Yejin Lee

Yejin Lee, Director of Organizational Design, Civic Hall

“I identify as a “defensive pessimist” and so I plan for the worst as a way to mitigate anxiety and in order not to experience the worst. What does it mean on the front-end to thoughtfully design — to so deeply understand the way that homophobia, racism, transphobia, racism, & sexism operate — as to anticipate how tech might be used in this way, and to prevent it from happening?”

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers.

Yejin is a woman of color who has worked as both a community organizer and as a non-profit development professional. As a fundraiser she has been consumed with figuring out how to help mission-driven organizations operationalize equity both internally (through their organizational culture, internal communication practices, board development, as well as their hiring/recruitment practices) and externally (i.e., programs) through mindful fundraising strategies. She joined Civic Hall one month ago as its first Director of Development (now Director of Organizational Design).

Yejin’s avocational obsessions include: “…cooking labor-intensive foods (grandma’s homemade tamales, Korean dumplings with hand-rolled wrappers, tortellini); intensely annotating favorite TV shows; learning things that go against my grain, like skateboarding; coaching women of color in non-profits on how to handle conflict and how to enter the field of development; and visiting pretty places with her Italian jazz guitarist husband and sassy shiba inu.”

You can connect with Yejin through LinkedIn or via email

What Does She Do?

As Civic Hall’s Director of Development, Yejin is tasked with building a robust and sustainable fundraising program in support of the organization’s ambitious and game-changing vision.

“There is a lot of excitement around Union Square. With the City’s vote of confidence — giving us 90,000 square feet as an anchor tenant — there is urgency around focusing, building and designing in intentional ways – the way we talk about it – human-centered design, and then scaling. Because we have to scale really quickly, we’re going to have to fund and find partners and funders who are interested in setting up things the right way.”

How Did She Get Into This Work?

“…[A]s long as you keep your clothes on, you can wear whatever you want.”

On her first day of kindergarten, Yejin’s mother had put her in a dress, despite at that time, identifying as a boy. By later in the day, she had taken off all of her clothes off in protest.

“I grew up very comfortably middle-class. I had class and educational privilege in suburban New Jersey. I think it’s important to locate and own your privilege.”

As a Buddhist, her mother attempted to impart she “should not speak unless improving on silence.” This confounded a gregarious six-year-old Yejin. Beyond weighing her silence, her mother was less interested in what people said about living their truth than “how they lived their values.” This took root in Yejin’s heart.

Away at Boston College for school, Yejin rebelled, finding notes beyond classical piano. Because of her love for jazz and blues and African-American culture, she enrolled in Black Modernity. The Ralph Ellison seminar changed her life path:

“I did a lot of extra reading and it activated how I felt about race. Locating my own privilege — as someone not black or brown, but still a person of color — and not just theoretically, but in everyday life.”

“I saw that I was meant to do work around racial equity.”

Yejin interned her junior year with The Vilcek Foundation, which shines a light on immigrant contributions in America through supporting excellence in the arts and sciences (especially dance and biomedical sciences); volunteered with the Boston chapter of Jobs With Justice!; and was chief of academic diversity of the undergraduate government of Boston College, where she worked closely with the school’s provost on diversifying their core curriculum beyond the European white male canon. For two years she worked as an organizer with the New York City Anti-Violence Project around issues of sexual violence and intimate partner violence in LGBTQ communities, where, for the first time, she realized theory and action could be combined. It was at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, however, where she stumbled into fundraising. Her mentor, Mindy Duitz, the museum’s director, sized her up and suggested that fundraising was a fit for her — based on her hyper-organizational skills and capacity to relate to people.

What Project(s) Is She Working On?

At Civic Hall, Yejin is working with the team to develop and execute on a strategic fundraising plan to support the rapid growth of the organization.

“I think there are incredible opportunities to fundraise for equity, for internal operationalization of equity. If there’s a way that we can build out equitable practices, but then also instruct it to all the people who come through Civic Hall, that’s fundable. There is also something compelling about the ways we foster and facilitate collaboration. For example, for our digital skills training center, we’re running pilot programs, we’re in the process of figuring out how to organize cohorts. Wouldn’t it be interesting if, say, the immigration world, which doesn’t talk to gender-based violence organizations, both came together? In that way, there is something genuinely innovative about finding the right ways to connect people who are not talking. That is fundable from institutional foundations, and probably, major donors.”

How Did She Come to Civic Hall?

Having worked for a range of established non-profits as a fundraiser, Yejin began to see the ways in which inequitable practices (both internally and externally) were often inextricably linked to fundraising. Since she is both an idealist and someone obsessed with operationalizing values, Yejin started to long for the opportunity to build a fundraising program from the ground, and build it in a way that incorporates equitable practices. The opportunity to lead development efforts at Civic Hall seemed perfectly aligned.

While she learned of the fundraising opportunity through traditional means, (via Civic Hall member, Idealist) once Yejin announced her new position many of her friends stepped forward to share their relationship with the community: a housing organizer friend from the Carroll Gardens Association who had participated in Delta.NYC, as well as other colleagues who came to Civic Hall for geo-mapping events.

Yejin attended her first PDF this year and was particularly moved by Matt Mitchell’s keynote around e-carceration.

“I identify as a “defensive pessimist” and so I plan for the worst as a way to mitigate anxiety and in order not to experience the worst. What does it mean on the front-end to thoughtfully design — to so deeply understand the way that homophobia, racism, transphobia, racism, & sexism operate — as to anticipate how tech might be used in this way, and to prevent it from happening?”

What Is Her Ask of Civic Hall?

While Yejin isn’t new to the nonprofit world, she has a lot of quick learning to do about the world of civic technology. Within her first two months, she would love to meet with each member individually, not only to selfishly absorb as much as she can about civic-tech but also to understand and support the great work each community member is doing.

Once she has her bearings Yejin is interested in offering a brown bag to both share what she knows about fundraising, and as a means to understand who at Civic Hall, why they are in this space, so that she can better understand what needs we are serving as an institution.

“Not only will be an opportunity for me to get buy-in to do fundraising in a different way, but I think that the kinds of people who are in this space will be interested in hearing about this different approach. It would also be a cool entry point to talk to folks about the intersections of what it is I’m trying to do.”