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Behind the Career: Finding her place in the nonprofit world

Caroline Jones

Position: Executive director of Doorways for Women and Families, a service and housing provider for homeless families and survivors of domestic violence.

As a youth, every summer Caroline Jones would visit her grandparents, who developed and ran a school for disadvantaged children. Eventually, after social service experience in the public and private sectors, she decided the nonprofit world was where she belonged. Now she is leading an organization that serves her life’s passion: helping disadvantaged families.

You mentioned that there’s a tendency to choose between compassion and leadership. Can you elaborate?

We’re often misinformed. You don’t have to choose between being a compassionate person and being a leader. I was misguided by previous leaders and employers that didn’t think I had the goods.

Even when I was going through my master’s in social work, I had to pick between clinical and administration. They were two separate tracks. I didn’t want to pick. I want to be a part of the plan. I like being strategic and a part of the bigger piece. The connection between it all is vital to really making an impact on the mission. I find that I’ve been able to lead so many teams to such a powerful place where everyone is empowered to give their best.

What has been your proudest work?

I took on a job at a childhood development center one August and school was going to start in September. We needed 45 staff. We only had nine. Not to mention we had 12 infants lined up and no cribs. We were able to bring the level of care up for the kids coming to the center, maximizing community partnerships and bringing in high-quality staff.

How did you accomplish that?

I’m very strategic. I knew where we were going but I also knew that I could come down to the most detailed level and if I needed to put a crib together, I would do it. If I needed to change a diaper, I’m not too big for that. That’s another reason why I feel I’m so comfortable in the nonprofit zone, because I lead appreciating every role on the team.

Leadership lessons from that experience?

Helping the organization be 100 percent about people growing and feeling valued. But don’t take it so far that they feel their job is a life sentence.

One thing that is essential is performance evaluations. They are not a once a year, stick in the file, check the box. You take a sincere interest in your employees’ performance and make dedicated time for reflective supervision to happen. Make sure you’re helping them to see where they’re succeeding. If their strengths no longer align with your mission and what is needed on the team, then help them see where they can go.

What culture do you want to create at Doorways?

Culture is a big piece. Culture eats strategy. Having a place where people feel valued. It was like that before but it got challenged because the agency went through so much growth over a rapid period of time. Making sure you have very clear practices. Start meetings with people talking about what you did this weekend that made a difference. Send out blast e-mails recognizing someone that did something that was really helpful. Being attentive. Shining your light on what’s going on in the agency. It’s amazing what happens when people feel really good about where they work. They get really creative and really good things start to happen.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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