On Sunday May 2, the nonprofit sector lost a great one: Simone Joyaux. Even if you didn’t know her personally, you might have come across her books (see below for links) or maybe you had the great fortune to hear her speak at any of the international conferences she used to be invited to.
The global outpouring of love and support for Simone’s husband and partner in crime, Tom Ahern, has been nothing short of inspiring and heartwarming. And the tributes? …ouf, it just get you *there* 💔. You can read them on this Caring Bridge page where everyone is celebrating Simone’s life. Here’s The Agitator’s and SOFII’s tributes.
Some of the things that stand out from many of the tributes is how Simone was a mentor and a cage-rattler for social justice. And that is exactly what Simone meant to me.
The first time I had to speak with her was when I served on AFP’s Publishing Advisory Committee years ago. As part of a special project, I was tasked with calling published nonprofit authors and Simone was on my list. I remember sitting at my desk going over the questions I needed to ask and rehearsing over and over again. I mean, this was friggen Simone Joyaux – people attended conferences just to hear HER speak!
Would she pick up my call? Would she give me some of her precious time? She always seemed cool at conferences but would she be as cool in person? I was intimidated by her. So I pulled up my big girl pants and dialed before I could change my mind. She picked up the phone and after the usual pleasantries, she said in French: “ah, tu parles le français? moi aussi” (oh you speak French?! Me too). I breathed easier from that point forward. She graciously answered all my questions with honesty and genuine desire to help.
You see, that’s how she was – authentic. The Simone that talked on stage to hundreds of fundraisers and the Simone that took the call of an unknown fundraiser was the exact same person. No pretension, no ego – just generosity of time, knowledge and perspective. She never made you feel like you were bothering her – she was all about service to others, no matter who sought a few minutes of her attention.
Fast forward a few years when we both served on the AFP Education Advisory Committee. We worked closely curating the Rebels, Renegades and Pioneer (a new track she co-created with Daryl Upsall and Nancy Racette). We worked on a few sessions together and that’s when we got to know each other on a more personal level. She quickly became a mentor who continually pushed me to think differently about the nonprofit sector’s ecosystem. She also challenged me to gain more knowledge from outside the fundraising world – which inevitably led to pursuing a Ph.D. Here’s a short video she recorded for FundraisingEverywhere talking about expanding our knowledge.
Many memories of our work together comes to mind but one that I cherish the most is when she asked me to take her place as the facilitator of a social justice session we had curated for the 2017 AFP conference in San Francisco. Because of her extensive work on social justice issues, she wanted to actively participate so she needed someone to ask the questions. My first thought was “holy cannoli, me on stage with these heavy hitters plus I get to ask HER questions?!” 😳
When I shared my trepidation and feelings of insecurity about it, she flat out said: “Ligia, you know your stuff, you belong on that stage like everyone else”. **breathe**
You see, Simone was a fierce feminist who believed wholeheartedly that in order to change our sector and society, we must challenge the patriarchy. She recognized her privilege and was always happy to make space for others, regardless of age, experience, race, etc. She helped me battle my imposter syndrome (work in progress) and made space for me that day.
I could go on and on about the multitude of ways our friendship impacted me personally and professionally. Instead, I’d like to share some of the lessons I take away from those years in the hope that it inspires you to reflect on how you show up and engage with others:
- Challenge what seems outdated, unjust, or unnecessary: it’s not because “it’s how it’s always worked” that we need to continue functioning that way. Not everyone has the same privilege as you have so look at things through others’ lens and then get to work. Simone was not someone who sat idle on the sidelines, she jumped in the ring and elevated issues that others were ignoring. The status quo is not working for everyone so why settle for mediocrity?
- Be brave to tell your truth: I still struggle with this one. Whether you need to advocate for yourself or for others, be brave to vocalize it. There’s no need to pull punches or namecall, simply be authentic, vulnerable and truthful. That’s how I observed Simone do it and she was a master at this.
- Make space around the table for others and if there’s no room left, build a bigger table: Simone made everyone feel like their voice mattered, there simply was no ego. Whether you were a seasoned professional or just 2 days into your first fundraising job, she had time to listen to you and answer your questions. And if a group of people didn’t have a space to be heard, she created those spaces.
- Always be kind, generous, and inclusive: building on the previous point, Simone emulated kindness, generosity and inclusivity with every interaction. She made you feel like an equal and when she spoke with you, you knew you had her undivided attention.
Whether you only knew Simone through her writings or you knew her personally, there’s no denying she was a tour de force. There is so much more that could be said about Simone, but I’ll save those for me. It’s funny how over the last few days I’ve found myself talking to her and telling her how much she meant to me.
If you want to share your own Simone stories or memories, please do so in the comment section below 👇
Tom … if you read this, please know I’m thinking of you and I hope you are feeling the love that everyone had for Simone.
Want to add great books to your nonprofit library written by Simone? Here they are:
Firing Lousy Board Members – see what I meant by cage-rattle who speaks her truth?!
Keep Your Donors – Simone co-wrote this with Tom, her husband and life partner.
Strategic Fund Development – get the 3rd edition which has extra materials. It’s amazeballs!