Here are 3 ways to harness color, nature, and wisdom as you emerge into Spring!


Did you know more than half of consumers’ first impressions are based on color alone?

And that one in 12 men is color-blind?

Colorblind: My husband Don is red/green colorblind. When he looks at something purple, the red disappears, and all he sees is blue. If you put muted red letters on sage background, he may see… nothing at all! If you’re trying to reach a male audience, like Big Brothers, think of Don. Better yet, run it by a colorblind colleague. He’ll appreciate your consideration and your piece will have more impact.

Use colorful language: No, I don’t mean swearing. Make your story vivid by replacing generic words with more sensory ones. ‘Raspberry’ is juicier than red, ‘mahogany’ glossier than brown, and ‘azure’ more celestial than blue!

The color of culture: Trying to reach a more diverse audience? Colors evoke meaning, emotion and memory. Be aware that they mean different things in different cultures. In India, brides traditionally wear red, so it represents purity and joy. In China, red means good luck, but in South Africa it’s the color of mourning. In Western countries, red may say Warning! Attention! or I Love You!

Check out some tips on how to design for color blindness or take a colorblind test and “see” for yourself!

Fun Fact: Warm and hot colors may improve fundraising results!



You may be sick of people telling you to go for a walk. That it will help you think more clearly, reduce stress, and improve your health. I get it. This article by Emily Delaney on the subject made me laugh out loud: I’m a Short Afternoon Walk and You’re Putting Way Too Much Pressure on Me.

You can harness the energy of spring, without becoming a nature freak.

i. Outside In: Get some houseplants. You’ll clean your air and it’s nice to be surrounded by living beings if you’re still in isolation. Or start an indoor herb garden to inspire your inner chef.

ii. Pocket Parks: Discover a nearby pocket park, grab sandwiches and take a colleague to lunch. Some of my favorites in center city Philadelphia are:


iii. Anger Management: Are you really pissed-off? Let nature be your outlet. Hacking at hedges, attacking weeds, and chopping wood are great ways to release frustration. You can feel virtuously productive while imagining your revenge on a really annoying competitor. If you’re an apartment-dweller, volunteer for your local arboretum or garden.



Illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt

I’d pushed myself to the breaking point, working more and more, sleeping less and less, feeling like a failure, and getting sick. I cried, I wailed, I abused the universe in general and myself in particular.

Alex, my dear, wise friend from college, listened. Quietly. Sympathetically. Until I was spent.

“You know, Val,” she said. “When it’s winter, you can’t make it be spring, no matter how hard you try. But when it’s time for spring to come, nothing you can do will stop it.”

She meant there was a time to slow down, even close down. To turn in, rest and rejuvenate until the sap within me rose again.

We’ve been wintering in more than seasonal terms. The pandemic has battered us, physically, emotionally and politically. It’s been a long dark winter for America, and we’re just emerging.

Katherine May’s book, Wintering, reminds us that the winters of our soul are barren only if we fail to learn from them.

“It often seems easier to stay in winter, burrowed down into our hibernation nests, away from the glare of the sun. But we are brave, and the new world awaits us, gleaming and green, alive with the beat of wings. And besides, we have a kind of gospel to tell now, and a duty to share it. We, who have wintered, have learned some things. We sing it out like birds. We let our voices fill the air.”

As a result of my winter of burnout, I rebalanced my life and started my consulting firm. Each client sparked my creativity in different ways. I had more time with my children and healed enough to help others. I’ve mentored dozens of young fundraisers, to guide them to fulfilling and productive careers.

Shawn Achor, one of Harvard’s most popular lecturers and author of The Happiness Advantage, has studied happiness. Surprisingly, he found that getting a better job, slimmer body, new love or fancier car does not make you happy. It’s the other way around. You get happy first to achieve a better life. Check out his Ted Talk, and download my Happiness Journal to start a happier life today!

It’s time to wake-up. Cherish the wisdom you earned in winter as you come alive to the glorious color of nature in spring.

Best, Val



Valerie M. Jones, CFRE

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you… Don’t go back to sleep!

~ Rumi

P.S. Emerge with delicacy and resilience, like these dainty snowdrops, deserving of award for gallantry.





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How to Keep Your Sponsors Coming Back

We all love having sponsors. But how do we make them love us back?

Sponsors love knowing what you did with their support almost as much as you love having it.

By checking in with them after your event and keeping them informed of your successes, you increase the chances that they’ll return year after year!

(Bonus points if you can get them all in the same room together for a sponsor summit!)

Watch below for more information on how to foster relationships with the sponsors we love!


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Why Should Anyone Serve on a Board?

Love is one of the biggest reasons why someone serves as a nonprofit board member.

Many of us push interests to the backburner as we advance our careers or raise families. But, serving as a nonprofit board member can help you reconnect with those passions and find greater fulfillment in your day to day life.

And, as a bonus, we get to spend time with people who love the same things we do!

Watch below to learn more about why board members do what they do. And remember, if you want to show your board members some love this month, give them Nonprofit Hero: Five Easy Steps to Successful Board Fundraising!

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Cultivate Connection in 2021

Lucy’s first event meant the world to her and it was failing.

My daughter Lucy is beautiful, smart, a passionate political activist… and she’s on the spectrum.  She struggles to communicate and strains to organize her week, much less a rally. On that grey October morning, a few friends trickled in, slowly, so slowly. Nearby diners ignored us.

Until Lucy leapt onto the fountain base and raised her violin.

She played I Dreamed a Dream from Les Misérables.

Her violin sang of hopes torn apart, of yearning and love, of loss and revolution. She offered no introduction before she played nor explanation after. She didn’t speak. She just played. To her neighbors, to her town, to a country divided.

And in that moment, she united us. Friends and strangers, protesters and passers-by listened.

True leaders gather us for good, they don’t shatter us into bloody splinters. And sometimes, like Lucy, they use untraditional means to unite us, to raise us above the conflict and chaos.

Try these three tips to foster togetherness this year: 1. Cut others some slack, 2. Listen, and 3. Leverage different personalities.

Tip 1: Cut Them Some Slack!

I was serving on a committee with two friends. Julie may have dropped a ball. Marilyn, who is usually incredibly kind, sent a snarky email. Julie’s response was even snarkier. “Whoa!” I thought to myself, “this is not normal!” I called each and smoothed their respective feathers.

The next day, I read a New York Times article. According to psychologists and neuroscientists, adults are becoming socially awkward due to Covid isolation. Relationship skills are atrophying. We overshare, misunderstand, and struggle to connect. Our remote worlds feel smaller and more barren. We may confuse loneliness with sadness, anger, and fatigue.

What can you do about it?

Pause: Before you flame a colleague, take a breath. Recognize that most of us aren’t at our best right now.  Give them the benefit of the doubt. Call to see if you can work things out.

Chill:  Need to relax? Here’s a list of free, guided meditations that can take you from tense to tranquil. (Fragrant Heart and Tara Brach are two of my favorites.)

Learn: If you’re feeling lonely, read these astronaut-approved tips on coping with isolation.

TIP 2: Listen

I was right, and totally focused on “winning” the fight with my husband. It was outrageous that he wasn’t listening to me!  We dug our heels in, deeper and deeper, until I finally stomped off.


Our opinions are tied to our identity, including our group identity. Group affiliation is a human survival tactic. Psychologically, our pre-existing beliefs keep us anchored to our world. Letting go of these beliefs, no matter how irrational they are, can feel risky, or even dangerous.

When you feel your temper rising, ask yourself, “Do I even want to understand their position?” If you don’t, you won’t get far. Stop. Get curious. Ask questions. Liz Dow, CEO and president of LEADERSHIP Philadelphia, offers the following:

Steps for active listening:

  1. Make it your sole agenda to understand the other person.
  2. Refrain from judging the person or their words.
  3. Do not try to solve their problem or fix them.
  4. Meet them where they are.
  5. Leave behind everything else going on in your life-be there for them in that moment.

I’m fascinated by body language. Observe the other person’s posture, where they look and how they move. MacArthur Award-winning actress Anna Deveare Smith deciphers body language to create her characters. Click here to see how she uses this technique in a master class on empathy.

TIP 3: Leverage different personalities

Opposites attract, but they can also drive you crazy.

I like structure. I created my first five-year plan when I was eight years old. My husband is a rule- breaker. He disdains systems, charms gate keepers, and ignores protocol. Working together we recently secured a record-breaking investment in his company.

Personality tests like the Myers-Briggs, Big Five and Strengths-Finder succeed because they demonstrate that no one personality is best. They show us how to play to our strengths and work around our weaknesses. By understanding your own personality and honoring others’, you can work together for the common good.

Oscar Wilde said, “The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.”  So cast your team well.

If you’re curious, try this free test personality test.  Let me know what you discover!

We have a fresh start, a chance to come together after a year of isolation and division. Cut your friends some slack. Empathize and listen. Use diversity to bring people together.

Best, Val



Valerie M. Jones, CFRE

P.S.: My New Year’s Resolution is to stop interrupting. What’s yours?

“The great leaders are like the best conductors- they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.”

–  Blaine Lee


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The Most Common Mistake in Fundraising

The New Year is an opportunity to think about, plan, and accomplish your fundraising goals. And it’s better to do that imperfectly than not at all!

As a friend and mentor once said, “You have to do it the right way, and when you can’t do it the right way, you do it the wrong way because it’s gotta get done!”

To learn how to address your board’s common fundraising mistakes and make 2021 a year of success, check out Nonprofit Hero: Five Easy Steps to Successful Board Fundraising

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What’s in Your Nonprofit’s Future?

Come and Gaze into My Crystal Ball!

“You will meet a tall, dark stranger, encounter a shaman in Outer Mongolia, and ride a yak.”

If a seer had predicted that future before I met my husband Don, I’d have laughed in her face. It’s true that I love adventure and want to ride every animal that can be ridden, but Outer Mongolia?

Yet 2011 found us crouched with a golden-eyed shamaness in her smoky tent by Lake Khövsgöl.

And yes, I got to ride a yak.

Magic didn’t whisk me there. It was the sweet fruit of a series of steps, decisions made, opportunities offered, and actions taken.

You don’t need magic to boost gifts to your nonprofit, so skip the soggy tea leaves and crystal balls.  Focus on what you can do to spark support, right now, next month, and next year.   Here’s how you can use sensory language, monthly giving, and planned giving to brighten your nonprofit’s future.

Right Now: Grab your donor’s attention with sensory language.

Since the dawn of time, humans have savored stories rich in sensory language and metaphor. In fact, we’re wired for it. We understand abstract or generic language. But more of our brain lights up at words that evoke sight, sound, touch, smell and even taste.

Look at the appeal you’re writing. Can you replace “a difficult period” with “crunch” or “bitter?” Can you describe an “effective” program as one that “illuminates” your constituents’ lives or “flows?” If you do, you will engage both your reader’s body and their intellect.

Let’s say you begin a proposal with a dry recitation of your nonprofit’s history and mission. Make it come alive by conveying the experience of your cause. Here’s how my colleague, Spencer Koelle, opened a proposal for the Elmwood Park Zoo:

Stride through the gates of the Elmwood Park Zoo and meet the steely gaze of a bald eagle.”

Sensory metaphors can capture your audience’s imagination. Consider these:

  • It got dark
  • A curtain of darkness tumbled down

Which is more vivid? Which will you remember?

Feel free to create your own original metaphors. Avoid those deadened by overuse or time. The phrase “toe-the-line” may convey limits, but it’s unlikely to evoke the image of a foot. Click here to learn more about the power of metaphors in conjuring visual images.

Next Month: Jump-start your recurring gifts program.

Americans procrastinate.

Almost one third of annual gifts occur in December, and 12% of all giving happens in the last three days of the month. So it’s a great time to convert annual donors to monthly ones, to persuade new supporters to start with recurring gifts, and to plan how to keep these donors once you have them.

Convert your annual donors to monthly givers. These loyal supporters may hesitate to write a big check at the end of this chaotic year, but be willing to make small, monthly donations instead.

  • Invite them to give slightly more than their annual gift. For example, $10 is nothing to a $100 donor. If they give $10/month instead of a one-time donation, they’ll have given $120 by next year.
  • Make it the default on your donate page. It’s called “reduction of choice,” and who doesn’t want a simpler life? This approach ensures more new donors choose monthly giving from the get-go and makes one of your most critical fundraising techniques the star of the show.

Acquire: My brilliant colleague, Jessica El-Zeftawy of the Frederick County (MD) Public Libraries, started a program that’s nearing $1 million in recurring gifts. Here are some of her tips:

  • Advertise, advertise, advertise! Promote your monthly giving program all year long. People can’t donate to your program if they don’t know it’s there!
  • Test your technology: Make sure your website can handle the monthly donations. Outdated (or nonexistent) software can kill your recurring gifts program before it’s born.

Retain: Once you’ve acquired your monthly champions, you want to keep them. Jessica recommends you thank the heck out of them and celebrate their commitment.

  • Celebrate their give-a-versary by sending small, unexpected gifts, such as socks bearing your nonprofit’s logo.
  • Invite them to increase before their year is up. Jessica has automated this. Monthly donors might receive a request to go from $10/month to $12/month after 4 months or 6 months or 8 months. These incremental increases can add up to big dollars for your nonprofit.

Next Year: Start a planned giving program, no matter how small.

The coronavirus has stripped us of many illusions, including that of our own immortality.

We can no longer avoid thinking about our own deaths.  Creation of wills and charitable bequests have spiked during the pandemic, according to a new report from FreeWill, a company that provides free online estate-planning tools.  March 2020 saw a 400% increase in wills with bequests over last year.  When infections seemed to subside, so did creation of wills with bequests; as the number of cases swelled, so did estate planning.

If you have a small development department, planned giving can be intimidating, arcane, and legalistic. But a bequest is the largest gift many of your donors will ever make.

Don’t you want to be included?

Even small nonprofits can take three simple steps to encourage planned gifts:

  1. Add the line, “Have you included our nonprofit in your will?” to your website, stationary, and gift reply cards. Planned giving is more about marketing than it is about lawyers.
  2. Include planned giving in your nonprofit’s gift acceptance policy. Reviewing how your nonprofit can accept gifts is an easy way to get you (and your board) thinking about basic systems, such as how to accept gifts of stock.
  3. Create a legacy society. This entails three simple steps, naming, identification and recognition. Coming up with a cool name for your legacy society is fun, and your board will enjoy it. As in #1 above, provide donors with opportunities to self-identify, to indicate they’ve included you in their estate plans. They don’t need to share the details. Then, recognize them in your publications and events

After all, who among us wants to die having made no impact? Having changed nothing? Legacy societies ensure that we remember donors whose actions have changed lives.

If you’re still a bit squeamish, here’s some language to encourage planned giving. Listen to this free conversation with Dr. Russel James to learn how you can discuss gift planning sensitively during COVID 19.

“Live the life you have imagined.”  – Henry David Thoreau

Athletes use visualization, adding as much sensory detail as possible. Muhammad Ali famously imagined his triumph in advance, over and over and over again. The salty smell of sweat, the stark lights, the referee declaring him world champion. Visualization works because our bodies can’t tell the difference between reality and what we vividly imagine. And athlete or not, visualization is easy, accessible, and effective.

You may use negative visualization without realizing it. You worry, “I’ll be late,” or “He’ll hate it.”

Imagine a different future instead. A future where your sensory language makes readers laugh, cry, shiver and want to help. A future where recurring gifts pour in and every faithful supporter remembers your cause in their will.

Imagine and enact these tips, and you won’t need magic after all.

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Valerie M. Jones, CFRE


For You: 


Pennsylvania Ballet, Chief Advancement Officer


Bread & Roses Community Fund, Solidarity Fund for COVID-19 Organizing

Free Book


“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

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Why Introverts Make Great Fundraisers

Why Introverts Make Great Fundraisers Video

Take-Away: It doesn’t take an extravert to make strong connections.

Don’t forget to book your Nonprofit Hero talk and training!

You’ll find more fundraising tips and techniques in Nonprofit Hero, Five Easy Steps to Successful Board Fundraising, available on Amazon, or for free from your local library. And via my blog, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages. Schedule a game-changing board retreat that’ll turn your volunteers into Nonprofit Fundraising Heroes, contact email hidden; JavaScript is required.  

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Evolution or Extinction? The ABCs of Nonprofit Survival



“Val, do you think online giving will ever take off?”

“I don’t know, Lawrence, did the telephone catch on?”

Decades ago, I was chatting with a foundation president and, I’ll admit, being a bit of a wise guy. My point was that fundraising is constantly changing. If you don’t evolve along with your donors, they’ll leave you behind.

The threat of nonprofit extinction is serious. By the end of 2021, 10-30% of nonprofits will merge or close, according to experts cited in the Washington Post and Deloitte. We don’t know if this crisis is like a blizzard that will pass or the onset of an Ice Age.

Amidst 2020’s chaotic uncertainty, simplicity is your best path forward.

Consider the ABCs of nonprofit survival that have already worked in 2020:

ACT. Two big risks we face are re-acting without checking our facts or not acting at all.

Can’t meet with donors in person? Dive into a long-deferred project. While cleaning up his database, one colleague discovered many previously neglected major donors. Recruit new allies and board members. Trustees with ADHD (like me!) may excel in a crisis. Each new board member added increases board giving.

One nonprofit reacted to the social justice uprising by freezing all hires. They assumed they needed a more diverse pool of candidates. The statistics showed they’d built a laudably diverse workforce, but they hired more men than women. That was the inequity that needed addressing.

Be strategically proactive. Communicate with your board, donors, volunteers and staff regularly. Capture meaningful stories and engage your constituents in ways that bolster your cause. Here’s a checklist that will make it easy to do so.

BRAVE this new world.

If there was ever a time to be bold, to try something new, this is it!

For years, a garden talked about pre-registration for their plant sale fundraiser. This spring, they did it. Supporters reserved their items online and picked them up at the drive-through plant sale. Not only did the garden raise more money without the expense of unsold inventory, it was so successful they offered a second round.

What’s in your back-burner pocket?

Give your nonprofit team specific, easy tasks at which they’ll succeed. A series of little wins can build confidence and momentum.

It’s easier to be brave when you play to your fundraising strengths. Introverts ask differently from extraverts, concrete thinkers from visionaries. To discover your asking personality, (or that of a colleague or board member) send your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to email hidden; JavaScript is required. I’ll send you a free, in-depth profile that will describe your asking strengths, including who and how you’ll best ask. If you don’t know your MBTI/Jungian personality, take the Myers Briggs’ test or try Psych Central’s free quiz.

CLARIFY your message.

We’re assaulted with a cacophony of messages. As the number of communications go up, our attention span goes down. To be heard, your message must be simple, specific and relevant.

Simple. What do you think I meant to convey with these images?

In both cases, it was “raindrop.” Looking at the picture on the left, you may have thought windshield, window, or raindrops. The image on the right is clearer. Use the simplest words/images possible to reach your constituents.

Specific: Your descriptions of your nonprofit’s vague, possibly insurmountable challenges may overwhelm donors. Make each request specific and actionable. For example, “Please give $X for a community intern,” or “Give $Y so we can test the water.”

Relevant: When asking for support, make your appeal relevant. Because if it isn’t, others’ will be. Alcoholism has plagued us for millennia. Why give now? An addiction recovery nonprofit could stress the fact that a bar is one of the most dangerous places to be in a pandemic.

Focus on the simple things to help your nonprofit survive, Act, Brave, and Clarify.

After all, nonprofits are constantly evolving. I took my first fundraising job in 1983 to work on something called a “computer.” We’ve learned to reach constituents via email, websites, texts and social media. Now, we’re creating innovative techniques to videoconference. In future, other media will expand our communications toolkit.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a nonprofit person, a donor, volunteer, member of staff or board. As such, you’re already supporting your cause through these turbulent times. In my admiration for what you’ve done, I echo The Tempest’s Miranda, when she exclaims,

“O brave new world that has such people in it!”

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-Valerie M. Jones, CFRE

For You:


Natural Lands

Vice President of Conservation Services

City of Philadelphia

Community Engagement Director

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Director of Human Resources


Support for Strategic Alliances for Organizational Sustainability

Nonprofit Repositioning Fund

Support for New Creative Work in its Earliest Stages

National Performance Network Fall 2020 Creation Fund

Support for Education and Job Training Programs

Brook J. Lenfest Foundation

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Money, Jobs, Action: What Your Nonprofit Can Do to Support Racial Justice




In 1995, Freedom Theatre’s renown artistic director Walter Dallas chose me to lead his development team. I was one of the few white employees. I knew a lot about fundraising but not much about race relations. My Freedom colleagues taught me some important truths, kickstarting my ongoing education.

The one thing they didn’t have to teach me was that Black lives matter.

Freedom was founded in the 1960’s to present theatre rooted in the African American tradition. At that time there were no Black actors in commercials. They rarely appeared on stage, TV or in films except in menial or comic roles. Freedom helped create the professional performing opportunities that we take for granted today. That’s progress.

Off-stage, the violence of racism persists, as George Floyd’s killing highlighted… again. The world is watching to see how our leaders, including our nonprofit leaders will react.

Nonprofit leadership begins with the board of directors. In 1994, BoardSource’s Leading With Intent report, found 86% of our nonprofit board members were white. In 2017, they found 84% are white. That’s only a 2% improvement in 23 years! Even another respected source, the Fundraising Effectiveness Report, found that more diverse boards make better decisions and that the nonprofits they lead are more resilient.

Almost all of us are connected to nonprofits, as donors, staff or on boards.


Step One: Money

Am I insisting that my organization makes investments that align with its mission?

Your environmental nonprofit wouldn’t invest its endowment in coal plants. Its investments align with its mission. Similarly, if your nonprofit takes an anti-racist position, insist it invests its endowment in companies with diverse leadership. This is harder than it sounds. There are no uniform metrics for corporate diversity, and some don’t report it at all. Still, if your endowment is invested in publicly traded companies, your nonprofit is a shareholder and shareholders have rights. Primary among these rights is the right to vote, including for board members, and to inspect corporate records! Check out for more information.

Step Two: Jobs

Am I posting job ads on platforms for Black job seekers?

Ensure your recruiting strategies match your anti-racist position. If you post positions on mainstream platforms, you’ll likely get mainstream candidates. Try posting on sites like and Seek potential Black board members in professional associations, such as the Barristers Association for Black lawyers in Philadelphia or the National Black MBA Association‘s local chapter.

Step Three: Action

Do I listen to and reflect the wisdom of our Black constituents and do I include them in our materials and planning?

Who do you feature? What testimonials does your nonprofit share? If your planned giving brochure features only white donors, you can’t expect Blacks to include your nonprofit in their wills! Consult colleagues and constituents of color before launching new initiatives or fundraising campaigns. By listening to them, you’ll improve your project, serve everyone better and (possibly) avoid awkward and expensive mistakes.


For your nonprofit:

If you want a more robust nonprofit, diversify your staff. If you want to keep abreast in a fast-changing society, recruit trustees with varied backgrounds and run your ideas past constituents of color. If you want to strike a blow for racial justice, put your endowment money where your mouth is.

For you:

A friend once said, “Val, you have white privilege. You can choose whether you deal with racism. Every morning, I wake up Black. I don’t have a choice.” Have those uncomfortable conversations. Read, learn and work to free yourself of racial bias.

My mentor, Walter Dallas, died in May. Missing him, I took out my old Freedom Theatre sweatshirt. It’s a bit threadbare, but you can still see the embroidered “Val,” followed by the saying, “Freedom Begins With Me.”

Thanks, Walter. I’m working on it.

-Valerie M. Jones, CFRE


African American Museum of Philadelphia

Grants and Development Manager

Bread and Roses Community Fund

Development Manager

Kulu Mele African Dance & Drum Ensemble

Managing Director


Support for Vital Community Organizing During COVID-19

Bread & Roses Community Fund: Solidarity Fund for COVID-19 Organizing

Funding for Creative, Community-Centered Media for Social Change and Justice

Independence Public Media Foundation: Community Voices Fund

Emergency Gap Relief Fund for Philly’s Black Working Artists

Village Arts Gap Fund


Urban League of Philadelphia

African American Museum in Philadelphia

Mill Creek Urban Farm in West Philadelphia

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Q & A Vlog Series: What Makes an Effective Leader?

Q: What is Val Jones’ definition of an effective leader? Do you have any real-world examples?

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