Jericho Road Pushes to Diversify Nonprofit Boards

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Matchmaking is something of a professional hazard for Jericho Road Pasadena Executive Director Melanie Goodyear.
Often compared to the eHarmony of Pasadena’s nonprofit world, Goodyear jokes that she feels a little more like a yenta from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“We have a relationship with each nonprofit, and we’re very hands-on in a relatively small community, so we know who is struggling with what issue,” said Goodyear, who tends to power through her mental bank of associations upon getting to know someone. “We are bridging the gaps, also meaning the operational gaps. Being that connection clearinghouse, or hub, to connect resources is very rewarding.”
Goodyear has helmed JRP since 2010, when it was spearheaded by members of the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasadena. The nonprofit quickly evolved into a community capacity building network, helping organizations obtain skilled pro-bono work they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise, as well as providing them with qualified board members who give financial support and strategic thinking.
In the past 2016-17 fiscal year, JRP provided about 45 nonprofits with 2,720 hours of skilled labor for free that would have added up to about $250,000. Some of the most highly demanded skills include such IT work as creating a website or updating phone systems, marketing and media, and financial planning and accounting.
Given its operational budget of $150,000, JRP — whose only full-time employee is Goodyear — runs a pretty tight ship.
“We do offer a lot for very little overhead, really quite amazing work on a shoestring budget,” said Goodyear, who also does a lot of board coaching and financial wellness advising. “We have to practice what we preach.”
Volunteers love JRP because it is “easy and precise,” said JRP board vice chair and secretary Bob Harrison, owner of Green Street Restaurant. JRP offers specific, project-based volunteerism, including a formal pro-bono contract between the nonprofit and volunteer.
“I love this aspect, because you know from the outset you’re going to put in X number of hours. You can step in and do a project and then be done and know you’ve done a great job,” said Harrison, who has done volunteer projects with JRP and spent years on other boards, including the Pasadena Educational Foundation and the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education. “Many of our volunteers go on to do other projects either at the same organization or a different one.”
He added that Goodyear has become vital in the nonprofit world.
“She’s terrific at what she does; she screens both sides and sees who is really going to be a good fit for each other, which in itself is a very great, specific service.”
This coming year, JRP is pursuing a newer goal by making a big push to diversify Pasadena’s pool of existing board members.
Goodyear recently discussed Pasadena’s nonprofit sector, advising and commending lesser known organizations doing great work. Located in the Western Justice Center, JRP now inhabits a small, sunny corner office, a big upgrade from her former cubby desk in a corner at a local corporation.
Hailing from the social services sector, Goodyear says her education in capacity building “is all from the school of hard knocks.” Formerly, she worked at a few flailing nonprofits in the San Diego area, as well as an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico, which, she recalls, “was a lesson in human resilience and also a level of violence I had never seen before.” There, Goodyear also learned to cut financial corners and be hawkish, after learning a gardener was siphoning off tools for his own sideline business.
Later on, she worked with struggling nonprofits that would sometimes suddenly “go belly up” and close.
“The executive director would just come in one day and say, ‘Well, I think we’ve got to close; we don’t have any money left,’ and that really stayed with me … I used to think, ‘There has got to be a better way of knowing that sooner!’”
She became passionate about helping nonprofits in the greater sense, from a managerial standpoint, to create and maintain a healthy business infrastructure so they can continue their good work. Now she feels she is actually helping more people.
“It’s the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. The better state a nonprofit’s business management is, the better and more sustainable they will be,” she said. “Capacity building is still really a new concept … back when I started, there wasn’t this idea that nonprofits can be run as smart businesses; we were just good people doing good work.”
Goodyear is also tackling a new goal for Pasadena’s nonprofit world: diversifying and increasing the pool of volunteers and board members involved in the charity sector. JRP will hold “The Leadership Connection,” a three-day, nine-hour class in March to help new candidates prepare for board duty and development. The aim is to foster more board members who are ethnically and generationally diverse. The newly retired, empty nesters, millennials and people of color are highly encouraged to attend.
Part of this push is thanks to Goodyear’s 20-plus years of experience: She’s seen firsthand how people of different ages and backgrounds tackle problems differently. Part of JRP’s mission of creating skill-based volunteers was based on the baby boomer’s vision, she notes. “Baby-boomers were not ‘your mama’s volunteers,’” she noted, adding that now, millennials are bringing a whole new game to the table.
“We absolutely need millennials on board. They have such a different skill set; especially with social media, they have grown up with a great sense of interconnectedness and accessibility,” she said, noting even their fundraising methods tend to differ. “They tend to do crowd-funding versus more traditional methods, like galas or events. A good board needs to have a good mix of both.”
The board experience and leadership, as well as the powerful connections to be made in Pasadena circles, can also help millennials, or even more recent Gen Z graduates, land better jobs, she emphasizes. Many current board members are former CEOs or founders of successful businesses.
“Businesses that have diversity are much stronger and do better financially, and nonprofits that have diverse leadership tend to be more sustainable. If you have lots of perspectives you’re thinking bigger, you don’t get into the group-think mentality and you have more skills and wider range,” Goodyear said, adding that bringing more women and people of color to nonprofit boards is urgent.
In Pasadena, she said boards continue to be about 85% white in a community that is 30-35% white. “It’s really absurd — it doesn’t represent our community.”
If a nonprofit’s mission is to help, say African Americans or Hispanics struggling financially, a board has to be reflective of the people it is helping to understand the experience and really make a difference, she notes.
“Boards are the keepers of the vision and the mission. If a board is not reflective of the community, it is reflective of the same power structures that are also part of the challenges we have across our nation,” she noted.
Admittedly, Goodyear said, one of the greatest barriers to new board volunteers is financial: Board members are expected to contribute annually to the nonprofit they represent.
“We’re going to try to rephrase that because it does intimidate people … It’s important to say, ‘You don’t have to be a millionaire to be on a board.’ There are so many valuable skills nonprofits need besides just deep pockets,” she said.
Judy Gain, JRP board treasurer, who also has donated her financial skills to nonprofits, fully supports JRP’s new mission of branching out its volunteers.
“Every board I have served on has wrestled on this issue of diversity,” said Gain, who has years of public service experience on other boards, including the Pasadena Community Foundation. “Diversifying our boards means expanding our reach, our exposure in minority communities. Many of our [current] friendships and acquaintances on boards are very much alike, so together, have maybe a very narrow scope, which is frustrating.
“We want to be able to connect with every aspect of our community,” she said.
Gain is confident Goodyear will make the JRP outreach a success.
“Mel is a jewel, I have an enormous amount of respect for her — as does everyone she comes in contact with. She’s great at networking, and really keeping connections because she cares. She truly cares,” Gain said. “Mel always has the best interest of every organization at heart. She’s always making that match in her mind.”
JRP wants to help others connect the gaps in Pasadena. To volunteer, donate or for more information, visit JRPasadena.org.

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