Washington Area Women's Foundation

#AskHer: Jacquelyn L. Lendsey, DC Fiscal Policy Institute

Our #AskHer series is an interview with our partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. This interview is with Jacquelyn L. Lendsey, Interim Executive Director, DC Fiscal Policy Institute. The interview was conducted at the end of 2020 by our President and CEO Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat. 

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat: Can you tell me a little about yourself/your organization?

Jacquelyn  L. Lendsey: I’ve been a nonprofit executive for more than 25 years. I started my career in education as a classroom teacher, and then went into communications and marketing, and then nonprofit leadership.

I’m a native Washingtonian. I’ve spent my whole life here and went to grad school at Howard University. I’ve worked at both local and national nonprofits, including Women in Community Service, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and DC Children and Youth Investment Trust and that experience has given me an opportunity to be involved in education, policy, health care, and community development. I have served on several nonprofit boards including Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC Action for Children, DC Scholars Public Charter School, and the Consumer Health Foundation.

I started working as an Interim Executive Director (IED) for nonprofits in 2012. I’m really proud of the work that I’ve done and blessed that I’m able to do the work for nonprofit organizations in the community where I have lived and work all my life.

I am currently the Interim Executive Director at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, (DCFPI). The DCFPI promotes opportunity and widespread prosperity for all residents of the District of Columbia through thoughtful policy solutions.

JLS: You recently became the interim ED. Tell us about your transition of leading an organization and making shifts during a pandemic?

JLL: From an interim perspective, I think one of the things that the pandemic has changed in terms of how we do this work is that you’re used to working right next to, and seeing individuals, within the organization on a daily basis. It makes it much easier for an interim to come in on a short-term basis, learn the landscape, get a real quick sense of the staff and at the same time move the organization forward. You get to know each member of the staff professionally and personally. Those little things you get from working together and being in person, are priceless. I had the opportunity to work in person at the DCFPI office for one week, and then we made the decision to go remote.  The pandemic turned our way of working upside down.

I do think that the pandemic requires so much more of an interim because you are now doing all of your work virtually – the tools (Zoom, etc.) make it possible to do so – but even with the tools, the cues that you get from individuals when you are working in person are different from the cues you get through a screen or camera. As an interim you have to be intentional about taking the time to get to know the individuals you are working with.

I like to do individual check-ins periodically. We set a time so I can find out – what is going on with each staff member, what is working, and how can we improve. It is a challenge, but I think one of the things people who do interim work understand is that you are going to have challenges one way or the other. It just so happens that the pandemic has forced us to a virtual world. It is just another challenge that adds another skill to the interim skill bank.

COVID has not stopped the critical work that DCFPI does. We are still doing policy, advocacy, and research. We are still focused on education, budget, revenue, tax, homelessness, housing, etc. We are still looking at those issues and how they impact low-income and moderate-income people, and working with policymakers, coalition partners, funders, and the community.

JLS: How have you/your organization had to shift right now?

Our staff are primarily policy analysts and are working in coalition and with policymakers. The hours are the same, but everything is being done remotely and the number of opportunities to engage with people have increased.

DC government had to truncate its entire budget process, so now instead of a budget process taking place over a period of several months, it took place over a period of two to three months… in a very compressed period of time.

We’ve had to shift the way in which we do work. We couldn’t just run down to the Wilson Building.

We have had to be more deliberate about meetings and conversations with policymakers, coalitions partners and the community. We’ve worked very closely with our coalition partners on a Just Recovery revenue campaign, doing polling, to find out what the community thinks about the budget, the need for revenue generation, making the case that those in our community who could afford to more do so.

We’ve looked at the impact of COVID on Black and Brown residents andon Black businesses.

With our coalition partners, we made a deep dive into the impact of COVID on childcare in our community including the need to stabilize the sector, especially independent child care providers, those home providers who live on that income, and who were horribly impacted by COVID.

JLS: What are your thoughts on budget advocacy right now and the needs in our community?

JLL: DCFPI has been very deliberate in looking at revenue. While all of our revenue ideas may not have come to fruition, the need to continue to look at revenue as an integral part of the budget process must continue.  DCFPI did polling and found that there is support is this community for revenue increases. In other words, there is support for the idea that those who can afford to pay more should pay more to ensure success for all.

How do we marry budget and revenue? And how do we get our community interested in looking at new ways of increasing or raising revenue to deal with some of the issues that have come about because of COVID are doing this in coalition with a number of organizations, through the #JustRecovery Campaign; looking at how those who can looking at ways to provide more revenue to address budget shortfalls and provide targeted recovery support to those individuals and local businesses who have been hardest hit.

DCFPI, with its coalition partners is and will continue to be there with thoughtful policy solutions and pushing the envelope on how we ensure that all of our community has affordable housing, that we deal with homelessness and that we provide that a safety net and public safety for our community.

JLS: Back in 2016, you came and spoke to The Women’s Foundation’s board about racial equity and provided some guidance to us about how to apply a racial equity lens to our work and encouraged us to step out and speak up. Your advice helped pushed us, and we have pivoted and fundamentally changed our work. I’m wondering, from your perspective four years later, what’s changed and what hasn’t changed in terms of racial injustice?

What doesn’t look different is that we are talking about the same issues. It’s just that COVID pushed it to a higher level, but we’re talking about the same issues in terms of equity, race, poverty, homelessness, housing, education, health care. And we’re still talking about the same issues about how those resources are divvied out.

On the other hand, four or five years later, we see more and more organizations and institutions talking about being intentional and deliberate about racial equity. Intentional and deliberate about looking at racial disparities. Intentional about infusing racial equity and social justice within their organizations. Four or five years ago that would have been unheard of.

I was fortunate to serve on the board of the Consumer Health Foundation, a leader in using a racial equity lens to govern its grantmaking work in the Washington region. More and more funders and organizations are infusing racial equity and social justice to advance the health and well-being of everyone in our community.

In other words, some communities are barely surviving, and others are thriving. How do we end that disparity? One way for us to end that disparity is for us to look at it, to be deliberate, to talk about it and to be intentional.

JLS: How does this play out as an Interim ED?

JLL: First of all, the job of an interim is to be very clear that you’re not taking the job, so it frees you. Second, you’re leading through transition, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, how the mission is actually being delivered, and whether or not there are issues or ways in which it could be done more effectively. You share with the board honestly. You provide the board a bird’s eye view of their organization before they bring in a new leader, allowing them to  make critical decisions on moving forward and setting the stage for the success of the new Executive Director.

JLS: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

JLL: From an interim perspective, I love doing interim work. It is never the same from one institution, one organization, to the next. It is the challenge of being able to step in and transition quickly with a clear understanding to move the organization forward knowing when I am gone I have left the organization ready for new leadership.

Learn more about DC Fiscal Policy Institute here!