Creativity in Crisis with Jean Lee

Jean Lee is clear and compelling in how she speaks about MCCA’s work and how they’re being creative and responsive during the crisis. She also talks about the importance of thinking outside-the-box, appreciating the diversity of the nonprofit ecosystem, and reflecting on the reason why your organization exists in order to better serve the communities you work with.

During this conversation, Jean asks the question, “How can we improve our communities to show humanity, to show kindness?” Such a powerful question. It forces us to think about how we can continue to support organizations that will allow us not to go back to a time that was unacceptable to those of us who are committed to social justice.

This conversation encourages us to use the moment we’re in to not only focus on surviving, but to use our leadership to improve our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in order to build thriving communities.

Listen to the podcast here:



About Jean Lee

Jean Lee is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), a national organization committed to advancing the hiring, promoting and retaining diverse attorneys in law departments and law firms by providing cutting-edge research, best practices, professional development, training; and through pipeline initiatives.

Prior to joining MCCA, Jean served as Vice President and Assistant General Counsel at JP Morgan Chase & Co. where she worked on consumer litigation and regulatory matters.  Before joining JP Morgan Chase & Co. in 2011, Jean worked on litigation matters at a boutique litigation firm in New York City and started her career as a law clerk to the Honorable John J. Hughes, United States Magistrate Judge (retired), in the District of New Jersey.

She graduated from New York University with a B.A. in Politics and Psychology and a M.S.W. in Social Work.  Jean received her J.D. from Rutgers University School of Law, where she was a Senior Editor of the Rutgers Law Record.

Jean has been recognized as a Catalyst: Change Agent | Law in 2014 by the Council of Urban Professionals; as a Trailblazer by the Korean American Lawyers Association of Greater New York in 2015; and as a Vanguard by the Asian American Bar Association of San Francisco in 2018.  Currently, she serves on the Select Committee for the Legends in Law Award for the Burton Foundation and as an advisor to law firms and community organizations.


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 Jean Lee, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, or MCCA; a national organization committed to advancing the hiring, promoting, and retaining of diverse attorneys in law departments and law firms by providing cutting edge research, best practices, professional development, and training, and through pipeline initiatives. Prior to joining MCCA, Jean served as Vice President and Assistant General Counsel at JP Morgan Chase, where she worked on consumer litigation and regulatory matters. Before joining JP Morgan Chase, she worked on litigation matters at a boutique litigation firm in New York City and started her career as a law clerk to the honorable John J. Hughes, United States Magistrate Judge, now retired in the district of New Jersey. Jean and I recorded this conversation in May, 2020, as we navigated our way through the first few months of the pandemic. Jean is clear and compelling in how she speaks about MCCA’s work and how they’re being creative and responsive during the crisis.

Nicole Campbell: She also talks about the importance of thinking outside the box, appreciating the diversity of the nonprofit ecosystem, and reflecting on the reason why your organization exists in order to better serve the communities you work with. During this conversation, Jean asked the question, “How can we improve our communities to show humanity, to show kindness?” Such a powerful question. It forces us to think about how we can continue to support organizations that will allow us not to go back to a time that was unacceptable to those of us who are committed to social justice. This conversation encourages us to use the moment we’re in to not only focus on surviving, but to use our leadership to improve our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in order to build thriving communities. And with that here is Jean Lee.

Nicole Campbell: Hi, Jean, I’m so happy to have you joining us for our Fast Build Leader Series. I’m really looking forward to the conversation today. To get us started, can you tell us about Minority Corporate Counsel Association, your role, and MCCA’s immediate priority?

Jean Lee: Nicole, thank you so much for having me today. I am the President and CEO of MCCA. I have been in this role for about four years and MCCA has been around for 23 years now. And it is really the leading organization that provides research, education, professional development training in the legal profession. We have focused on improving diversity, inclusion, and equity of our profession since its founding, and that is the sole mission of the organization.

Nicole Campbell: And when you think about the environment that we’re in right now, is MCCA focused on anything new or doing anything differently to respond to the needs that are popping up in this current environment?

Jean Lee: Yeah, I think like many organizations we’re thinking of new and creative ways to respond to what’s happening, but for us as an organization, that has been solely focused on convening individuals to talk about these issues in corporate America and in the law firms that serve the corporate legal department, our focus has really been about rebuilding our community. What we have noticed in the past several weeks is that there is somewhat of an inconsistency as to the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. You know, when people are in times of crisis, your natural instinct is to focus all your energy on survival. Completely understand, and absolutely that should be the first and foremost focus, your health and safety of your loved ones, and then obviously, work. And then as you think about work, you know, people are struggling with billable hours or dealing with businesses that are closing.

Jean Lee: Again, while you’re doing that, it’s important for organizations like MCCA to really think about, how do we ensure that the work and the progress we have made…and we have made some progress, probably the most notable in the last few years in improving the diversity of the profession. And there are so many leaders who have shown commitment, have come out publicly stating their commitment. We want to make sure that those commitments and that progress is not lost during this time. And we are really focused on bringing our community back together to rebuild, to continue to work on the mission of the organization, which is to improve diversity and equity and inclusion of the profession. The ways in which we are doing that, we just recently hosted a virtual conference. It was an all-day conference. It was the first of its kind in the legal profession where we did not just cobble together a CLE, but we really thought – thanks to the many guidance and advice from our experts and our leaders – we really thought about what are the ways in which allows us to bring a community together virtually.

Jean Lee: How do you connect virtually when you’re really looking at a person through the screen and thanks to their expertise and guidance and just suggestions, we were able to successfully pull off a seven hour, all day conference with networking reception, breakout sessions, CLE as well as professional development programs, just last Wednesday. And so we really focused on bringing people’s stories together; what are leaders dealing with, how can you as an associate, a diverse associate, navigate the law firm that is perhaps going through maybe even a boom or a major crisis, which many are dealing with? Or if you’re in a corporation, perhaps some parts of your businesses aren’t doing well, how do you stand out? How do you still do your day to day and manage what’s going on at home? Because we are all staying at home, you know, for the most part, at least until last, I think Monday or so, most of us were still working from home and we’ll continue to do that for the foreseeable future. And that opportunity gave people an outlet to reconnect, to recharge and to be re-energized about the work that they have done, as well as the work we have done.

Nicole Campbell: I really like that. And a couple of things jumped out at me from what you said, which is that you really don’t want to be one of those organizations that is just exclusively focused on surviving. Like how do we just survive within this current environment? And instead you’re really tackling difficult issues, like you’ve pointed out, like how do we still keep our focus on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion within the profession, and even trying to see how you can bring stories together in order to do that. And you talked about the event, I just think it just speaks to how innovative and creative you’re still trying to be during crisis, which is extremely important for organizations and your sustainability. So along those lines, I want to provide any sort of advice to nonprofits, that a lot of them at this point are in fact focused exclusively on their survival, which is understandable, they’re fundraising as a significant part of their budget. So what do you think should be top of mind for them right now during this time of uncertainty?

Jean Lee: I think that, you know, everyone is going through a state of uncertainty. I think you alluded to that and it is incredibly challenging. So what I’m about to say, there are just times sometimes where you have to focus on survival. But if you can spare some moments to think outside of that sort of crisis mode, if you can, and it’s not easy, in no way am I trying to make light of that, but if you can think creatively, what’s the most important thing why your organization existed or while your organization should continue to exist. And I think if you can think for a moment and take a step away from the crisis, if you can and think about that, you’re going to start to see solutions in how to be more nimble. Because I think while you’re trying to survive…and I just went through this whole thing as well, right?

Jean Lee: We have the great fortune of having many committed leaders that are all-hands-on-deck helping us. Right? And you may have an organization where the leaders themselves are so focused on crisis, that they can’t lend a hand. Because you are a, obviously for most nonprofits, a volunteer organization, and it’s not the first priority because their day job is. And I would say, if you don’t have the fortune of that, perhaps take a step back and say to yourself, what was it about this organization that made you committed, that allowed you join? Cause I often think about that. And you know, when all this happened, I had, I think, six full-time employees and one full-time contract employee, as well as couple of part-time employees. So total, maybe about 10, but the six were the ones that I saw day in and day out in the office or on a Zoom or a Skype.

Jean Lee: And within the first week, first of all, we were supposed to have our conference, we had to cancel a conference, that’s a major hit to our revenue. Then we had to quickly think about, okay, how is this going to impact our revenue, our membership, cause we started hearing all this about the industry. And then three out of the six employees got sick. Two of them thought that they had COVID, had to get tested. So you can imagine, for any small business owner, I don’t need to go into the minutia and the granular details of what kind of came afterwards. It was incredibly hard. That was my first week. In addition to hearing about, okay, what’s going on with PPP loan and should we apply? And how much can we get and what are the things that are happening? So I had to take a step back and say to myself, okay, I’ve had crisis before both professionally and personally.

Jean Lee: And I have not only survived, but I have thrived. I learned a lot. Like every job I had, there were some crisis. And certainly this is probably, in some ways, the biggest, because I’m actually responsible for people as the leader of the organization. Whereas in other situations, I had many other leaders to collaborate with. Here within the walls of MCCA, it’s just Jean Lee, who’s leading the organization. So when I took a step back, the first thing I thought to myself was, why did I join this organization? What made me so passionate that I left my corporate job at JP Morgan in New York City, a city that I love and call home for 27 years. What made me do that? And it was the mission of the organization and it’s the personal story that I was moved by. Why I thought to myself, I want to give voice to those who don’t always have a voice and leading this organization and leveraging the amazing leaders and platform we have, we can make a difference.

Jean Lee: And that made me think about, okay, so that’s what made me join. what should I be doing next? And then it occurred to me about the amazing personal stories that I’ve heard in this role. You know, you’re part therapist, you’re part leader, you’re part counselor. And I thought about the personal story of so many who were so thankful that MCCA existed, of the programs that we provided. And I started connecting with individuals once again and trying to get a better sense of what’s happening on the ground. You hear everything in the media, you hear everything in the news, and it gets distorted. What is the individual’s personal story? Because even though we have corporate memberships and law firm memberships, entity memberships, the individuals within the organizations are the ones who drive that conversation. So once I started doing that, I started to understand, okay, how can we provide value, which ultimately provide revenue, which ultimately will provide our long-term sustainability.

Jean Lee: And that’s how I started to do it, step by step. Now it may be different for different organizations. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know why I keep thinking of clean water, but if you’re delivering a product or a service, think about…and you no longer can because of quarantine or stay at home orders or whatever it is that your state has mandated, think of different ways in which you can deliver that service. I never started to use Zoom, sorry, I’m the first to admit that, until this crisis. And it’s amazing how you can still connect with people in a way that you’ve never done before. And I’ll quote Michelle Coleman Mayes again, and I told her that I would, because I think she said it so well when she said, “It’s not the new normal, this is the next normal.”

Jean Lee: Because there will be, is what our scientists and doctors and experts are saying, there will be another time where there may be another pandemic. There may be another outbreak that will prevent you from connecting. So, does that mean that every organization, company, that has done work with face to face should stop to exist? I don’t think so. So I think in order for you to be creative, in order for you to tap into that creativity, you need a moment to yourself to think about what brought you to the organization. What made you passionate about leading the organization or being a staff or a member of that organization? I think that’s the most important thing. Sorry. I know that was kind of long winded.

Nicole Campbell: No, that was perfect because what it really boils down to and what you’re pointing out is, that you start with why, right. And that’s always the starting point that I think that owners, nonprofits, philanthropies, individuals should have, whenever you start something or you’re moving along, right. What is your, why? How do you make sure that you’re keeping that purpose, that reason at the forefront of everything we do and it’s going to inform how you show up. And so once we do exactly what you said, which is, let’s think back to what is our, why, why are you doing this, it helps inform the kinds of stories that we’re telling. And it helps to improve our storytelling at the end of the day. And so if we flip that for a second, Jean, and say, “Okay, well now we discovered our, why, we are able to now tell better stories, and we’re telling them to funders who are hearing these stories.” What’s the advice that you would provide to funders beyond, you know, give more money, which would be great, but what else would you tell them? What advice would you provide to say, this is how you support nonprofit sustainability both within and beyond the crisis?

Jean Lee: I would say, where do you want to see change? You personally cannot commit to that change in the way you would like, because you have another day job, what is important to you and what services are necessary in our community. So not only, as cliche as it may sound, not only to make the world a better place, but what sort of things do you want to see? What services will provide those gaps? So for example, if you’re somebody who’s all about social justice, what organizations in your mind are great advocates and equalizers or providers who provide access to social justice to everyone? Is that important? Is that the world you want to see? If your mission, like it is for Bill Gates is to ensure that the world has access to great healthcare and medical attention and medicine, that’s where you should really think about donating your money.

Jean Lee: Right? But there are so many. And if you have the great fortune of being able to fund more than one, what are things that important to you and which ones do a great job in delivering those services that you really should continue to support? I mean, I think about the very same thing. And I, sometimes, I know some people, friends, have said, “You work for a charity. Why do you donate to a charity?” Because my charity only does one thing, right? There are so many amazing charities that provide services. I mean, my passion before I went to law school, was to work with children and women in the inner cities. I was a social worker for the Legal Aid Society in New York for many years before going on to law school. So charities that really provide the necessary services, whether it’s job interviews, clothes, or basic necessities, like food and water, those organizations are important to continuing to provide services to those segments of the population that do not have the access and the privilege that I may have.

Jean Lee: So I think about those kinds of things. And I would say the same thing to the funders. What do you want to see? You want to see where we were five years ago or 10 years ago, in our case diversity inclusion equity, do you want to see the profession more homogenous with straight white men and women leading law firms? You know, women still have a long way to go, but certainly white women are in a much better position than women of color, for example, is that what you want to see? And if the answer is no and you don’t want to lose progress, I think the answer is, think about giving. Think about donating, think about organizations that will not allow us to go back to where things were, if in your mind that where we were was not acceptable. And I think you have to be honest with yourself, what’s important?

Jean Lee: And then it goes back to, why give, what’s important to you? I can’t possibly do all the things that I would like for my nieces, for my children, for my parents, whatever it is that you may be thinking about, how can we improve our community to show humanity, to show kindness, especially in times of crisis. I think we say this about people and especially American people, there is such a great spirit of giving. Well, this is another time for us to show how much we care about each other, no matter what is happening, that we are thinking about one another, because we are, at the core, people who care and people who are good.

Nicole Campbell: I think that’s right. And I hope that others share that, that they also think about the ecosystem in which these different organizations might be operating. So they’re not just picking out one organization and saying, “Yep, that’s the one that furthers my mission.” But it’s really like how does that organization relate to the others within the ecosystem that the funder wants to support? And so now we have advice for both nonprofits and funders and that’s been really good advice to both. With all that in mind, what do you wish we did less of as a sector and what do you think we should do more of?

Jean Lee: I think we talk a lot, as I talk a lot. I think that whether it’s corporate America or a nonprofit, there’s a lot of talk and less action, or the action is so slow. And that may just go to my own shortcomings as an impatient person. But I think we need to talk less and do more, or at a minimum when we talk, our actions should match our rhetoric, our words. There is a reason why the saying, “actions speak louder than words”, exists. And I think this is the one time where we really need to show that our actions will speak way louder than any words can say, how important it is for us to come together, to support one another, to ensure that we are all thriving when this is over, because this too will pass at some point and we need to be there for each other.

Jean Lee: We can’t leave some organizations or some people…and then to some extent, I’m not trying to be Pollyanna, but it will happen. But how do we do that? You need to pull the leaders together, the community together, to ensure that we are doing more. For example, for our organization, it’s about improving diversity, inclusion, and equity. We need our leaders to show up and not just talk about it. We need our leaders to continue to invest in those dollars and not talk about it. We need our law firms that say diversity, inclusion, and equity is important, to continue to invest in the resources and not cut diversity as the first thing in their budget. We need to show that it matters by bringing our people together. We need to show that it matters by talking to people, by being human, and not talking about it to someone like you, or a podcast, or an interview.

Jean Lee: So really bringing it home and showing that it matters. So if you’re a firm that says wellness is important, give your attorneys a break, because there are some that are truly just suffering. And try to connect. If you are saying inclusion is important, connect with one another, connect with your subordinates, connect with your peers. It’s much easier to do that and has the benefits that are, I think, exponential than your words. And that may be very hard, but you know, what times of crisis require you as a leader, as a peer, to work a little bit harder to connect and to ensure survival and wellbeing of everyone. So I would say no more, talk less, or at a minimum, make sure that what you say are matching what you do.

Nicole Campbell: I really like that, the less talk, more action, at the end of the day. And I know that the focus of many nonprofits, as we talked about at the beginning when we started our conversation, they were focused on fundraising and making the right app, and also about work that they’re doing, which is extremely important, particularly now. But I was wondering how you all are thinking about building infrastructure during this time. And if so, how are you doing it? How are you thinking about what your infrastructure looks like now versus after the pandemic? I just want to hear your thoughts around your infrastructure building

Jean Lee: For us, very small nonprofit like many out there, the way we think about infrastructure for us is the programmatic services we are offering and how we offer those services. And one of the ways in which we have switched gears, as I mentioned earlier, is to really do things virtually. So that’s the one infrastructure. We had already started before the pandemic to really shift our model, primarily the fundraising and the conferences, to being a service provider. From being solely a convener to somewhat of a hybrid. How can we individually provide a product or a service, so creating our consulting and advisory work that we started to really focus on in the last two years is how can we empower, provide the tools to empower those members to do it themselves. So creating templates, having these sorts of one-on-one discussions, that’s the heart of our infrastructure that we started to change.

Jean Lee: What is the infrastructure of this organization? Okay. We provide research, we share that research during a conference, how do we make money? We have done it usually like 50 to 60% of our revenues used to come from fundraising, from galas, and conferences. How do we shift that so that we’re doing other things that will proliferate faster. So we looked at impact, how can we have a greater impact? Because gala is one day you’re inspired. Now you go and you go back to your normal thing. How can we continue that momentum that they may get out of gala as a convener? That’s our job, to inspire our audience in mass. The other thing is how can we inspire them enough to act, how can we give them the tool? And that’s the service piece, why we created the consulting and advisory work. You know, giving the experts, once again, the leaders that we have access to that’re on our board, the research that this organization has done for 20 plus years. How can we leverage that and work with some other experts in this space to provide the one-on-one service, the template, so they can proliferate.

Jean Lee: They can continue the great work of the MCCA. Because we’re so small, we can’t do that for the hundreds of organizations that are part of our membership. So we can certainly provide them with the tools to do that on their own. And that’s kind of the infrastructure shifting that we had already started two years ago. And it is now more critical than ever as we embrace ourselves. Not only this year for the pandemic, which could possibly come back in the Fall, is what everyone is saying. I mean, that’s kind of, what we have done. And the way we interact with people, you know, I meant to ask you that earlier, before our conversation, is that what you were thinking in terms of infrastructure? Like in terms of what we’re doing as an organization?

Nicole Campbell: Yeah, definitely. Because what I’m hearing from your response are some really key infrastructure components, right? Like one, how you create leverage within your own team based on your current environment, right? You’re talking about virtual work and adapting to working remotely, what you’ve already started to do with your team. The second is creating capacity. When you talked about how you create templates and give access to different items and different resources for your members. And then the third, which I stress so much, is the diversification of revenue, right? Like we’re doing galas, we’re getting lots of money from them. What else can we do to generate revenue? How can we diversify our revenue streams? And it also has the effect of having greater impact in where you diversify, but be able to think about how do you diversify revenue. So I think that was spot on.

Jean Lee: Yeah. I mean, we’ve been working on that and scalability. So to your point, we are thinking, how can we scale our work? And I think, you know, before the pandemic, we had so much potential, we certainly did pretty well last year, thanks to the hard work of our leaders and our board and our staff. Again, there’s such a small group that they’re just so committed. The amount of work we produce in the services we’ve provided, I think has been noticed. But you’re right, I mean, when I looked at the revenue stream, when I first came on board four years ago, although I knew that having been on the board as a volunteer board member for three years, it really struck me. When you, you know, as a board member, you show up three hours every four months, you kind of have one sort of that small narrow lens perspective. And then you’re sort of looking at revenue across all dreams and then data, right?

Jean Lee: And I’m like, okay, what’s the cost rate, like benefit analysis. Like everything has a cost ratio, right? You realize like, okay, this long-term is not a sustainable model. And in fact, one of the things I had said was what if you can’t have a gala because there is a tsunami or in the Northeast and in the mid-Atlantic, you know, I said, hurricanes, aren’t common and tornadoes aren’t common, but it has happened. I’ve lived in the Northeast most of my life, except for a few years in the Midwest, it has happened, and we’ve had earthquakes, we had power outages. What do you do then? We had 9-11. So when I thought about that, and if a 9-11 were to hit, like, what do we do? I mean, that’s kind of the conversation we started having because when we looked at the data, it was like, we’re not gonna make it.

Jean Lee: So, yeah, I mean…and it’s harder for us in some ways, because everyone says diversity, equity, and inclusion is important, but it’s always the first to go. Although this round, it has not been the case across the board, I’m really heartened to see that. But it’s not like, again…you will not be an NAACP or a PRLDEF, the Latino Justice Now, or the AALDEF, all these civil rights organizations, ECLU or so on, you’re not going to see those organizations fold because they provide a critical component of that social justice system in our country for many of those communities; whether it’s Asian, African-American, Black, or Hispanic, or Latino, Latinx. That’s where, it’s organizations like MCCA and probably some others out there, that are providing really important work and service, they may be seen as not as essential or critical. When in reality, if you think about organizations like MCCA and the movement toward ESG by many of the largest asset managers in the world, starting with BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street, the S part, the social part of the ESG strategy, which many of those investors are demanding, it is a critical component.

Jean Lee: It is what MCCA can do. So again, going back to your question earlier about infrastructure and being creative, this is where I think people need to really tap into their creativity and talk to people, right? Because you can only read so much on the internet. And I feel that for me, I think, there’s just so much information to sift through. The easiest, kind of, quick way is to talk to leaders in different sectors. And that’s exactly what I did to learn about where can MCCA have greater impact. Where can we think about how to leverage our work in the corporate environment so that it becomes an important work and not just a nice to have. And that’s where we started thinking about the importance of G strategies within corporations. And it’s been around for 10 plus years. And they started talking about it at the World Economic Forum at the UN level, et cetera, you know, over a decade ago.

Jean Lee: And in the last five years, it’s come like something that asset managers are looking for when they evaluate a corporation, whether to invest or not. And again, the BlackRock CEO’s letter to other CEOs was incredibly telling us how important it is. And the F part deals with diversity and equity, because it’s that stakeholder engagement. So again, I think that idea of diversification doesn’t have to be okay, well, we only do this part. We can’t really diversify. You absolutely can. We didn’t think that either. But then when we started thinking about that a couple of years ago, we realized like there are opportunities within opportunities. How you tackle that, of course, is the challenge.

Nicole Campbell: Your responses have been so incredibly full. And I really think that you could talk again to really talk through that DEI piece, because I really would love to get more of your thoughts on thoughtful approaches and practices that we’re seeing in the sector. So definitely I think there should be a part two to this conversation. But 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 do you think you should read next? Or what artists do you think we should paying attention?

Jean Lee: I won’t say an artist only because I don’t know much about pop culture. That’s probably where as you go into crisis mode, you pay less attention to, although I know some people have listened to music a lot more because of the crisis. I’m on the opposite spectrum. But I’ll say this one thing, I just started, and I can only do it in segments, sadly, but I would recommend reading Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’. It is really truly about her personal story. And once again, it may give you some ideas about connecting with people. I’m only halfway through, as I said, I watch it in segments. And I’m now more eager than ever to read her book, which I’ve had by the way, when it came out, because I get all these lovely books as gifts. But being on the road 80% of the time in my job, I’ve just not had the time to read a book, because whatever time I have in the air I feverishly try to catch up on an email. So I would say read Michelle Obama’s book. It is truly so inspirational. As a woman of color, as a first-generation immigrant, so many of it just spoke to me. And just what it means to be truly authentic for any woman, for anyone, a man or a woman. I actually told my brother to read it. So yeah, I would say if you want to be inspired, if you want to find that sort of inner strength or grit, as they say, read her book.

Nicole Campbell: Yeah, I agree. I agree. They should definitely be your next read, if you haven’t read it already. You have shared such knowledge and insights that I think that leaders, after hearing this conversation, can actually put into use in their own organizations to help them build bravely. So I want to thank you so much for joining us today.

Jean Lee: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure and an honor, and so nice speaking with you, Nicole.

-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:



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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