Life isn’t easy in the nonprofit world, but the work is rewarding. Hence it draws people like Allison Jones, Director of Marketing and Communications for Code2040, a nonprofit that creates pathways to success for Black and Latinx people in the tech sector. With an interesting journey from education to marketing, Allison uses everything she’s learned to help empower her small but mighty team in their unique mission.
In this Q&A, she chats with Column Five Cofounder Josh Ritchie about the benefits and challenges of nonprofit marketing, how to stay motivated and avoid burnout, why taking a stand is the next big marketing trend, and more.
JR: What did your journey to Code2040 look like?
AJ: What a winding road it’s been:
I started my career in education! I wanted to be a teacher. Right out of college, I ran an after school program for high schoolers in Philadelphia. Because the place was small, I was able to work closely with the development team, seeing the ins and outs of their work. I thought it was interesting and fun: working with different people and seeing how your work directly affects the organization. So my next gig after that was fundraising at a school in New York, where I’m from (Brooklyn!).
That said, on the side I had been blogging about my experiences being a young woman of color building a career in social change. I loved it so much I wanted to focus on digital media full time and landed a gig at a tech-based nonprofit, where I developed their first content strategy.
After doing this for a few years, and a short stint at another tech-focused nonprofit, I quit my job in July of last year, wanting to have some time and space to plot my next move, while freelancing. I realized that I loved building: creating processes and projects from scratch, able to see my vision come to life for an organization improving the lives of others. While searching, I came across Code2040 and knew pretty instantly it was for me: the focus on economic and racial justice and a team of brilliant people in sunny San Francisco. It was a no-brainer.
JR: What does your team look like, and how do you all work together?
AJ: The Code2040 marketing team is small but mighty:). It’s myself and a Communications Associate. Because our team covers a wide range of marketing and communications work and supports the needs of the entire organization, prioritization and collaboration are critical. This looks like regular check-ins, project management via Asana, and Slacking the day away. We also have to be able to shift focus on the fly, given that Code2040 is a startup, so constant communication, while balancing the need to reach long-term goals, is also key.
JR: What are some of the brands that you and your team look up to? Where do draw your inspiration?
AJ: I really admire DoSomething. They are bold, vibrant, and unapologetic.
JR: Who are your favorite storytellers?
AJ: Is it cheesy to say HONY still manages to catch me by surprise? The other day a story was shared by a Dreamer.
This passage struck me:
“I’m a Dreamer. And everyone loves the Dreamers because we’re a perfect package to sell. But why am I the only one who gets the chance to feel safe? Whenever I hear ‘I stand with Dreamers,’ I always think about my mom. I’m not willing to throw her under the bus. I’m not willing to be a bargaining chip to make her seem like a criminal. Everything people admire about Dreamers is because of our parents.”
For far too many of us, our basic survival is based on being “A good one” instead of just being human. And we need to always remember that we get nowhere without the love and labor of others. As far as storytelling, it’s not about Brandon, though he clearly is doing an incredible job. It’s about the courageous people who are willing to open up. We can all be storytellers.
JR: The non-profit sector has been noted for having a high burnout rate. How do you all stay motivated doing what you do?
AJ: For me, part of it is motivation, but the biggest part is energy management. I’m very lucky that Code2040 allows for flexible schedules. I schedule meetings, downtime, worktime, etc. in ways that align not just with my goals but with how I work and feel most energetic. I know, for example, calm mornings are critical for me to feel prepared for the day. This looks like a breakfast, coffee, and watching some reality TV. Yes, silly, but why not start the day with coffee and jokes?
JR: How did you become passionate about promoting higher levels of Black and Latinx representation within the tech industry?
AJ: I’m passionate not just about full representation in tech but what it means for Black and Latinx lives: access to opportunities to thrive and build generational wealth, and a more equitable, innovative, and prosperous economy. Tech is an economic and social engine. As Black and Latinx people become the majority (2040 is the beginning of the decade of that shift), it is critical that we have access to these opportunities.
JR: Can you tell us a bit more about Code2040’s strategic shift from an educational nonprofit toward a civil rights organization ?
AJ: It’s simple: systemic failures require systemic solutions. The issue isn’t that Black and Latinx people aren’t interested in tech (after all, they make up 20% of CS degree recipients); it’s that various aspects of the tech industry—from how we hire, to the companies we invest in, to our very cultures—are not set up to include Black and Latinx people. We need to identify and dismantle those systems—and not alone. We’re building a community of 40,000 change agents who will tackle this issue wherever they are.
JR: What other shifts have you experienced/witnessed during your short time at Code2040?
AJ: We’re bringing our programs to NYC! Next summer we’re launching the Fellows Program in New York, and seeing this come to life has been incredibly exciting.
JR: What superpower do you bring to the table to help continue aiding them in reaching the brand’s goals?
AJ: I ask good questions. The right question determines everything. I highly recommend, A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger.
JR: What is one story about a Code2040 student that stands out in your mind?
AJ: There are so many! But one that I love is of a few Fellows from last year who started a podcast to share their experiences as young women of color navigating tech. It’s called Three Unicorns, and I highly recommend it. We want students, volunteers, managers, and anyone else committed to this work to continue creating change wherever they are. Seeing these students expand the conversation to share their stories and bring others in was inspirational.
JR: What’s been the most challenging part of building the Code2040 brand? What’s next for Code2040?
AJ: Building the plane as we fly it. As I identify and develop the core aspects of our brand—identity, messaging, etc.—we may pivot. This may require me to shift priorities, but more so it may require me to look at the direction of foundational assets in a new way. So I have to ask, “What’s the heart of the organization that needs to be reflected in everything we do, even as some other aspects may change?” and keep this answer centered in my work.
JR: How do you measure results?
AJ: Our results are tied to strategic goals and program needs. But since we’re doing a lot of new things this year on social, editorial, marketing in general, a lot of it is testing and looking for indication that:
A) This resonates and could help us reach and engage key audiences.
B) Our team has the capacity and ability to execute on new ideas.
I rarely just consider external-facing goals. We have to pay attention to how we operate to ensure sustainability and that resources are used efficiently.
JR: Which marketing trends do you feel will be on the rise within the next year?
AJ: We all need to figure out what we take a stand on. The past few months have seen a lot of hate and hurt. Where will we step up? How will we use our voice to take a stand, to take action, or to inspire others?
JR: Can you code?
AJ: I can’t!
JR: What piece of advice would you give to anyone looking to build a career in content marketing? Any last words of wisdom?
AJ: This is tactical, but go on informational interviews and set aside time for testing ideas, whether on your own or at work.
Many thanks to Allison for sharing her thoughts. For more wisdom from game-changers in content marketing and content strategy, check out these Q&As:
- Dayna Rothman of BrightFunnel on the difference between good and great content.
- Keith Messick of Lucidworks on why there’s so much bullshit in marketing.
- Dropbox’s Victoria Chin on the challenges of changing brand perception
- Ethan Zanat of Zendesk talks rebranding and creativity.
- Carly Stec of Hubspot talks about the challenges of building and running a brand publication. .
- Business Insider’s Mike Nudelman tells us what publishers want from your content.
Of course, if you need any help with your own marketing, we’d love to chat.