How did your career journey lead you to Geneva Global?
I started out my career with a strong conviction of wanting to do good in the world and be of service to my community, but I wasn’t sure where to start or how to do that. No one gives you a roadmap of what’s possible in how to translate care and compassion for other people and their stories into something tangible. So you just test things out!
After college, I spent time volunteering abroad working with youth, and that experience sparked my interest in activism and community engagement, not to mention a deep commitment to the relationships I’d built. I got involved in a political campaign in my hometown and found my way to over a decade of community organizing and nonprofit fundraising in New York. Suddenly, I had an outlet for amplifying other people’s voices and for the kinds of storytelling I’d been seeking. When the pandemic hit, I wanted to pivot to something new, and by chance, I got connected to Geneva Global.
How has your role at Geneva Global evolved?
I started out as a contractor on the Donor Advising Team, helping to fill gaps and take on a wide variety of projects to support ongoing work with a mix of foundation, nonprofit, family, and corporate clients. I loved the range of projects to which I got to contribute, and I felt so lucky to find a group of warm, inviting, smart, talented people whose sector knowledge was vast and love of GIFs and laughter ran deep. Last summer, an opportunity arose to join the team full-time as a Philanthropy Advisor, and the rest is history!
What fulfills you most about your role?
For all my years in the nonprofit sector, I honestly didn’t realize philanthropy consulting was a career option. As advisors, we play a unique role in the sector, perched at a bird’s eye view. We get to see how wealth flows from donors to nonprofits and communities—and we also spot trends and learnings of the many pitfalls, pain points, and triumphs of how those relationships play out. Our work and approach are always responsive to, and shaped by, the needs and interests of our clients; but I also recognize our responsibility, power, and influence to bend their impact toward justice in thoughtful ways.
I’m also grateful for the human-centered culture at Geneva Global. I’m surrounded by caring, authentic, hardworking, brilliant, and delightful colleagues across the company, folks who make me feel comfortable and supported to learn and grow—and to be more of myself. My participation on the Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (JEDI) team gives me opportunities to help nurture an inclusive and welcoming space for others in return.
How has the philanthropy landscape changed over the last few years?
The events of 2020—the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial reckoning with the murders of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others—stopped the world in its tracks. They catalyzed a sense of urgency among donors to give more and better with fewer barriers to entry for nonprofit partners. Calls to deepen investments in racial justice and BIPOC-led and -serving organizations have led to some important steps forward, but there is so much more to do. We’ve also seen a shift in what big-bet, trust-based philanthropy looks like with MacKenzie Scott’s immense outpouring of grants—nearly $15 billion in the last three years. Though not without (some rightful) criticism, she and others are modeling a new approach that has many donors reflecting on what shape effective philanthropy can take in investing in the agency and future of historically marginalized communities.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in philanthropy (or philanthropy consulting)?
First, I’d put out the bat signal that philanthropy consulting is a thing! There are so many ways to contribute to the sector, but it can be overwhelming to navigate or find your place—or at least a place where you feel you can start having an impact and do some good. If you’re curious about community-based work, grantmaking, or consulting, consider looking up an organization, funder, or leader you admire and reaching out to ask them about their journey. The richest learning is rooted in relationships and other people’s stories, and it might help you benchmark options and find your own path in the process.
What are you most excited about for the future of philanthropy?
Geneva Global sponsored the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s National Forum this year, and I got to participate on behalf of the company. What excited me the most was how many open conversations are happening among funders of all sizes around how they can accelerate equity and justice through their giving. There were calls not to backslide into the practices and approaches of pre-pandemic times—and instead keep moving toward more trust-based, relational, community-centered approaches.
As a former grantee, I also loved learning of the ways that some funders are sharing power with leaders and bringing them into giving, governance, and decision-making. Yes, it’s a process, and yes, it’s possible! It’s gratifying to see this shift in how donors are seeking not only to hold themselves and each other accountable, but also to be more accountable to the organizations and communities they serve. At the conference, Abigail Disney said, “Good philanthropy should be structured like a good apology”—being willing to listen deeply, sit in the muck, reflect, learn, and do and be better. That feels like a healthy place to start.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve been a little delinquent in reading since the pandemic hit—a total 180° from the way I used to devour books—and have leaned more heavily on podcasts for my storytelling fix. That said, I’m on the verge of finishing Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman (which inspired an awesome Hulu series by the same name). I also just started Lily Zheng’s new book, DEI Deconstructed: Your No-Nonsense Guide to Doing the Work and Doing it Right; those of us on the JEDI team have eagerly followed their thought leadership for a while, and it’s exciting to have this toolkit to contribute to our work at the company.
Where do you get your news?
I usually turn to NPR, the New York Times, TIME, Forbes, and Reuters, among others. For philanthropy news, Chronicle of Philanthropy and Inside Philanthropy are essential websites to keep track of trends and giving in the sector. I also lean on a few podcasts offering analysis and conversations on current issues (and pop culture—I’m human!), such as Into America, The Daily, It Could Happen Here, and It’s Been a Minute.
For more information about Jessica and to meet the rest of our team, please click here.