How to Manage Not-for-Profit Projects: An Interview with Jessica Goodheart

Part of our new monthly interview series where we profile entrepreneurs, innovators, business leaders and project managers. Our goal is to bring in people from a diverse range of industries and backgrounds to explore different roles and challenges in leadership and project management.

Jessica Goodheart works for LAANE, a Los Angeles non-profit organization that builds coalitions in support of good jobs, healthy communities and a clean environment.
JessicaGoodheartWorking with a broad coalition of labor, environmental and community organizations, she led a successful campaign to persuade the nation’s largest municipally-owned utility to more than double its investment in energy efficiency programs, including those that serve struggling customers and create good, career path job. 
Before joining LAANE in 1997, she managed a U.S. EPA-funded project that evaluated a non-toxic alternative to professional dry cleaning. Jessica also worked as a reporter in the early 1990s and is a published poet.

What inspired you to do what you do?

I was working as a freelance reporter at the time of the 1992 civil unrest. What I witnessed made me want to be more engaged in social and economic change work. I returned to school for a Masters’ degree in Urban Planning. At UCLA, I was particularly inspired by the resurgent labor movement in Los Angeles, led by a mostly immigrant janitors, healthcare workers and hotel workers. (I got arrested as part of a civil disobedience with janitors who were taking incredible risks to improve their lives and their working conditions.) Shortly after graduating from UCLA, I took a job at a non-profit that had just led the campaign to pass one of the nation’s first living wage laws.

Do you think of yourself as a leader?

I understand leadership as being available to each of us. It starts with a desire to embody qualities of leaders – hopefulness, empathy, self awareness and willingness to take risks. The best leaders are those who are constantly making space for others to lead. I’m lucky to have worked alongside some really great ones. Growing up, most of my heroes were writers and not leaders in the traditional sense. So it’s taken some work to think of myself as a leader.

The best leaders are those who are constantly making space for others to lead.


How do you stay focused?

Technology has made staying focused increasingly challenging. I’m a great believer in workplans and detailed task lists. When I’m on my game, I’ve got a weekly workplan and a daily tasklist attached to a clipboard. That lets me at least feel like I’m in control, and like I’m not at the mercy of external forces.

There’s a lot of buzz lately about how failure is a good thing. Do you buy into that idea?

Failure may or may not be a good thing, but it’s certainly part of life. It’s important to look at failure as an opportunity to learn or grow.

It’s also important to know when to move on. I’ve learned a lot from watching my son play basketball over the years. A missed basket or a turnover used to set him back. He’s learned how to keep focused on his next move. I try to do the same. It’s not always easy, of course. 

It’s important to look at failure as an opportunity to learn or grow.


Do you have a guilty pleasure or superstition when working?

I work for an organization that addresses economic inequality. So it is perhaps a bit ironic that I enjoy buying a lottery tickets with one of my co-workers in the hopes of striking it rich. I really like the conversations we have on the way there and back, and imagining all the joy and troubles our newfound wealth will bring. Needless to say, we have yet to pick the lucky numbers.

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