At MacKenzie, we are all about building strong relationships. Whether it’s between us and our clients, our clients and their customers, or others within our network of friends and colleagues, amazing things can happen when we all work together.
While we are a business operating with bottom-line objectives, just as important is our commitment to positively impacting the world in which we live. Philanthropy and giving back have been a significant part of MacKenzie’s identity dating back to its inception in 1985. Today we find ourselves positioned and equipped to grow the scale and scope of our “people-first” efforts.
In an effort to continue this momentum, we proactively surround ourselves with thought leaders who share this inspired sense of social responsibility. One such person whom we greatly admire is in our Thought Leader Spotlight for July 2017; Jennifer Friend.
When we first met Jennifer, we immediately knew she is a special individual. Her ability to look at things differently, inspire those she leads and impact those she serves are paired with a genuine desire to break the cycle of childhood homelessness. Equipped with this talent and motivated optimism, Jennifer Friend has her sights aimed high and the world is already a better place as a result of her efforts.
By whom were you most influenced or inspired throughout your professional development?
I have had 2 very different careers; I was a trial lawyer before joining Project Hope Alliance.
For my first career, I would say Kate Corrigan, whom I met while working at Loehman’s as a cashier. During that first meeting, she asked me what I wanted to do and I told her I wanted to be a District Attorney. She handed me her card and offered me an internship in the DA’s office. Over the course of the 7 years I worked there, Kate knocked a whole bunch of obstacles out of my way. She showed up whenever I needed something without question. She helped me see myself in that world without any type of difficulty.
Second phase of my career, Hayes Drumwright of Trace3 has been and continues to be an influence. In some cases our experiences have been parallel and since I came from a male dominated profession, I appreciate his super direct approach and that he calls me out with no type of fluff around it. That’s what makes you grow.
When did you decide to make the transition from a partner in a law firm to non-profit leadership?
I figured out that I had a story for a reason. At this time only like 2 people knew our story of being “motel kids”.
In 2012, my brother saw the Project Hope documentary on HBO, and called me to say that we needed to get involved somehow. We prayed about it and my brother said, “I’m going to find out where there is a board meeting and let’s just go.”
At that meeting I met Hayes Drumwright, and shared our family’s story with the board. By the end of that meeting, I ended up walking out the Secretary of the board and knew that I had a new home at Project Hope. At that time, our total operating budget was like $200,000 and we served 65 kids.
Hayes asked me to share my story at the annual gala. Since this was not something that we openly shared often, I talked to my family about what to do. We had two really amazing parents but there was so much shame associated with the struggles we had growing up. While my parents encouraged me to do it, I remained unsure if I wanted to do it. Three weeks before the gala, my dad died of a brain aneurism. This voice inside my head said that excuse is gone. I was stuck with dealing with my own fear and shame; but I did it. I shared my story at the gala and I started thinking about who I really was, what I valued as a mother and who I wanted my children to know.
Ultimately, I just knew, I need to quit my job as a partner and join Project Hope Alliance as CEO.
Which experience(s) made the biggest impact on becoming the leader you are today?
As a litigator, I honed my skills in storytelling, communicating and being able to absorb a tremendous amount of information. This helped tremendously as I jumped into a whole new role.
You read like crazy. One trial I became an expert in mold, another trial I was an expert in underground sewer compaction, the next I’m an expert in the 14th amendment liberty interest to engage in public contract work.
First, you have to find what do you need to know and then you have to find really smart people who can tell you and teach you what you need to know and then surround yourself with expertise that gets you through. You have to believe in your ability to figure it out and trust your instinct; it’s your greatest asset.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced within the non-profit sector?
One thing that has not served the non-profit industry well is the perceived disconnect between for-profit and non-profit organizations. We all have customers and we all have missions and we all have goals. It’s just a matter of what arena are you in.
We are all in the same space we are just operating in different ways. If we don’t challenge ourselves and hold our selves accountable to the same type of innovative thinking – the same type of data driven decision making, the same ability to pivot and stop doing things that don’t work in favor of finding out what does work – we are going to fail our community, time and time again.
We recently read an article on innovative uses of data by non-profits, and one of the concepts discussed is collaborative data collection/sharing – where similar organizations come together to share the information that they have to help elevate the community collectively. Has Project Hope had any opportunities for collaboration like this and if so, can you share a bit about how this may have impact your clients for the better?
Most non-profits use data to drive fundraising and not program development. There are two things that I believe are harming the non-profit efficacy cycle, one is a scarcity mentality and the other is fear. That reality is that if you are transparent and show people what’s not working in your organization and talk about how you learn from that failure to create a new innovative approach, that eliminates that failure point, people are going to invest more in your organization.
The other thought is that somehow truly collective impact or collaborative workings, that somehow that limits the pie. People talk about a singular pie and when you bring people in that you get a smaller piece of the pie. I believe that it is actually an exponential multiplier. When thinking about collective impact, my favorite analogy comes from the children’s book Stone Soup – I have a pot and a stone, you have a carrot, and another has a piece of meat. Alone, I would only have stone soup. By throwing it all in the pot, together, we have a stew. If everyone throws it in, what you end up with is exponentially richer.
Do you have any advice for non-profit leaders just starting out and/or looking to innovate?
1. Read Lean Startup. Recommended to me by Hayes Drumright. Project Hope is launching a pilot program in the new fiscal year and we are doing it just like Lean Startup. We are first collecting data points from the parents that we serve to understand the needs that are not currently being met; where is the whitespace. Then we analyze the results and put together a flyer and mass disseminate it and then gather feedback again. Focus on the communities that you serve by listening to their voice.
2. It takes change agents to attract change agents. Have the right people at the table so you attract more of them.
3. Hire the best and smartest people and acknowledge that you need to pay for them.
Quite honestly, the whole non-profit industry should be putting itself out of business. I would love nothing more than to say, I’m not needed anymore. What I’m trying to do with others that I have a tremendous amount of respect for, is be critical in a way that allows us to all be better; including Project Hope.
What is your favorite quote?
“Anything can happen if you let it.” – Mary