This blog post is part of our series getting to know the La Piana team. This week we spoke with Makiyah Moody, Senior Consultant. Makiyah joined the firm in February 2016 and is based in Nashua, New Hampshire.
When and why did you decide to dedicate your career to the nonprofit sector?
It wasn’t really a conscious decision. I originally thought I’d go into international business, but then my first job out of college was at a nonprofit, as a civil rights investigator with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. While there, I participated in research on racial discrimination in hiring, and even though it wasn’t real (I was essentially an actor), the impact of being rejected for a job when I was more qualified than my white counterpart was eye-opening. It made me grateful for the privileges I have, and it made me want to use that privilege to make a difference for those who didn’t have it.
Later, my first job after grad school found me at another nonprofit: one focused on charter schools. So although it wasn’t intentional, after…oh, almost 15 years…it feels like working with the nonprofit sector is where I’m supposed to be. It’s like that quote by Steve Jobs: “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” So it wasn’t a deliberate choice on my part, but it’s definitely been meaningful — and looking forward, I know that there’s more I can add to the nonprofit sector than anywhere else.
How have your previous positions, both in and out of the nonprofit sector, shaped your work today?
I feel like having on-the-ground experience in nonprofits impacts my approach to consulting because I’ve been in the client’s shoes. As a fundraiser for a charter school in Gary, Indiana, I had mentors who were helpful in showing me the ropes, and I think in some ways consulting is similar to mentoring. It’s helping people to think through challenges and to problem-solve without having a prescribed answer, but by working through the solutions with them based on what their reality is. As consultants, we have a limited view into clients’ specific challenges and situations, but it’s helpful for me to be able to reflect on the experiences I’ve had as a development director and as an executive director, the challenges I faced, and how I was able to overcome them.
What are your favorite types of consulting projects?
I’ve done a significant amount of work in governance (I got certified through BoardSource last year), and thinking about the nonprofit sector and the value it brings to society, I feel that a lot of that depends on strong leadership at the board level. I like projects that involve developing good governance to help the nonprofit sustain itself. I also really like working with organizations that are thinking about how they can continuously improve in living their values, particularly around cultural competency, diversity, and inclusion. It’s satisfying to work with organizations that are grappling with that because there are no easy answers and they have to be willing to have the hard conversations, to look at their policies and identify those that aren’t necessarily race-neutral but that actually pose barriers, and to make changes.
What do you see as the top challenges and/or opportunities facing the sector in the coming year?
Human capital. Recruiting and retaining high-quality talent is a challenge because the sector is generally under-resourced and trying to fulfill aspirations that aren’t in line with their actual budget. I also think there’s huge potential in more collaboration and strategic partnerships. There are so many nonprofits doing the same thing and being really territorial, I think that if they really focused on their mission and joined forces they could do so much more with their shared resources.
What advice would you give new and emerging leaders?
Great question…. I think I’ll channel two people who were formative in my own experience. One was the CEO of a charter school management network in New Orleans. We were on a business trip in Houston and after spending all day with a group of great leaders there, I’d opted not to have dinner with them, preferring some quiet time to myself. Afterward, he said to me, “You should have come to dinner, because leadership is relationship.” I’m an introvert, and being “on” all day can be draining, but what he said made me realize that the choice I’d made was all about myself, whereas as a leader sometimes you need to do what’s uncomfortable or inconvenient and take one for the team. So to new leaders, I’d say: invest in relationships, because leadership is really relational, not just transactional. You can achieve more if you have people around you who are bought in and aligned with you, and that takes being intentional with the relationships you create.(Photo: Makiyah during her travels in Japan.)
The other words of wisdom I’m thinking of are from the fund development consultant Simone Joyaux. I went to one of her trainings where she cautioned that sometimes “we rush to answers before we ask all the questions.” It’s important to take time to be thoughtful and inquisitive; dig into your curiosity instead of just being focused on making decisions. Often we’re too quick to make a decision so we can move on to the next thing instead of really thinking through what makes sense for the long term.
If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be and why?
A couple weeks ago, I might have answered “Chris Rock” (he was great hosting the Oscars), but I was just reading material for my leadership program (Pahara Institute’s NextGen Network Spring 2016 cohort) and learned about Ella Baker, a black Civil Rights leader. The theme of the readings is “leadership and identity,” and I have to admit, I hadn’t given much thought before to the Civil Rights Movement and gender dynamics, but here’s Ella Baker, this powerful, inspiring woman who was deeply involved in organizing for the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the men of the time were dismissive of her. For example, at the SCLC, they wouldn’t make her a full director, but instead called her an “acting director.” And there are quotes from her about being in conflict with Dr. King and other ministers in the Movement. I’d like to hear about her life and learn about what her motivations were. I think identity is a fascinating thing, and when I read about the historic struggles and what kept people like Ella Baker walking into a mob of angry whites…just the fearlessness and fierceness of being able to face hatred head-on. How bold! It makes me feel compelled to keep working toward equity and fairness and to create a better world.