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Jorge Lopez, Associate General Counsel, MacArthur Foundation

Jorge Lopez, Associate General Counsel, MacArthur Foundation

February 9, 2021

Tell us how you got into the “mission-driven” world and what you love about the work? Growing up in East Los Angeles, California, I witnessed – and benefitted from – the tireless efforts of nonprofit leaders and organizers working to improve our under-resourced community. It was my mom, however, that introduced me to grassroots activism. Indeed, my earliest memories of community organizing are marching and demonstrating with thousands of people against California Proposition 187 when I was 9 years old. As I made my way through school, I naturally looked for ways to both continue and amplify my commitment to public service; but, it wasn’t until law school, after participating in a tax and nonprofit transactional clinic that I realized advising nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations could be a career. Following that experience, I was intentional about planning my career in this space: first, by taking every tax class that seemed relevant; thereafter, by working for law firms that had robust exempt organizations practice groups. While I enjoyed working with nonprofit organizations as outside counsel, I ultimately wanted more continuity with the client and moved in-house. I love that I can continue to challenge myself intellectually and stay true to my convictions and values.

What are your thoughts on leading, mentoring, and collaborating with your team? I approach each of these similarly, as I think each requires excellent communication, a sense of accountability, compassion, commitment to improvement; and, perhaps more importantly, humility. I am fortunate to work with a seasoned legal team that is humble and nimble enough to adapt to these unprecedented times. Although the uncertainty of the moment has had its challenges, we have remained committed to personal and departmental improvement.  

What have you found to be the most challenging personally and professionally since the start of the pandemic? I am incredibly fortunate – and grateful – to work for an organization that has worked diligently to address the challenges posed by remote work. Of course, even under the best circumstances, working remotely during this unprecedented time has had its challenges, both personally and professionally. Personally, I haven’t been able to travel back to Los Angeles to see my family – that’s been tough, particularly around the holidays. Professionally, I can’t remember a time when I’ve been busier, both with Foundation work and other professional commitments. I’ve been finding it difficult to “log off” when my “office” is only a few steps away, especially when there’s always another email to address or deal to close. Ultimately, I take solace in the fact that this work helps improve the lives of so many people in the US and around the world. I’m also not doing it alone – every person on my team (and the MacArthur Foundation at large) has stepped up during this time and I couldn’t be prouder to work with a group of such committed and passionate professionals.  

What advice and tips could you offer for those passionate about joining a mission-driven company? My advice is to set goals; network with individuals that currently work in the field; and trust your instincts. Although there’s been an uptick in recent years, positions at mission-driven organizations, particularly for lawyers, are hard to come by. This is especially true if you adjust for organizations that speak to your values. Accepting an offer may mean a salary cut or a significant geographic move (I moved from San Francisco to Chicago for my current position, for example), but if a position helps get you closer to your ultimate goal – and clarity about that goal is important – and “feels” right, then I say trust your instincts and go for it.