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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Centering Equity and Justice in Philanthropy with Melanie Brown

In this episode, Melanie Brown offers advice to nonprofits and funders on how they can address racial injustice and inequity, within their organizations, the sector, and society. You’ll hear Melanie share her thoughts about Black women being the vanguard of philanthropy and the need to center Black women in philanthropy’s response to the moment.  

Melanie shares so many insights for nonprofit leaders who are ready to listen, have honest conversations, and are ready to do the work. We encourage you to not only listen carefully to Melanie’s advice and insights, but to also ACT on that advice and her insightsThey will change the way you show up in the sector. 

Listen to the podcast here:


About Melanie Brown

Melanie R. Brown is a speaker, writer, strategist and advisor on race, gender, inequality, global philanthropy, and social investment. She is a Senior Program Officer for Global Policy & Advocacy- North America at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Her research on activism and social change among youth and women has been featured in scholarly and trade publications such as the Journal for Applied Developmental Psychology and Alliance Magazine. Melanie has developed multimillion dollar strategies to accelerate Black and Latinx student achievement, disarm deficit narratives of Black men across social and traditional media, advance Black women’s reproductive rights, and bolster engagement and organizing on a variety of issues across rural and queer communities. Melanie has been invited to speak and advise on these issues throughout the United States, as well as in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Cuba.

Melanie is a Senior Atlantic Institute Fellow at the London School of Economics, a 2020 BMe Community Vanguard Fellow, an adjunct professor at American University and is Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for the Women’s Funding Network, the largest philanthropic alliance in the world dedicated to advancing gender equality and justice.

Melanie earned degrees from American, Harvard and Carnegie Mellon universities. She is a native of Pittsburgh, PA and resides in Washington, D.C.

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. Over the past couple weeks of women’s history month, we’ve shared inspiring and insightful conversations with leaders and today’s episode is no exception. This week we’re sharing my conversation with Melanie Brown, Senior Program Officer for global policy and advocacy in North America at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Melanie works with key constituencies across the United States and Canada to build public support for the foundation’s education, economic, and health priorities. Melanie is a speaker, writer, strategist, and advisor on race, gender, inequality, global philanthropy, and social investment. She has developed multi-million dollar strategies to accelerate black and Latin X student achievement, disarm deficit narratives of black men across social and traditional media, advanced black women’s reproductive rights, and bolster engagement and organizing on a variety of issues across rural and queer communities. This conversation was recorded late last year and it’s so interesting that during the time of this conversation, and currently, people are still seeking resources and direction to help them see their way through social justice, racial justice, and global health crises.

Nicole Campbell: And in this episode, Melanie offers advice to nonprofits and funders on how they can address racial injustice and inequity within their organizations, the sector, and society. You’ll hear Melanie share her thoughts about black women being the Vanguard of philanthropy and the need to center black women in philanthropy’s response to the moment. Melanie shares so many insights for nonprofit leaders who are ready to listen, have honest conversations, and are ready to do the work. I encourage you to not only listen carefully to Melanie’s advice and insights, but to also act on that advice and her insights; they will change the way you show up in the sector. And with that, here is Melanie Brown.

Nicole Campbell: Hi Melanie, I am so excited to have you joining us today and to get us started, I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, your role there the work that you’re focused on, and what the foundation’s immediate priority is, particularly given our current environment.

Melanie Brown: Sure, and thank you, Nic, for the opportunity to be here, to chat with you today. As you said, I’m Melanie Brown. I am a Senior Program Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. I’m based in the foundation’s Washington DC office. Most people of course know of our headquarters in Seattle. I sit on what we call our public engagement and insights team, which is part of our larger North America portfolio. In our conversation, I’ll be able to go into that a little bit more in depth, but we focus on engaging constituents across North America in the issues that the foundation names as priorities.

Melanie Brown: And so the work that I lead in particular is engagement with communities of color and engagement with constituencies across rural America women of color, and that has shifted over time, but that is the work that I’m focused on right now. And I would say like most foundations and most people, the foundation is very focused on COVID. And I would not say that we are singularly focused on COVID, as you know, we do many things and did not feel the need to…I shouldn’t say not feel the need, I would say felt the responsibility to still focus on all the other things that we focus on and while also paying attention to COVID.

Nicole Campbell: So, I know you talked about not being singularly focused on COVID and it’s really interesting because this situation that we’re in right now with the pandemic with the social justice unrest, the protests that have been happening, and it seems like you are likely in the center of all of that, right? Because you’re talking about engaging with communities of color focusing on rural communities, and focusing on women of color. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the work that you’ve been doing in this current environment with those particular communities and what you’ve been seeing?

Melanie Brown: Sure, and you’re exactly right; when we think about COVID, if we think back to February…January and February, even very early March before the shutdown, this idea was that COVID was one this very equalizer, right? That all of a sudden it put all of us on the same playing field. And likewise, at least within the black community, there was, you know, jokes about: “Oh, well we’re not going to get it.” Right? And what we found out to be true is the exact opposite, right? COVID is not the great equalizer, if anything COVID like other pandemics actually exacerbates inequality and helps us see even more who is suffering. And we see that African-Americans – and this is, again, just speaking from the U S perspective – are more likely to suffer the serious effects of COVID.

Melanie Brown: So long-term hospital stays, visits to the ICU, and even death. And we see that replicated in other communities of color. And so I think a lot of the work when COVID first hit was, of course, responding to it, right. And just, what is this new reality? Everyone’s at home, we’re not traveling, we’re not engaged in the work in the same way. And then also, how do we sound the alarm on what have been some of the disproportionate impacts of this disease, excuse me, of this virus. And so that is the work that I’ve been doing in my engagement with communities of color in rural America. And it’s not surprising, I would say, what we’re seeing. But it just is a stark reminder of how much work we need to do.

Melanie Brown: I think about my rural partners, we talk a lot about infrastructure. You know, kids are at home and they are learning remotely well. If you have internet, that’s good, and if you have a reliable internet. But if you don’t have internet, it’s not reliable, if your device that you’re using is in fact not a laptop, but it could be a cellular telephone. Think about all the challenges that that creates for you as a student to do your work, to survive and to thrive during this period. And so that’s what I’m seeing is that the challenges that the communities of color are facing, which that work tends to be more urban focused and the rural work, which tends to be focus on low income whites in the country, and neither one is exclusive. But if we were to make generalizations, you know, what we see is that there are a lot of challenges and failures of systems over long periods of time that have left these groups in particular, extremely vulnerable. And I haven’t even talked about the health impacts, right? These are all the other things that make living in a COVID world challenging, not to mention access to good doctors and, you know, testing – all of those things that we really saw a lot of us struggle with is a lot of what I’m seeing.

Nicole Campbell: So how are you finding that you can be most helpful in the situation with the communities that you’re working with? What kinds of resources are you providing, are they requesting, and where are you finding that you could add the most value?

Melanie Brown: Sure. So one of the things that’s really helpful, and this goes without saying right now, is to listen. I think people are in situations…and I’m working with organizations and heads of organizations, so it’s not the same as being on the ground in communities, but our grantees are on the ground. Our grantees are in the community and they are hearing firsthand what many of those challenges are. And we need to be in a position, we the Gates foundation, we philanthropy in general, to listen to those things and to understand what it is actually like. I also don’t want to ignore the fact that we are living in the same COVID world. I found out two days ago that my grandmother has COVID. And she’s in a facility in Birmingham, Alabama. And so this is not just something that that I have to read about or study.

Melanie Brown: This is something that the people who I hold very dear are dealing with. So one of the things that we’re doing right now is listening. The other thing is being really flexible when it comes to deliverables. So understanding that what you may have had planned in 2020, just isn’t going to happen. Right? It could be delayed. There could be factors, clearly many factors that are out of your control. We’ve had grantees that have major conferences and convenings that bring in revenue for the organization and those things cannot happen. I would say the organizations that are doing the best are those who’ve been able to pivot, but being able to pivot is also a reflection of the resources and the capacity that you have, and not all of our organizations are well-resourced quite frankly. So that’s a lot of what we’re doing is listening supporting organizations to perhaps be more flexible on deliverables and outcomes and goals.

Melanie Brown: And then really talking to them about, you know, let’s have an honest conversation. And I try to build these very honest, very open, transparent conversations with grantees anyway, but if we didn’t have that, we need to have that now. Right. We need to understand what are the real pressures that you’re dealing with and help me understand how I can support. And to ensure that our grantees are not making short-term decisions because of this moment that will impact their ability to have long-term impact. So how do we help people not panic from an organizational perspective and handle this moment such that they can still be partners and continue to do the work that we know is so needed, be it education, be it economic opportunity work, be it health work. You know, this moment will pass, right? That is not to minimize it, but it is to state effect. But how we come out on the other end of it matters and we’re supporting organization in that process.

Nicole Campbell: And, you know, when you talked about all of this is looking at long-term impact, and so you don’t want organizations to have to make these like immediate decisions that then have long-term implications on their work. And so serving as a resource and being there for them, and what you said that really resonates with me is about listening, right? Just being there, being present, and listening. And it’s really important, particularly in the moment that we’re in, when there’s so many different groups that are saying “I have voice, I want to be heard.” And so along those lines, I know that you do a lot of work and writing and thinking about black women in philanthropy. So if we’re talking about listening, we’re talking about different groups having a voice, and we’re talking about philanthropy, I’d love to hear how all of this sort of sits with you when you think about the work that you’ve been doing around black women in philanthropy.

Melanie Brown: Sure. So first of all let me say this, and my research backs this up and I believe it fully, that black women are in the Vanguard for social justice in philanthropy. At least when we speak of this country, and I think you could gesture to say in the world, that we are in the Vanguard, right, we are pushing for changes that, from what I have seen, are some of the most progressive policies. I think we saw that reflected in this most recent election and, you know, not to take sides on whomever you support, but it’s clear that when black women support a candidate or candidates agenda, their impact is felt. And we are tending to support more progressive policies and therefore candidates who run on those policies.


Melanie Brown: What I would say about this moment and about listening is that many of the things that we are experiencing right now is people of color, women of color, specifically black women, have told us we’re already going on, right? If you were to pull out COVID and talk about all the things that are going on, how much is actually new, right? And we have to humble ourselves to understand that while this moment does feel different because it is different, the issues that this moment has raised for us are actually not new. And it’s black women who’ve been sounding the alarm about what is happening in their communities, in their homes – when we think about gender based violence -, what is happening in their States, and in their countries. And so I think a lot about this moment, I think a lot about my work around black women and their leadership, I think about what does it look like for philanthropy to center not only the experiences of black women and girls, but also the leadership of black women and girls.

Melanie Brown: And I’ll never forget, I had a conversation…I did a piece of research where I interviewed 25 black women working in philanthropy across seven different countries. And one of the earlier interviews that I had, a woman said to me that philanthropy, as a sector, wants black women’s labor but doesn’t want black women’s leadership. Right? So when I think about this moment, I think about how philanthropy responds in this moment, it’s actually that, right. It is no longer giving our labor and not taking our leadership. When I think about what foundations can do right now, you know, we need to respond to the moment differently. What was once the ceiling is now the floor. And black women have been saying that and have been pushing that. And so it’s on us, as funders, to respond.

Nicole Campbell: Okay, that is really powerful.

Melanie Brown: You know, it’s so funny, as I was speaking, it was like: “I think I’m just talking, I’m not sure that I’m answering her question.”

Nicole Campbell: No, you definitely are, and it’s putting you on a path now to ask more questions and to push along the lines of what can philanthropy do. What should philanthropy be doing at this point based on exactly what you just described and the situation in which we’re in – which, as you pointed out earlier, COVID didn’t create the inequity, right. Just exacerbated it. So what can and should philanthropies be doing at this point?

Melanie Brown: There’s so much that we can be doing, and it always goes to money and I think that’s important…that’s what we have. That is not the only value, of course, that we provide, but give more money, right?

Melanie Brown: There’s so much that we can be doing, and it always goes to money and I think that’s important…that’s what we have. That is not the only value, of course, that we provide, but give more money, right? We’re in a position where we can give out more money, pay out can look different than it does. We can give more than the 5% minimum. I won’t have all these statistics, so I’m not going to try to get it wrong or try to get it right. But we know that the rich have gotten richer in this moment, right? And so there are opportunities to give more, but we don’t just give more to the existing people, the existing organizations for the existing issues, and assume that something will be different. We also have to give differently, so it’s not just giving more, but it’s who we give to. We know that we need to give money to…or that we’re not giving the same amount of money to organizations led by people of color.


Melanie Brown: Be it black folks, Latin X folks, indigenous communities, Asian communities, we need to redistribute resources, right? It’s not just a matter of putting more money to the same folks, but being more diverse in who it goes to. And then, you know, what foundations do is we provide sponsorship and cover for organizations, right. By investing in an organization, we’re saying, “Hey, this is a reputable organization. This is a reputable cause.” And so, we can do that more with organizations led by people of color. I also think we need to move money faster. I’ve been in philanthropy for 13 years. I’ve been at the Gates foundation for five. I was at the Heinz Endowments for eight years. And Gates, I think, actually moves money very quickly. But it doesn’t mean that there’s not opportunity as a sector for all of us to get money out quickly and to be more open about where those dollars can go.

Melanie Brown: I think that a lot of us toe the line a little too carefully about 501(c)(3) investments. I think there’s a lot more things that we can do with our money and be more creative. And it’s quite frankly not creative, I think it’s risky. Right. But when we think about what is at stake, it shouldn’t feel very risky to do those things. And so, those are the things that I like, that I think philanthropy needs to do, that I see philanthropy doing. And then the last thing I’ll say is actually having conversations that implicate us as a sector. And so it is true that if you amass a large amount of money in the world, that it was on – whether intentionally or not – on the backs of other people.

Melanie Brown: Right. And so there’s a reckoning I think that philanthropy needs to have about its place in whether it is a white supremacy, whether it is a U.S. Supremacy over the rest of the world, whether it’s a global North over a global South supremacy that is being perpetuated, but it’s one thing to give away dollars and invest in people of color and give out more money. But if we don’t look at ourselves, look at our very existence, like Dr. King says, not just commend ourselves for existing, but to examine why it is that we exist. And then I think we’re actually only doing half of the work.

Nicole Campbell: No, I completely agree with all of that. And I think, to your point, it’s about looking at the infrastructure of philanthropy and then going forward and doing all of these other fixes, right. Because it all stems from who are we, what did we set up to do? And having that reckoning that you talked about. So, yeah, and I really liked the move money faster, give it to organizations that are not necessarily public charities or, you know, C3’s. So this all really makes sense to me, particularly from an infrastructure point of view.

Melanie Brown: And being okay to fail. I mean, one of the things that I think I hear philanthropies say, and even what I hear like big tech or business say is, “fail fast”. And so what if we fail fast on racial justice? Right. What if we, you know, decided to say like, “Okay, we’re going to just try a bunch of things. We may not get it right. But we’re going to go to the people who are leading conversations about racial justice, who have been doing this work, and we’re going to invest in them. And if it’s a mistake, that’s okay, but we’re going to learn from it, right? Because we have a responsibility to do that.” We have no issue…not even as a philanthropic sector, we had no issue as a country, when we think about innovation or we think about technology, we want to fail fast there, right. To get to the best product, the best thing. What if we did that when it comes to thinking about racial justice, about gender justice, about environmental justice, right? What if we put that muscle into that? What could be on the other side of that? I think there’s a role for government in that, there’s a role for business in that, but there’s especially a role for philanthropy and this idea of failing fast on racial justice to get to the accelerated pace and movement that I think we really need.


Nicole Campbell: So that sounds really attractive. Why do you think that we’re in a place where this has not happened yet? Particularly on the scale that we’re talking about? So we know that there are organizations that’re stepping into this space and are challenging themselves and are doing what we’re talking about, but why isn’t that happening in the sector as a whole?

Melanie Brown: So, I think people are afraid, right? I think there’s a fear of getting it wrong. You don’t naturally…you were never taught in this country to build a muscle around racial justice, right? This is something that you seek on your own, or that your family teaches you, or you learned in college, or just through life. It is not something that…our educational system is not equipped to build the next generation of racial justice activists. Right? So there’s a fear of how do we step into this space and will we offend, will we get it wrong? There’s also, I think, you know…I understand the fear. The other side of it is, I think that that many of us benefit from injustice and racial injustice in particular, and whether or not you feel that you are making it worse, you’re benefiting from it.

Melanie Brown: And you’re not willing to give up that benefit. It is sweet, right? It is good. It feels good. And so I also think inequality is so ingrained in who we are and how we are, that I don’t know that we can see a world without it. I don’t know that people have been able to think about what is a more…and when I say people, of course, I’m not speaking for everyone. There are many people who’ve thought of this. Who’ve given us visions for what this more equal world could look like, but I think too many people feel like they won’t benefit from it. Or they know that they won’t. And so they are not invested in seeing it happen.

Nicole Campbell: No, I think when you said it’s about being afraid, so there’s the fear but it’s also that benefit, it’s true. I think when we think about what’s happening, particularly in the United States right now, you say, “Oh, look, you know, it’s built on systemic racism.” I think the sector felt like, oh, we could kind of step out of that conversation. Based on the work that we’re doing, look at the organizations and the people that we’re working with, the communities that we’re serving. But I think that that actually is not correct. And as you say, like actually lean in to are we also structured that way and to the extent that we are, then let’s talk about how we can move forward from there. So it all makes sense. And I know we’ve talked about what philanthropy can do. I want to flip it and have you tell us what you think nonprofits, fundraising, nonprofit organizations can do?

Melanie Brown: Hmm. That’s a really good question. So oftentimes people will ask me, you know, how do we get foundations to invest in us? Or how can we do this better? How do we get on a foundation’s radar? And I give advice and things that I think are helpful, but I I feel like foundations are in such a place of privilege that I don’t know what else nonprofits need to do, right? Yes, you should be a high quality nonprofit, you should have a strong board, you should, you know, be doing work that is data-driven and that you can prove is effective. Those are all things that to me are the fore of what a nonprofit should be doing. You should be partnering with other like-minded nonprofits. If you are an organization that needs to address issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, you need to be doing that work internally, but there is a power balance, right?

Melanie Brown: Foundations have the money; nonprofits need the money. The relationships should be reciprocal. I always tell my grantees, I can’t do my job and be seen as effective in my job if I don’t have good, strong, effective nonprofit organizations to invest in. So they need me as much as I need them, but that’s not actually how the relationship works. Right. Instead, it’s all the need is over there. I have the carrots, right. I have the dollars and how do I make grantees and partners bend over backwards to get those dollars? And that’s the dynamic that we need to change. So I really struggle with what nonprofits should do. I think that it’s like asking the question of, “What should black people do to advance racial justice?” I also really struggle with that question. Yes, as a society, we all need to be in this together, but these are conversations that I feel white folks and people who practice our test to anti-black racism. I think that these are conversations they need to have amongst themselves that we can’t always be a part of. And so I don’t know, I don’t think that’s exactly the answer that you wanted, but I don’t think that the nonprofits that I’ve come in contact with are doing most things right. You know?

Nicole Campbell: Yeah, and I think calling out that privilege and calling out that power that sits within that relationship, and I think we sort of talk around that a lot, but naming it and saying, “Then how do we strengthen this relationship?” And a lot of the onus is on the privileged, I think is a really important way to look at it. And I don’t think we do it enough. So yeah, so thank you for bringing that up.

Melanie Brown: Yeah, and it’s hard. And I mean, I hope I don’t sound, you know, like I’ve figured it all out. I talk often about DEI work and work around belonging being a journey. We’re all on a personal journey, right. There is a privilege that I have by working, not just in philanthropy, but at the largest foundation in the world. Right. I need to…even though I may not feel like I walked through the world with privilege as a black woman, I am an English speaking, American, you know, natural born American…all of these things that we are told give us privilege. Right. I went to university, I went to an Ivy league school. These are all things that give me privilege that, although I may not see them right away and recognize that, I have to acknowledge that that still does change how I move through the world.

Melanie Brown: And so, this idea that we’re all on a journey is one that I think we all have to embrace in order to have these conversations. I just want to give one quick shout out to The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond in New Orleans, and they do a great training. And one of the questions that they ask is, you know, I won’t get the question right, this is horrible, but it’s basically asking you: are you employed? Right. Do you enjoy the life that you enjoy because other people are poor?

Nicole Campbell: Yeah, that’s a great question, it’s really deep.

Melanie Brown: It’s deep and so the people who go there and you’re like, “I’m woke, I’m about the work, I’m doing the racial justice thing, I’m here.” And they ask all of us that same question. Right. And do you benefit from people being poor? And what does that mean for you? So it’s all a journey that we need to be on. But just to wrap up to, you know, get to your questions, I’d like philanthropy to listen to its grantees, to listen and to change what it’s doing.

Nicole Campbell: Nice, and we’re going to share the link to The People’s Institute so people can learn more about it. We’ll put that all in the show notes. So thank you for sharing that resource. So I know we talked a lot about what philanthropy could be doing more of, which is incredibly helpful. What do you think that we should be doing less of as a sector?

Melanie Brown: Hmm. What should we be doing less of? So the biggest thing that I think…so when we do a lot of navel-gazing, we’re very focused internally on getting the right strategies and the right language. And I understand why that’s important. I understand that if you’re not communicating to people what you’re doing, and more importantly sometimes, what you’re not doing, you run the risk of everyone coming to you asking for dollars. However, we spend too much time out there. You know, philanthropy is about the love of humanity and love of people. We need to be out amongst the people. Of course, that’s very hard to do right now. But philanthropy needs to do less transaction, less reliance on you come to me, you need money, I decided that you get money, and I’d give you money. Right. That’s very transactional and we need more transformational relationships.

Melanie Brown: So how do we spend less time navel-gazing, trying to craft and wordsmith language, more time out with people who are doing the work, and even letting the work of those people influence our strategies. Right? I mean, this idea that we are so data-driven and we have all the right answers. One, I’m not convinced that that’s true, that we have all the right answers. And if you haven’t brought people along with you, it doesn’t really matter if you have the right answer. Right. And you may have a solution. I would say this, you know, that we create solutions to problems that people didn’t know they have. And so they’re like, “But I have this problem.” Like, yeah, but see, that’s not part of my strategy, that problem, actually I want to help you with this problem. And you’re like, “But that’s not my problem.” And so we need to do less of that, right. Less of centering ourselves and more of centering other people, and less of believing that expertise and knowledge lies in one place, and being more open to that expertise and funds of knowledge coming from, you know, different sources. People who maybe experience the world very different than we do.

Nicole Campbell: I was just about to say that, like these different sources that are not known to you and that you may not “be comfortable with”. And so you don’t trust them and you see them as quote “risky”. Be open to that as well. So I think it’s all stemming back to what you said about listening, right? Because at the core of it all, you listen, you develop that relationship, and it becomes less transactional.

Melanie Brown: You listen and then you act, right? Because it’s one thing to listen and say, “I hear you, I got it, thanks, and now I’m going to keep doing what I was doing.” It’s another thing to say, “Well, I’ve listened and I hear you, and I’m going to take what you said and change how I show up, and change what I do, and change how I invest or who I invest in.” That is how we finish that…you know, that’s what the full action looks like.

Nicole Campbell: Agreed. So Melanie, your responses and this conversation has been so insightful, and timely, and powerful. And I want to ask you a question to help us continue to grow 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?

Melanie Brown:

Wow. I love that question. So I’m going to say Ibram Kendi, who wrote how to be an anti-racist. I have had the pleasure of meeting Ibram and being in contact with him. And I want to just…he is a gentle soul. And I think just the way that he thinks about these issues is brilliant. And so I like his work a lot. I’m reading, I’m a little bit late on this, but I’m reading Just Mercy right now, by Bryan Stevenson. I know most people have already read it, but it’s just so beautifully written. And it just tells the stories of people that I personally too often forget about. Right. When I talk about all the things that I talk about related to justice, I don’t think I’m thinking about people who are on death row. And I just appreciate mercy, right? Give people mercy, give people grace. And so I think that he is a voice that I hope we continue to elevate. Yeah, those are the two…that’s what I’m reading. That’s what I’m reading right now.


Nicole Campbell: Well, thank you so much for sharing both of these books. They are both very powerful. And I think, again, just like this conversation, very relevant, particularly for the moment that we’re in and in which we find ourselves. So we are going to include the links to each of those books in the show notes so that people can learn more and pick them up.

Melanie Brown: Awesome.

Nicole Campbell: Well, look, Melanie, I don’t even know where to start. This conversation, it really has been amazing. And it has inspired me to continue down on my listening tour, right? Listening to what’s happening around all of us in the sector and pushing the organizations and people I work with to continue to listen. So I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us about your thoughts and insights about the sector, and most importantly, to share things that we could practically be doing next, which is really important. And so you’re going to help other leaders continue to build bravely. So thank you again for joining us.

Melanie Brown: Thank you, Nic. Thank you for this opportunity. I really appreciate it.

-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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