to fund, but it doesn’t get to the root cause of homelessness. Right. And so being able to fund outputs, but also don’t lose sight of what the actual outcomes are. So the now, and then what are the things that we need to be doing upstream as well.

Dorian Burton: And so, we’re trying to be very thoughtful, I think, in our strategy for what are the immediate needs, but also what are the things that need to happen upstream and providing the funding that it’s going to take to get there. And I don’t think that, you know, there’s never a grant that I said that was enough money, right? We are a small piece of that, but it’s not enough money to actually, I think, to change or to build that type of change. It’s going to take a lot of other folks and I think it’s going to take a lot of other resources.

Nicole Campbell: So, when we’re thinking about that transition and building up infrastructure to really be deliberate about doing that and knowing that we’re in that point of transition is important. And you know, your responses, Dorian, have been really insightful, really thoughtful. 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 book do you think we should read next? Or what artists do you think we should be paying attention to?

Dorian Burton: It’s tough. I’ll give you the two books that I’m reading right now. One is the ‘Purpose of Capital Budget’, Jed Emerson is a friend and I think has thought about impact investing in some different ways. I’m also reading ‘Medical Apartheid’ by Harriet Washington, which I think as, as we’re thinking about our healthcare system, as we’re thinking about who has access and how that was created, very strong book. There’s two YouTube videos that I would recommend watching. One is James Baldwin, has a debate with William Buckley. And the conversation is the American dream at the expense of the American Negro? And then another conversation that James Baldwin has with Nikki Giovanni. Both of those were, I think, really insightful. As we think about the moment that we’re in and the change that we’re trying to drive. I think it’s very important to understand how we got there, who are the leaders, and that has set the foundation for that. There’s a quote that, when we lose an elder…I’m not going to get this exactly right, but where we lose an elder, a library burns. And so understanding where folks have been to understanding where we are now, how do we build those bridges across generations? I think in a way and in an effort to move forward. Very insightful conversations and I’ve been reading a lot of Baldwin lately.

Nicole Campbell: So, thanks for those recommendations, Dorian, I will put them all in the show notes so that everyone can have access to them. And that’s great that we’re also talking about YouTube videos and being able to learn and get some insight information from YouTube as well. Dorian, thank you so much. You have shared such knowledge and just been so thoughtful and insightful in your responses. And I think that, not only that, you’ve been really practical in terms of what leaders can do in their own organizations to help them build bravely for the sustainability of their communities. So thank you again so much for joining us.

-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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Supporting the Critical Role of Journalism in Community Storytelling with Kay Murray

The idea of a free press and protection of investigative journalism is so critical, and Kay Murray’s role ensures that much-needed information is shared within society.

In this episode, Kay talks about the role that journalism plays in ensuring that marginalized voices are heard. She shares her perspective on what’s currently happening in journalism, the impact on small nonprofit news organizations, and changes on the horizon within the sector. She gives advice to nonprofits and funders on how to navigate the uncertainty and unrest that was at play last summer, and, in many ways, is still at issue now.

During our conversation, you’ll hear Kay say that, “There is still room for innovation.” And that is why this conversation is so powerful. It encourages all of us to keep experimenting, to keep building, and to keep supporting nonprofit growth, particularly the growth of news organizations, to become sustainable.

Listen to the podcast here:

Resources:

 

About Kay Murray

Kay Murray is Vice President, Law, at First Look Media Works, a public charity with programs including the investigative news site The Intercept, the documentary film program Field of Vision, and the Press Freedom Defense Fund, which provides defense support to journalists and whistleblowers.

In that capacity, she provides governance, compliance and operational advice, including advice regarding news gathering and content.

Prior to joining First Look, she was CLO at the Institute of International Education, Assistant GC at Tribune Publishing, and Deputy GC at the Open Society Foundations.

Read 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 BuildUp, we’re talking with Kay Murray. Kay is Vice-President Law at First Look Media Works, a public charity within the media network, with programs that include the Investigative News Site, the Intercept, the documentary film program Field of Vision, and the Press Freedom Defense Fund – which provides defense support to journalists and whistleblowers. She provides governance, compliance, and operational advice; including advice regarding news gathering and content. Prior to joining First Look, she was Chief Legal Officer at the Institute of International Education, Assistant General Counsel at Tribune Publishing, and Deputy General Counsel at the Open Society Foundations. This episode was recorded last summer and remains incredibly important given the role of journalism and the media in our current environment. The idea of a free press and protection of investigative journalism is so critical, and Kay’s role ensures that much needed information is shared within society.

Nic Campbell: She talks about the role that journalism plays in ensuring that marginalized voices are heard. Kay shares her perspective on what’s currently happening in journalism, the impact on small, nonprofit news organizations, and changes on the horizon within the sector. She gives advice to nonprofits and funders on how to navigate the uncertainty and unrest that was at play last summer, and in many ways, is still at issue now. During our conversation, you’ll hear Kay say that there is still room for innovation, and that is why this conversation is so powerful. It encourages all of us to keep experimenting, to keep building, and to keep supporting nonprofit growth, particularly the growth of news organizations to become sustainable. This conversation made me reflect on what we’re currently seeing in media, whose stories are not being told, and the importance of effective communication to ensure that those often hidden stories are shared. I know it will make you do the same. And with that here is Kay Murray.

Nic Campbell: Hi, Kay, I am so excited to have you joining us for our Fast Build Leader Series. To get us started, can you tell us about First Look Media Works, your role there, and FLM’s immediate priority?

Kay Murray: Yes, thank you Nic so much for inviting me. It’s really an honor to join you. I do want to start by making clear that the opinions that I’m going to express on this podcast are my own, and I don’t speak on behalf on behalf of FLM, but of course I will be happy to talk about our experience and what we’re doing right now. So First Look Media Works is a public charity established in 2013, spearheaded by Pierre Omidyar. And it is a member of one of the Omidyar Network nonprofit organizations. But it was established by Pierre when he learned that three amazing, award-winning investigative journalists were starting an investigative news platform and a documentary film unit. The journalists are Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, who still are important leaders at one of our programs, the Intercept and Laura Poitras founded Field of Vision, a documentary film unit program that was established to give voices to new filmmakers.

Kay Murray: And it is a really filmmaker driven entity. So those are two of the major programs still of First Look Media Works Soon thereafter, the organization established another program, the Press Freedom Defense Fund, and that was established uniquely to help whistleblowers, and news organizations, and journalists who are facing legal retaliation as a result of their trying to bring important information to the public’s attention. And so those are the three programs. I am Vice President for Law for the organization. So in that capacity, I do work and support our Board of Directors and our leadership on governance and compliance with the not-for-profit and exempt organizations, regulations and law, as well as I’m sort of a newsroom lawyer as well. I provide legal support to the Intercept, which is an investigative news platform. I also review content and do transactional work for Field of Vision, the film unit.

Kay Murray: And for the Press Freedom Defense Fund, I am involved largely as a member of the program staff. So that is a great pleasure. We review applications for support, and this is the real grant-making program within First Look Media Works, is the Press Freedom Defense Fund. So I get involved in strategic planning and working with our advisory board and the like for that group. So it’s a really wonderful job because certainly no two days are alike and we get to make media, which I think is very important and impactful right now, particularly during these times. And as far as our priorities right now, each of the programs has different immediate priorities. Obviously the Intercept, it has a Washington Bureau and we have covered Washington with a view really at corruption among the federal government in Washington, since we began. Now, we had always planned to cover the election and what was happening in the election.

Kay Murray: But now we have also had to focus, or to really build up, our reporting capacity in the areas of criminal justice, which we always have had, but now we’re really focusing on it as well as the pandemic, and the way the pandemic is affecting communities and people that the mainstream media hasn’t really focused on. I mean, they’ve looked at what’s going on in prisons. We have a reporter who’s really focused on what’s happening in the halfway houses. A number of prisons have talked about releasing people early because of the pandemic and it’s spreading in prisons, but what’s happening in the halfway houses where people are required to bunk up and then go to work somewhere? So we try at the Intercept…the priority is to focus on stories not being told. For all of the organizations, we had to quickly create capacity in the areas of safe reporting; safely interviewing people that you couldn’t necessarily talk to on zoom, safe filming for the documentary unit, and trying to help the journalists who are covering the protests. And I’m sure you saw, and our listeners will have seen, journalists being beaten up, shot at with rubber bullets, even arrested in some cases for doing their first amendment duty of trying to cover what’s going on in these protests. So we’ve had to shift our focus tremendously to address the multiple crises that we’re dealing in.

Nic Campbell: Kay, it sounds like you have such a rich, diverse portfolio of work that you’re working in the midst of all of this journalism that’s happening, and investigative journalism, and really raising a critical voice and looking at what’s happening and examining. And I like how you said that you were focusing on the stories that are not being told and trying to give voice to the voiceless. Right. So I really appreciate the work that you’re doing. And I wonder if you can talk a little bit more about, you know…we all know the state of journalism and journalists are coming under attack both physically and just verbally as well, but talk about the role of investigative journalists. Talk about the role of journalism and the United States, and how you view that – particularly given your portfolio of work and the organizations that you’re working with.

Kay Murray: Sure, I’m very happy to do that. We, as part of the Press Freedom Defense Fund, part of our work involves being in touch with other organizations that are either associations of journalism organizations, or of individual photo journalists, and journalists. And so we have a real window into what’s been happening in the arena. And of course, you could probably fill a library shelf of writings about what’s happening in journalism right now. Obviously the sector has been greatly damaged financially for the last 15 years and jobs have gone away; important jobs in investigator journalism in every locality, big cities, small communities, and everything in between. And so it’s really bad. And the rise of social media has, I think, made things much more difficult for conventional journalism. When I say responsible journalism, I mean, fact-based journalism because obviously they relied on advertising and that went away when Google basically made their products available themselves, took the ad revenue from it.

Kay Murray: And yes, granted press organizations, for-profits did not adapt in time, but you see people now expect to be able to get news instantly and for free online, those who have the ability to get online. So it’s been very, very difficult for fact-based journalism. The kind that requires finding out facts, talking to powerful people, talking to members of the government and law enforcement and the like to get correct stories. That’s been really suffering a lot. I will say one of the bright spots, in my view, is the rise of small nonprofit news organizations. And one of the things that I hope that we can talk a little bit more about is an initiative that the Press Freedom Defense Fund began a year ago in partnership with the Cyrus Vance Center for International Justice at the New York City Bar Association to form what we’re calling “Lawyers for Reporters”. Which is a pro bono law firm for public interest reporting.

Kay Murray: And what we’ve been doing, and we’ve done this several times, we have a network of lawyers at firms big and small – and we’re also doing some of this work ourselves – we are helping local recording organizations establish themselves as 501(C)(3) organizations and helping them gain capacity. And I think an organization like BuildUp Advisory could be extremely instrumental in helping these news organizations actually get their feet under them so that they can be sustainable, but we’ve been able to find really good counsel. And this is all across the country. Many of the big law firms, as you know, have offices all over the country in many, many different States and cities. So we’ve helped, for example, an organization in North Carolina and one out in Texas to establish themselves as C3 organizations, get insurance, not just a content liability, but other kinds of insurance and learn how to do FOYA work and the like.

Kay Murray: Help them, even to find lawyers to help them do pre-publication vetting because getting a fact wrong is not good, getting a fact wrong that is a defamatory statement is a lot worse. And so those are the kinds of ways we have been trying to address this problem, but it’s a huge problem. And I will just say this. One of the things that the Press Freedom Defense Fund did and Field Division, the film unit, did with the strong support of our leadership to take a portion of their operational and grantmaking budgets this year, and to set up programs to provide emergency funding to the individuals who have been in these sectors – the documentary film sector and the journalism sector – to get emergency funding just to tide them over. So we did that.

Nic Campbell: That’s so much innovation. To think about, you’re seeing a situation, you’re seeing a crisis and saying, “How do we step in? How do we help? And creating this model of a pro bono law firm that steps in and provides free legal support to journalists who need it. And then on top of that, helping nonprofit news organizations that need capacity building support, also helping them that way. So really just stepping into the gaps and saying, “What kind of support do you need?” Real help. Right. So I think that is so innovative. And it’s something that nonprofits…what strikes me about what you said, Kay, is that even in this moment of crisis, of uncertainty, of unrest, that there’s still room for innovation. And the organizations that you’re talking about, particularly the smaller nonprofits or grassroots organizations, they’re in this moment, just like everyone else and probably feeling it a lot worse. And so I’d love to hear your advice that you would give to nonprofit organizations, smaller news organizations, the grassroots organizations, that are in the midst of this pandemic, in the midst of our social unrest. What do you say to them when they’re trying to raise the money in this environment, and we know that there’s innovation out there, what’s your advice?

Kay Murray: I have been thinking about this a lot because it’s very off out there. I have been looking at what some of the larger funders have been messaging to their grantees and to the sector in general. And I’ll be honest. It really will…for organizations, nonprofits, who are trying to raise money, I think it really depends on what their mission is. If their mission is something that, where there will be a direct response to the crisis, a direct response to the constituencies who are feeling this the worst – immigrants, people of color, people in cities, people without health insurance, people who have essential workers in the family but no way to self-isolate and the like, people who are facing food insecurity right now, shelter insecurity and the like. If that’s your mission, then I think that you may need help. You may need advice, a consultant, BuildUp Advisory or others to help you get to the funders, the community foundations or the large philanthropies. But you have a real story to tell and a really important mission that will speak to them right now.

Kay Murray: I’m sure you saw, Nic, that Open Society Foundations just dedicated $130 million this year to help those most vulnerable entities or people, the most vulnerable in society. And I believe the Ford Foundation is doing similar work. I know the Omidyar network is and Gates. And so if you are that sort of organization, if that’s your constituency, then I think that you do have an important, compelling reason to make the ask. I have heard other philanthropy officers discuss whether or not other organizations, those that rely on audiences…arts and cultural organizations right now, their hands are tied because of the lockdowns. I don’t know if this is the time for them to ask for grant funds, obviously for programs, but I think that they need to take a really hard look at how they can build sustainability now and in such a way that they can be prepared for crises that may shut them down in the future. Because who knows how long this pandemic is going to go on and how often they’ll be able to be in a position to reopen and then have to reclose again.

Kay Murray: So I would say that they really need to think hard about the future, but I think it would be a hard ask right now to make. Having said that, a piece of advice I would give to any nonprofit that relies on fundraising or not is to follow the lead of the 200 art and culture organizations in New York City. Groups of organizations that are giving emergency funding to writers and artists. There are a whole bunch of groups, that I know of, that are having regular meetings; weekly, one or two hour zoom meetings in which they’re incredibly practical and helpful. They provide emotional support, but also operational advice. You know, they can talk about how do you apply for stimulus funding if that is available again, which I hope it will be soon. How do you get out of a contract for a conference that you planned because you can’t have the conference now?

Kay Murray: I think these are extremely, extremely helpful to do. And the advice I would give to funders is that one thing they can do is to help create these convenings; provide the capacity, you know, the practical, operational capacity for these organization leaders and their staffs to get on, and really share information, ideas, support right now. Because I think the worst part of this is the isolation. And I know from experience that when the Press Freedom Defense Fund was trying to figure out how we could establish this emergency assistance program, which is not something we’ve ever done before. We joined a weekly call of writers groups that do this, and we learned so much from them. It allowed us to do this. And we were able to understand that we could fill a gap. There was a gap among these 12 or so organizations funding writers, where we could fit in.

Kay Murray: So you get intelligence, you know: what’s happening on the ground. You get advice, you get emotional support, even get help. So practical help. Pooling resources is very important. And one last thing in that regard, a friend of mine is a consultant for a group of educational institutions with a focus on international exchange programs. And she was saying…she’s part of a weekly group with university provosts and others. And she has said, there’s a lot of despair and worry, but there’s also some exhilaration in understanding that the sector is going to change dramatically. It’s in the midst of a revolution and it’s exciting and scary, but if you’re in it together and you’re sharing your best ideas, your best practices, the resources that you have, I think that is my best piece of advice.

Nic Campbell: I like both of those, Kay, you know, we were talking about the advice that you would provide to non-profits and it’s really about telling a story. Telling a compelling story so that donors, funders, they can hear your why, and they know that you should still be around. So when your programs are not able to run them, you’re not able to hold in-person events, for example, you still need to sustain yourself. And then the question is why, and that’s your compelling story. And then on the flip side to funders, when you’re saying, “Get everyone in the room. Encourage collaboration, encourage resource sharing.” Because out of that, I’m sure there’s innovation that can come out of that conversation. Right. And so just creating that environment and that space for innovation to happen, I think…in a time when you’re thinking, “Well, what else can I do? I’m just going to get on this call.”

Nic Campbell: But you know, one, like you said, it’s about taking care of yourself particularly as a leader; taking care of your mental health and making sure that you can touch base with everyone else. But then also having those strategic conversations and thinking about what’s the next big idea. And maybe it could come from one of those calls. So just having the ability to create that space for others, I think is so incredibly important. And I want to go back to something you said, though, Kay. You talked about the transformation of the sector. So I want to hear, how are you thinking about this transformation? What do you see changing?

Kay Murray: In the nonprofit sector, generally?

Nic Campbell: Yes.

Kay Murray: Right. And this will go into the question of, what do I wish we did less of and more of, perhaps. Listen , Nic, you and I have experienced how some organizations that are private philanthropies are very shy about talking about advocacy or funding direct advocacy. And I think that that has got to change. I believe it was…Warren Buffet is credited with saying something like, “When the tide goes out, that’s when you see who’s actually wearing a bathing suit and who’s not.” Our society has been revealed, through these multiple crises, as being in sore need of utter transformation. And I think that funders need to realize that they have to understand the gloves have to come off. And we need to look at the organizations and the voices that are speaking to changing our system of governance, even our capitalist system.

Kay Murray: And so I hope that funders will no longer treat the word advocacy as something to be avoided or talked around, in terms of their funding priorities and their support priorities. We have to figure out a way to insulate the constituencies that have suffered so much, not just this crisis but in the decades leading up to it, from what has been revealed about the failings of our governments, our community infrastructures, you know, the safety net, et cetera. And I know journalism has a great role to play in that as well. And, you know, there is a debate going on, or has been going on in journalism for a long time, about whether…I mean, it sounds rather quaint now, I suppose. But do we just give the facts or do we say, you know, “X, Y, and Z facts equals ABC result, outcome, necessity. Who’s really hurting?” And so I think the sector needs to be, I think, much more assertive if not aggressive, in saying what is necessary to really create a more…whatever it is the missions are. I think the only way to do that is to really be very loud about what’s wrong, what has to change

Nic Campbell: And the way you put that, Kay,, where you’re talking about, “stop saying no to advocacy”.” Right? This idea that now we’re looking to the voices that are saying, “I want to dismantle these oppressive systems.” And those are the voices that need to be amplified. And so, you know, having that transformation and then saying, “Actually, now’s the time. Right? Now is the time that we amplify these voices that need to be heard.” So I like just the context that you put that in. We’ve talked about what the sector should be doing more of and less of, and talked through advice to fundraising nonprofits, as well as funders. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on capacity building, particularly around infrastructure. And we talked about it when we were talking about the smaller nonprofit news organizations, the grassroots organizations, that are getting that kind of capacity building support. But as you think about building infrastructure within FLM, the programs that you’re working with; how are you all thinking about capacity building? How are you looking at governance during this time? We, you know, again, we’re in such a huge crisis. Are those things still on your mind? Are you thinking about how you’re structured internally, externally? I’d love to hear how you all are thinking about all of those things.

Kay Murray: Yes. Well, I have to say, we are very lucky because we have leadership within the Omidyar network that is very understanding about the challenges that the staff is experiencing right now. We’re all working from home. We’re extremely fortunate to have income, to have the capacity, if somebody needs a monitor so they can work from home more comfortably, they can get it, that sort of thing. But they have, also at the same time, understood how difficult this is for people, particularly if they have kids at home and other family at home. And so in terms of governance, we have actually had shorter board meetings and have curtailed to some degree the board meetings. Because, I think it’s probably true for most organizations, board meetings require a lot of work, thought, presentation. Now that’s not to say that the board’s not still very involved, because leadership has continued to have regular conversations with the board.

Kay Murray: And we have been asked recently to provide our three-year strategic plans to the board, but that too is not nearly as extensive as they have been in the past. So I think that they’re both continuing to exercise governance as well as they can with a real empathy and understanding about what everybody is trying to do. I will say, as far as capacity building, we’re still sort of a startup. And so it wasn’t until last year that we began to publish an annual report to our communities. That’s really exciting exercise. I’m involved in doing that. And it’s fun. It also requires us to really be accountable to ourselves because we are trying to put into a document, our raison d’être, at least for the last year. So I think that’s a piece of capacity building, because it will be a document that we can share with potential donors when the time comes, but also with our constituency.

Kay Murray: And it will allow us to do more outreach. I cannot emphasize enough how important having great expertise is. We recently, six months ago or so, at the beginning of the year, hired a membership coordinator because we do rely on memberships as part of our operating income. And this person is fabulous. In fact, a friend of mine once said, if you go to read the Intercept, you will get a pop-up. We had decided we’re going to do a pop-up saying, “Will you join us?” But he also sends out membership appeals. So that’s what we’ve been doing. Also, we have a few working groups. For long time, we’ve had a diversity and inclusion working group, which is meeting frequently. We have a union, the newsroom is organized. And so the bargaining unit has its own diversity and inclusion committee. And so we work together to ensure that everybody feels safe and respected and included, and we’re working very hard on making hires and making sure that people of color are given, you know, huge consideration; we’re working on that, hard. We have a working group on reopening the office. You know, I would recommend that for other organizations, when the time comes, to be able to get back together, it’s important. And for us, we also are implementing a new sort of financial system, which will help us a lot because we’re a small organization. And so we’ve been just keeping the financial systems has been a bit of a challenge. So it really…one does reach a new level when one implements a new financial system, by graduating. So those are the things that we’re doing.

Nic Campbell: Again, you are definitely busy, Kay. I think they’re all critical. Everything that you name, though particularly with the communications piece and being able to tell your story well. So it’s not just about seeing things, it’s about putting together a compelling story and being able to tell that story well to different audiences. So I think all of the things you hit on are so critical to sustainability and to building out infrastructure. You know, your responses have just been so thoughtful and practical and just have made me think about innovation and where you can find it in unexpected places. 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 book do you think we should read next? Or what artists do you think we should be paying attention to?

Kay Murray: Well, I’m going to give a shameless plug for a couple of things that First Look Media has recently produced. But first I want to talk about an amazing book that I am about two-thirds of the way through. And it’s by the last year’s the Booker Prize winner; the first woman of African descent to win it, it’s called ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernardine Evaristo And it tells the interlocking stories of about 15 women who are really represent the African diaspora in London. And I’ve learned so much about…because it spans 30 years or maybe even more from the seventies to the present. So that’s 50 years. I have learned so much about Africa, African lives, how immigrants who come to London, you know, had to live the terrible racism and prejudice that they experienced there, but also their wonderful family stories. It’s great book, really like it. For me, it was educational as well as it’s really fun and funny. And it’s pretty compulsively readable.

Kay Murray: I would recommend the podcast that we produced with iHeart Media at the beginning of the year called ‘Somebody’. And the reason I recommend it is because, first of all, it’s an amazing story about our criminal justice system. And it’s about a woman named Shapearl Wells, who was living her life and one night got a call from the hospital saying, your son is in the hospital. Courtney is in the hospital. So she rushed over there. She was afraid he’d wrecked his new car or something. No, he had a bullet in his back and he died. And he was found in front of the Chicago police precinct. And they just said, you know, drive by shooting, no information. And she was wholly unsatisfied with that explanation. And so she began investigating on her own what happened to her son and she partnered with the Invisible Institute, which is a nonprofit investigative news organization out of Chicago.

Kay Murray: And what she learned is incredible. And it’s really about her, it’s her voice. And it’s based on Jesse Jackson’s famous line, “I am somebody.” And she was like, my son was somebody. Why are they treating him like he’s a statistic? He is somebody. And he was an amazing person and he was in his twenties. So it’s a great podcast. And then the other thing it’s going to be released in two days, it’s a documentary that our affiliated organization, First Look Productions has produced. It’s a documentary film called ‘The Fight’. And it’s about how the ACLU in four lawsuits has fought from the very beginning, some of the worst violations of civil rights that the Trump administration has engaged in since it took office. And if you’re interested in how lawyers and litigation can really protect our system of justice and the rule of law in this country, I recommend it.

Nic Campbell: Those are great recommendations, Kay. And I’m going to put them all in the show notes so people will be able to access all of them. Thank you so much again, Kay. You have shared such knowledge and insights that I really think that leaders will be able to practically use in their own organizations to help them to build bravely. And I think that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. So thank you again for joining us.

Kay Murray: My great pleasure, Nic. Thank you for inviting me.

Nic Campbell

-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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The Role of For-Profit Companies in Creating Equity with Dr. Randal Pinkett

This week’s guest on the Nonprofit Build Up is Dr. Randal Pinkett. Randal is an entrepreneur, speaker, author, and scholar, and a leading voice in business, technology, diversity and inclusion. He is the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of his fifth venture, BCT Partners, a multimillion-dollar research, training, consulting, technology, and data analytics firm headquartered in Newark, NJ.

Randal really highlights the role of for-profit companies that are focused on social impact and the role that the for-profit sector can play in building and supporting equity. He offers advice to nonprofits and funders on the role of infrastructure and how to leverage big data to better understand and support stakeholders in determining community needs.

Listen to the podcast here:

Resources:

About Dr. Randal Pinkett

Dr. Randal Pinkett has established himself as an entrepreneur, speaker, author and scholar, and as a leading voice for his generation in business, technology, diversity and inclusion.  He is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of his fifth venture, BCT Partners, a multimillion-dollar research, training, consulting, technology, and data analytics firm headquartered in Newark, NJ.  BCT’s mission is to provide insights about diverse people that lead to equity and the company has been named to Black Enterprise’s BE 100 list of the nation’s largest African American-owned businesses.

Dr. Pinkett has received numerous awards for entrepreneurial excellence including the Congressional Minority Business Award, National Society of Black Engineers’ Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and National Urban League’s Business Excellence Award.  He is an expert in several areas relating to emerging technologies, “big data” analytics, social innovation, culture, diversity, equity and inclusion, and is a regular contributor on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox Business News.

Dr. Pinkett is the author of Campus CEO: The Student Entrepreneur’s Guide to Launching a Multimillion-Dollar Business and No-Money Down CEO: How to Start Your Dream Business with Little or No Cash and co-author of Black Faces in White Places: 10 Game-Changing Strategies to Achieve Success and Find Greatness, which was named one of “The Best Books of 2010.”  He holds five degrees including: a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Rutgers University; a M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Oxford in England; and a M.S. in Electrical Engineering, MBA, and Ph.D. from MIT.  Most notably, he was the first and only African-American to receive the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship at Rutgers University; he was inducted to the Academic All-America Hall of Fame, as a former high jumper, long jumper, sprinter and captain of the men’s track and field team; and he was the winner of NBC’s hit reality television show, “The Apprentice.”

Born in Philadelphia and raised in New Jersey, Dr. Pinkett is a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated and First Baptist Church in Somerset, NJ, where he resides with his family, including a daughter and two sons.  Dr. Pinkett firmly believes that “for those to whom much is given, much is expected,” so throughout his endeavors, he places great emphasis on his desire to give back to the community.

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 Dr. Randal Pinkett. Randal is an entrepreneur, speaker, author, and scholar, and a leading voice in business, technology, diversity, and inclusion. He’s the Co-Founder, Chairman, and CEO of his fifth venture BCT Partners, a multi-million dollar research, training, consulting, technology, and data analytics firm headquartered in Newark, New Jersey. BCT’s mission is to provide insights about diverse people that lead to equity, and the company has been named to Black Enterprise’s BE 100 list of the nation’s largest African-American owned businesses. Randal has received numerous awards for entrepreneurial excellence, including the Congressional Minority Business Award, National Society of Black Engineers’ Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and National Urban League’s Business Excellence Award. He’s an expert in several areas relating to emerging technologies, big data analytics, social innovation, culture, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and is a regular contributor on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox Business News. This episode was recorded last summer when the pursuit of equity moved from the margins and into mainstream conversation in the United States, and Randal talks about BCT’s work in the space, and the successes and challenges within the for-profit sector as a black owned business.

Nicole Campbell: Randal shines a light on what it means to be a for-profit company focused on social impact, how nonprofit and for-profit entities can build win-win relationships, and the role of technology in creating leverage, and pursuing equity. Listen to the powerful tools that BCT has created to determine community services using precision analytics. It’s incredible. Randal really highlights the role of for-profit companies that are focused on social impact and the role that the for-profit sector can play in building and supporting equity. He offers advice to nonprofits and funders on the role of infrastructure and how to leverage big data to better understand and support stakeholders in determining community needs. It’s such a thoughtful, innovation rich conversation. And with that, here is Dr. Randal Pinkett

Nicole Campbell: Hi, Randal. I am so excited to have you join us for our Fast Build Leader Series and to get us started, can you tell us about BCT Partners, your role there and what BCT Partners is focused on, particularly now given our current environment?

Randal Pinkett: Well, it’s good to be with you, Nicole, and thank you for the invitation to be a part of this conversation. I am the Chairman and CEO, and one of the Co-Founders of BCT partners. We’re proud to celebrate 20 years this year for BCT. And we were just named to the Forbes list of America’s Top Management Consulting Companies, and also the Black Enterprise list of the largest black owned businesses in the country. Our mission at BCT is to provide insights about diverse people that lead to equity. And there’s three key words in that mission: insights, diversity, and equity. I’ll begin and work backwards. Equity is our end game, and we work in a number of different sectors; housing, community development, economic development, children and families, workforce development, healthcare – all sectors that deal with healthy communities, what it means to create and foster healthy, thriving communities. That’s where we focus on achieving equity.

Randal Pinkett: From a insights perspective, historically, we’ve leveraged a lot of different tools, but more recently we’ve begun to really focus in on data analytics as a big focus for our practice. In our mission, some ways, insights to action and action to equity. The insights to action is around analytics and being data-driven. And then the action to equity is around building capacity of nonprofits to achieve equity in the work that they do. And then lastly, diversity. We’re living in an increasingly diverse society and nonprofits are all asking the question, “How do I better understand? How do I better serve? How do I better support the diverse stakeholders that are embedded within my mission?” And we’re here to work with them in that whole continuum of providing insights to be data-driven that can lead to action, building capacity that can create better action to get to equity, and supporting diverse stakeholders and diverse communities along that entire continuum.

Nicole Campbell: So, I really liked that, Randal; insights, diversity, and equity. And I particularly like how you’re talking about building the capacity of organizations to actually do the work and have the impact in the communities that they’re serving. I know that you’re a for-profit company. So why this focus on social impact and not just on profits?

Randal Pinkett: We’re big believers in being mission-driven and making a difference in society. I have three business partners with whom I’ve been in business for 27 years. We were classmates at Rutgers University, and I’m proud to say, we’re not only still business partners, we’re still friends. We still like each other. Hahahaha. But when we were in college, we sat around the cafeteria table and asked ourselves the question, “How can we make a difference? How can we have an impact?” And we were all engineers. So at the time, technology was – and still is – a core component of the work that we envisioned. But to your point, we have the entrepreneurial spirit, but it’s not just about making a dollar, it’s about making a difference. And so we are very mission-driven, it’s a part of who we are and what we do. And we believe that we’re all called to do something in this world that benefits others. We just happen to channel that energy through a for-profit that works with nonprofits. That’s how we’ve answered that call.

Nicole Campbell: I think that’s really terrific. And speaking of technology to help create leverage for organizations and pursue equity, I know that BCT has an equitable impact platform. I wonder if you could talk more about the platform, and the products, and how nonprofit organizations can take advantage of it – funders and communities that they’re serving.

Randal Pinkett: Absolutely. So we have pioneered an approach to leveraging administrative data that we call precision analytics. And when I say administrative data, I’m not talking about new data collection, but data that’s sitting in a case management system, an electronic health record system, a program management system, any system to manage the delivery of programs and services. And precision analytics is a play off of precision medicine. It’s just as medicine says: I can create a drug that is uniquely tailored to your DNA, your biology. Precision analytics says I can take your administrative data and I can give you a recommendation, a prescription, a prescriptive analytic set of insights of what’s the right mix of services to maximize success for an individual or for a community. And we do that by leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence and predictive and prescriptive analytics. But we can be very, very precise in not only offering a prescription of what’s the right mix of services, but also what is a very granular way of thinking about that according to different demographic groups, what we call matched comparison groups.

Randal Pinkett: And the equitable impact platform takes that precision analytics engine and puts it on steroids because it takes that information and it makes it geospatial, which means we can now look at specific census tract and we can ask what’s the right mix of services – whether it’s employment, housing, education, health, criminal justice – the right mix of services for that community. And then we can do two things: offer a prescription, as I just mentioned, and if you are to follow that prescription, what is the prediction of how you can move the needle on community wellbeing. And the equitable impact platform takes IRS 990 data for all nonprofits, 325,000. It takes census American community survey data and combines that to be able to run these kinds of analyses and offer these kinds of recommendations and insights.

Nicole Campbell: Wow. So I am really excited and I want to talk more about this because I’m thinking of the executive director or the CEO of a grassroots organization – a smaller organization, a smaller nonprofit organization – who’s listening to that and is saying, “Wow, this could really help us, but we’re too small to take advantage of this.” Or, “How will we ever be able to afford this or have access to this?” And what would you say to those organizations as to how they could take advantage of this platform which sounds amazing?

Randal Pinkett: Well, the good news is that in the era of big data, these tools are not that expensive. In the era we live in, we are able to deliver some very powerful tools right to your mobile phone, right to your tablet, right to your desktop computer, at a very low price. You know, it’s the whole software as a service model, which says you have a modest subscription fee to gain access to very powerful tools. And that’s what we’ve done. And in fact, we have a free product of the equitable impact platform called the COVID-19 urgent service provider tool, which we call CUSP. So again, equip is a platform upon which we can build lots of different products. CUSP, the COVID-19 urgent service provider tool is a product we’ve built on top of equip and it’s free. You can go to cusp.equitableimpact.com and you can access a tool that can help you analyze nonprofit data, analyze communities, to determine which organizations are best positioned to address which issues juxtapose against a live feed of COVID-19 data. That’s free and available right now.

Nicole Campbell: I think that’s really amazing because, just a couple of thoughts that come immediately to mind about how nonprofit organizations in the sector could be using CUSP; and that’s one with funders who come in and say, “We have an idea of all of the different grantees and organizations that we’re working with. We have the ability to see across fields, and we think this is going to be helpful to these cohorts of organizations that they can bring together.” Organizations themselves could actually use it in their own strategic planning of the platform, as well as the CUSP tool, which is free as you mentioned. So I think that these resources are amazing. And with all of the work that you’re doing in this space, in this area, Randal, I wonder if you have any advice for nonprofit organizations, particularly in the area of technology and being able to leverage technology to get them where they want to go. What would you say to them as they’re trying to raise funds, they’re in this environment of COVID-19, they’re in this environment of social unrest; how do they step up? How do they start to fulfill their mission using or leveraging technology?

Randal Pinkett: That’s a great question, Nicole, and it’s a timely one. And here’s what I would say to that is, if I layer COVID-19 on top of civil unrest – George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor – among the many important questions that are being lifted up, is to what extent is a racial equity lens guiding the work that you do. And let’s take it a level deeper, getting back to what you said about technology and data. Every nonprofit has a set of stakeholders that they are seeking to support or issues are looking to address. And it begs the question, are you dis-aggregating your data to know the extent to which you are or are not serving different populations effectively. And more specifically, are you serving black people, African-Americans, Latinos, certain ethnic and groups effectively? Or are you not dis-aggregating your data to know the extent to which that is or is not the case? And technology and data give us the ability to slice and dice our data. Assuming we’re collecting the right data, which is a whole other conversation, to really get down to a level where we can understand which populations we serve well, which ones we don’t. And getting back to our earlier conversation about precision analytics, what’s working and for whom, and what’s not working and for whom. Because then we can be far more strategic at addressing these inequities because we have the data around where those inequities lie.

Nicole Campbell: And what you’re really talking about, which resonates, is this connection between technology and data, to getting you to racial equity. Being able to leverage those things, to have a racial equity lens to the work that you’re doing, which as you mentioned, creates better solutions, helps you become a more strategic problem solver. And you know, a lot of times, we don’t hear that technology and data are being used that way. So I really like how you talked about that. And if we look on it on the other side, then Randal, we’re thinking of the funders who are funding these organizations to do this amazing work. What advice are you offering to them?

Randal Pinkett: Another great question, Nicole. And here the advice is, the needs of communities lead the way, as we think about how we make investments. Not necessarily the needs of the service provider, meaning: let’s look down to the community level and ask the question, “Are there communities that aren’t getting enough services? Are there communities that are getting too many services? Are we over-investing in certain areas or under investing in others?” An organizational lens won’t answer that question, but a racial equity lens will give us the tools to know which communities are not getting what they need and therefore we can drive our investments to address the need. And again, big technology and data are one of the tools that give us those insights, but then it’s of course, incumbent upon us as funders to make sure that we’re partnering with the right organizations that have proven and have evidence-based programs and services, and a demonstrated ability to achieve impact with the communities and populations that we endeavor to serve.

Nicole Campbell: I really like what you’re saying, Randal, and the reason that it’s resonating so much with me is that the conversations that I’ve had in the sector around data and technology have been separate from racial equity. I mean it’s sort of, you use the data to come up with some numbers, and then you go into the strategic planning process around racial equity. And what you’re really talking about is no, it’s partial of the same thing. You actually cannot come up with a comprehensive solution using a racial equity lens unless you’re really leveraging technology and data. So I just like how you’re about that strategically and putting them together. You’re a for-profit organization that is focused on having social impact and is mission driven. I usually ask the question to nonprofit leaders about what they think the sector should be doing less of, but I want to twist that question a little bit for you and ask, what do you think for-profits should be doing less of and what should they be doing more when it comes to working with nonprofit organizations, working with communities that are vulnerable and marginalized, knowing that they do have a business model to maintain, but what are you seeing based on what BCT partners is doing, that you think that organizations for-profit organizations on the whole should be doing less of, what they should be doing more of?

Randal Pinkett: We’ve never been busier than we are right now when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion work. We do a lot of work around DEI strategic planning and assessments and training. And our phone has been ringing off the hook, Nicole, and that’s a good thing. And if you’re listening, call us, we don’t mind more calls. Hahaha. But having said that, when we think about DEI, we think about it in four domains. We think about the work force diversity – who you hire, who you recruit – the workplace diversity and inclusion – who gets promoted and how do we treat each other in the places that we work – we think about the marketplace diversity, equity and inclusion – who are you serving as a for-profit, to your question – and how do you best understand and are most responsive to the needs of those marketplace stakeholders. But the last one really gets at your question, which is community.

 

Randal Pinkett: And I would argue that it’s probably in that last domain that companies aren’t doing enough. Meaning, most are doing workforce and workplace if they’re doing anything at all. Some of them feel like multicultural marketing might be thinking about the diversity of their customers. But when we think about the community, when I think about Minneapolis, Minnesota, when I think about Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all of what we’re seeing with the civil unrest in our country. Now, of course, we’re seeing companies making statements and making commitments to investments because now this issue has been lifted up so sufficiently that it’s higher on their radar, but before George Floyd, it was completely off the radar to the same extent that it is now. So I think we need to be doing more to put some real teeth behind these commitments and investments that are really going to address systemic and institutional racism given the moment that we’re in so that that moment can become a movement. And I think we need to do less of talking the talk. And I’ve seen organizations make statements, Nicole, and I’ve seen their employees called them out, saying, “You’ve done nothing up until now.” So let’s do less of the talk and more of the walk so that we can really, finally get at what’s under the hood on systemic, institutional racism, so that we’re not in this place a year from now.

Nicole Campbell: I like that, less talk and more walk. And along those lines, let’s say you have a corporation who says, “You know what? I agree, Randal, I’m going to do more walk. And I want to fund an organization, or I want to enter into a partnership with a nonprofit organization because I’ve identified a community that needs the help. And I’m coming with resources and funding.” How do you think about structuring that partnership between the for-profit and the nonprofit? What are the things that we should keep in mind? And when we’re thinking of funding relationships, where the for-profit says, “We want to fund a nonprofit that’s doing great work.” What advice are you giving to that for-profit and even to the nonprofit as they enter into that sort of relationship that might be brand new?

Randal Pinkett: My advice is to really seek out relationships that are win-win; it can’t be a for-profit coming in feeling like they are doing the nonprofit a favor by supporting them – like this is purely charitable, unidirectional in its relationship. Nonprofits bring a lot to the table and have a lot of value to offer to a for-profit in a partnership. So let’s think about how this can be structured as a true win-win where everyone sees value in the relationship and there’s no paternalistic fantasy that this is a one directional street. And more specifically, as a for-profit, there’s a certain set of products and services you’re looking to offer to the marketplace. How can a partnership help to amplify? How can you add value? So if you’re a for-profit that is doing work around technology, great example, then is there a way that through your technology, you can amplify the work of nonprofits? Can you bring your talents, your treasure, and your time that can add value to a nonprofit? And then can the nonprofit, therefore, also add value back to you in terms of how that is informing your community engagement, your agenda for how you engage diverse communities, how you think about your diverse marketplace, how you think about diverse customers and communities in which they’re already engaged? So that it really is symbiotic in how both organizations benefit. And that’s going to make the partnership that much more real and that much more sustainable, that much more lasting.

Nicole Campbell: I think it’s so important, what you’re pointing out, that nonprofits to think and realize that they have a lot of assets that they’re bringing to the table. They’re bringing a lot of resources. They’re also bringing value to that partnership. Because I think often, at least from the conversations I’ve been having with a lot of leaders of nonprofits, particularly the smaller organizations, they don’t think they have a lot of leverage when they’re coming to the table, so to speak, with a for-profit partner. And so to hear you say that, I think it’s just important to really reiterate that it is not, as you said, a one-directional type of relationship and that each party is receiving something of value from the other. So, you know, Randal, a lot of what I do, all I do, is really focus on infrastructure. And that’s building the framework of an organization to support its programmatic work and the programmatic outcomes that it wants to have.

Nicole Campbell: And so we look at things like governance and organizational development within the organization itself; how is its teams set up, how…are the people in the right seats? And then even external structuring, do you have the right vehicle to do the kind of work that you want to do? If you’re engaged in grant making, what does that grant making process look like? So with all of those things in mind, when you think about building the infrastructure of an organization, how does that then play out in ensuring the sustainability of programmatic outcomes? You talked about equity being a key focus of what you do. How does the infrastructure of BCT Partners help create that sort of sustainability and help you deliver on that promise?

Randal Pinkett: You’re going to appreciate my lead-in to my answer, Nicole. I believe the work you’re doing is critically important, and I believe one of the greatest tragedies of how the nonprofit philanthropic sector has evolved over the past 10 years, is this idea of program grants. This idea that I can only fund the program and not fund the infrastructure. You have got to be kidding me. You cannot have the orange without the peel. I’m going to say that again, you cannot have the orange without the peel. So if you want to just strip out the orange and not fund the peel, you’re not funding the orange. So your points and your work, Nicole, I told you, you’re going to appreciate my lead-in. You know, your work around infrastructure is the foundation of how the work gets done. And so for us at BCT, for you in your organization, for any nonprofit listening, for funders and philanthropists who are investing, infrastructure is the beginning and the end.

Randal Pinkett: So it’s critically important for us. When we think about our back office, our accounting, our systems, our human infrastructure, our processes, our policies, like all of that stuff is what powers our enterprise. And if we don’t get that right, we can’t scale, we can’t achieve efficiencies, we can’t achieve economies of scope. I mean, it undermines everything that we do. And so I credit our President, my business partner, Lawrence Hibbert, who’s the equivalent of our Chief Operating Officer. He’s our President, I’m the CEO. I handle all of the outward facing stuff, marketing, sales, customer relationship management. I get to do webinars with people like Nicole Campbell and Lawrence handles the back office. He handles the infrastructure and making sure it’s an efficient, well-oiled machine, so we can build a successful enterprise.

Nicole Campbell: I really like that Randal, you cannot have the orange without the peel. I’m going to use that, because when you’re talking about infrastructure powering the enterprise, it really resonates. And to hear you say, “Listen, without infrastructure, without strengthening it, we cannot scale. And it really will undermine everything you do if you have a weak infrastructure.” So I did really appreciate that response. So Randal, your responses have been so insightful, so thoughtful, and I really like the perspective that you brought, being not within the nonprofit sector as a nonprofit organization, but as a for-profit company that’s mission driven and really focused on social impact. 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 book do you think we should read next? Or what artists do you think we should be paying attention to?

 

Randal Pinkett: I’ll give you two answers in the book. One that is wholly self-serving and the other that actually probably gets to the spirit of your question. So we’re talking a lot about civil unrest and racial equity. My last book was ‘Black Faces in White Places’, which looks at the experiences of African-Americans’ industries, including the nonprofit sector, where we are underrepresented. And I interviewed dozens of African-Americans across multiple sectors; entrepreneurs, nonprofit executive directors, foundation executives, corporate CEOs, and distilled what had been the strategy that they used to navigate environments where we’re underrepresented, but still maintain a sense of self. I think it raises up a lot of important questions and conversations that we’re having right now about racial equity. I’d also add to that, another book I found to be fascinating is a book called ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’. And the simple idea is if you’re competing in the marketplace, you can either compete in the red ocean where there’s existing competition and it’s crowded and you can get real bloody, hence the red ocean, or you can look to establish a whole new marketplace where there is no competition, an uncontested space.

Randal Pinkett: A great example from the book is Cirque du Soleil. You know, you ask the question, what is Cirque du Soleil? And the answer is Cirque du Soleil. There’s nothing like it. It’s not the circus. It’s not the movies. It’s not theater. It is Cirque du Soleil. They exist in their own space. They have no competition. I mean, they do but they don’t. And so for any nonprofit leader, for-profit leader, civic leader, government leader, you have to ask the question, “What are the uncontested spaces that I should be exploring?” Because it doesn’t currently exist. You know? And there’s a time when things like big data didn’t exist, when things like case management systems didn’t exist, and somebody created it. And that’s the kind of innovative thinking I think we need to apply to all sectors because that’s where innovation really does get fostered.

Nicole Campbell: So, thanks so much for both of those recommendations, Randal, I think ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ is a great recommendation, particularly for the reason you stated, to think about the uncontested spaces that you as a nonprofit organization should be exploring. And I think that’s really pushing organizations to think outside the box and think outside of the status quo. And of course, I really appreciate the recommendation of ‘Black Faces in White Places’ that you have written.

Nicole Campbell: And you know, Randal, one last question on that. Because I do want to raise this and give you the opportunity to talk about your experience. Because I do think it is amazing that you have a black-led organization that is doing extremely well. That is mission-driven, focused on social impact, and doing such amazing things, particularly in the technology space and managing space. And you even talked about the work that you’re doing around diversity, equity and inclusion, and I’d love to hear from you about how that experience has been. How has it shaped you into the leader that you are today, your role within the organization? How does it allow you to show up in different spaces, particularly when they are not as welcoming as you would think they should be? I’d love to hear about your experience within all of that. And just any sorts of words of wisdom or advice that you might offer for other CEOs of organizations that are in a similar space.

Randal Pinkett: I appreciate the kind words, and I genuinely appreciate the question. You know, I’ve been an entrepreneur for 27 years and as an African-American man in business, I say this very humbly. So take this in the way it’s intended. You know, I’ve been extremely blessed, as have you. I mean, you know, MIT is our common thread. I’ve gone to Oxford, I’ve won a Rhodes Scholarship. You know, I’ve got five academic degrees. In that regard, I consider myself a bit of a litmus test. So what if you sent a highly educated, highly credentialed African-American out into the business world? What would that experience look like? Well, I have the experience and despite all of what I bring to the table, it’s been rough. It’s been a tough road. It’s been a very difficult road and for a variety of reasons. Among them, you know, the difficulties in getting access to capital as an entrepreneur, the difficulty in fostering relationships to more powerful, influential individuals that make the real decisions of who gets the deal and who doesn’t get the deal. The perceptions almost implicitly of what we can and can’t do as a black owned organization and constantly having to dispel the myth or the perception or overcome the stereotype that we can’t compete with the likes of a Deloitte or a McKinsey or a Boston Consulting Group, or the list goes on.

Randal Pinkett: And I don’t say that as a complaint, I say that just to keep it real; that I’ve enjoyed every single step of this journey. I love what I do. I love the mission-driven. I’ve loved the partnership that I’ve had with three other black men, Lawrence Hibbert, Dallas Grundy, and Jeffrey Robinson. I mean, we are like new edition with no Bobby Brown. Hahaha. And it’s nothing but love amongst the four of us. I mean, I have deepest respect and admiration for those gentlemen and for our executive team at BCT, which is predominantly African-American. But I can’t ignore the fact that it’s been a very difficult road and that I see it as my responsibility, my obligation, to make it easier for the next generation of social entrepreneurs, social innovators who follow in our footsteps. You know, BCT has been an experiment with the double bottom line, making a profit and making a difference. You know, financial return on investment and social return on investment. And we’ve learned a lot that we hope that our example, to your opening question, can be a light for others that say, “You don’t have to just go for the money. You don’t just have to go for the social impact. You can do both and you can do it with dignity, honor, and respect. And you can do it as an African-American and still be successful, despite any challenges or obstacles that may come your way.”

Nicole Campbell: Thank you so much for sharing that, Randal. I’m talking about that double bottom line. Again, Randal, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and your insights that are not only just visionary, from where I’m sitting, but they’re also practical. You’re sharing steps, what leaders themselves can do to be successful in their own organizations and in spaces in which their organizations work. And you’re allowing them to help build their organizations bravely. So I just want to thank you again for joining us.

Randal Pinkett: Thank you, Nicole, for the invitation to be a part of the discussion, and also thanks to you for all of what you’re doing to lift up diverse voices, to lift up important topics for the nonprofit community. We appreciate you for what you do. 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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