Finding your purpose in life can seem elusive. A complicated maze, rather than the ah-ha moment of clarity that articles across the internet suggest. In chatting with Dr. Janine Jacques, it’s clear that “finding your purpose” is less about discovering yourself and more about building with the blocks you already have.
Growing up in a family where wealth was measured by service rather than finances, Janine learned early the value of working for something greater than herself. A Professor at the New England College of Business (NECB), a philanthropist who has founded three nonprofit organizations and a bestselling author; Janine’s career has been all about knowing what she loves – horses – and building on her skills, strengths and experiences to design a niche for herself. As a result, she has created an online community of more than 200,000 animal lovers around the world.
Janine is the ultimate example of what it means to live and work in your passion, but most importantly, how to be strategic in doing so. Whether you have academic, entrepreneurial or nonprofit dreams, Janine’s story will teach you how to think creatively about your endeavor. Uncovering your purpose may seem like a paralyzing task, but take it from Janine, “Just keep moving. Always take the option to keep moving.”
Her Agenda: What are you currently working on at the NECB?
Janine Jacques: I’m a Program Chair for NECB, and I also work on a lot of special projects, helping the college with developing new curriculum, new programs and analyzing the marketplace. One of the programs I’m working on is an online course in social entrepreneurship. I teach five or six classes a year and manage the full-time and adjunct faculty to teach the remaining courses.
Her Agenda: You’re also a digital marketing extraordinaire correct?
Janine Jacques: I don’t know if I’d call myself that *laugh*. I’m a technologist. My Ph.D. is in computer information systems, so I’m inclined to use technology in a little bit of a different way than just marketing. I never want to say that I’m an expert in anything. I’ve been humbled too many times to say I’m an expert.
Her Agenda: What are some of the trends that you’re noticing in digital marketing, social entrepreneurship and technology, and how are you working at the intersection of these topics at NECB?
Janine Jacques: Right now it’s all about amplifying your message and content marketing. There is so much digital content that nothing gets heard. That’s the challenge of 2017: how to get your message out there in order to build relationships with your stakeholders. There are many different strategies and tools, I teach my students to come up with a creative way to be different than everyone else. That’s how you get noticed.
Her Agenda: How does your work at the college help nonprofits specifically?
Janine Jacques: I teach a cause marketing course, it’s one of my favorite courses. I’m teaching students how to work for nonprofits to help them get their message to the donors and stakeholders that would be inclined to build a relationship with those nonprofits. I’m working a lot with bringing nonprofit management into the curriculum; at NECB we’re going to offer a course in nonprofit management. With all the social entrepreneurship work that we’re doing, we are trying to bring philanthropic pursuits into the curriculum and work of NECB. There are two reasons for that: one, it’s important for everyone to have a purpose. Two, our demographic of students really want to do good in the world.
On social media, we see so much bad stuff, but we don’t know how to actually do anything. At NECB, I’d like to create some mechanism where students can open their minds up by thinking about ways to help the world. The younger generations are definitely aligned to do more good than the older generations have been in the past. They’re into solar technology, alternative energy and bringing water to the world. They are going to face a lot of challenges that have been created over the last thousand years, but they are more positioned and energized to solve these global challenges.
Her Agenda: If purpose is important, have you found your purpose? You’ve founded a number of different nonprofit organizations.
Janine Jacques: It took me a while to figure out how I could use my talents for my passion, which is equines: horses and donkeys. I originally followed the mainstream, which I don’t recommend, and I started a 501c3 horse rescue. I converted my private house into a farm and started bringing sick horses home. I was wrapping legs, and I was up late at night trying to nurse these horses back to health. And then I realized, this is not my strength. I decided to marry my technology background with my business background (I do have an MBA) to come up with a new business model. So I created an online community.
Everyone wants to be a part of a tribe and have a purpose, so I created the Equine Rescue Network. I’m just like the Wizard of Oz behind the screen, and now, I have the community of 227,000 followers. We work collaboratively to raise money, share, educate and help horses throughout the country. We save between 100-200 horses and donkeys a year.
I had to just figure things out. Some things were easy, like building a website, working with databases, and creating online forms. Some things were harder like applying for a 501c3 status with the IRS. I built ERN back in 2009 when social media was at the infancy stages. I had a vision, passion and was committed to ride the wave of challenges, stress and uncertainty to make my vision not only viable, but successful. It did not happen overnight.
Her Agenda: It’s becoming harder and harder for nonprofits to raise money, how do you continue to bring people into your mission to sustain your organization?
Janine Jacques: It really took me a long time to figure out how to engage people in my organization (Equine Rescue Network). Early on I thought, if I have 100,000 followers and everyone gives $1, then that’s $100,000. I had to learn that followers don’t equate to donors or engagement. I’ve learned what the preferences are of my followers and then I learned to speak to those preferences. I post more of what they like and they share it with their friends, then I get more followers. The more that I put out there to build these relationships with my followers, the stronger the relationships grow, and the more likely they are to donate. I have a strong reputation and I have built relationships with my followers.
When you start looking at your donors, everyone hits up the people with deep pockets. All nonprofits reach out to the top 1% of wealth. But if you build relationships with people that will give you $10 a month, $20 a month, and if you can get enough of those, you can create a sustainable business. Pay attention to your low-end donors, because they are often overlooked by fundraisers.
Her Agenda: You’ve done a great job at turning your passion into new opportunities like your books. How have you done that?
Janine Jacques: I started writing on a regular basis to get people to understand the intricacies of horse rescue. I would share it with my network and then my network would share it. Anything that got over 200 shares went into my first book. I started writing my blog with the intention of writing a book. I have now written two books and ALL proceeds from the sale of the book goes to animal charities.
The first book that I wrote, I wrote to raise money for my nonprofit. It took two months before I rolled it out. I wrote about my life and childhood and all the crazy adventures. The theme of the book is that my family measures wealth based on what you give back to the community and not financial wealth. And it aligned with my animal causes.
We marketed the book through my mother’s organization and mine, and we made $46,000. We did signed copies, we did a Christmas edition, and we got all 5-star reviews. The second book that I wrote is a guide for people who want to help horses, but they don’t really know how. It’s funny, sad and educational all in one package. I give that book away a lot. I give it to people who aren’t taking care of their horses, or when I see an issue that can be solved with education. I give it to all of my donors and it builds onto the reputation of the Equine Rescue Network all in one package.
Her Agenda: You’ve used the skills you’ve gained in your full-time job toward working on what you love, and in the process you created a book to support that passion that’s generated more income for you. What advice do you have for women who want to use their skills to level up to their next opportunity or support their passion?
Janine Jacques: It’s so noisy out there online, wherever you are, whatever you’re trying to do, there are other people trying to do the exact same thing. Think about your business, whether nonprofit, for-profit or social business, and think about ways to be slightly different. Engage people in a new way.
Her Agenda: How do you find time to do everything that you need to do?
Janine Jacques: I don’t watch any television, and if I am, I have to be peddling on my stationary bike. Very busy women can often ignore how important exercise is. I’m also a single mother to an 18-year-old son. That was the biggest challenge of my life, trying to do all that I do and be a mother. My son is very independent and helps me with my business. I used to feel guilty that I did not have time to be a micro-mom and closely parent my son. I no longer feel guilty because he has learned to be a hard worker, philanthropic and kind by watching me do the same.
Her Agenda: What mantra do you live by?
Janine Jacques: I always tell myself to keep moving. Physically, peddling my bike, intellectually, educationally… Just keep moving. Always take the option to keep moving.
[Editor’s note: This interview published on September 18th, 2017. It has been edited for length and clarity. This feature is sponsored by ECA colleges.]