Jerelyn Rodriguez

Co-founder and CEO, The Knowledge House

How old is your organization? Five years
What sector do you work in? Nonprofit/ Education and Workforce Development
How long have you been working in this sector? 10+ years
How long have you been with your current organization? Five years

What has been the most significant development in your sector over the last 40 years?
Recently the nonprofit sector has been investing in more partnership initiatives, whether collective impact or collection action networks. This has provided the sector with an opportunity to innovate while being more efficient. Philanthropists can now see a larger ROI when they fund partnerships that can build each other’s capacity.

What has been the greatest challenge during this same period?
As a startup entrepreneur who is a female millennial of color, it has always been challenging to fundraise when similar organizations are much older, bigger, with track records. These organizations currently are mostly led by white leaders, and it’s challenging to have a funder take a risk with the newcomer.

How has communication—with staff, clients, and/or donors—changed over the course of the last 40 years?
Technology has allowed us to communicate with anyone at any time. Today, my staff can text students and use messaging platforms like Slack, which are faster than email.

How has risk-management changed over this period?
Technology has also made it easier for hackers to forge checks and make online financial transactions. We have to be more alert with our bank accounts and secure cyber insurance.

How have your sector’s needs changed (or those of your clients) in the last 40 years?
I think leaders in workforce development now recognize that our programs need to be longer and more intense to prepare our clients for sustainable futures. This means that our programs have more costs.

How has the conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion shaped your organization over the past 40 years (or since it was founded during this time until now)?
At TKH, all of our staff are people of color, so we resemble the population we serve. This makes us very unique, as the rest of the world is trying to have a more diverse workforce. At TKH, our challenge is how to ensure our culture is inclusive of non-people of color.

How have nonprofits’ priorities shifted in the last 40 years?
I think more nonprofits are trying to secure more earned revenue streams and diverse income sources in general. I find more nonprofits trying to sell training services or online products to different audiences to not solely rely on philanthropy.

What opportunities exist now for nonprofits to break through into success that did not exist 40 years ago?
I think education nonprofits especially can save costs when it comes to designing or using curricula. Since so much content is available online for free or reduced cost, nonprofits can rely on tools like YouTube, Khan Academy, and free MOOCs to educate their clients.

What leadership qualities are necessary to succeed as a nonprofit executive today?
To succeed as a nonprofit executive, one has to have hustle. Getting those long-term outcomes and seeing that community impact will take time. For example, anti-poverty nonprofits have existed for years while poverty rates haven’t improved drastically. Executives need to have the commitment to serve and innovate, although you won’t see the problems get solved in the immediate term. Regardless, we need to get buy-in into the indicators that demonstrate progress and we need to be persistent in getting the funds necessary to do the work long-term.

What will nonprofits need to do to remain relevant and necessary to their clients over the next 40 years?
All nonprofits will need to ensure that staff have digital fluency skills. All companies, including nonprofits, need to be tech-enabled in order to stay relevant.

What skills do you believe are necessary for people to succeed as managers over the next few decades?
Critical thinking, coaching, practicing empathy, and listening.

Where would you like to see your sector in 40 years?
I would love to see the majority of nonprofits led by folks that represent the population. It’s about time.

Why did you join this sector?
College worked for me, but it didn’t work for most of my friends. I wanted to launch a nonprofit that exposed young people to alternative pathways and prepared them for success without a college degree.

How do you hire?
Various teammates need to be involved. In addition to job posting on public sites, we rely on our network for referrals. Then job candidates meet with their potential managers, the cofounders, and even students.

If you were just starting out in your sector today, what advice would the person you are today give to the “newbie”?
Don’t give up. If you don’t give up, your success is inevitable. Failing forward leads to success.

What do you want your work culture to be like?
I want to master the balance between safe spaces and corporate. I think people of color especially need to learn how to thrive in traditional corporate environment, but also should be empowered to build work environments where they can bring their whole selves and not experience imposter syndrome.

Name three qualities that are inherent in being a strong leader.
Listening skills and hunger to learn, negotiation/pitching, and passion.

What are your organization’s values, and specifically leadership values, and how do you ensure everyone who is part of your team embraces them?
Our core values are commitment, growth mindset, empowerment, hustle, leadership, and innovation. We evaluate staff on how they embody values annually, and talk about how we discuss them with students during staff retreats.

Find out more
The Knowledge House
Jerelyn’s Twitter
The Knowledge House Twitter
Jerelyn’s Instagram
The Knowledge House Instagram
Check out a video


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