Alumni Spotlight: Jeffery Tribble, The MusicianShip

Posted in News Story Spotlight

The MusicianShip’s mission is to change lives by facilitating music lessons, experiences, and opportunities for primarily at-risk youth. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership spoke with alumnus Jeffery Tribble Jr., Founder and Executive Director at The MusicianShip, about his experiences working in the nonprofit sector and his time in CPNL’s Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program.

CPNL: With so many great causes to champion within the nonprofit sector, what inspired you to start The MusicianShip?

Tribble: The very beginnings of The Musicianship came from my own experiences in music education. Given my background, growing up in an urban environment, music helped me. I wanted to help similarly situated students here in D.C.

CPNL: What was the process of founding your nonprofit like? What advice would you give to other nonprofit founders?

Tribble: I was really fortunate to have seasoned entrepreneurs who served as mentors throughout the founding process, some of whom are still on my board today. I have a number of mentees and I always tell them that: if and when they want to start an organization, they really need to, in addition to doing substantive research, align themselves with mentors who can steer them through the process and away from mistakes they might otherwise make. I made mistakes. You will always make mistakes, but with mentors you won’t make the same ones they did: you’ll make your own.

CPNL: Much of your work focuses on providing music as a tool of expression for marginalized communities. Why do you think these identities are so consistently overlooked when it comes to the arts? How can this be improved?

Tribble: That’s a complicated question. Ultimately, it’s a deeply rooted issue and there’s no way to answer this question without going over 400+ years. I think that equity is about, for lack of a better word, overcompensating to right wrongs and to address egregious disenfranchisement done toward underrepresented demographics. It marries these underrepresented communities with resources that help elevate them to the same levels they would have otherwise been at, if not for the early centuries’ atrocities that took place in this country.

When it comes to our work, we are most interested in working with underserved communities, because they are who need it most. These are communities where due to geography, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity, they are unable to access the same art resources their peers can. Throughout centuries, African Americans in particular, have been beloved when it comes to arts and sports. We use music as a vehicle through which we can become more successful in other areas of life, so that we can not only be celebrated as musicians, but as scholars and intellectuals and as public citizens.

CPNL: Since leaving the certificate program, what work have you done that you’re most proud of?

Tribble: There are different markers at different stages in an organization’s evolution where you’re able to say, “Hey, I’m really proud of this moment.” I think one of the best moments was actually weeks before we went into the Certificate Program. At that point, we had a budget of less than $20,000 during our first three years of existence. But we had just received a $64,000 grant, which turned us into a roughly $85,000 a year budgeted organization. The latter was an exponential change. From there, we just began to develop larger partnerships and began working with more students not only in DC, but abroad. We began to develop our programming models to reach a greater population of young people. Coming from that moment of positive transition, to now being a $1,000,000+ organization is amazing. We expect to grow even more into next year. I can recall going into the classroom and hearing on the very first day of the nonprofit program, some of the same challenges we were experiencing in year four of The MusicianShip, from people at organizations that were fifteen years old. Their challenges were still about board engagement, fundraising, fiscal management, and human resources. These organizations had the same problems, except at a different scale.

CPNL: What is one significant challenge you faced as a leader in the nonprofit sector?

Tribble: It’s a different challenge every year, but one significant challenge has been dealing with COVID-19. It’s having to reimagine the impact your program has on participants’ families’ lives because now, in many cases, the arts is the least of their concerns because they are facing exacerbated obstacles such as: access to technology, food, childcare, health, etc. Honestly with health, in particular for African Americans, who make up over 85% of our student base, is where we’re being hit the hardest. Right now, Black people make up around 46% of DC’s population, but constitute over 80% of the COVID-19 cases. Because of these risks and challenges to our communities, we have had to adapt our program significantly. We lost almost $200,000 in revenue and still have to figure out how to make up for that lost income. We’re in the midst of a challenge right now, but we are doing our best. Solutions are surfacing in interesting ways that will probably make our organization stronger moving forward.

CPNL: How has the certificate program helped you in your career?

Tribble: One of our most successful endeavors across the board has been to facilitate more public-private partnerships. We have a number of government and corporate partners with whom we work with each year to serve thousands of people. I can remember looking at a professor’s materials and info-graphics around public-private partnerships and how to best pitch to corporations. One of the most impactful partnerships we have is with Hard Rock Cafe International. I remember doing a presentation for their head of global philanthropy at Hard Rock Cafe with the tools I gained from the Certificate Program. Due to this partnership, we have been able to do master classes abroad in Paris, South Africa, and Saint Martin, in collaboration with this billion-dollar institution at our side that supports us financially each year. So, I would say the focus on private-public relationships the program offered stands out the most in my memory.

CPNL: What advice would you give to other professionals who are considering participating in the certificate program?

Tribble: I would advise future participants to really dive in and create the space to soak up everything that’s presented to you. I did the program that was spread out over multiple weeks, while others might have done the one spread out over days. Regardless of either scenario, if you can clear your calendar to really get all the program has to offer, you should. You will be in a much better position once you finish the program to leverage the new knowledge you have, and use it as a springboard from which you can hopefully garner more support from organizational stakeholders, or to just become a better nonprofit professional.