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nonprofit equity

Incorporating DEI Into Infrastructure with A. Nicole Campbell 

Nic had a fascinating conversation with a nonprofit President & CEO about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Throughout their conversation they talked about indicators that show when nonprofits and philanthropies are serious and intentional about DEI.

In fact, those lingering thoughts are what inspired this episode!

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is a critical component in building a robust infrastructure, especially one that both reflects and aims to support various communities throughout the world. And by having a diverse group of people on your team, equitable governance, and an inclusive framework, actualizing your organizational goals and making an impact becomes much more tangible.

Have you tried incorporating DEI throughout your organizational infrastructure? If not, why?

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The Call for Nonprofit Leadership with Shawn Dove (Part I & II)

This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, Nic is talking with Shawn Dove. Shawn was the founding Chief Executive Officer of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement or CBMA, a national membership organization committed to improving the life outcomes for Black men and boys. Under Shawn’s leadership, CBMA leveraged more than $212 million in national and local funds for Black Male Achievement, and has grown to include nearly 6,000 individual and 3,000 organizational members across the U.S.

Shawn shared so many rich insights during this conversation and we wanted everyone to receive those insights so we broke this conversation into two parts. Stay tuned for part two next week.

Listen to the podcast here:

Part One


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Part Two


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About Shawn Dove

Shawn Dove is the Chief Executive Officer of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA), a national membership organization committed to improving the life outcomes for Black men and boys. Under Dove’s leadership, CBMA has leveraged more than $212 million in national and local funds for Black Male Achievement, and has grown to include nearly 6,000 individual and 3,000 organizational members across the U.S.

Since 2008, Dove’s stellar leadership has propelled CBMA from being an initiative of the Open Society Foundations (OSF) into an independent entity that has established an emerging field of Black Male Achievement. Among Dove’s key accomplishments are helping seed the launch of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative; brokering a partnership between OSF, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the City of New York to launch the Young Men’s Initiative; and serving as a lead organizer of the Executives’ Alliance to Expand Opportunities for Boys & Young Men of Color.

Prior to CBMA, Dove held more than two decades’ experience as a youth development professional, community-builder and advocate for children and families. For 10 years, Dove served as Program Director of the Harlem Children Zone-operated Countee Cullen Community Center, where he helped spearhead the launch of HCZ’s Fitness & Nutrition Center. His additional leadership roles include Executive Director of The DOME Project; Director of Youth Ministries for First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, NJ; Creative Communities Director for the National Guild for Community Schools of the Arts; and New York Vice President of MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership.

As evidenced by CBMA’s commitment to narrative change, Dove has continuously created platforms to amplify voices and stories by marginalized people and communities. While at HCZ, he became the founding Editor-In-Chief of Harlem Overheard, an award-winning youth-produced newspaper.

For his catalytic leadership, Dove has been recognized with numerous awards. In 2018 he was awarded the key to the City of Louisville by Mayor Greg Fischer, and was named Black Enterprise’s 2017 “BE Modern Man of the Year.” Dove is also a recipient of the Charles H. Revson Fellowship at Columbia University, and was named one of Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 in 2016.

Dove earned a BA in English from Wesleyan University and is a graduate of Columbia University Business School’s Institute for Not-for-Profit Management. He currently lives in New Jersey with
his wonderful wife and four amazing children.

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.

Katy Thompson:

Hi, everyone. I’m Katy Thompson, BU’s PC and I am doing this week’s guest introduction. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, Nic is talking with Shawn Dove. Shawn was the founding Chief Executive Officer of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement or CBMA, a national membership organization committed to improving the life outcomes for Black men and boys. Under Shawn’s leadership, CBMA leveraged more than $212 million in national and local funds for Black Male Achievement, and has grown to include nearly 6,000 individual and 3,000 organizational members across the U.S.

Katy Thompson:

Since 2008, Shawn’s leadership propelled CBMA from being an initiative of the Open Society Foundations (OSF) into an independent entity that established an emerging field of Black Male Achievement. Among Shawn’s key accomplishments are helping seed the launch of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative; brokering a partnership between OSF, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the City of New York to launch the Young Men’s Initiative; and serving as a lead organizer of the Executives’ Alliance to Expand Opportunities for Boys & Young Men of Color.

Katy Thompson:

As evidenced by CBMA’s commitment to narrative change, Shawn has continuously created platforms to amplify voices and stories by marginalized people and communities. While he was the Program Director of the Harlem Children’s Zone, he became the founding Editor-In-Chief of Harlem Overheard, an award-winning youth-produced newspaper.

Katy Thompson:

For his catalytic leadership, Shawn has been recognized with numerous awards. In 2018, he was awarded the key to the City of Louisville by Mayor Greg Fischer, and was named Black Enterprise’s 2017 “BE Modern Man of the Year.” He is also a recipient of the Charles H. Revson Fellowship at Columbia University, and was named one of Ebony Magazine’s Power 100.

Katy Thompson:

Shawn shared so many rich insights during this conversation and we wanted everyone to receive those insights so we broke this conversation into two parts. And with that, here is the first part of Nic’s conversation with Shawn Dove.

Nicole Campbell:

Hi, Shawn. I am really excited to have you joining us for our Fast Build Leader Series.

Shawn Dove:

Hi, Nicole. Thanks so much for inviting me. I’m excited about what you’re doing and just being a part of the Build Up great infrastructure design.

Nicole Campbell:

Yeah, I’m really looking forward to this conversation. To get us started, can you tell us about the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, your role, and the Campaign for Black Male Achievement’s immediate priority?

Shawn Dove:

Sure. So I know we only have about 15 minutes or so. And so I’m going to try my best to give you the microwave answer, you should know better than asking me that question with such a short limited amount of time. The Campaign for Black Male Achievement is a national membership organization that focuses on working with leaders and organizations committed to improving the life outcomes of black men and boys. These are men and women across the country that are committed to this movement. As you know, we were launched 12 years ago at the Open Society Foundations and we were supposed to be a three-year cross fund campaign and with partnership, with commitment, with urgency and momentum, we were able to extend those three year term limits…taken off those term limits and being scaled up. And we spun off into an independent entity in 2015.

Shawn Dove:

And our focus is really about ensuring that the work of this movement in this field, that it grows, it sustains, and that it has an impact. I like to say that CBMA focuses on pouring into the hometown heroes and local leaders across the country, not just black men, you know leaders and cross sector men, women, all races, and genders. And as you know, we just recently announced after 12 years that we are sunsetting the organization in 2020, kind of a sad announcement for sure, but you know, one of my mantras and just lead in organizations is that, you know, if you can reframe what seems like failure, if you can reframe your future. So we’re focusing on so much that CBMA has built and ignited and seeded over the last 12 years, but priorities ensuring that there’s a connectivity that leaders and organizations not within our network that are committed to this word, that they are connected to other leaders in organizations in the field to continue the work and really also to celebrate the legacy of a campaign for black male achievement, right? We’ve, in 12 years, helped to catalyze a field that really did not exist. And I’m really proud of that.

Nicole Campbell:

No, I’ve had the good fortune to do work with CBMA both when it was with Open Society Foundations and then spinning off into its own entity and, you know, serving on the board of CBMA. So I’ve witnessed firsthand the great work that CBMA and the CBMA team is doing. I would love it, Shawn, if you could talk a little bit about just what that transition was like from being a campaign, like talk about what it is, what it means to be a campaign within a large philanthropy to then go into that spinoff where you become an independent entity and how do you maintain some of those campaign elements that made the work super exciting and had so much momentum around, but now you’re building a sustainable organization and you became that independent entity.

Shawn Dove:

I think that’s a really a great question that I’ve been reflecting on a lot these days, as I think about the journey over the last dozen years. And I think one of the things I’ve learned you know, everything dissolves revolves around and resolve around leadership, right? And, you know, the proverbial adage of getting the right people on the right seats on the bus. And I think when I think of when we launched in 2008, I think there are three things that are really important about this whole notion of a campaign. One, Open Society Foundations was taking a risk, right, of creating a fund explicitly focused around black men and boys unapologetically. Two, this whole sense of urgency that originally it was a three year campaign and like, wow. You know, typically the down side of philanthropy and there are, you know, sometimes I started to have a love, hate relationship with philanthropy, has been very catalytic and has ignited a lot of change.

Shawn Dove:

But on the other side, I think that philanthropy sometimes looks at generational and even centuries long issues and systemic issues in this nation and around the world. They believe that they’re going to tap a three-year or five-year grant making cycle. And I think that I am both a social entrepreneur and being able to work with in large institutions, like Open Society Foundations and social entrepreneur, and had the ability to transition from social intrapreneur to social entrepreneur over the last 12 years. But when I think of the launch, I think of three things, I mentioned one risk taker that is important first of the institution, but me as a leader, right. And pushing boundaries out within the organization, acting with urgency. I remember [inaudible] and I always approach in our grant dockets or our next event, or gathering that saying, you never know this might be our last, right, and treating that work and mission with a sense of urgency. And the other is a momentum, risk, urgency, and momentum, and find out where there is momentum. It is clear when we are looking at structural racism and oppression in this nation that no one entity, one note, one leader is not going to create a shift or a change that it requires strategic partnership. It requires where is there momentum. And I think those three things, this whole campaign mindset, risk, urgency, and building momentum.

Nicole Campbell:

And you also talked about that shift of moving from a campaign and a philanthropy to becoming an independent entity. And now you’re talking about sunsetting and you mentioned that during this period, you’re really focused on how do you maintain that connectivity among leaders like the home grown, home town, leaders and making sure that happens. And so in your role as CEO of CBMA, how are you ensuring that that connectivity is happening long after CBMA sunsets?

Shawn Dove:

One thing I will say is that, so while CBMA is a sunset, the work and the need for the work of the black male achievement movement certainly is not sunset at all. I would say that, you know, through our membership network of 8,000 leaders and 3000, our organization, CBMA, I think has done a really phenomenal job through just community building, connecting leaders, to give folks a sense of belonging and a sense of that they are part of something larger than themselves. And so, you know, out of convenience like rumble, young men, rumble promise of place have been opportunities for our leaders and organizations to not just identify with the campaign for black male achievement, but to identify with other leaders both in their own cities and across the nation. And I think that that will certainly continue, you know, when we announced the sunset and I was clear that CBMA had done groundbreaking work over the last 12 years, but a wave of emails, texts, phone calls, where folks said, if it were not for CBMA, they would not be doing this work.

Shawn Dove:

They would not have continued this work. And, you know I think that mission field that CBMA has provided is not necessarily within an organization. It is in, I would say more of this organism, this movement and this connectivity that we’ve helped to engender. And so there are plenty of partners in the field of many of whom that CBMA helped to seed and fund to get started groups like Cities United, Kohl’s Bach, the Coalition of Schools, Educating Boys of Color, Be Me Community, Echoing Green at BMA, a fellowship. And that’s just a small sample of the many organizations and efforts both locally and nationally as CPMA has seeded. I think more importantly behind those organizations are leaders that we have poured into that we have, in some cases validated their work. Where the field is, is fragile. It’s a, wow, this has been a 400 year, I think, battle and fight for racial or social justice.

Shawn Dove:

Still, the black male achievement is relatively a nascent field. And I think we are dealing with many issues of inequity when it comes to funding when it comes to who gets supported and who doesn’t get supported. And so I do think that moving forward that there will certainly be more of a need of deeper collaborations. In some cases, consolidations of organizations, a merging look, some organizations are not going to survive this COVID-19 season. I think CBMA is an example of that. I think that we had some underlying conditions before the pandemic and were placed on a organizational while respirator, once COVID-19 really began to create some shifts with just relationships and with funding. And I just see there’s, I guess, two ways to look at it, right. You know, what’s the opportunity. And I do think the opportunity is all right, here’s an opportunity to start something new in something and begin a new, but I think that we need to see the infrastructure and sustainability of organizations focused on, you know, one of the things that has struck me during the pandemic that, you know, some folks have seen surprised about racial disparities and inequities that COVID-19 as a lifted up, has amplified.

Shawn Dove:

Look, if you’ve been doing this work it’s not a surprise, these inequities and disparities existed for COVID-19. And I do think that you have to be very careful. I look back at Katrina. I look back in 2015 when Baltimore as a city dealt with the uprisings around Freddie Gray and there was a great deal of talk in some cases, actions about change and resources coming in, and the ability to build the infrastructure and with organizations and leaders that are closest to the issues and closest to the solutions are going to be important. And when you talk about philanthropy and we look at our mutual history in the field of philanthropy, I think we have to be really careful to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes. I have seen where some foundations are creating positions around culture and racial equity, and that we have to be mindful that we cannot put a racial equity icing on a cake that has ingredients of white privilege and white supremacy and disparities because when you cut that cake and you bite into it and you get past the racial equity icing, the ingredients will remain the same, right.

Shawn Dove:

So we got to start all over and we have to build a new infrastructures and systems and get everybody in the kitchen, right. And to contribute. And I think that that’s what I am most excited about what the work that’s happening. And the other thing I will say is that finding the right place for right leadership and right organizations, I think one of the challenges that CBMA face was organizational identity, whether or not we were going to do direct service or be an intermediary organization. And I think since the spin off, we went through at least two strategic planning processes and engagements, trying to figure that out. And I would advise any CEO or leader of an organization that’s listening to this as to number one, get really clear on what you want and what type of organization that you want to lead. I had a mentor that said to me, be clear on what you want, and I need that clarity of all results. And what you’re trying to achieve is going to be like really important in this next phase. And I will say that black people in this nation, we have a history of transforming adverse conditions and challenges into assets. And this COVID-19 pandemic moment is an opportunity to gain deeper purpose, deeper power, but it’s going to certainly have to come with deeper collaborations and connections. And in some cases consolidate, I don’t remember what the question was.

Nicole Campbell:

No, it was really powerful. And you said, you said a lot of things that really resonated with me and talked about validating other organizations and leaders, and I’m really focusing on connectivity and collaboration, looking at how organizations are set up and making sure that infrastructures are strong and sustainable, because those are things that all resonate with me and make me really think about how we’re building organizations and how philanthropies are funding these organizations. And so coordinating them. And so a question I would have for you based on all of what you just explained and the work that CBMA is doing, that you were focused on, what would be your advice to funders beyond the advice of give more money, but what would you say to them so that they could support nonprofits sustainability, both within the crisis that we’re currently in and also beyond?

Shawn Dove:

Yeah, so I think the number one thing, Nicole, I would say to a philanthropy and funders is to trust the leadership of the organizations that you are. That’s number one, I would say trust that you don’t have all the answers, right trust even the leaders that you’re investing in is, does not have all the answers and they may have the vision, but the importance of investing in building a team and building the infrastructure of the organizations. And there has been so much talk about projects, support versus general operating support. And I think the best way to demonstrate trust is to give general operating support long-term. I would also say infuse a spirit of entrepreneurship in your grant making, and then your relationships that comes with the trust that allow and leaders and organizations to be transparent or creating a space to be transparent about mistakes and accountability, and that everything is not going to work right.

Shawn Dove:

And where there is a space where this is a learning environment, there is a partnership and kind of dismantling the power dynamic of the funder here. And the grantee here creates I think, a space where there is more of an exchange or a learning. I would also ask funders to help grantees, to diversify their revenue streams. If we are dependent upon a social justice and racial justice leaders and change agents and social entrepreneurs, we’re dependent upon philanthropy as our sole source of revenue. We are in trouble and the ability to partner with leaders and organizations to create other revenue streams, whether it is you know, fee for service or other ways to generate ironically, at the time CBMA made their decision to sunset. We had laid the groundwork for a membership, the paid membership fee structure, but that kind of collided with the a pandemic. And I think philanthropy can be really helpful with let’s look at ways to create alternative revenue streams for for leaders. And I mean, that, that would be an advice and to be a partner more so than just a funder.

Nicole Campbell:

I really liked that. When you’re talking about trust, I think it’s so true that that transition from project support, certain deliverables, or for limited periods of time versus general support over long periods of time, multiple years, for example, it really does depend on, do you trust this organization to do what they say they’re going to do, right. And having a relationship that is built on trust. But I want to push that answer a little bit more to find out how does a philanthropy take that first step? Because I hear a lot particularly now that everyone’s talking more about, yes, you need to trust the organization and trust the leaders that you’re funding or supporting. But how does the philanthropy who has been giving project support for years upon years has only provided general support to large organizations that, you know, they have been working with for a very long time. How do they make that transition to provide general support of multiple years to some of these organizations that you were talking about earlier, the grassroots organizations that are closest to the communities in need, but also closest to the solution, how do you help them take that first step? What does that look like?

Shawn Dove:

Wow. So that’s a powerful question, Nicole. And it’s almost hard to infuse within the funder, the permission for them to fail. Right? I do think that as grant makers, we have to be comfortable with, you know, what this may not work out right. And giving ourselves permission to fail. I think that that’s one thing, right? I think the other thing is also incumbent upon leaders of the organization and their teams, right. That I still think that you have to state the case that this is, or your organization is a sound investment, right. And that there is one track history, two, there is a vision and there is a plan, three. There is a team…’cause look, you know, at the end of the day, folks are investing in leadership as opposed to programs and projects. And I think just, I would go back to the ability that, you know, this is a learning experience and what are we learning together?

Shawn Dove:

And one of the things that the Campaign for Black Male Achievement had, it still does, a number of mission mantras. And one of them is that together, we are a thinking, doing, learning, growing teaching enterprise. And I think it’s really important that funders allow a organization and leaders space not just be doing, doing, doing, doing because the first date, well, the first thing is together. The second thing is thinking the opportunity to have space for a plan in, right. And I would say room to think about the path forward, particularly when we’re living in a society where the stuff is just changing rapidly. Right here we are on May 25th and on February 25th, the world for us was totally different. And then after the doing, number two, what are we learning here? What do we learn and what are we even learning from our mistakes and failures?

Shawn Dove:

And then the growing piece and understanding that everything does not have to be like scale is not the alter that we all need to go to and throw our resources and our vision. So some stuff certainly needs scale, right? And for some organizations, a scale is not necessarily the end all that impacts where they are, right. And the ability to teach and help others learn what they’re growing. So I think that those factors are truly important in the funder, the donor, you know, grantee leader, organization, you know, investment and understanding that shift, you know happens on, you know, there are going to be changes and the ability to be flexible and adaptable. I think one of the things that we have seen in this pandemic is our ability to as leaders to be adaptable and creative, right? And sometimes that requires making tough decisions saying no to the status quo.

Nicole Campbell:

No, I liked that response a lot, Shawn, because I think what, in addition to scaling, I hear a lot about innovation and what we don’t hear as the book for innovation, which is exactly what you’re talking about, which is permission to fail the learning, the growing experimenting with things that may not work out when you’re all working towards a particular goal. So I really liked that on the other side of that conversation, we talked about the advice that you provide to funders, but what’s your advice to nonprofits that fundraise as a significant part of their budget. In other words, what do you think should be top of mind for them particularly now during this time of uncertainty?

Shawn Dove:

Okay. So I was just sending a text to my executive assistant extraordinaire, Valerie, I’m letting her know that we’re going over.

Nicole Campbell:

What time do you need the…what time do you need to jump off?

Shawn Dove:

You know, I want to give you all the time that you need since….

Nicole Campbell:

Because you know, the guilt, right?

Shawn Dove:

I’m often accused of not giving adequate time. So this is the advice that I would give not-for-profits. And most specifically leaders of non-for-profits one work harder on yourself than you do on your job. And one of the primary epiphanies for us over the 12 years with the Campaign for Black Male Achievement is that kind of reaffirming…and less of an epiphany, but an affirmation when you’re doing race work. So to speak, there’s a psychology around it. It is draining. It is hard. It is emotional. It is historical. We are blessed to do this work, but we are also burdened to do this word. And so when I say, you know, work harder on yourself than you do on your job, I would tell leaders that you are way more than your resume.

Shawn Dove:

You are a way more than your organizational charts. If you do not have and are not using mentors, executive coaches, and a therapist, you will be hard pressed to be sustained and doing this work right. And one of the books that I would recommend, no, not the only book, this is not my book question, is this book by Scott Belsky called ‘The Messy Middle.’ Right. And I think I may have sent you that book that really dives into you know, we hear about the launches and we hear about the finishes, but the messy middle is a, every boat adventure deals with this, with organizational challenges and leadership champ challenges. And one of the things that Belsky says in this book is that the only sustainable competitive advantage in business and social entrepreneurship is self-awareness, right? I have on my wall, a bubble to dine on self, be true, and it must follow as the night, the day pants not then be false to any man.

Shawn Dove:

Right? So be truly yourself. So beyond that, which is a lot about work and carving out time for that, I would imagine that at least 20% of your listeners right now are feeling burnt out, feeling pressured, feeling that they are at their wits in trying to stand up an organization, sustain organization and not giving enough attention and focus to sustain and, and standing up themselves as human beings. The other thing I would provide leaders and organization not-for-profits right. And tempted not to say not-for-profits because what we’re really talking about is people and the people make up the organizations. And I think and you’ve heard me talk about these five building blocks, right? And one is, you know, focusing on building your team, you are only as good as your team and the folks around you. And that team includes not only your staff but also on your board.

Shawn Dove:

Right? So that’s the, you know, first thing, you know, building the enterprise, the other thing is building capital. We know that cashflow is king, right. And being able to build and manage capital. The third building block, I would ask folks to focus on is a building community. And what I mean by that is building your tribe, building your network, building your strategic partners that no one organization, you know, it’s a cliche that dream work takes teamwork is a cliche, but it’s true, right? That your ability to build community and folks that are believers in you and your work is really important. The fourth building block is around building the brand and build the strategic communications and the voice and the stories that you want to tell. An organization that does a good job of that is BMe Community and their leader and founder Trabian Shorters often says that, you know, we lead the lies around the stories that we tell to ourselves, right.

Shawn Dove:

And being really clear about a story that the organization, and then you want to tell, you know, for example, CBMA’s chief mission mantra, and story that we convey is that, you know, there’s no Calvary coming to save the day and black communities, right. That we are iconic leaders that we’ve been waiting for, the curators of the change that we’re seeking to see. Right. And so a grant is not necessarily going to save the day in my time open society foundations the most empowering interactions for me have been when leaders have said, you know what? It would be nice to get a grant for Open Society Foundations for the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. But I don’t care if I get a grant or not being part of this movement is an important thing. And because there’s always more demand than supply.

Shawn Dove:

And the building block is building value, right. And being really clear on the value proposition and the unique change that your organization and that you bring as a leader. Right? And so in summary, those five building blocks of building an enterprise slash a team, building capital, building community, building the brand, and building value. Right. And your challenge is, if you are a CEO of an organization, is one understanding that you can’t do all of those and that making the right hires at the right time and being able to manage your time and energy on where you’re going to focus and your time and energy on those five building blocks is, I think, the big challenge that leaders of organizations have.

Katy Thompson:

And that concludes part one of our conversation with Shawn. [Shawn provided so many leadership gems and wisdom that we could not fit it all in one episode.] Stay tuned for part two next week.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell:

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

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The Formula for Action with Veta Richardson

This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking Veta Richardson. Veta is President and CEO of the Association of Corporate Counsel or ACC, the world’s largest professional association for in-house counsel. With more than 43,000 members spanning 85 nations and staff located in North America, Asia, Australia, and soon, Europe, ACC offers a global voice and thought leadership for the in-house community.

Veta is widely recognized for corporate governance leadership, having been named to the prestigious Directorship 100 list four times. Previously, as executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association , Veta was widely recognized for thought leadership in the areas of diversity and inclusion and advised hundreds of Fortune 1000 companies and multinational law firms to establish and strengthen their diversity and inclusion programs.

Listen to the podcast here:


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About Veta T. Richardson

Veta T. Richardson is President & CEO of the Association of Corporate Counsel, the world’s largest professional association for in-house counsel. With more than 43,000 members spanning 85 nations and staff located in North America, Asia Australia and soon, Europe, ACC offers a global voice and thought leadership for the in-house community.

Veta is widely recognized for corporate governance leadership, having been named to the prestigious Directorship 100 list four times. Her advocacy regarding the role and positioning of the chief legal officer serves as the basis for recommendations issued to corporate boards by NACD, a US-based multinational directors society.

Previously, as executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), Veta was widely recognized for thought leadership in the areas of diversity and inclusion and advised hundreds of Fortune 1000 companies and multinational law firms to establish and strengthen their diversity/inclusion programs. Her in-house expertise was shaped over more than a decade as in-house counsel at Sunoco, Inc. in Philadelphia, where her practice focus was corporate governance, transactions, securities disclosure, and finance.

Veta has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, Financial Times’ Agenda Week, Bloomberg News, The Financial Post (Canada), Law Society Gazette (United Kingdom), and countless other business and legal publications. She has also authored op-eds and articles in Corporate Counsel, Law360, Forbes, China Business Law Journal, India Business Law Journal, and Ethisphere Magazine. She serves on the editorial advisory board for Asia Business Law Journal and as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law School.

She received a B.S. in Business Management from the University of Maryland at College Park and a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law.

Read the podcast transcription below:

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: 

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

Nic Campbell: 

Hi, everyone. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking Veta Richardson. Veta is President and CEO of the Association of Corporate Counselor (ACC), the world’s largest professional association for in-house counsel. With more than 43,000 members spanning 85 nations and staff located in North America, Asia, Australia, and soon, Europe, ACC offers a global voice and thought leadership for the in-house community.

Nic Campbell: 

Veta is widely recognized for corporate governance leadership, having been named to the prestigious Directorship 100 list four times. Previously, as executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association , Veta was widely recognized for thought leadership in the areas of diversity and inclusion and advised hundreds of Fortune 1000 companies and multinational law firms to establish and strengthen their diversity and inclusion programs.

Nic Campbell: 

Veta has been quoted in several prominent business and legal publications including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and the New York Times. She has also authored op-eds and articles in several Law Journals and Forbes and is an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law School. And with that, here is Veta Richardson.

Nicole Campbell:

Hi, Veta. I am so excited to have you joining us for our Fast Build Lead Series and to get us started, can you tell us about the Association of Corporate Counsel, your role there, and the Association’s immediate priorities?

Veta Richardson:

Yes. Well, Nic, first of all, thank you for inviting me to participate in this series. The Association of Corporate Counsel is a global bar association or legal association, and our membership consists solely of in-house counsel or counsel who are employed by the corporations that they serve and advise. And our membership now numbers more than 46,000. It spans 85 countries around the world, and we’re the largest association of our kind.

Nicole Campbell:

And can you talk about your role with the Association and what you spend most of your time on?

Veta Richardson:

Thank you. Well, you did ask me that didn’t you. I didn’t get to that part of it. My apologies. So as President and CEO, my focus is working with the board of directors, which is also global in scope. They are people who come from our membership and generally serve as chief legal officers or senior level counsel to the corporations where they work. And my role is to work with them on setting and executing strategy for the Association; strategy designed to think about how we position the organization best to remain relevant and continue to serve our members all over the world. So we serve through a variety of programs and services. We’re in the education business. Many lawyers are required to complete educational credits to keep their licenses current, as well as keep up with all the laws and regulations that are constantly changing. So education is an important component of our services.

Veta Richardson:

We also support with resources that are designed to help in-house counsel avoid recreating the wheel. So what we do is we leverage the power and knowledge of our membership who help one another. So if someone has to develop a cyber security policy, there will be another member who’s already gone that route and may have contributed theirs. That can be redacted, of course, but then shared. So if you need a sample policy or form, or to understand how to do something that may be novel to you but someone else has experienced, we provide resources that are practical help-guides for our members to do their jobs. And then the third way that we serve is for professional development and career advancement reasons, members like to connect with other people and peers. And so we serve a very important networking function and our networks are established at the local level through our chapters.

Veta Richardson:

We have 60 chapters around the world, but in addition to our local network of chapter members, we also have online for it that exists, that are more focused around a practice area and focus. So labor and employment lawyers, securities, and finance lawyers, people who do compliance and ethics, people who do intellectual property. So different practice area focused networks, as well as networks that are focused on how to run the law department, law department management, legal operations, running a small law department, which has challenges that are separate and unique from running a larger department. So that’s how we serve. And I’ve been CEO of the association since 2011, way back when I started practicing law, I was a member and joined ACC right out of law school.

Nicole Campbell:

Well, that is really great, Veta. And when you’re talking about the Association is global, it’s in many different countries, different jurisdictions. And I wonder if you could talk about how do you as a leader create that kind of environment where people want to network, where they want to do this kind of information sharing. And you mentioned policies, for example, how do you foster that kind of comradery quite frankly, across the globe from where you sit?

Veta Richardson:

Yes. Well, you know, it’s a very interesting dynamic within ACC. Certainly coming from the community, having been a member. And I was in-house counsel to an energy company for a little more than 10 years. So I came from a very large law department, understood how they work, understood some of the challenges and opportunities potentially for service. So as I moved from a practicing lawyer into the bar association community in a service role for two positions before I became CEO of ACC, I brought that perspective with me. And what’s interesting about the in-house counsel community, Nic, unlike other areas for lawyers is lawyers, perhaps in law firms, compete with one another and other law firms to generate the business that they need and to develop client relationships. But in-house counsel are unique in that they have one client, their employer, from whom they get more than enough things to do and work.

Veta Richardson:

So it’s not a competitive relationship per se, between in-house counsel. So there is greater opportunity to encourage them to share and to get to know one another, there’s this natural desire to connect with one another because they all share being part of a larger corporation where the business is not law, the business is some other sector or focus, and they all share the responsibility to get to know the business, but apply that legal knowledge to the business to help them advance their objectives. So there’s this natural commonality to want to know, Hey, you’re like me, one small sector law within a bigger corporation that has very additional verticals and we have to be able to serve the organization well. So tell me, how do you do this? And there’s a natural desire to share and to have that exchange. So that really preexisted me. It’s one of the reasons that ACC was founded.

Veta Richardson:

So I was fortunate to, when I graduated from law school, be hired by one of ACC’s founders and he had the perspective that he wanted lawyers to come into his law department, who were, what he called baby lawyers, not people who had worked someplace else, but who would work and learn through his model of teaching about how to be a good in-house counsel. And so coming in with that type of general counsel, as my first employment situation showed me and the organization was founded on wanting to create opportunities for in-house counsel to be able to share and to serve their corporation better. So there isn’t competition that way. There’s a desire to connect and compare, contrast exchange war stories. And that’s always been a part of ACC since its founding. So my delay is figuring out how to harness what they want and offer opportunities for them to be able to share and post and exchange and come together and learn.

Nicole Campbell:

I think that’s great because you have a sort of natural environment for the cooperation to exist and for members to work with each other. And so a question I have around your membership and what you’re doing, and this pandemic, this environment that we’re in, what has changed or what have you started doing more of, or less of within ACC for your membership, given the uncertainty that we’re in? You know, we’re also in this moment of social justice unrest and what has changed or what have you been thinking about more or less during this time?

Veta Richardson:

Wow, that question is so big in terms of what’s changed. So what’s changed for our members, is everything from where they work, because the majority of our membership were moved from working in a normal office environment, like I was accustomed to, and many of us are accustomed to, two because of COVID having to move their work environment to home. So that was the biggest shift. And we do know from surveying our members, doing a flash poll, the overwhelming majority of our members, you know, like in the 80 and 90 percentile, told us that that transition to home, because of being technology enabled, was pretty seamless. That way that they were working effectively from home, which was a delight to be able to hear, because I know that a lot of other sectors and other professionals had more difficulty making that transition. But many of our lawyers also because of being a global organization, many of them had clients, anyhow, client like business people, that were not located within their physical space.

Veta Richardson:

You know, so if you were based in New York, but you also provide legal support to a division in Europe or in the Middle East or in South America, you’re always having to communicate virtually or through online or a telephone, anyhow. So making that transition to home, people felt that they were very technology supported by their employers as lawyers to be able to do that effectively. But then once people got home, the challenges that we all face about being at home, and there are others potentially in your home with whom you’re sharing space. So well, our members then, when we had flash polls, reported that they had challenges; negotiating children who may be at home, but who are involved with online education, having to tutor kids, because they’re not going into a physical classroom with a teacher like they were. So people are balancing that you’re also balancing trying to stay safe because COVID is a vicious disease, trying to make sure that you have the things that you need outside of the work environment and all that is going on within the home environment too.

Veta Richardson:

I noticed that for our council, they said that work-life balance became even more difficult because when you work in your home; cutting it off was a little more of a challenge than it is sometimes when you physically separate from your space and make that commute home. Now the commute home may be to a different room or the stairs or down the stairs in terms of separating from your office environment, and then some had spouses or partners who were working from home too, who you had to figure out, how are you going to negotiate that space? Because most people did not have their home environment set up with two complete office environments for perhaps the two adults and then children having to use space as well. So people were having challenges, negotiating all those boundaries, as well as just worrying about the impacts of COVID on themselves, their loved ones, their communities.

Veta Richardson:

So when we conducted wellness surveys, we heard that our members were feeling extreme stress. Some reported that they were having depression, having anxiety waking up in the middle of the night, having difficulty sleeping. These things were going on, probably just the same as, you know, the general population and citizenry, people were feeling stressed and concerned. So we saw that although lawyers are very fortunate, tend to be among the most educated in society, most have very good incomes, are in safe spaces in terms of having a safe home to retreat to, but the other things were causing all kinds of stresses on our membership. So one of the things we saw that was interesting, Nic, is a spike whenever we would offer wellness programs. And as a leader, when we first discussed it, I thought, oh, I wonder what wellness programs, lawyers being so stoic, will this be something that they gravitate to, or see ACC as a place to seek assistance and guidance in managing?

Veta Richardson:

And we found that our wellness programs really went off the charts in terms of participation, hearing from people that it was appreciated, that they liked knowing that other in-house counsel were experiencing the same thing. They were not alone. And I think that was a dynamic of being at home. You have less of a connection to know about the challenges that others like you are facing. So sometimes you feel like it’s me who’s having a problem. Everyone else is doing okay. And it was validating to hear, no, everyone’s having a difficult time trying to navigate these new circumstances. I will also share that in terms of some of the racial justice issues that have come to the fore, ACC was reasonably quick to issue a statement regarding the death of George Floyd and others at the hands of police. The extreme upset that caused anger, that humanity of any individual would be violated that way, concern as lawyers about what are going to be the next steps, because that was a situation that cried out for attention justice, re-examination of problems, concerns the societal failings that had resulted in loss of life, the way that we’ve seen.

Veta Richardson:

So when ACC issued its statement and did so I think back on June the second or so, and it went to all 46,000 ACC members and it was posted on all of our social media accounts, I received an overwhelmingly positive response from members all over the world who were saying, thank you. We appreciated your statement. We appreciate the fact that it was not watered down, that it was specific in terms of calling out the violations on humanity that we all witnessed. But beyond calling it out, we also said that we want to be part of a dialogue to empower in-house counsel as leaders in their organization.

Veta Richardson:

And lawyers are leaders in their communities. We needed to empower people so that they could, in their communities and their corporations, be a positive force to make a difference and address some of these systemic issues. After that we’ve launched Allies for Change partnership with the Society of Human Resources Management, SHERM. SHERM is global in scope like ACC, but much bigger. They have more than 300,000 members, are in hundreds of countries around the world and have quite a reach. So ACC partnered with SHERM. We’ve held a couple of webcasts that first sought to define some of the concerns that we see, bring in other corporate leaders from the chief legal officer and chief human resources officer community, to talk about how the lawyers and the human resources professionals in their organizations can come together to really look at policies, programs, approaches within their workplace in order to address and make sure that they are not inadvertently unconsciously or even through neglect, consciously creating workforces that are less inclusive than we would all feel proud to be a part of. So those dialogues started.

Veta Richardson:

Then we had a second dialogue with SHERM that was led by Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHERM CEO. The first one I moderated that was all about looking at some workforce surveys that SHERM, which has a fantastic research conducted to look at how people are feeling in the workplace and look at some of the differences between how black people and white people in the workplace look at how their organization is doing. They also look at what may be going on in society. There were stark differences there.

Nicole Campbell:

What really comes out for me is just one, having that foresight and insight into your membership to say, let’s do a wellness survey. Let’s find out how people are doing, how they’re coping and understand where they’re coming from. And then on top of that, add an action, right, to the information that you get. So not just hearing it and saying, oh, now we know, but here’s what we’re going to do in response to that information, to receive that information. And similarly with the racial justice statement that you made. So not only just saying this is where we stand, which is just, I think bold for a lot of organizations, but this is how we are coming on in terms of racial justice. This is what is important to us. This is what matters, but then also adding action to that and saying, okay, with that being said, here’s what we will do. So I do appreciate it just from being so insightful, but also taking that action behind it, which I don’t think that combination you’re seeing on a lot of organizations doing your responses resonates so much with me. And I know, Veta…

Veta Richardson:

I just want to share that that approach is pretty much ACC formula. We start first with trying to dig in and understand where are our members? Because we’re a membership association. We’re not trying to serve all lawyers or all of society. Our focus is on in-house counsel and how to serve them, how to empower them. And however, they need to be empowered to do the best job that they can in their corporations and their communities. So when you focus on who is it that we serve and being real crystal clear about who that group is and who that group isn’t. Now there may be things that ACC does that the accountants might say that resonates with me and I can try it. Or the tax professionals may see it, or someone who has retail might think, oh, I could do those things too, but we’re not trying to serve them.

Veta Richardson:

We’re focused on in-house counsel. So it starts for us with being clear on who we serve. And then being curious about where are they? Oh, you’re here. Sounds like you might need, is this what you might need? Yes. Develop it, offer opportunities for them to come together and share because the power of this network is really when they get together and exchange with one another and identify, oh, you may be doing this. I could see us doing that, but maybe we should put a spin on it a little bit. That makes it better for our own organization. So then bringing people together so they can hear what others are doing to either replicate or modify it. So it works for them. And then collecting practical steps to make it easy to implement and do or undertake that’s our magic formula. So it’s about who we serve, what they need, what can we do to help deliver it, give them opportunities to share, to make it the best it can be for their personal situation, and then equip them with resources that are practical in nature so they can implement and do.

Nicole Campbell:

And I think it’s about knowing your why, and being able to live out your organizational values so that it shows up in everything you do and naturally that’s coming through in what you’re explaining ACC does. And I know that you are not a 501(C)(3), as many of the listeners probably are in. But I wonder if you could talk more about your organization structure and your tax status as it relates to the sector.

Veta Richardson:

Yes. So Nic, I’m going to start off by saying I’m not a tax attorney to know why they chose 501(C)(6) versus (C)(3). All I can speak to is the differences as best I can communicate it, which would be a 501(C)(3), that would qualify more as a charitable organization, an organization that individuals can make a donation to and take a charitable deduction in the United States for income tax purposes. We were a 501(C)(6), so donations to us, maybe it will qualify as a business deduction or business donation. People who join our membership, don’t get a charitable deduction. The dues they pay would be a business expense. So it’s very different. Our structure allows us two buckets of funding possibilities, dues, which is a fee that you pay per individual, or there are group discounts for the whole organization to sign up it’s lawyers.

Veta Richardson:

That’s one category dues revenue, and then we have non-dues revenue. And that would come from things like our educational conferences. We do research reports and people buy access to them. We have organizations who serve in-house counsel or the legal profession, law firms, e-discovery companies, executive recruiting firms, people who provide services that in-house counsel may want to buy to make their organization run or buy because they have that purchase responsibility on behalf of the company. So organizations that want to promote what they do for in-house counsel to consider buying those products or services also offer us underwriting or sponsorship revenue to support our events, to advertise online, to want to put forth their white papers and pay a fee for people to be able to distribute for ACC, to distribute that so that they can get visibility and perhaps be considered for retention or purchase opportunity. So those are only two buckets; dues, non-dues, on the dues side, education. People would pay a fee to attend, or people are paying to sponsor to get visibility at that educational conference and showcase perhaps their expertise in an area.

Nicole Campbell:

Well, you know, it’s interesting because I think a lot of (C)(3)s actually are thinking about membership structures. I think we’re just in a time where membership subscription types of models are really prevalent and many organizations that I’ve talked to are exploring what that could look like. And when you think about your membership dues, I know you mentioned that you have some people in more departments that are very large and some people in all departments that are very small. And can you talk about how you go about thinking through the membership peers or the membership for different types of members based on size? Is it based on the amount of benefits that are provided to different team members? You know, like a tiering type of structure, just to really give us a basic understanding of, for an organization that’s thinking I would love to pursue this membership model. I’d love to get dues. We have really active quote-unquote members, but how do we monetize that, but still provide a benefit to those members?

Veta Richardson:

Yeah, well, for us, we don’t make our membership dues structure overly complicated. You can join as an individual or you can be signed up as part of a corporate membership. So there are those two ways now, as ACC went global, one of the things that our board of directors had a conversation about is that our basic dues rate, however many dollars that translates in us dollars for certain sectors of the world, where the economies may not be as developed to pay the same rate X dollars us in other locations where in-house counsel salaries are not at the same scale would have prevented ACC from potentially being able to reach different sectors around the globe. So in that regard, we use standards that are published from world bank standards regarding how nations are tiered in terms of their economies. And by reference to where the nation is tiered, it may result in injustice and up or down with respect to the basic dues. And so that’s how we adjust being global in scope, if someone wishes is located in Egypt and they wish to join ACC, the cost that an individual in-house counsel would pay based in Cairo, would be different than the cost of an individual membership for someone headquartered in New York city.

Nicole Campbell:

No, that makes sense. And the fact that you’re taking that into account, right, it goes back to what you said about knowing who you serve and who you want to reach. And so being able to tailor even your membership structure to pull in those people, I think is extremely important. And so if I’m looking at a leader who is running a (C)(3) organization and he, or she is thinking about how do I scale my impact, how do I start to think about leading this organization in a way that will allow it to consistently and sustainably show up for the communities that we’re working with? What advice would you give to that leader? If that organization were just getting started? So on the more the startup side versus an organization that has been around for a longer period of time is out of that startup phase.

Veta Richardson:

Yes. Well, if I were starting up an organization, I would think about one focus on your mission and what is it that you’re trying to do to make a difference? Because every mission statement is about service and making a difference in one or more particular types of ways. So I would start with really being very mission focused in terms of what is it that you’re trying to achieve for individuals or for society or whatever your constituency of need or focus might be. Then secondly, once you think about that, we all have to naturally think about, well, what are the programs and services that we can execute that will be mission furthering? And then how are we going to fund it, right? Because you can make up as many great programs as you wish, but what are sources of revenue going to be to enable those programs that, you know, we believe will make a difference to be able to come to fruition and all programs require financial investment, as well as human investment in order to be able to do that.

Veta Richardson:

So assuming that, you know, you think about the competencies of the people that you need to execute. And that’s very, very important. I think sometimes that organizations can get a little bit too focused on one or the other meaning finances or people to help with execution and ignore one. But you have to be focused equally on both because if you don’t have good people to execute your programs in a highly professional way where you can demonstrate a return on the investment that someone may make through a contribution or a membership, then you’re going to be at a loss because you will find yourself in a situation where people like what you have to say. So they make that initial contribution. But the way that you execute is faulty or leave something to be desired. You don’t get an additional investment. So it becomes a one and done, and how I look at every relationship as a leader, whether it’s members, it’s board members, it’s people I interact with externally it’s people who fund sponsors.

Veta Richardson:

I don’t want any relationship to be one and done when you’re in the business of a nonprofit, trying to make a difference in communities. However you define your community focus may be, you have to be about building relationships for that organization, for the long-term. So when people make a donation as a leader, you have to be really mindful about the value that they receive back. If it’s someone who’s donating so that you can help a community in need, and all they want is the satisfaction of knowing that their dollars were well spent. You have to be about demonstrating to them what the positive impact you were able to make from their donations and those of others. So the first thing you want to do is to focus on your mission, be clear about who you’re wanting to serve, be focused on what programs or initiatives are going to be mission furthering to advance service to that community or constituency.

Veta Richardson:

And then thinking about how are you going to fund it, whether that’s through donation, you know, it could be through a membership model, but however, you are collecting a contribution, you have to think about how am I going to demonstrate back to the person who makes that contribution, whether it’s an annual membership dues or contribution underwriting program, or a service, how am I going to demonstrate back to those who have given me money, that there is value that we’ve created value and been good stewards of what they’ve entrusted us with. And only when you focus on that, do you have relationships that aren’t one and done, but that stick with you and that you can cultivate and advance for a longer term, but what’s important to your execution or the people who are in your organization and making sure that they’re engaged, that they’re delivering, they’re communicating and giving you what you need as a leader, to be able to manage those constituent relationships.

Nicole Campbell:

You have these core pillars that you’re using to build out this organization. And what I like is that you’re keeping at the core of all of that relationship building and value creation, right? Like what if this person does contribute money or their time? What is the value that they’re receiving in return? And a question I have for you, Veta, on all of that is what does infrastructure look like to support those things? When you think about infrastructure. And I know that that word is used a lot of different ways, but when I use it, I mean about your governance, thinking about what the board looks like, your governance structure, your operations or policies, practices that are turned into actual policies are formalized that way. And then how you’re structured, you know, are you a C6, a C3 externally, but also as you mentioned, like having the right people in the right heat, so to speak, so they have the right core competencies to actually do the work. Then you start to think about infrastructure that way. And what you mentioned in terms of this is what, as a leader, you should be focusing on, how does infrastructure come into play for that leader and for you as a leader of ACC?

Veta Richardson:

Yes. Well, infrastructure and governance are really important. And I, as a leader, you need to spend time proactively thinking about it, not just accepting structures that may have existed when you came into the role, you know, and if you are coming into a role fresh, that I would say coming into it fresh and having the opportunity to create the structure and governance approaches from the initial days of the organization, you have a gift. But for that, it’s going to take a lot more effort to look at how others who may be in similar space or doing similar service models, to be more curious into how are they structured or set up. So you can cherry pick the best. But when you come into an organization that already has existing structures, as I did, you’re looking at it more from a critical eye about how am I going to revamp or revise, not blow up and start again.

Veta Richardson:

So especially for an organization that was around for decades, by the time I was named its third CEO. So in that case, my challenge is I came into ACC, was that for more than in 10 years, ACC had set a goal of being a global organization, but for a variety of reasons, had not done well in ability to execute acute that vision. I believe that one of the key revamps or approaches ways that I looked at it that was different from ACC previously was, I went about focusing on the people to make sure that they had global competencies and more of a global perspective. So, if you’ve only thought about serving and doing business in the United States, it’s quite a shift to all of a sudden think that your service model is now going to address people whose experienced culturally language, legal jurisprudence structure is entirely different.

Veta Richardson:

Easy example is when we write in our publication Supreme Court, here in the U S everyone presumes, oh, everyone knows. We mean U.S. Supreme Court. Well, no, that’s not true because there is a Supreme Court equivalent that may not be called that. And that is very distinct and different in every nation around the world. And so it required with our own team, disrupting our own biases and presumptions that the team had come to have focused solely on serving a us and north American market for in-house counsel. So we had to do multi-cultural training. We had to think about how we hire people and what are the skills and backgrounds and competencies that we want people to have. Now, our interview process asks people about their global competencies. They can be demonstrated because they may have been born and educated outside the United States.

Veta Richardson:

They may be first immigrant from a first immigrant family. So they didn’t grow up necessarily in the United States and educated here. It may be someone who studied international studies and has more of a competency through academic, you know, training and focus, or it could be because the person’s traveled extensively and has spent time living or working outside the U.S. So those things are prized when we have people apply. Those are the resumes that, you know, move to the top of the list because we believe that they will come to the organization with greater sensitivity on serving, beyond our headquarters, geographic boundaries. And in addition for our board of directors, which was not nearly as global as our board is now, it meant that as we go through nominations process and think about people who will be invited to join our global board of directors that we do.

Veta Richardson:

So with building it to be a global board. So I’m really excited about the fact that previously you could probably have counted on one hand, the number of ACC board members over a span of almost 30 years. By the time I became CEO who had come and worked from outside the U.S. well, now you count the number. And it is so global that when we try to host a conference call, we’re trying to deal across eight or nine different time zones. And recently held our global board meeting. We had some board members in Pacific, us who are getting up at 5:00 AM for the two hour board meeting. And we had our members in Australia who were, you know, starting at 10:00 PM their time and all times in between. And so how you go about even scheduling those gatherings to have strategic discussions is a management issue in itself.

Veta Richardson:

But it’s one that we’re delighted about because having those diverse perspectives have made us such a better high performing organization. A little metric is when I started at ACC, we had about 29,000 members and about 28, 20 9,000 members. And our out of us presence was largely Europe and Canada, but it was around 9% outside the U.S. Today. Our presence has grown in, you know, about nine year span to 46,000. And our outside of us presence is about 25 or 26% of our global membership, which gets harder because every year, the denominator of how many members we have keeps going up. So to get that percentage to 25, it’s been really a journey for us. And one that’s enriched our association and allowed our members to really connect with their peers around the world, which is what they told us they wanted.

Nicole Campbell:

Everything you said about working globally really resonates with me. And it’s the reason that I love international work because it forces you to step outside yourself, so to speak and outside of your own box. And it forces you to keep in mind different perspectives is a constant reminder of that. So everything that you’ve said about why you think of that sort of global competence as important when you’re recruiting and trying to get people onto the ACC team and the board completely resumes with me, because I know just from working in that space, it’s very true. Even down to scheduling calls, like you’re constantly reminded, not just, you know, Eastern time, for example.

Veta Richardson:

I will also say Nic, what has been instrumental in making our team so diverse and high-performing is being purposeful about how we recruit. So when I came to ACC, they had a program where people would refer people that they knew and get paid a bonus. You know, if they refer to successful candidate, I didn’t want a friends and families sort of network, and I’m not criticizing that. But if you’re trying to move the composition of your group to have perspectives and abilities that are diverse and different having referral systems before you’re diverse, doesn’t get you there. You know, if we were to implement that now, given how diverse and there are like nine or 10 languages that are spoken within our staff, maybe more. Yes, but we’re ACC was versus where it is now to get there. We had to have open competition. We had to spread word about job opportunities as widely as we can. We specifically outreached to diverse communities of color as well, to make sure that when there is an opportunity, people would hear about it widely. And so we would get very, very high, highly capable applicants that we then were able to pick from among. And so we made it very competitive to get into our organization and are really pleased with the quality of people that we have as well as we’ve been able to bring on.

Nicole Campbell:

That definitely comes through, because what I’m hearing is just very deliberate. So it doesn’t just happen. And you say, well, we want this. And then it just organically happen if you’re being deliberate about it. And I think it’s really important that, like you said, you can’t have a diverse workforce, a diverse board, rich is just going to produce much better results for the organization, unless you are deliberate about that. We can’t just hope that into being, but I think you’ve come through very clearly that what ACC does is deliberate and it’s clearly working, right? When you have the increase in membership and also that significant increase in the diversity of that membership.

Veta Richardson:

Yeah, but, I’ll also say what this team has been able to achieve being so diverse. And high-performing when I first came to ACC our budget or our revenue was in the range of about 16 million. Now with COVID, it’ll be 23 million, but a normal year for us would be in the range of 26, 20 7 million for our budget. So that’s substantial growth and it would not have been achievable without such a diverse and high-performing team to really dig in and have competencies to serve a global membership.

Nicole Campbell:

You know, your responses and our conversation has just been so powerful because of the insights that you brought to that conversation. And I want to ask you a question to help us continue to build knowledge through books and people we should learn from or about in order 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

Veta Richardson:

A book or an artist? What’s funny is there’s a book. It’s a really simple little book that I read all the time. And it has a companion book too, that I especially like. I read it more to remind myself about what’s possible. So the first one was ‘Who Moved My Cheese’. And I like it cause it’s just a fast little parable, but a professor from Harvard wrote a counter to it called ‘I Moved The Cheese’. And it’s more about how you are empowered to influence your environment. And that’s something that I spend time as a leader focused on. I like books that really help you as a leader, focus on understanding where you are, but also the awesome responsibility that you have to move an organization forward and not feel that COVID is doing this to us or the economy is doing that to us. But what is it that we can do notwithstanding these challenges to continue our mission, make a difference, stay well-funded. And that reminder of the awesome power that you have as a leader, to be central, to figuring that out and executing that those are the messages that I need as we face the challenges that we’re facing. So I find that most helpful and instructive.

Nicole Campbell:

I think they’re incredibly relevant for the times that we’re in now, where people are thinking hard about what can they do as individuals and to just have that reminder is critical. And so you mentioned ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ and that’s by Spencer Johnson.

Veta Richardson:

Yeah, and ‘I Moved The Cheese’.

Nicole Campbell:

And then we’ll put that in the show notes so everyone can have access to it. And again, you have shared such knowledge and insight that I think leaders across the sector can practically use in their own organizations to help them build bravely. And I think that that is where the difference is made. So not just this theory that people take in, but theory plus action. And I think you’ve done both so well today. So thank you again for your time and for joining us.

Veta Richardson:

Thank you, Nic. And I want to say to all the other women, particularly African-American women, who are in leadership roles too, the other resource that I would recommend that just reminds you of who you are and where we come from would be ‘Phenomenal Woman’ by Maya Angelou. That is a favorite poem of mine.

Nicole Campbell:

Agreed, thank you so much, Veta.

Veta Richardson:

Thank you. All right, bye.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell:

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

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Increasing Access for Grassroots Organizations with Angelyn Frazer-Giles

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

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

Listen to the podcast here:


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About Angelyn Frazer-Giles

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

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

Read the podcast transcription below:

-Upbeat Intro Music-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Campbell: Yeah, agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Campbell: Angelyn, your responses have been so thoughtful, so insightful, and above all, practical. It makes me try to reimagine the sector. So thank you so much for the conversation. I want to ask you a question to help us continue to build knowledge through books and people we should learn from or about to close us out. What books do you think we should read next? Or what artists do you think you should be paying attention to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Yes.

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

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

-Upbeat Outro Music-

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

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

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

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

Listen to the podcast here:


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About Dr. Randal Pinkett

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

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

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

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

Read the podcast transcription below:

-Upbeat Intro Music-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

-Upbeat Outro Music-

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

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