This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking with Jay Williams, President of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. Jay is currently leading the Foundation’s commitment to dismantle structural racism, achieve equity, and improve social and economic mobility, in partnership with nonprofit organizations and community stakeholders.
Jay is so thoughtful and clear in how he explains the role of democracy in dismantling systemic racism and how to build and maintain this momentum, particularly through advocacy. And Jay explains the role of community foundations as critical capacity builders and their role as a support and resource within communities.
During this conversation, Jay speaks to the importance of compromising positions (instead of compromising principles) and why we need to shift the mindset of failure and risk in philanthropy. This conversation forces us to ask ourselves a critical question: “Am I willing to redefine the way I see and understand my organization’s role and what it means to be in relationship with others?”
Listen to the podcast here:
About Jay Williams
Since July 2017, Jay Williams has served as president of the Hartford Foundation. He is currently leading the Foundation’s commitment to dismantle structural racism, achieve equity and improve social and economic mobility in our region, in partnership with nonprofit organizations and community stakeholders. In his role, Jay serves on the boards of the MetroHartford Alliance, AdvanceCT, and the CHEFA Community Development Corporation. In addition, he is a member of the Governor’s Workforce Council and the Community Foundation Opportunity Network Governing Council.
Prior to coming to the Foundation, Jay served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development where he led the federal economic development agenda for the United States. He also served as Deputy Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House where he was the principal liaison between the President of the United States and local elected officials. Previously, Jay served as the executive director of the federal Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers. He arrived in Washington, DC after serving as Mayor of the City of Youngstown, Ohio where he helped lead regional economic development initiatives to improve the city’s global competitiveness. Prior to being elected Mayor, Williams led a Community Development Agency in Youngstown.
Read the podcast transcription below:
-Upbeat Intro Music-
Nic Campbell: You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast and I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity, and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.
Nicole Campbell: Hi, everyone. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking with Jay Williams, President of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. Jay is currently leading the Foundation’s commitment to dismantle structural racism, achieve equity, and improve social and economic mobility, in partnership with nonprofit organizations and community stakeholders. In this role, Jay serves on the boards of the MetroHartford Alliance, AdvanceCT, and the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority Community Development Corporation. In addition, he is a member of the Governor’s Workforce Council and the Community Foundation Opportunity Network Governing Council.
Nicole Campbell: Prior to joining the Hartford Foundation, Jay served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development where he led the federal economic development agenda for the United States. He also served as Deputy Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House where he was the principal liaison between the President of the United States and local elected officials. Previously, Jay served as the Executive Director of the federal Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers. He arrived in Washington, DC after serving as Mayor of the City of Youngstown, Ohio where he helped lead regional economic development initiatives to improve the city’s global competitiveness.
Nicole Campbell: Jay and I recorded this conversation in the beginning of this year, 2021, shortly following the insurrection at the United States Capitol. Jay is so thoughtful and clear in how he explains the role of democracy in dismantling systemic racism and how to build and maintain this momentum, particularly through advocacy. And Jay explains the role of community foundations as critical capacity builders and their role as a support and resource within communities. He also talks about creating wealth for historically marginalized communities by focusing on creating and supporting cross-sector partnerships. He highlights the critical nature of revenue diversification and financial sustainability and how they both allow for nonprofit flexibility and greater impact.
Nicole Campbell: During this conversation, Jay speaks to the importance of compromising positions (instead of compromising principles) and why we need to shift the mindset of failure and risk in philanthropy. This conversation forces us to ask ourselves a critical question: “Am I willing to redefine the way I see and understand my organization’s role and what it means to be in relationship with others?” Let’s challenge ourselves. And with that, here is Jay Williams.
Nicole Campbell: Hi, Jay, I am so excited to have you join us today. I think it’s going to be a really great conversation.
Jay Williams: Nicole. I’m looking forward to it. Thank you for having me.
Nicole Campbell: Okay. So to get us started, can you tell us about the Hartford Foundation, your role there, and what is the foundation’s immediate priority?
Jay Williams: Absolutely. I am the President and CEO of the Hartford Foundation. I have been with the organization for about three and a half years. The Hartford Foundation is the largest and one of the oldest community foundations – it’s the largest in Connecticut, and it’s one of the largest and the oldest community foundations in the country. And our focus area geographically are the 29 communities that are surrounded by the city of Hartford. So the city of Hartford and 28 other communities. So it’s a fairly broad region. And I can tell you that we are focused in lifting our mission, which is strategically zeroed in on dismantling racism and increasing social and economic mobility. That is how we are describing it. And the really undergirding of that is our mission to put philanthropy into action, which creates lasting solutions to add to the vibrancy of communities in the greater Hartford area. But we know we can’t do that, as we have come to evolve, without addressing some of the structural inequities and barriers that have plagued our nation, our state, and certainly our region for generations. And that’s how we’ve really just been describing our strategic focus, which has evolved over the last 18 to 24 months.
Nicole Campbell: So, thanks so much for that, Jay, and I know you talked about being a community foundation and I tend to get a lot of questions around what exactly is a community foundation. Is it a foundation? Is it a nonprofit? So can you talk a little bit more about your structure and what being a community foundation involves?
Jay Williams: That’s a great question. And I shouldn’t take for granted because foundations are so often talked about. There are three broad characterizations or foundations or classifications, a community foundation, corporate foundations, and private family foundations. Corporate foundations are what they sound like, for-profit corporations that have a philanthropic arm, family or private foundations are similar to what they sound, individuals or families who seek to engage in philanthropy through a mechanism. These are all defined by the IRS tax code. And then a community foundation, which is a special type of foundation that has a geographic focus. So we are rooted geographically. We are a philanthropic organization, nonprofit organization, whereby we accept donations and we can accept donations for our region or from anywhere. But our primary investments, or grantmaking, is in a geographically defined area, particularly from the foundations under stripping funds, donors can give wherever they’d like to give.
Jay Williams: And in doing that, we invest the money, and we manage it with an obligation for perpetuity; that we have an obligation to manage our resources, such that future generations will benefit from the growth of those resources and continue to put them out into the community. And in doing that, we take that fiduciary responsibility very seriously while simultaneously understanding that we exist to then deploy those resources and those financial resources and back out into the community, to our nonprofit partners. We also believe very strongly that we are convener, that we are a capacity builder, and helping to build the strength and capacity of partners and stakeholders in their region, and we also engage in public policy. But at our core, it’s about being able to accept donations from individuals who are very generous, invest those, and then make grants to stakeholders in our region.
Nicole Campbell: I really like the way that you have described the role of the community foundation, that it’s rooted within the community and really focused on growing that community with the resources that the foundation has today. So thank you for sharing that. I also really love the emphasis on capacity building and acknowledging the role that community foundations play there. And you talked about the Hartford Foundation being focused on economic mobility. Can you talk a bit more about how you all are approaching that focus area, particularly now in the time that we’re in, the kinds of things that have changed for you, and maybe where your priorities are sitting within that area?
Jay Williams: Absolutely. And really this has been an evolution over the past two or three years, and I credit our previous board chair along with all the current board members for the evolution of having us lean into community and economic development, and economic opportunity more intentionally. And particularly, even more with the focus toward the communities of color that have been overlooked, under-invested in, that have not had the wealth building opportunity, the gainful employment opportunities that have been a pathway to increasing wealth for so many people across this country. And it’s not because of lack of talent, or lack of effort, lack of intellect, lack of innovative creativity. It’s been often because of the barriers that have existed, that the structural racism that has existed had such a detrimental effect over the course of generations. We believe that if we’re going to fulfill our mission, that we have a role in helping to help build and create those wealth building opportunities.
Jay Williams: We can’t do it alone; we don’t do it alone. It is through partnerships with nonprofit organizations. It is through partnerships with employers, with for-profit organizations, it’s through partnerships with institutions that can bring about the types of skill and knowledge and training, entrepreneurship training or otherwise, that are part of building wealth. So it’s broad, but we have a specific and intentional focus on the areas that we think that are appropriate for a community foundation and understanding that it takes time, that it is, like I said, through various partnerships that we can do that. But we think that those communities of color that have just…the data, and this is all data driven, the data that demonstrates the net worth of households of communities of color are a fraction of their white counterparts, that they are not afforded the same employment opportunities. And even with the same skillsets, the same intellect, the same drive and ambition, the systems as they have existed and were designed in this country, just did not permit the same ascension through the economic classifications that we have. So we think that there’s a lot of work to be done, but we just absolutely are committed to doing it.
Nicole Campbell: And you’ve talked about this generational effect, like considering the role that a community foundation can play looking forward to generations and setting them up for success. And it’s showing up here in the work that you’re doing within economic mobility. And I particularly like how you talk about this partnership approach. And it really resonates with me because I know we talk a lot, or I have spoken about, this ecosystem approach that is not just one organization or one individual within a community, but it’s all this interconnected organizations and individuals working together. I’m really enjoying the way you’re approaching and thinking about the work. And you talked about some real structural issues, on systemic problems, and that leads me into my next question. I know you also are focused on dismantling racism and again, we’re sitting now in 2021, I would love to hear how you are focused on doing exactly that, how you’re able to remain hopeful in that space and work with partners to do that work.
Jay Williams: That’s a great question, and when you think about whether to remain hopeful, what’s the alternative? I mean, it is to be lost and consumed by despair, to be paralyzed by fear or anger, and that to me just doesn’t seem like a viable alternative. And that’s not to say that remaining hopeful means that we’re naive or Pollyanna-ish, because we’re not. And the recent events that we have all lived through, the horror of the insurrection that occurred against the democratic institutions of this country remind us, and in a lot of the undergirding of that being racism and antisemitism. On the day that the state of Georgia elected its first black Senator, a black preacher, and a young man of Jewish faith, and then to just hours later see what we saw in Washington, DC, reminds us that this dismantling of racism, and when I say racism, it includes antisemitism and it includes all the isms, but racism is often the most visible and has certainly, arguably existed for as long as any of us can remember. And it doesn’t diminish or take away from the others, but it reminds us that we use the term dismantling because that means piece by piece.
Jay Williams: You know, this isn’t something that can be demolished or bulldozed. We would all love that, but it has to be taken apart piece by piece, sometimes in very visible ways and sometimes working in less visible ways, but still weakening the hold and the grasp that it has had on our society. And it manifests itself in very different ways, but always through partnerships through the deployment of resources. And I think that in doing that, I would love for it to be done in my lifetime. You know, I’ve got a 10 year old son and I would love for him to grow up in a society that is much less racist, and the structures are much less present than they are for the society that I grew up in. I don’t know how far we’ll get, but I know that I, and we as an organization, feel we have an obligation to push forward and to try.
Jay Williams: And again, it manifests itself in so many different ways, but what has been encouraging and inspiring is to see that this has become a cause not just taken up by people of color. As we saw in the spring and summer of 2020, that the streets were filled with people who are black, white, red, yellow, and every ethnicity and race, saying, “Enough is enough.” It was sparked by the death of George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and you name them, that list is too long, unfortunately. And the goal is to keep that momentum going, even absent a viral video, because we know that for every viral video, there are 10, if not a hundred instances that are just as heinous and tragic.
Nicole Campbell: And you’re using different approaches and different tools because as you’re explaining, and I like the way you put it, we’re dismantling, going piece by piece and being very deliberate about it. You mentioned Jay, that you’re doing this in visible ways and in sometimes not so visible ways. And I think that at this point in 2021 and with everything that has happened over the past year, that a lot of organizations are now exploring advocacy, particularly foundations, and some organizations have already been in that space. But for those that are newer, they’re thinking about, wait, how do we raise our hands and our voices and become more engaged? And so how is the Hartford Foundation thinking about advocacy? How has it thought about it previously and how is it thinking about it now?
Jay Williams: That’s a great question. And to the board’s credit, you know, we have been in this space for a number of years, but that being said, it was more along the lines of some issues or issues that could be generally, universally agreed that this was a space that was important, but didn’t get into areas that people might’ve been less comfortable. And to the board’s credit now, we are approaching the board about being able to get into legislative advocacy and issue advocacy, and to be able to fund and support groups; not pushing anything that isn’t aligned with our values or our mission, but that they may advance that in ways that are more, I don’t want to say controversial, but more forthright, more visible, that begin to speak more plainly, more clearly.
Jay Williams: And the question was, “Oh, well, what if this protest is sponsored by the Hartford Foundation?” Well, if the protest aligns up with our values and is within the bounds, our rights, and our religion, and our freedoms to express our descent, then why wouldn’t we support that? And knowing that there are those protests that do cross a line, but that doesn’t justify. And for that, we shouldn’t say, “Well, we’re not going to do anything because they may cross a line.” We want to make sure we’re clear of what we’re supporting, what our expectations are, but the fact that some people who may be the target of protests are uncomfortable when you’re talking about systemic injustices, well, people should be uncomfortable. And we shouldn’t always have to think that the discussion around systemic injustices should be comfortable and should be you don’t advocate and would never advocate violence or public instruction or writing. But the notion that people can be made uncomfortable around issues that are just completely unacceptable and go against the tenant of who we are is absolutely right. So the board has been wonderful in terms of taking their own journey, really empowering us to explore new ways to advocate for, you know, the issues that are squarely within our mission values and strategic focus.
Nicole Campbell: Yeah. I think we’re definitely in a moment where we’re realizing that we can have real impact and systemic change. And I think that is really appealing to organizations that are working with vulnerable and marginalized communities that have been historically left out of the conversation. And so to now be able to use your voice and advocate for this type of systemic change makes a ton of sense. And as you mentioned, it’s systemic injustice and we should be uncomfortable with it. So with the organizations that are on the fence, or they’re thinking about this, what advice would you have for nonprofit organizations that are fundraising money from donors, from funders? And they’re thinking, how can we be engaged in advocacy and also do our work? Particularly since they had not been engaged in advocacy up to that point. And now it seems like a sort of pivot for them.
Jay Williams: That’s a great question. And I will acknowledge that there are those who would give much better answers than I. And I say that because I recognize how fortunate and blessed we are at the Hartford Foundation to not have to fundraise in a traditional sense. We absolutely are always engaging donors and seeking to expand our donor base, while at the same time benefiting from an endowment that provides us a significant stream of revenue to engage in our activities. But as we put it in the context of seeking to inspire new donors or existing donors to give more, it really goes back to, I think, ensuring that the mission and our work are both relevant and timely, relatable to the issues I have. I do not believe, and I’m not criticizing organizations that think otherwise, but I do not believe that we need to cater our mission to raise funds or to, in our case, inspire donors.
Jay Williams: I think that we, in fact, quite the opposite, many of our donors are coming to us looking to be inspired and wanting to be educated and saying, “What are you doing? How can we partner with you strategically?” Not all of them. Some of them have a very clear view of what they want to do, and we support that wholeheartedly. But I think if organizations, really at the core, review their mission and their work, make it clear how they’re being impactful. And I understand it’s easier said than done because there might be a dozen or a few dozen others doing that. But to me, that’s what’s most important. And then it becomes easier because you’re just naturally able to talk about what you’re doing. And it becomes compelling to donors or potential donors, as opposed to saying, “Hmm, how can we put this together in a pitch that might appeal to donors.” And recognizing that what you’re doing, how can appeal to everyone, not every donor on the planet will find what we’re doing at the Hartford Foundation appealing.
Jay Williams: Not every one of our current donors jumps on our strategic focus and says, “Yeah, I want to go, you know, we want to go that way.” They want to, some of them, want to do their own thing. But increasingly more and more of them have come to us and said, “About time, we’ve been waiting, we’re inspired, this is exactly what we hoped and wished that our community foundation would do.” So it’s been affirming to us. In disparate by saying, yes, there was one particular instance where a daughter said, “You know what? This is not what we think you should be involved in, and we’re going to go elsewhere.” And I was happy to have a conversation about trying to ensure that the donor was clear about why we took the position that we took, that we welcomed dissenting opinions. That daughter did not want to have that conversation and perhaps chose to go elsewhere, but that’s a risk and an outcome that does not negate the direction and the commitment that we have.
Nicole Campbell: So what I’m really hearing you say, Jay, at the core of it is to have a compelling vision and mission that you stick to. And you make sure that you understand your unique value proposition that you’re putting out there and how you’re problem solving with communities. And I liked the idea of not twisting and turning to sort of fit each donors or funders wishes and needs. And I think that’s going to resonate with a lot of people listening, but a follow-up question I have for you on that is how do you get to that point? How do you get to the point where you, yes, you have this compelling vision and mission. You have a compelling strategy, but you also need funds. How do you get to the point where you say, “No, we’re not going to alter the way we’ve been working just to fit this particular donor.” Assuming that it doesn’t align with what they want to do.
Jay Williams: Right. And I’m glad you followed back up on that because I realized I’m speaking from a position of having a significant base from which to operate our endowment, generates significant dollars, but we still need and want and look to inspire new donors. And the way I would respond to that is one, it is not easy, it does take time, but it’s the same principle that I used when I served in elected office is that I ran for office with a view and a set of principles that were inspiring me up that I wanted to try to execute, you know, as the mayor of the City of Youngstown, where I served as mayor. But I also recognize going in is that I would sometimes have to compromise my positions. So what I said is, I would never be willing to compromise my principles, but in elected office, in order to move my agenda forward and advance the community in the best interest of the community, I might have to compromise my position on a particular issue. And understanding that your principles and your positions are sometimes aligned, but sometimes you, as long as you maintain your principles, you should be willing to be flexible on your position.
Jay Williams: So, I would say the same thing could apply to organizations when they’re talking about their donors, don’t let a donor move you off of your principles, but absolutely if a donor’s interest is there and you could position, you know, take a slightly different position to appeal or align with that donor. Absolutely. And you’re not selling yourself short, you know, by taking a different position, as long as you maintain your principles.
Nicole Campbell: Yeah. I like that. And I like the distinction that you’re setting up between principles and being flexible then on your position. I think that’s a really important thing for organizations that are fundraising to keep in mind. Another thing I would add is that one of the reasons you can be so flexible, as you mentioned, is you have diversified revenue streams, right? So you’re not overly dependent on one type of funding source. And I think that that’s something that we should really start to explore a bit more in the sector that we’re not just relying on one type of donor, one type of revenue source, and that increases our flexibility.
Jay Williams: So even, Nicole, even in a situation where we’ve got an endowment that’s approximately $2 billion, so that generates significant revenue, but we still need to diversify our funding sources, even with an endowment of a billion dollars. For a while that generates tens and tens of millions of dollars for us to operate and do grantmaking, it still has its limitations. When the market is down, that revenue is down. So somebody said, “Oh, it’s down from 50 million to 40 million.” Well, yeah, I mean, don’t get me wrong, $40 million is a lot of money, but it still limits our ability to impact the community. So things such as our own exploration of how do we try to have other sources of revenue, other assets under our influence or management, you know, is there a revenue generating idea or entity that we might acquire to your point, even diversify further beyond our endowment, which has diversified itself, but how do we diversify even beyond the endowment?
Nicole Campbell: And it’s impressive that you all are still thinking about diversification of revenue when your endowment is so significant. And I hope that is a message that resonates with many, because at no point, should you stop and not think about how you should further diversify your revenue sources.
Jay Williams: Absolutely, you never arrived. The more diversification, that means, again, you weather those storms. And at the end of the day, it’s not for our own self wealth building. It’s the more diversified streams of revenue we have, the more diversified streams of revenue we can put out into the community.
Nicole Campbell: Agreed, agreed. And it just all ties into sustainability. So I know we’ve been talking about what the nonprofit organizations should be doing and focused on. If I were to flip that now and ask about what kind of advice should we be sending to funders? What kinds of messages should we be sharing with them at this point?
Jay Williams: Yeah, I’m always hesitant, you know, with advice and messages, because again, we have not arrived. We’re still learning. We make our mistakes. We come at this with, from a position of humility, which is always important. I think that is it, is as one thing I would say with organizations is being flexible, having a position of humility. And with funders, I would hope that the funders would be open to being also not compromising of their principles, but their position. So every funder has a set of principles and all funders have a set of positions. If funders are equally willing to be flexible in their position, I think that bodes well for organizations, because organizations of various sophistication and capacity to align themselves with a donor. So if you’ve got both parties coming to this, the funder and a potential recipient saying, “Here’s our principles, but yes, we can compromise on positions to sort of meet and marry on a particular issue.”
Jay Williams: That would be of significant, I think, benefit. The notion to funders that sometimes what an organization needs is just core operating support. You know, we have to be, and I’m sure we’ve been guilty of this in the past, of having all these programmatic supports that we provide. So an organization will say, “Oh, that program, yeah, we don’t quite do that. But if that means I can get a grant from the Hartford Foundation, yeah, we could do that program. Or we can do this program.” So you don’t want organizations chasing donors or dollars trying to make sure that they’ve got the programs that they think are appealing. I would hope that funders would look, and again, we’re both a funder and an organization that receives funding. So I think in that regard, we have to look at both sides of the coin. So funders who can look at our organization and say, “You know what, you’re doing great work. So perhaps I’m looking to support you just for continuing to do that great work. I’m not asking you to have a new program. I’m not asking you to sort of create this new way of doing it.” If what you’re doing is impactful and is appealing to a need, maybe just saying here for general operating support and the reporting such of just continue to share with us, as donors or funders, what you’re doing and how so. I think that’s the other message. Then again, I would love for, as a funder, that we need to take into the account for organizations we’re funding, but also as a recipient of funding for potential funders to any nonprofit organization.
Nicole Campbell: I appreciate that, first in terms of funder flexibility and increasing that, and then in second, general support. That core operating support that organizations definitely need. And as you said, you’re not asking these organizations to create a new program, to do all these things, but they still can do it with that funding, right? That’s the beauty of the flexible unrestricted funding
Jay Williams: Here’s a secret that I hope it doesn’t get me in trouble. We’ve heard the old axiom: he or she who has the gold rule. He or she who has the gold makes the rules. I say it sort of tongue in cheek, but sometimes the nonprofit organizations themselves know best. There’s a deep well of expertise. So, you know, a funder who wants to come in and change the world very well-intended, and this is how I think the world should change, and I’m going to write you a check as long as you’re willing to change the world in the steps that I think. Maybe saying, “Well, they’re in that space, they’re doing this day in and day out. So maybe let me ask, even as a funder, how can I help you continue to change the world, impact the world?” And if it is the program, boom, here, let me support.
Jay Williams: But if it is, hey, just helping us continue to exist through this horror, you know. So that expertise, and I think this goes to one of your early comments, how we view our relationship with our grantees. We have to not always say, “Hey, well, we’re the funder. So, here’s the rules and the terms.” But instead look at it as partnerships. And that’s particularly important as we talk about our organizations of color. And we’ve made a very intentional shift and investment in dealing with organizations that are led by people of color, that are born out of the experience of communities of color, and looking at them, not as grantees or recipients in a subsidiary role or subservient role, but as equal partners. So transferring and sharing some of the power we have, and I’m defining power right now by our wealth or financial resources, said, “You know what? You’re in that space, you know best. So we’re going to take some of this power or wealth, you have it, and now you go forth in the way that you think is best.” And you need not sort of…we would ask that you share with us what you’re doing, but you need not sort of ask us, how do we deploy the resources or wealth you’ve now shared with us or invested into us.
Nicole Campbell: Yeah, I think that is the critical transformational piece. So what you’ve just articulated is really about that mindset shift that needs to happen within philanthropies, foundations, funders, Because I think we focus on a lot of the technical pieces. Like how do we actually transition from project to general support? And instead, we should spend that rethinking, like how we’re viewing our relationships with our grantees.
Jay Williams: Absolutely, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, the community foundation or the funders are positioned as the saviors. And we think, oh, again, sometimes well-intended, these communities of color oh, they need to be saved. They need someone to come in and be the hope and inspiration. And instead of looking at it that it’s not saviors that they need, it is often opportunity or resources that they have been systemically excluded from obtaining. They are able in many instances to write their own narrative, to write their own success, to be their own saviors, and don’t need saving. And I think to your point, it’s that fundamental mindset, a shift of how we view those relationships and being partners, as opposed to funder and recipient, sort of always making sure they stay in the good graces of the funder.
Nicole Campbell: And I know you mentioned that you all have increased the amount of funding that you’ve provided to organizations that are being led by people of color. For funders that have not yet made that significant investment, but are thinking about it. They’re talking about it. What do they need as a next step? The one thing that they should be focusing on now to make that pivot and start to invest in organizations that are led by people of color.
Jay Williams: Again, careful not to sound like I’m dispensing wisdom or profound knowledge, but I mean, the empathy, the putting oneself in the shoes of the other on the other side of that transaction. Every organization that we know today, virtually, as the most high performing effective, non-profits start off as some fledgling idea. The organization that, you know, people give to now without hesitation. And I hesitate to name them, but I mean, I’ll just use some broad, you know, whether it’s the Red Cross or you name it, Those organizations, first of all, aren’t perfect because no organization is, but they started off as an idea. They started off with somebody saying, “Ah, man, what a risk…should I…what does this Red Cross thing or this Red Crescent thing?” As it started. There is some risk. Funders have to be….I would hope are savvy and wise, but are not so risk averse that they’re unwilling to take that step.
Jay Williams: Think of the technology companies today, the Uber, and Google, and Facebook, and Apple. These start off with, I’ll say kids, tinkering around in their garages and with these ideas. And now the culture there is in startup, you’re nobody, unless you’ve had two or three failures. If you haven’t had a failure, a failed business IPF, at that point, there’s less trust in investing in someone who hasn’t had a few failures versus like, oh yeah, you got those three bombs under your belt. Yeah. And it’s like the opposite in philanthropy. Oh, that didn’t work out well, that last grant didn’t work out. Heaven forbid we should have another. And if you think about it, when now we’ve got, you know, these multi-billion dollar, I think a couple of them that have achieved trillion dollar, market capitalization, every last one of them, every last one of the individuals who started those will share with you a story of one or more failures they had before they got it. So how do we take a little bit of that mindset and apply it to our struggling nonprofits? Who, yeah, that grant didn’t turn out just right. But that doesn’t mean we should now not have that same mindset. Learn from it, build on it, and here’s the next opportunity.
Nicole Campbell: You hit again at the core of it. I completely agree. I think at the core of all of this is how are you defining risk and are you willing to redefine it? Right. So I think yes, having that conversation initially before moving into anything else is so critical and I could go on and on about risk. But I did want to say that this conversation has been, just like the others that we’ve had, so thoughtful and you have been so clear on the role that not only the Hartford Foundation plays, but that community foundations, as intermediary organizations, can play and really providing sound next steps for leaders within organizations. So I think, you know, I’ve just been so inspired by this conversation.
Jay Williams: You’ve made it easy, Nicole.
Nicole Campbell: I appreciate that. And I want to ask you a question that I ask all of our guests to help us continue to build knowledge through books and people we should learn from or about to close us out. What book do you think we should read next? Or what artists do you think we should be paying attention to?
Jay Williams: That’s great question. So let me start with the artists. You know, I was trying to think of any particular artists, but my 2 cents would be to be culturally and intellectually curious. I have stumbled upon artists, whether they are musical artists, performance artists, artists of any medium, sometimes just through curiosity, hearing a sound or sort of just exploring. And if someone were to look at my playlist right now, they would have no idea. I mean, from rap to gospel, to Taylor Swift, I mean, you name it. I mean, it is all there. And in terms of a book and I have not read the book, but I heard the author being interviewed on one of the NPR stations. And it will be the next book that I read. Claudia Rankin, who is an African-American poet. And she wrote a book called, ‘Just Us’.
Jay Williams: I think it’s ‘Just Us in American Conversation’, and it’s a view on how white supremacy has just become such an almost ingrained, acceptable part of the culture that we sometimes, I think, don’t even recognize it. And when I say we, I mean, we, as people of color and people in the white community. Not necessarily the white supremacy that has the proud boy, flag-waving, sort of, you would typically see. But I just heard her being, yeah…it was on the NPR show. It’s been a minute. I think Sam Sanders is a host, but just that interview in the car, you know, I was like, you know, who is this? Let me try to catch it while I’m driving. And it was Claudia Rankin and the book is called ‘Just Us’.
Nicole Campbell: Okay. So great. Thank you so much for sharing that, you are the second person that has mentioned that book. So it is now on my list as well, and great advice about being both culturally and intellectually curious. So thank you for that. We’ll put all of that information into the show notes so people can see it. Jay, again, I just really want to thank you for this conversation. I’m inspired to do even more. And so I want to thank you for sharing all of this knowledge and insight about your foundation, about foundations, generally the sector. And I appreciate how practical your advice and guidance has been. And I think that that’s the piece that helps leaders and organizations build even better. So thank you again so much for your time.
Jay Williams: Well, thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure. I look forward to the next time we have a chance to talk.
-Upbeat Outro Music-
Nic Campbell: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources, and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely.