“I am excited to work with an incredible group of philanthropists who are committed to dramatically changing outcomes for our city’s students, because we all know the status quo for how we educate our children is not acceptable. To me, that is why A Better Chicago exists.”
Kelly Jones has spent her career fighting to reduce educational inequities. Now, as Chief External Relations Officer at A Better Chicago, Kelly steps into a more visible role to make that happen.
Ask anyone who knows Kelly Jones to describe her and the first thing they mention is her innate ability to see the potential in others.
Kelly began her career ten years ago as a Teach for America (TFA) corps member, teaching middle school in North Carolina. “I was fired up every morning to get to school and teach. My students were these incredible humans with unlimited potential, and I wanted to make sure that I was doing my part to ensure they had the opportunities they deserved to really thrive in high school and beyond.” After spending two years in the classroom, it was that feeling that prompted the Indiana University graduate to take on a new challenge that would allow her to make a broader impact by reaching students beyond her own classroom.
Having seen firsthand how TFA – a national organization committed to fighting educational inequities by placing young leaders in the classroom – was making a difference for communities and their residents, Kelly decided to join the organization as a Program Director in 2009. Over the next eight years, she advanced into leadership positions within the organization, which ultimately brought her to Chicago and back to her Midwestern roots.
During her TFA career, Kelly moved from coaching first-time teachers to working directly with the schools that were hiring teachers. Ultimately, Kelly led all of TFA’s external partnerships, outside of fundraising, for the Chicago region. Through that work, she built meaningful relationships with the district, charter networks, community, and university partners.
As a member of the TFA senior leadership team in charge of partnerships for the Chicago region, she saw firsthand the impact that an organization can have.
“When an organization has both a specific mission and a theory of change, you can see the potential for impact, not only on the students, but the entire system. But you also see the immense challenges that nonprofits face and how challenging it can be, even when you have fantastic people working toward a mission-aligned cause.”
Joining A Better Chicago
In 2016, Kelly was ready for a yet another challenge – one where she could use her skills and experience to broaden not only her own impact, but also that of organizations in the region.
“I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for but I knew that I wanted to be in a position where I was enabling even more people to do their work better.” When she learned about A Better Chicago and its Portfolio Director role, she was intrigued.
During the interview process, Kelly got to know A Better Chicago by talking to those who are impacted by the organization’s work every day: partners, funders, and grantees. Once on board, she loved the Portfolio Director role.
“Directing resources to the most outstanding nonprofits in our region — not just the dollars but also capacity building support — and really serving as thought partners to support senior leaders is incredibly rewarding.”
After a year, Kelly was offered the Chief External Relations Officer position, a new role within the growing organization. In this capacity, she will lead A Better Chicago’s marketing, fundraising, and co-investment efforts.
“We're a small organization and we are only as strong as our network, so building partnerships and relationships is a critical part of everything we do here. I was compelled to move into a role where the majority of my time will be learning how to better work with our partners to push our mission further.”
Doug Scott, A Better Chicago’s President, works closely with Kelly and has witnessed how she has made an impact within the organization. "Since Kelly joined A Better Chicago, she has helped take our work to the next level on many fronts and has been a critical part of our success over the last year and a half. We couldn't be more pleased that she will bring her particular talents into this new role."
To say she’s eager to take on the responsibilities of the Chief External Relations Officer would be an understatement. “The opportunity in front of me fires me up in the same way that my students did during the first few years of my career. I’m excited about the stories that we're able to tell about grantees, and the opportunity to do it in a way that feels different than what we've already shared.”
Kelly is most looking forward to building long-term relationships within the Chicago community, and in her words, “figuring out how to engage a really diverse set of stakeholders into the important work that we're doing.”
No matter what her role is, she never loses sight of the most important aspect of her work. “Every day I see how important it is that our young people have access to outstanding educational opportunities that give them access to the futures they deserve. We need to make sure that the organizations who are providing those opportunities are able to serve more and more kids all the time.”
A Better Chicago has ambitious goals over the coming years, and Kelly is looking forward to the work ahead. In typical Kelly fashion, she is already looking for ways to ensure her team is successful. “Personally, I'm excited to step into this leadership role, to reflect on what has gone well, and determine how to create an even bigger impact going forward. We’ve made significant progress toward our goals, but we still have much work to do.”