Dr. Joynicole Martinez, founder and CEO of The Alchemist Agency, believes the health of any population is established at the intersection of its housing, healthcare, and educational systems. Today she and Dolph talk about building the best boards to support the nonprofits that bolster those systems.
(2:30) It’s about the destination: Joynicole shares her inspiration
(4:00) Inextricably linked: healthcare and housing
(6:14) More than an obligation to report: board governance
(10:00) Securing the board members right for your nonprofit
(12:40) The good, the bad, and the ugly – the reality of filling a board vacancy
(16:00) A board member’s necessary ability to politely challenge and be challenged
(20:30) The disconnected staff member
(25:10) As told by Joynicole: the untouchable, mystical board and the frightened staff members
(27:01) Lift Every Voice: Joynicole’s first occupation as a promoter/manager of gospel singers
The Alchemist Agency: www.thealchemistagency.com
Read the Transcript for Episode 96 Below or Click Here!
Transcript – Episode 96 – Housing, Health, and Board Governance with Dr. Joynicole Martinez
Dolph Goldenburg: Welcome to The Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast. I am your host Dolph Goldenburg. Today, we speak with Dr. Joynicole Martinez Founder and CEO of the Alchemist Agency in Charlotte, North Carolina. I adore this statement from her website: “Dr. Martinez fervently believes the health of any population is established at the intersection of its housing, healthcare and educational systems.” To that, I Dolph Goldenburg, say a hearty Amen. For over 20 years, Joy has worked to improve the capacity of nonprofits in those three pillars of Population Health. She draws upon her extensive experience in grant writing, fundraising, donor management, governance, human resources and visual branding. Joy has special expertise in working with nonprofits that have specific regulatory and budgetary constraints. Think about housing authorities and healthcare systems. Those type of budgetary constraints and regulations. So, let’s get this conversation started with Dr. Joy Nicole Martinez.
Hey, Joynicole. Welcome to the podcast.
Joynicole Martinez: Oh, thank you so much for having me.
Dolph Goldenburg: I am thrilled you were here in part because, having run an HIV supportive housing organization myself, I completely agree with the quote that I read from your website about the intersection of housing, healthcare and education. If we could convince more policymakers that housing is health care, we would have much better healthcare outcomes in this country. What inspired your understanding of this crucial triumvirate?
Joynicole Martinez: So, I actually began my career working with my parents. My parents are primary care physicians, and they went through the National Health Service Corps. That meant they were in world medicine, and one of their specialties was HIV care management. I ended up falling into this great purpose because I got to see how housing affected the outcomes for their patients.
It just was a natural outgrowth to say, “Well, if the medicine is dependent on them feeling complied to take it,” but them complying to take it is also dependent on where they live, how they live, distance from a pharmacy – things that we all might take for granted. If all those things affect their overall being and affect their overall outcome, then our responsibility should be to make sure their housing is safe and secure and located in a place where they have access not just to care but to all the things that make them compliant to their care plan.
So, it was just kind of a natural offshoot I guess of being exposed to it every day.
Dolph Goldenburg: I’ll share with you, coming from the HIV supportive housing world, we would certainly see it because when someone falls out of housing, they typically fall out of healthcare. Even if they’re seeing their doctor, it’s really tough to keep your medication sanitary, dry, safe and not lose it. If you stop taking the meds for even a short period of time, the virus makes a raging comeback. From my perspective, they are so inextricably linked.
Joynicole Martinez: There have been so many studies about the link, but what hasn’t happened is that those studies have not changed the way we fund America.
We have researchers saying over and over again, “Listen. We cannot distance them. We can’t separate them. Where you live, zip code, number of bathrooms in your home versus the number of people square footage, those things are actually linked to how well you perform in your day-to-day. That message hasn’t made it from the academic world to the actual world of policymaking and governance. I’m at once the person trying to make organizations function but at the same time trying to advocate for organizations to have the better capacity to function because policy, governance and regulation come in line and come in order with what has been proven.
Dolph Goldenburg: Let’s dig down into the work that you’re doing with organizations to help make them function within the dysfunctional system that we have. For organizations that really do have very strong regulatory and budgetary constraints, how is board governance different for them than for others?
Joynicole Martinez: We know this. For nonprofits, you’re not going to make any money. At the end of the day, volunteer to join a board, right?
The difference in boards is like night and day because you have people who hopefully align with your purpose primarily. They are philanthropic because they’re volunteering, and they’re giving their time; they’re hopefully giving resources and not just funds but networking and access to ideas, people, policymakers and lawmakers. [It’s not to lobby] (because that would be horrible), but we sometimes think board governance is just about how you report or how you deliver your message, but more of it is about how you position yourself and boards, especially when it comes to a purpose-driven organization, they really are the position. So, who you play fingerboard really determines how the public sees you. That’s the beginning. It isn’t your CEO or your COO or your CFO. It’s the people that are setting the stage… You know, one person manages, but they moved the manager. So, I think helping them govern in a way where every decision, every single step, every event, every fundraising event, and every grant aligns with the purpose of the organization is something we cannot move to the right or to the left of.
Dolph Goldenburg: Who are those right people for your board?
Joynicole Martinez: Really, it’s the talent that can bring in resources. It’s the person that says, “Hey, I may not be able to raise one million dollars, but I have access to this bank I work at, and I really believe in what you’re doing. I’m really willing to go on and evangelize about our purpose, our goals, and our outcomes and what we’re expecting to do. I’m ready to champion the cause whether it’s through my enormous social media outlet, my network of friends, or my philanthropic family.
Its people who can bring something to the table that builds the capacity. Hopefully, you choose board members, or they choose other board members that help fill gaps. We don’t always think of it that way, but you don’t want the same person on your board. Diversity is so much more than just race, ethnicity, gender, etc. You know that’s an old message. Diversity is about diversity of thought and diversity and capacity. I think the best board member brings something diverse and new but is very aligned with your purpose.
Dolph Goldenburg: I also think its diversity of network. If every board member is a Yale Grad, that’s really fantastic, but it also means it’s a heavily Yale Grad network that the organization has. If you’ve got board members from NC State, Georgia State, Yale and Penn, you’ve got a different network as well. A big part of the diversity is not just to be representative of the community, but we need to be able to reach out to different communities and get our message out there.
Joynicole Martinez: That’s where I think we’ve kind of failed because in the nonprofit world, we tend to group our friends, “Hey, I have this great idea. I want to affect change in this area.” So, really with older nonprofits, you see where they have a group of family members, or they’ll have their friend from college, if not their cousin. It’s just our immediate network because, again, with budgets being restrained, we go to the people who will volunteer to help us move forward. However, this doesn’t really bring a diverse thought process, doesn’t bring diverse resources. You all kind of have the same mindset, and you all have the same kind of resources because you grow up in your career in the same place. It’s just something that we have to move away from as an industry, but, unfortunately, we are in an industry where resources are scarce.
It’s hard to get people in unless you’re doing the work of positioning yourself in the marketplace as being purpose-driven sure, but well-organized and well-governed.
Dolph Goldenburg: So, talk to me about how you get those right Board members in.
Joynicole Martinez: I think the first thing is to have a very clear story. When I say a clear story. I [don’t] mean beyond a two-page success story with some pictures on it.
I mean a story that says this is what we are doing. We’re out here we’re making this happen with our limited resources. We’re leveraging everything from the paper clip to the dollar. We’re using everything to the extreme of the extraordinary, and we’re having these outcomes. You have to put your openings out. Rather than say, “Oh I’m looking for this board member,” surely, you want to have a job description for your board. Sometimes, we don’t, but that’s a necessity. You want to make sure you have a clear post about what we’re looking for as far as responsibilities and roles; we’re also open to suggestion, and this is what we’re trying to do. I think you have to be willing to let board members come in and come to you. You have to be open to ideas that maybe you weren’t necessarily open to before. People, ideas, resources, connections, right? The first step is to definitely put it out. Put it on LinkedIn. There are so many organizations that will help you push out your board openings. Post it. Get out there. Make sure that you have great visual branding digital strategies, that they’re moving, that you’re speaking about what you’re doing, that you have clear roles for your board so that your organizational documents clearly state what they will be doing. You may want to make sure you have insurance for your board, right?
And then, you have to be open to letting them come in and let your board recruit other board members.
Dolph Goldenburg: In that recruitment process, I think the organization has to be very self-aware of what the organization and the board’s issues are as well as what types of board members they are looking forward to help resolve those issues. That way, when having a conversation with a prospective board member, you can honestly say, “Our committees are in shambles, and we really need someone who’s going to come in and run the Finance Committee. We think you’re the perfect person to do it, but you need to understand this is a committee rebuild. You would not be coming into a system that’s already functioning well.
Joynicole Martinez: So, I’ve heard people say to me, “Well, I want to join a board,” and they’ll give me this list of what they won’t do. They still say, “I don’t want to go to board meetings outside my house. They have to be virtual or digital. I don’t want to meet more than x-days a week.” Especially, when you’re talking about boards that don’t pay, those are real constraints. Those are real. The other part of it is they also think they’re going to walk into a very high functioning committee, and usually, if there’s an opening, there’s some dysfunction of some sort. Whether someone left the board, there’s something that has happened that opened the door. I think you have to be very real about when that happens and how it happened and what was the impetus. Someone passed, someone left, somewhere moved or someone got mad at the other person and decided to walk away. It’s a hard thing to do because you’re asking people to give of themselves, and you’re not necessarily offering much back.
Dolph Goldenburg: I also think a lot of board members just term out. It’s not like they were a problem child and stormed out. I think a lot of board members just term out, but I also hear you because I think part of what you’re saying (and I would agree with this) is that not everybody is cut out to be a board member.
Joynicole Martinez: At all.
Dolph Goldenburg: Not everyone has a sense of volunteerism. Not everyone has a sense of commitment. Not everyone has the grit to follow through on those commitments when they get uncomfortable.
Joynicole Martinez: Even if you have a monthly meeting or even if it’s virtual… people will say, “Oh what? OK, let’s just say we’re going to meet the skype every month.
If that’s two years, right? That’s 24 meetings. At some point, you may miss a meeting. There’s typically reading to be done before the meeting. There are action items after the meeting. Not everyone’s going to agree we hope because that would be a little scary. So, there’s going to be some level where it’s uncomfortable.
You want some level of deeply structured and respectful conversation to happen in your board meetings. You want that kind of challenge to happen because that’s when we are better – when we’re challenged to change and to think.
While those make for a great dynamic in the board, they can become a source of conflict that’s difficult to overcome.
Dolph Goldenburg: I also think that not everybody is cut out to be a board member. If being challenged in a respectful and polite way is something that is incredibly painful for you or difficult for you, you might not be a great board member. We can also flip the coin and say if you don’t know how to challenge someone in a respectful and polite way, you might not make a good board member.
Joynicole Martinez: One of the wonderful things about boards is that you learn to agree that we don’t disagree. We have this thing, “Oh I agree to disagree.” No, you can’t really agree to disagree, but you can agree to respect that person’s point of view. You can agree that you’ve heard them, that you’ve listened well, that you’ve take it in what they’re saying it’s a message, that you’ve aligned that with your thinking. You can say, “Well, this is where I see eye to eye with this person and where I don’t.” Now you’ve done that in a way that honors that you’re both adults, both volunteering, and both here to do the best good and your due diligence and your duty for the organization. I think if you’re there, yeah, we may disagree on what the Gala should look like, what grant we should go after, or what the priority should be for the year, but I think that’s why you have the diversity there. Then you come to a consensus respectfully.
Dolph Goldenburg: It’s funny that [we] have a disagreement over what that Gala will look like. I have actually seen boards like debating, “Are we going to use plastic china, or are we going to use real china at our gala?” I’m not making this up. I’ve actually seen like two camps emerge on the board, and one camp is like, “How am I going to hold a plate made out of china and a cup made out of china?” And the other side was like, “Well, the same way you would a plastic.” I mean really, I’ve seen that happen.
Joynicole Martinez: Boards are fun, but they can be a little entertaining in a way where you feel like you are on a reality show. You’re like, “OK, did this just happen? What kind of drama just exploding here?” I think it’s because people do feel passionate. They do feel connected. If done well, you feel deeply connected to the organization. If done well, you feel like it’s a part of who you are. So, I think you do have those kinds of fights.
Dolph Goldenburg: I also think that when those types of fights happen, it is critical that the person leading that meeting, whether that’s the committee chair, the board chair or whatever, kind of stay above the fray and really help find a way forward for the group.
Joynicole Martinez: I think that’s absolutely critical. The person that says, “OK. Yes, let’s either table that or let’s just make a decision and move on.” Some say, “Well, we’ll put it that way for a little while.” You need someone who can decide to do that be or decide this is what we’re doing. There’s no more discussion. This is what this is what’s going to be the next step. You also need the person that will say, “I’m not even in the conversation. I’m just going to be the person that slams the gavel.”
You know someone has to be the one who says, “Yeah I’m not even getting into that with you all. No one cares. We just have to get this agenda point, focus item, action item done. So, let’s put that aside.”
Dolph Goldenburg: I’m the guy who is agnostic on the color of the napkins, the color of the carpet, the color of the wall. I really don’t care all that much about that. Other people can make that decision. It’s not that important to me.
Joynicole Martinez: One of my assistants is very good at saying, “What does that really change what we have to get done today?” She’s very good at questioning, “Hmmm?”
She knows when to jump in and ask, “Does that really change or affect how we’re getting this done right now?” She’s kind of the person that helps me get people to move forward. She’ll ask a question that kind of provokes that thought of, “Yeah, okay, maybe it’s not that important. Maybe I can let it go for today.” I think you have to have someone who says if you can’t do it, you need the person who says, “Yeah that’s great conversation. We love it. Let’s move forward.”
Dolph Goldenburg: I don’t want any board members that are listening to think that were beating up on boards right now. So, let’s move off topic from boards for a bit and talk about the staff of the nonprofit.
Joynicole Martinez: One of my favorite topics, because I’m truly a person who believes in organizational design, one of the patterns rather that I see over and over again is the staff person disconnected to the purpose, disconnected from the board (because of the way the organization is structured) and disconnected from how their particular role affects the outcome.
Dolph Goldenburg: Let’s start with disconnected from the purpose because I think that’s often a deal breaker in a mission-driven organization.
Joynicole Martinez: You’d think. It would be for me, but a lot of times people are looking for work, and, unfortunately again, sometimes we have nonprofits that will take hire a person because they need someone better. We’re not always stringent on the requirements for the role and how we fill them, because, let’s just be honest, salaries are not always extraordinary in the nonprofit industry. They can be, but many times they’re little less than average for an area. A social worker for this state may not make what a case manager for Nonprofit B is going to make, but they have similar qualifications. So, there comes that time when they’re taking the job, and they may not see how their role directly lends power or how it moves the outcome. They may be underpaid. Then we could have this pattern where we have people who have been in a role for a very long time. They’ve been at the job. They came in because they knew someone, or they are part of that original core group that started the nonprofit. They are mispositioned within the nonprofit. So, maybe they are connected, but totally not doing the job that they’re best at.
Dolph Goldenburg: This is where I’m going to challenge you just a little bit. The nonprofit sector does pay a little bit less than the for-profit sector, but to me, passion’s not about pay. If someone’s not passionate for the mission from day one, no matter how much you pay them, they’re still not going to have passion for that mission.
Joynicole Martinez: But how many times have you seen a nonprofit where you see staff, and they’re just there? They’re just working.
Dolph Goldenburg: Absolutely, but I think that’s an issue with recruitment. For example, if it’s an HIV/AIDS organization look at if the person’s AIDS ministry at their church is on their resume. From that, they may have some passion for this. If it’s a youth service organization, if the person worked as a counselor at a summer camp for disadvantaged youth, they might have some passion about it. If they volunteered you know with Big Brothers Big Sisters, they may have some passion around youth services. So, I think with recruitment, we must know not everybody is a good fit for my nonprofit, and we can’t fix fit.
Joynicole Martinez: But that’s the thing: You can’t fix it. I see, and I’m hoping that my work changes, people who took a job, and they just took the job. They went on some career-building service website, and they saw a position.
They knew the position and took it. It may be a little bit less than they thought, but they say, “Here I am. I’m here,” or they say, “We have a grant that we’ve won. We need to fill the position.” We don’t take the time to stop and really find the best person that fills the role. Especially, when you’re talking about wear multiple hats, which tends to also happen, you have to have passion for that purpose. If you’re 20 percent in this grant, 30 percent in the other and 50 percent in the third, you really kind of have to believe in what you’re doing.
The truth is though we have lack in our staff. We have this issue where we’re not putting people in place who really feel what we’re doing. So, they’re discouraged disconnected. Their work may lack a little bit of vigor. We dismiss it as [dissatisfaction with pay], but there really isn’t what’s wrong. What’s really wrong is that we haven’t engaged them to what we’re doing.
Dolph Goldenburg: Talk to me a little bit about that connection because you mentioned part of the issue is a connection between the board and the staff and maybe that connection not being there.
Joynicole Martinez: Well, I’ve been in nonprofits where the staff is not allowed to talk to the board, not even allowed to know their names.
Dolph Goldenburg: But you list the board on the 990. That’s a public document. Anyone is allowed to pull the 990 and see who the board is.
Joynicole Martinez: I’ve been in nonprofits where staff has never seen a 990, never read the annual report. I mean it sounds strange, but they just get up, go to work, do their job, and go home.
I’ve been in nonprofits where they don’t even know what grant their position is funded from. If you don’t know where you’re funded from, how in God’s name would you know what to do? So, the disconnect is sometimes the board is kind of considered there’s untouchable group of mystical people who float around, and if you talk to them or you anger them, everyone’s fired. People think of them and warn, “Oh, don’t disrupt their work.” Or they just show up once a month, and they sweep in and sweep out. You put out your coffee and your doughnuts, and no one bothered to vote you know. Don’t lose your job! That’s something we have to get past as a general rule. We have to teach people that we’re all aiming, shooting and working every day for the same purpose. If we believe in it wholeheartedly and unified in it, we should be able to communicate about how that looks and feels for everyone in all aspects of the organization.
Dolph Goldenburg: I absolutely love it. Joynicole, I want to leave a little bit of time to ask you the Off- the-Map question. So, I was intrigued when I read your first job was promotion and management of gospel singers. There are some typical first jobs like lawnmowing, working at the grocery store or working blockbuster video. I’m showing my age here, but you managed to promote gospel singers.
How do you get into that?
Joynicole Martinez: So, my father, long before I was a sparkle in anyone’s eyes, recorded on a big TEAC machine, the reel to reel.
So that was kind of his hobby, recording, and he’d record on this big thing every Sunday. He’d kind of go back and edit. When I was born.
We moved into a new house, and he had a studio built on our third floor of the house. So, I grew up watching these things kind of float in and out of the house… Mighty Clouds of Joy, Andre Crouch… just people kind of coming in and out. I’ve loved the music. I loved all the buttons in the bells and whistles of it. It just really was inspiring to watch people pour themselves out. I loved the repeats and then watching how that comes out into something very beautiful and expressive. So, my first job was working for my father’s record label – great time. So, even though he was an M.D (still is and works full time), my very first full-time paid position was to promote the artist that he signed.
Dolph Goldenburg: Wow! That is a super cool first job now. Did you put that down in your college essays?
Joynicole Martinez: I did actually.
I talked about my very scientific father who, before medical school, was a chemist at Kodak for 20 years. So, here, you have someone with a very scientific mind who sold me on the other side of his life is writing music scores and very creative, and that really influenced how I sought my education.
So, I had to include it because it was kind of like the balance in the House. All these science minded people…
And then there’s this music. That’s fantastic.
Dolph Goldenburg: Such kudos to your dad. He was really this lifelong-learner. As a chemist for 20 years and doctor, he’s like “Yeah, I’m going to get into music and learn everything I need to know about music.”
Joynicole Martinez: Oh yeah, and my parents are really my heroes, and I know children often say that, but in my life, they literally are my heroes. I’ve just watched them kind of follow their dreams and go after education in a way that I even find challenging. I graduated high school the same year my father graduated medical school.
Dolph Goldenburg: Really? Wow.
Joynicole Martinez: So yeah, who gets to say that? So, I saw him going through exams, studies, and class and he was retired, but he was in school. I grew up in a house where challenging yourself, going for it and just learning something new. You want to code? Just get a book. You want to switch your career? Just go back to school. Teach it to yourself. So, it is really nice to do what I do because it keeps me kind of on my toes learning things.
The nonprofit world changes all the time, and housing and healthcare changes all the time. So, I think it kind of invigorates me a little bit to stay abreast.
Dolph Goldenburg: Nice. Well Joynicole, thank you so much. I’m grateful for your time with us today. I want to be sure that listeners can find you so your business. The Alchemist’s Agency can be found at the www.thealchemistagency.com and do not miss Joy’s outstanding blog post at the www.alchemistAgency.com/articles/resources, and, of course, you can also find Joynicole on Twitter at www.twitter.com/joynicolem. Thank you again. It has been such a pleasure having you on the podcast.
Joynicole Martinez: I had a great time. Thank you so much.
Dolph Goldenburg: Maybe you’re listening to this podcast while you’re running on the treadmill to increase your cardio capacity. Don’t press the emergency stop button to go searching for a pen and paper. All the information from today’s conversation can be found on the www.successuflnonprofits.com Another thing you should not stop is your willingness to rate and review this podcast. Please give us some feedback on iTunes, Stitcher, Libsyn or whatever app you use to download. By the way, did I mention how incredibly excited I am that we are about to hit our 100th episode? In a world where most podcasts never reach more than 10 episodes, a stockpile of 100 conversations with thought leaders in the nonprofit sector is a treasure trove for our listeners. That is our show for this week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.
(Disclaimer) I’m not an accountant or attorney, and neither I nor the Successful Nonprofits™ provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been providing for informational purposes only and is not intended or should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified licensed professional about such matters.