Community Spotlights are question-and-answer features that highlight Dodge Foundation grantees, partners, funders, giving circles, staff and trustees, all of whom are working to transform New Jersey into a model of racial justice and equity where everyone can thrive. For this Community Spotlight, we spoke to our own Jennene Tierney, who joined the Dodge Foundation team in 2021.
Tell us a bit about your organization and your role.
I am both excited and honored to serve as the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s Vice President of People, Culture and Equity. This is a newly created role for the foundation and is an intentional investment in the care and building of our team and culture in a way that emphasizes our commitment to integrating equity in all that we are and all that we do. In my many years of experience in this field I can honestly say that not many nonprofits or philanthropies make this kind of investment.
I have been with the Dodge Foundation for just over a year. During this time, we have been engaged in deep organizational change and transition work to align our grantmaking, our internal operations, and our staffing with our new strategic direction. We are in the process of becoming something different. We are moving from being a more traditional philanthropy with long standing sector-based funding and relationships in the arts, environment, education and informed communities to a becoming a racial justice funder and an anti-racist organization. We are looking at all of these sectors through an intersectional lens with advancing racial equity and justice at the center.
This is deep and fundamental change. We have a long presence and deep commitment to a thriving New Jersey. We know that we are newer members of the racial justice movement and that as an organization, we are a work in progress. I am humbled every day to be on this journey and to be a part of this work. I know deep inside myself that this is THE work of our generation, and I am proud to be part of helping our team meet this moment.
What is the mission and vision of your organization? What is the change you’re hoping to make in New Jersey and more generally?
The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation is committed to a just and equitable New Jersey. We are committed to supporting organizations and leaders that are working to address systemic racism, to dismantle unjust systems, and to build the power and capacity of those who have been historically under-resourced across the state, specifically our communities of color.
What’s your vision for a just and equitable New Jersey?
New Jersey is my chosen community. I have lived in many places but have chosen to work and raise my family here. I see so much potential in the diversity of people, opportunities and resources in this state. Unfortunately, these opportunities and resources are far from equitably distributed. This can be clearly seen by the disproportionate outcomes for our families and communities of color across every socio-economic issue. There are incredible people and organizations who have been fighting to change this for years. This is a critical moment. There is a light shining on these issues and we have greater opportunities to make deep, systemic changes.
I have lived in many places but have chosen to work and raise my family here. I see so much potential in the diversity of people, opportunities, and resources in this state.
My vision for a just and equitable New Jersey is one where the strengths and power of our multi-racial and multi-cultural diversity are leveraged. Where access to education, healthcare, economic opportunity and fair treatment isn’t determined by your zip code, municipality or the color of your skin. I envision a future where we systematically identify and repair the failures and harms that have been done to families and communities of color by our economic, cultural, political and criminal justice systems. Where instead, we all have opportunities to build and retain wealth for our families, to have our voices count in our local and state politics and in how resources are allocated. Where there are rules and commitments at all levels to ensure all our children receive high quality education and all our families have access to good jobs and safe, affordable places to live.
What’s an example of your work having the impact you envisioned? What’s a success story for you?
The transformation we are currently undergoing at the Dodge Foundation is an important example of the impact we are trying to create. This foundation has done important work in supporting vibrant New Jersey communities over the years. However, despite all our best work and intentions, our state still has enormous racial disparities across every measure of quality of life. We are looking at that truth head on and asking ourselves: What is our vision for New Jersey and what are the biggest barriers to realizing it? With that commitment and conviction, we are in the process of changing and aligning every part of our work towards that North Star. Even when it’s difficult and even when it takes us out of our comfort zone into places where we don’t have all the answers.
My career has focused on helping leaders and organizations align their people and their work to their aspirations and their purpose. What I consider a success story (in progress) at the Dodge Foundation is seeing and being part of an organization that is putting its money where its mouth is—actively shifting our resources, time and talent to ensure we are investing in those organizations and leaders closest to the harms, the solutions and the expertise. Building toward a more just and equitable New Jersey, not just through our words, but through our funding, our investments and our team. I hope that more and more companies, nonprofits and philanthropies will do the same.
What’s next for you and your organization? What is your big rock for the next 12 months?
This kind of transformation is an evolution. We are not changing from one thing to something else. Rather we are learning and evolving inside and out to make sure that our work and practices reflect our refined strategic direction and our values. It takes time and incremental steps and will require a lot of internal “build” work. Over the next 12 months, as a Foundation team, we will continue to identify opportunities to connect and build relationships in new spaces to deepen our understanding of the work that those on the front lines are doing to push for change.
In my role, I will also be focused on helping us build out the “Dodge Squad.” We are hiring! If you are energized by collaborating with an amazing bunch of colleagues to build things, go here to check out two exciting new opportunities to join our team. Of course, anytime you add new team members to a small team, it requires great care and intentional culture building. As we continue to work in a mostly remote setting, we are creating intentional spaces to come together in-person to work, to learn and to create a sense of joy and possibility for our purpose. These will be essential ingredients this year, now more than ever. Lastly, as we continue to transform ourselves internally and externally, we have and we will invariably make mistakes, hit speed bumps, and discover unexpected opportunities. Sharing our stories and learnings as we go, “warts and all,” will be part of how we contribute to the larger movement of philanthropic organizations aiming to center equity and justice in this work. To this end, I am excited about our new website as a platform to share our learnings and lift up the incredible work of our grantee partners.
When did you know this is what you wanted to do with your career?
I have always known that I was meant to do something with helping people. I am the proud daughter of a therapist mother and a nonprofit executive dad. It is in my DNA to help people and organizations reach their goals in service of a larger mission and purpose. I am proud to be able to contribute my passion and experience to our shared purpose of interrupting systemic racism and oppression and building towards a just and equitable New Jersey for all.