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Interview with Jen Bokoff

by | Jan 8, 2020 | Interviews,

Jen Bokoff

Jen Bokoff

Director of Stakeholder Engagement at Candid

Key Topics:Philanthropy, Nonprofits, Strategic Communications, Partnerships
Location:Chicago, IL

Jen Bokoff is the director of stakeholder engagement at Candid (formerly Foundation Center + GuideStar). She develops partnerships, communications, and insights that power the work of the philanthropic sector. She likes asking “so what?” to push Candid’s data-driven work to be as valuable and actionable as it can be. In her role, Jen regularly speaks at conferences and facilitates workshops, and connects people to resources, ideas, and one another. For six years, she also ran GrantCraft, a free service that taps the practical wisdom of funders to improve the collective knowledge of the philanthropy field. Previously, she has enjoyed giving money in her work at a private foundation, taking money in her work for the IRS, and budgeting money in her work as a client advocate. A graduate of Tufts University, Jen studied community health and sociology and spent two years involved in the Learning by Giving philanthropy program. She serves on the Alumni Council’s executive and strategic planning committees, and also serves on an advisory committee for The Moth’s education programs. In her spare time, she is an amateur comedic improviser, CrossFitter, and bridge player. Jen is a firm believer that innovation and change happen only when passionate people across different industries collaborate; being a strong connector enables this growth in local communities and throughout the world.

How did you get to become an expert in your key topics?

My first job out of college was for the Internal Revenue Service working on tax court cases. Believe it or not, I put my degrees in sociology and community health to work; I was working with the American public, which offered a fascinating range of gifts and challenges. I learned how to be curious, and to really understand where people were coming from. Human connection is core to philanthropic work, partnerships, and strategic communications. You can’t effectively work towards change without understanding people and their stories. Investing in developing those relationships has built my frame for understanding and querying the world. My expertise is powered by deep listening to people across contexts.

What topic areas are you most passionate about?

I’m known for asking “so what?” Why does a data point matter? Why do we care about scaling a program? How will a capacity building grant ensure sustainable change? “So what” is the nexus of how partnerships are imagined, how communications are structured and shared, and how the shape and leadership of organizations evolve. I love thinking at this nexus, especially when I add a lens of talent development. I also have focused much of my work the past several years on surfacing marginalized voices.

Which influencers influence you within those key topics?

It’s hard to name just a few, so check the list of who I’m following on Twitter as a great start! I find I’m more influenced by people who are not considered “influencers” than those who are. Authenticity drives my understanding of the world, and the paradox of having influence is that messages become more and more polished. I am most moved by raw perspective, and perspective that is found in unlikely places. Much of my work in philanthropy, for example, is influenced by non-philanthropoids.

How would you describe your offline influence?

I love speaking, facilitating, writing, and connecting, and my influence in these arenas best manifests by posing the right questions and reframes that allow people to unlock their own ideas and solutions. I like challenging people to think in a new way, or reflect on why something is done a certain way.

If a brand wanted to work with you, what offline / online activities would you be most interested in?

Speaking, video interviews, podcasts, “brain picks”.

Which non-paid activities would you be keen to take part in if the opportunity raised your profile or delivered value to your audience?

I would be willing to provide a quote for content or news article or share / create a social post. I would also be keen to speak at or attend an event, participate in a podcast, webinar, or online chat but only if it was low-effort; otherwise I would normally expect compensation for these activities.

What are your passions outside of work?

Board and card games, taking long walks, weightlifting and travel.

Are there any organisations you are affiliated to or part of a long-term program with?

I work full-time at Candid, which gets people the information they need to do good, and have been actively serving on the Tufts Alumni Council for more than a decade.

What would be the best way for a brand to contact you?

People can always can get in touch with me through my accounts on Twitter and LinkedIn.