A Day in the Life of an NYC Corporate Grantmaker, Jessa Thomas

1. Tell us more about what you do!

I am responsible for managing a diverse philanthropic portfolio for Capital One in New York City. Each day looks and feels a little bit different, which I love! Some days I’m bouncing all over the Northeast via taxi, subway and train, meeting with nonprofit organizations and seeing their community needs firsthand. Other days I’m having coffee with my Capital One associates, listening to how I can help support their passions, mainly through our Future Edge initiative that helps people in our communities get ready for the 21st century economy. Most of my time is spent at the intersection of community need and corporate ability…and when those two align, it’s magical!

2. Very interesting, how’d you get started?

By being honest about what motivated me and what didn’t. When I was in High School and College, I worked at just about every YMCA that would let me, followed by an after-school program that surprisingly didn’t scare me away from having kids! When I was nearing the end of getting my business degree, my college counselor started helping me navigate the waters of an internship to make my transition into the business world a smooth one after graduation. The problem was, I wasn’t interested in anyone that was hiring. When I described my dream job and what I wanted to do with my life, it didn’t match up with my classmates.  Then, I woke up to an email one day encouraging me to take an interview with a local business. About ten minutes into the interview, I had this jaw-dropping moment that my degree and passions could go hand in hand after all! I landed my first Corporate Social Responsibility job in Dallas, TX and was all set, off to change the world…until a year and a half later when my department was let go. So, off I went to start my MBA, and once again, realized I wasn’t following my passions. I quickly took the GRE, changed majors to receive my MPA while working in the Office of Emergency Management in a nearby town, and then moved on to run an Environmental Nonprofit. A fantastic foundation before settling into Corporate Social Responsibility at Capital One!

3. What is it like doing CSR in New York City?

It’s tough, but very rewarding! I spend my days focusing on educational initiatives such as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math), digital + youth, college access, digital literacy and financial capabilities, as well as workforce development opportunities that serve under-resourced families and communities. It continues to blow my mind that the poorest congressional district in the United States is a short one-mile walk between the mansions of the Upper East Side – a single train stop away! Working in a city that has endless needs with limited resources can feel like you are only making a small dent toward true change some days. But what I’ve learned is that empowering and educating others is the best way to elevate internal and external resources such as volunteerism, funding opportunities, individual expertise and the strengths of fellow CSR individuals. I’ve had the opportunity to sit in-between NYC’s millionaires and “opportunity youth” and watch how a single story can forever bind these two worlds and change the trajectory of social justice.

4. It sounds like not only your work has evolved over the years, but you are now a mom, too! What is that like?

Hold on…let me grab my coffee! Whew! All I can say about parenthood is that it’s taught me empathy to a new degree. Empathy for the domestic violence victim that is trying to secure a job and childcare for her children. Empathy for the family that can’t afford proper childcare and is put into a position to decide between a paycheck and a safe place for their kids. Empathy for the parent that fears losing their job if they need to stay home with a sick child. I believe that CSR can play a powerful and pivotal role in economic opportunity, allowing for stronger, safer and healthier families leading to thriving communities. I believe that I have the power to create a better world for my daughter and every kid in our communities.

5. What advice would you like to pay forward?

We each have our own story to share, things that fuel our passions, reasons why we need and want this world to be a better place. But at the end of the day, it’s your choice to tell your story as a tragedy or a victory. I’ve learned that when you follow your passions, wherever they may lead, a trail of good is left behind you…and it just might change the trajectory of someone else’s story. My trajectory was changed thanks to multiple people’s passions, and for that I am grateful.

In 2018, outside of my day job, you can find me  hanging around the YMCA as their newest Board Member, educating others about domestic violence (with my daughter on my hip) at a Mother’s Advisory Council meeting with Sanctuary for Families or chasing kids on Sunday at my church’s kid’s ministry. Professionally, you can find me honing my skills and network with the great folks at ACCP.

Maybe our paths will intersect one day too!

Jessa Thomas

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