Nona Jones is much more than a Facebook Executive, though the fact that she holds this position within a global organization where only about 3% of U.S. leaders identify as Black is no small feat.
Nona is a preacher, author, abuse survivor, mother, and an athlete. At 17-years-old, Nona was licensed into the Gospel ministry in Jacksonville. She and her husband now lead Open Door Ministries, a church in Gainesville, Florida. A savvy business leader who is grounded in her faith, Nona is uniquely qualified for her role as the Head of Faith-Based Partnerships at Facebook. Her Agenda recently spoke with Nona to learn more about her motivations and projects.
Her Agenda: Describe yourself in 5 words or less.
Nona Jones: A statistical improbability! That is my entire life in a sentence.
Her Agenda: What are your biggest sources of motivation?
Nona Jones: I released my first book in January, a memoir. It shares that I am a survivor of childhood physical and sexual abuse. I was inspired by the messages that I got from people who read the book. They’d expressed that they’d been walking around with hidden shame and guilt and masked those feelings underneath cars, beautiful vacations and lofty titles. Many of us are fighting a private battle that nobody knows about, and that’s why we have to be kind to each other.
For the longest time, I thought that my best and highest achievement would be the positions that I attained or where my name sat on an org chart. Now I realize that it will be helping others heal from past pain and helping them turn pain into purpose.
For the longest time, I thought that my best and highest achievement would be the positions that I attained or where my name sat on an org chart. Now I realize that it will be helping others heal from past pain and helping them turn pain into purpose. That is my best and highest goal right now.
Her Agenda: You started your career in media and community relations. How did that experience prepare you for your current role?
Nona Jones: My career trajectory has been completely unpredictable. Right out of college I got a job that was newly created and that frankly, I was not qualified for. The hiring manager took a chance on me because I came across very confident. When I initially started the job I went through a few months of psychological and intellectual pain trying to figure it out, and I did! After that, I began working in community relations and public affairs along with environmental and regulatory policy. I had to figure it out. I then built the external affairs arm of a nonprofit, that was a new role and new function.
The common thread in my professional experience is that I’m used to doing things that hadn’t been done before. The role at Facebook was newly created as well. I was asked to help the company build strategies to serve communities of faith. There are no mile markers or blueprints. I’ve learned to make a decision and build a strategy based on my best intuition and develop my own indicators of success. It’s been an incredible learning journey.
Her Agenda: How did the transition to tech come about?
Nona Jones: I loved my last job and thought that I would do it for the rest of my life. I was in prayer and heard the Lord tell me that the assignment was over and to resign at the end of the fiscal year. That prayer happened in April 2017. In June 2017, 25-minutes after my formal resignation, I got a call from Facebook, without an application.The person told me that the CEO had recently changed the mission of the company to focus on community building. Their research showed that the largest Facebook communities were communities of faith, thus was the impetus for the new role. I was referred to them by a colleague from a leadership program. That person had no idea that God had told me to leave my previous role.
Her Agenda: Wow! How did you adjust to the new industry?
Nona Jones: I was used to a hierarchical structure and working with 5 and 10 year strategies where we knew what success was and what it would cost. At Facebook, we hypothesize, we test, we put some money behind it. If it works, great, if not we move on to a better strategy. Its helped me not be married to things that aren’t working in business or in life.
At Facebook, we hypothesize, we test, we put some money behind it. If it works, great, if not we move on to a better strategy. Its helped me not be married to things that aren’t working in business or in life.
Her Agenda: Why are faith-based partnerships important to Facebook?
Nona Jones: The decision to rebrand happened after Facebook reached the 2 billion user threshold in 2017. Mark [Zuckerberg] realized that we had a quarter of the world’s population on our platform. The company’s mission statement was changed to focus on community building. Facebook user testing revealed that communities of faith were the largest and most meaningful to the people in those groups. The thinking was that if we wanted to help people build community, we have to serve the needs of our largest users, which are faith-based groups.
Her Agenda: Tell us more about your role.
Nona Jones: I work to create a communication bridge between Facebook and religious communities. Externally, I work with the largest religious denominations and influential faith leaders to gather feedback, provide product updates and share strategy changes that may impact them. Internally, I advise and consult with the product teams across products like news feed, search, events, pages and community. I work to make sure that they’re thinking about what they’re building through the lens of faith- based organizations and adherents.
Her Agenda: What has been your proudest moment thus far?
Nona Jones: There has been a narrative in the world that Facebook is anti-Christian. Right around the time of the COVID-19 break, there was a big product bug (software error). Many churches were using Facebook Live and that ability was temporarily lost. I posted a message about our system-wide bug and explained that there was no concerted effort to silence religious groups. It was a proud moment because I was able to address concerns in a way that made people feel confident. Another moment from a product standpoint was working with the Facebook Live team to build a new feature, the ‘join group’ button. You can select a group to join instead of watching a page. After the live stream ends, people in the group can still stay connected.
Her Agenda: You’ve said, “social technology wasn’t just a nice thing to do but was, instead, an imperative for the future of the church” can you talk more about that perspective?
Nona Jones: I started working at Facebook without a tech background, so I wasn’t initially aware of the full potential of social technology. I began investigating and married that discovery with my pastoring experience. It occurred to me that while in-person church gathering is declining, usage for social technology is increasing. I realized that if the church wants to reverse the trend in attendance, the church is going to have to become well versed in social technology. Not just for marketing, but using it for ministry. So I started asking people, if you couldn’t gather in a building, how would you use Facebook? I started building a playbook, which is now the Faith on Facebook toolkit.
Her Agenda: What has been the feedback on the toolkit?
Nona Jones: I think people are realizing that there is more potential than what they’ve been taking advantage of.
Her Agenda: Have there been any challenges with your role?
Nona Jones: My challenge is balancing motherhood, my role at Facebook, ministry, my talk show and work related to my book. The challenge is balancing where my heart is (with my husband and my children), with where my time has to be.
Her Agenda: Can you share one personal and one professional goal for the year?
Nona Jones: I try to read a book a week. I want to enhance my intellectual capacity. I read about topics like business, leadership and spirituality.
Professionally, I want to establish the organizational infrastructure that I need across all my teams and business endeavors. For Facebook, my ministry, my show and the community related to my book.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]