Transformation is a Long Game
5 Questions With Nicole Boucher
The Just Trust is 100% dedicated to criminal justice reform. We’re working to grow the pool of resources available to advocates, organizers, and trailblazers who are leading the fight for a more dignified and humane engine of justice in this country. Importantly, we’re also a team of people who bring our whole selves to our work. We bring a diversity of personal and professional experiences to the table—we’re grantmakers, storytellers, and policy experts. We have teammates who are system impacted and who have been victims of crime. We all care deeply about this work.
In this series, we’ll get to know The Just Trust team, and why they show up here each and every day.
Nicole Boucher, Chief Strategy and Operations Officer (she/her)
Nicole is a founding Leadership Team member of The Just Trust, spearheading our long-term strategy work. She also oversees the organization’s operational infrastructure—the building blocks for achieving key high-impact milestones.
Her commitment to building more just and equitable systems shows up across her career and personal life—from partnership development and organizational leadership in the democracy and civic engagement sector, to transformative policy advocacy with a focus on racial, social, and economic equity.
What’s your “why” for joining The Just Trust?
My life’s work is about building systems that actually help people instead of harm them. The criminal justice system, contrary to its name, is deeply unjust in its current state, and is one that places a disproportionate burden on communities of color and low-income communities across the country. It always has, because that’s what it was built to do (punish, not heal). At The Just Trust, I get to bring the best of my organizer’s heart, spirit, and mindset, as well as my background in philanthropy and social movements to help power the work needed to change the status quo.
How can philanthropy help build power among directly impacted communities in the criminal justice reform space?
The best way we can help strengthen this movement—which has been grinding every day, long before we showed up—is to organize resources amongst a broad constellation of committed philanthropic funding partners. Together, we can collaboratively deploy those resources in response to the needs identified by leaders and groups in the field doing the hard, everyday work.
To be good partners, we can’t just make assumptions about what people need. It’s about engaging with and listening deeply to communities/groups most impacted by incarceration—currently and formerly incarcerated people, victims of crime, families and loved ones of those impacted, etc.
This is something we’ve embodied at The Just Trust from day one—our funding priorities and theory of change were developed through deep field engagement and by building a bench of directly impacted advisors. It’s also why we focus on infrastructure building vs. issue backing. We want to ensure that the groups making change in their states have the resources needed to keep doing what they do, and are ready to mobilize if/when any particular issue becomes important to them (whatever it may be).
In criminal justice, resources for advocates have been pretty scarce (especially (c)4 resources), and the path to transformation is very localized and complex. How can philanthropy be effective in such a decentralized space?
First, there is absolutely a huge deficit of (c)4 resources in this space. How can we help? By creating a (c)4 fund solely dedicated to criminal justice reform, and moving quickly and nimbly to respond to the needs of the field. It also, once again, means listening really closely to experts around what’s happening at the state and local level in our target regions. Because reform looks very different in every community—the legislative priorities are different, the culture around the justice system is different, and solutions are different.
What would your message be to advocates that feel like they’re always fighting an uphill battle?
I’ll start by saying that I am just always immensely inspired by the incredible movement leaders out there organizing communities for change, repairing and healing our democracy, and building power—whether on the screen or behind the scenes. This is hard work, and often pretty thankless. I see you.
Transformation is a long game, and often, it’s one step forward, two steps back. That’s why at The Just Trust we’re willing to take risks and support work that may not always look like a win to the naked eye. Our team members have worked on tough campaigns, and have definitely seen more losses than wins. Keep your chin up!
What are you reading/watching/listening to right now?
Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, I made the commitment to return to my love of reading—and specifically, reading for pleasure, not just for work! It’s been a joy to return to this. I just finished Natasha Brown’s Assembly—it’s one of the best debut novels I’ve read in recent memory; and next up is Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart. On the movie front, my daughter and I are watching all of the X-Men movies in chronological order—it wasn’t that long ago that I didn’t know the difference between Marvel and DC Comics, so I consider this quite an accomplishment!