Digital Heroines: Lacy Phillips on Work-Life Balance and Nonprofit Strategy

15 Oct 2018, Sabina Leybold

Headshot of Lacy Phillips

As part of our Digital Heroines series, we’re interviewing Lacy Phillips, a freelance social media strategist for nonprofits based in Louisville, KY. She consults mission-driven organizations on digital marketing plans, manages email and content marketing initiatives, and trains others in social media messaging and media outreach. Her dedication to amplifying the missions of nonprofit organizations is part of what makes her a true Digital Heroine.

How did you end up in digital?

I began my career studying videography, which was in a time of rapid change with the switch from tape-to-tape editing to nonlinear digital systems like Avid. Colleges were behind in terms of equipment upgrades, and that lag hurt my job prospects. Also, my graduation date was a week and a half after 9/11. No one was hiring then, so I ended up waiting tables for quite a while after school.

I ended up falling into graphic design because I’d been trained how to use Adobe Creative Suite to make those over-the-shoulder graphics you see on newscasts. I worked at a sticker factory for a long time, but I was always trying to do more by freelancing and volunteering. Eventually, one of my unpaid volunteer gigs turned into a full-time paid position as a communications director for a nonprofit. Now I’ve gone freelance again, but I still prefer to work with nonprofits because I work harder for a cause than I would for a for-profit company.

What do you wish you’d known starting out?

Whenever someone says they have a stupid question, I always tell them that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” You wouldn’t feel self-conscious Googling it, so why do you feel that way asking others in your industry? There are no stupid questions. If you don’t know, just ask. I wish I would have given myself permission to ask more questions, but I was always afraid of looking dumb.

Callout quote: "I wish I would've given myself permission to ask more questions."

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

I left my dream job at the beginning of the year because I was struggling with work-life balance, but there were other issues as well. A few months ago at a Women in Digital meetup, the presenter said “never trust a focus group of one” and it was like a light bulb went off. I realized that’s why I left. It is an amazing nonprofit, and I really believe in their mission, but I was working with someone who trusted her own instincts but didn’t follow the numbers. I wish I would have had that phrase in my arsenal then!

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing women today?

It’s very expensive to be a woman. Women are led to believe that they need more products in their lives to be socially acceptable and fit the ideal of what a female should be. Combine that pink tax with the number of single mothers who are supporting their children on one income and the fact that many female-dominated industries all over the world are lower paid, and the wage gap makes no sense. The pay disparity has to stop.

How do you think we can overcome that challenge?

I’m working with a client right now that teaches women in Africa technology skills to help them be more employable, so I’ve been reading recently about gender parity in Kenya. Kenya has amazing paid maternal leave – three months paid time off and they’re planning a vote to raise that to six months. In the U.S., you’re lucky if you get eight weeks unpaid. We need men to value that time off and push for paternity leave too, so that the men who run corporations will start paying attention to these issues and set better policies. I hate to say that progress is reliant on male allies, but I think it’s a large piece of the puzzle.

What’s your latest side hustle or passion project?

I’ve been getting a lot more graphic design work recently than I used to get when I was a graphic designer! I met a really impressive young man at my church a few years ago. He has this amazing entrepreneurial spirit, and has been starting some small ventures in the local music scene. I helped him make a logo and branding package for his band, and he’s sent some other musicians and startups my way when they’ve needed graphic work. These are all people under the age of 25 who are creating music or starting nonprofits to work on social issues, and it’s been energizing for me to be a part of helping them take those first steps in business.

Tell me about a time when you experienced failure and what you learned from that.

After two years in my position, I was suddenly asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement with a non-compete clause that said I couldn’t work at any nonprofit for a year after leaving. I was really uncomfortable with that, and I refused to sign it. I understand that some nonprofits are in the same competitive sphere and industry, but the Red Cross has a completely different mission than the Humane Society, and the way the language was written made it sound like it barred volunteer activities as well. I ended up leaving the organization over it. In some ways, it wasn’t a failure, because it was my choice not to sign off on something I didn’t agree with, but I did fail to negotiate with them to rewrite the non-compete clause to be legally defensible. In the end, it was the right decision, but it was a hard one and I paid the price for sticking to my guns. I think if I am in a similar situation in the future, I’ll push harder for contract re-writes instead of making a flat refusal.

Callout quote "I paid the price for sticking to my guns."

The nationwide theme of October’s Women in Digital meetups is to recap the national conference that happened in September. What was the highlight of the conference for you?

I took so many notes during the Email Marketing Power Hour, and the “Be the CEO of Your Own Life” session was just as amazing as I thought it would be. I even wrote down some blog topics that I will be writing about in future in response to some of the questions that came up during that presentation. The dark horse session for me was “Bots: Beyond the Hype.” None of the clients I’m working with are using chatbots – I don’t think any of them have a real need for one – but the session was so full of great information that I’d feel prepared to assess needs and make informed suggestions if a client asked to set one up. It’s interesting that one of the jobs of the future is a “conversation designer” that acts as interpreter between a machine and person.

Why do you love digital?

I love digital because it’s everything. Our digital lives are our lives now. It’s your chance to curate your world. If you’re driving down the road, you can’t necessarily curate what you see out the window, but if you’re browsing online, you have the power to make that experience what you want it to be. It’s amazing, but it also has its challenges, like echo chambers and security concerns. Social media is very much what you make of it, and to a certain extent the same is true in your analog life. You have choices on how you spend your time. The advent of the internet and digital sphere has empowered a lot of people to expand their interests in ways that they couldn’t before.

Interview edited for clarity and length.

One of Hero’s values is diversity & inclusion, especially for women in tech. We’re proud to be a partner of Women in Digital, an organization focused on the advancement and growth of women in digital creative fields by uniting them together.

Want more advice from women in digital fields? Read Digital Heroine and Hero VP of Employee Experience Katherine Owen discuss working in HR in the era of #MeToo.