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Life and Work with Jessica Payne

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessica Payne.

Jessica, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I started Mockingbird Analytics after ten years of working in research and evaluation for nonprofit and government organizations like CASA of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD). Working for these larger agencies, I met a ton of smaller nonprofits who would constantly tell me how much they needed help with program evaluation and outcomes for their organizations, but that those services were often out of reach due to budget. From this, I realized that I could provide those service at a much more affordable rate, provide quality products that I believe in and help a lot more organizations tell the story of the great work they’re doing. For the past three years, we’ve been serving clients from a variety of causes and locations, but most excitingly we just launched a new nonprofit arm of the business to help incubate nonprofit startups who are not ready for our full consulting services. This has been a dream of mine since early on when I realized how underserved small nonprofits are and how the infrastructure we can provide can help with organizational sustainability long term.

I have a Bachelor degree in Sociology and a Masters in Urban Planning from USC. I got my first research job in undergrad for the USC Center for Research on Crime and Social Control working as an assistant on a couple of projects in the fields of juvenile justice and gang embeddedness. I’ve stayed working in research ever since.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Absolutely not. I’ve spent most of my time doing social justice research and learned how to run a nonprofit effectively through all my jobs. What I didn’t learn was how to run a business! Figuring out pricing, taxes, marketing and all the other things that come with running a business owner have been the hardest part. I’ve been very lucky along the way to find people (coincidentally, most of them women) that have helped me figure things out and get everything done while keeping focused on our mission. Shout out to my board, accountant, and lawyers. It took me a long time to find the right business partners to start Mockingbird Incubator with, but I’m so glad I waited until the right people came along. Ejiro and Pamela have brought so much new energy and friendship to the table.

My advice for women looking to work in the social justice and nonprofit fields is to make sure you spend some time working in direct service. As a trainer, or case manager, or anything else where you have interaction with the population you want to serve. It doesn’t have to be for a long time, but having that experience has been crucial to understanding many of the management and research problems I’ve encountered.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Mockingbird Analytics and Mockingbird Incubator – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
My work with nonprofits centers primarily around creating infrastructure and strategy for small nonprofits. Most of the work we do involves facilitating the planning of how those organizations will set goals and achieve them throughout the year. We also provide grant writing and program evaluation services.

I like to think our services are very start to finish. We started out in 2015 primarily providing research and outcomes evaluation services to our clients, but then quickly realized we needed to back the truck up and do more strategic planning work with our clients to get them to the point where we knew their goals and how to create measurements for how they would achieve those goals before we jumped in and started analyzing their data. Because of that experience, we added our planning services and have just released digital toolkits for clients who are far away or need help on a smaller budget.

I’m most proud of the fact that we will work with clients of any size. We often end up helping organizations who have been turned away from other consulting organizations because of size or budget. In fact, we founded Mockingbird Incubator to help new nonprofits get off the ground and past the start-up phase that is so difficult because it involves so much upfront investment.

There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
Part of owning your own business is figuring out your sales pitch and why you are unique. We’ve learned a lot in the past couple years and I think the important part of networking is not expecting your pitch to be the perfect word for word every time, but instead focusing on how you’re evolving. Also, we never turn down an opportunity to network and I make it part of my requirement for board members. I’ve found that almost everyone knows a small nonprofit that needs help or knows someone starting an organization and we wouldn’t have made that connection without being open to going to a Bar Association event or a happy hour mixer with Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.

A second tip I have is to get on the board of a nonprofit or professional organization. It’s a great way to meet people and add service/volunteer time to your resume. I sit on the board of YNPN and it’s been a huge opportunity for Mockingbird to participate in more events for free.

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