High Impact Philanthropy: Alexis Buchanan Thomas Of Black Voters Matter On How To Leave A Lasting Legacy With A Successful & Effective Nonprofit Organization
An Interview with Karen Mangia
Have passion about the mission. If you are passionate about the work you are doing it will show. Do what you love and it won’t feel like work!
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders and leaders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non-Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexis Buchanan Thomas.
Hailing from small town Findlay, Ohio, Alexis was born into a family ingrained in the fight for racial justice. Her parents started the first chapter of the NAACP in Findlay, with Alexis following in their footsteps shorty after by establishing a Black Student Union at her local high school. After graduating from Clark Atlanta University with a degree in Mass Communications and working in corporate America for 11 years for companies like AT&T and Global Experience Specialists (GES), she decided to lend her talents to philanthropy by beginning a career in funds development. Currently the Director of Development for Black Voters Matter, Alexis has seven years of experience working in the non-profit sector. She has raised more than a hundred million dollars in funds for various non-profits over the years. Her personal philosophy is “The World is Your Canvas, Paint it well.” Alexis lives in Atlanta Georgia with husband and son and an awesome dog named Jackie for Jackie Robinson.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
I would say a major life experience that shaped who I am today was the experience of being laid off twice while working in corporate America. I had given so much over the years and felt like I was left with nothing except a career where I helped rich people become richer, with no positive impact on my community. That second layoff was when I decided to go into the nonprofit sector and started researching careers to make a transition. Now, as the Director of Development with Black Voters Matter, I am able to help shed light on the needs of people who look like me every day.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.
Mentorship: Aligning myself with people who supported me and who could teach me how to get where I wanted to be in my life and career. I’ve been lucky to have some great mentors who taught me a lot, even with tough love at times.
Resilience: You will try things, and you will fail on occasion. More times than not, you learn from those mistakes and keep going. A quote I always keep handy is from Nelson Mandela: “I never lose. I either win or I learn.”
Empathy: It’s always best to take a breath and consider the other person. If you can take a moment to step in the other person’s shoes, versus stepping on them, you get much further.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
My coworkers and colleagues are very passionate about our jobs and this work. I don’t think I’ve ever worked at an organization where the staff is so genuinely passionate about building power, increasing access to resources and helping to create better opportunities for Black people. My teammates have a work ethic that is truly unmatched, and I believe it’s because we all realize how necessary and impactful this work is for the communities we serve.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?
As a national voting rights organization, Black Voters Matter is dedicated to expanding Black voter engagement and increasing progressive power through movement-building and engagement. This is especially important now, at a time when the integrity of our democracy is at stake and the rights of Black people are under attack. In many ways, we are fighting for Black lives by not only helping to advocate for equal access to the ballot box but also for policies that protect and help advance the well-being of Black people in this country.
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
I am a third-generation civil rights activist, so I am doing my family’s legacy work. Both my grandparents and parents were heavily involved in the civil rights movement, so I truly feel that I am carrying on the work that they started. They made great sacrifices and had to risk much more than I have had to, which fuels me daily.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
Black Voters Matter’s warrant clinic initiative is one of the organization’s most impactful recent initiatives. We focus on taking court out of the courthouse and into the community. Outstanding warrants can have a devasting effect on a person’s ability to gain employment and approval for housing. The goal of the program is to promote community justice and build greater trust within the Black community by establishing ongoing community partnerships with the courts. This program works to rescind outstanding misdemeanor warrants and often erases fines as well. We recently had a father attend the clinic whose child needed to go to the doctor in another state, but the father had an outstanding warrant and was afraid to drive to get his daughter the healthcare she needed. Because of the warrant clinic, he was able to get his license restored and get his child to the doctor without having to face the penalties of having an outstanding warrant.
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
Become more involved in your local community. Go to your local city council meetings, your school board meetings. Attend your neighborhood planning meetings. Knowing what is going on in your local communities affects your ability to make change, and it’s actually even more important than a national election, because it affects your day-to-day life. You have a voice that you can use and that will be heard if you attend these meetings and become more involved.
Encourage your family and friends to participate in the process. We often tell people at BVM, we don’t care who you vote for, just go vote. So, make sure you remind your family and friends to register and vote. Offer to give them a ride to the polls if they need one. Send out a group text reminder on election day.
Vote for yourself! If you don’t participate, you silence your own voice.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?”
The five things that I believe are needed to create a successful and effective nonprofit that has a lasting legacy start with a sound strategic plan. You can’t know where you are going if you don’t have a plan for the drive. If you want to make long term impact in your community you have to have a strategy and a plan.
Next, build a communications plan. Make sure that people know the impact you are making in your community. Share your stories often!
You should also have a diversified funding source. Just as a recession or inflation can affect your personal household, it can affect your nonprofit too. Make sure that you have multiple sources of resources to support your work, so if one decreases you can be sustainable by leaning on the others. For example, individual donations to black led orgs have been down considerably since 2020, so we’ve had to compensate by increasing our institutional (grant) funding.
It’s also important to have programs and initiatives and be clear about what they are.
Lastly, have passion about the mission. If you are passionate about the work you are doing it will show. Do what you love and it won’t feel like work!
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
I think the pandemic made us all more aware of our health and wellness and the need for a healthier work/life balance. I’ve learned to be okay with not finishing everything on my to-do-list because I do as much as I can every day. The pandemic allowed me to give myself and others more grace and space in this work.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
I like to read motivational quotes. I have a little fishbowl that I pull them out of when needed.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them.
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
Yes, follow us on all social media @BlackVotersMtr or visit our website at www.blackvotersmatterfund.org to get involved.
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.
About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.
High Impact Philanthropy: Alexis Buchanan Thomas Of Black Voters Matter On How To Leave A Lasting… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.