June 25, 2022

Jonathan Reckford on Changing the World, One House at a Time

Jonathan Reckford on Changing the World, One House at a Time

Jonathan Reckford shares his incredible experiences at the helm of Habitat for Humanity and how he’s helping to change the world by creating strategic partnerships with other organizations, and how it all starts with building relationships first....

Jonathan Reckford shares his incredible experiences at the helm of Habitat for Humanity and how he’s helping to change the world by creating strategic partnerships with other organizations, and how it all starts with building relationships first. Find out how the CEO of Habitat for Humanity, one of the biggest non-profit organizations in the world, can still make time each month to work on his Protomoi List and why aligning a potential partner’s desire for impact with your goals is a great foundation to build a valuable long-term relationship on.


Mo asks Jonathan Reckford: When did you realize you wanted to grow something big and make an impact?

  • Jonathan had a lot of great role models growing up, with his grandmother being one of the first women in Congress. She would always ask Jonathan what he was going to do to be useful, a mindset that he eventually adopted and grew into.
  • Jonathan assumed he would follow her footsteps into politics and law, but quickly realized after college that law wasn’t what he wanted to do.
  • He later talked his way into a job at Goldman Sachs, received a grant and moved to South Korea to work for the Seoul Olympic committee, and ended up working with the rowing team as their coach for a few years.
  • That experience allowed him to reorient his perspective and after returning home, Jonathan came back with a mission. He went into business school and spent the next 15 years helping large organizations grow.
  • After that time in the private sector, Jonathan went to India on short-term mission trips. Seeing the challenges and suffering in rural India touched his heart and he realized the power of small interventions in dire situations.
  • Jonathan began focusing on helping churches grow and contributing to the mission of alleviating international poverty, ultimately culminating in working for Habitat for Humanity nearly 17 years ago.
  • You can’t always connect the dots going forward, but when you look back you see how everything got you to where you are now. Jonathan’s experiences in his career lend themselves perfectly to his current role as the leader of Habitat for Humanity.
  • Work on the ‘who’ before the ‘what’. Build your character and skills instead of looking for some grand career plan. No matter what you do in your 20s, consider it continuing your education.
  • As long as you’re learning and aligned, you will eventually find your vocation where you have an impact that lines up with your passion and skills.
  • Habitat for Humanity is thinking big for the future and is focused on making markets work more effectively to create just societies where really everyone can access safe, decent, affordable housing.
  • Really bold leaders are ones that reframe everything.
  • If you have the right mission for the problem you're trying to solve, you'll gain the power you need to get there. If you're focused on gaining power, that's ultimately going to be self-defeating.
  • Start with crafting a story around why what you’re doing is making the world a better place and get clarity on your true purpose.


Mo asks Jonathan Reckford: What's your personal definition of growth?

  • Ultimately, it's all about impact, but in order to make an impact you need fuel.
  • Creating complex partnerships is very aligned with good development practices, which is valuable for Jonathan because growth at Habitat for Humanity means having conversations around fundraising.
  • When he made the mindset switch to solving someone’s problem, raising money became much easier and simpler.
  • It's not about pressuring, or trying to get somebody to do something they don't want to do. It's about really trying to understand what people are trying to accomplish or the impact they want to have, and then looking for a fit and where there is one, finding ways you can help them have that impact in a really joyful way.
  • Before a big meeting, you have to do the research. Jonathan will have a brief on the person’s biographical information, passion, and overall strategic goals so that he can create alignment in the potential partnership.
  • Creating win/wins is the goal and when you can do that, growth becomes easy.
  • Negotiation is usually won or lost based on preparation and framing, not on the actual tactics of the conversation.
  • After the research, the first step of the meeting is creating a point of connection and establishing the relationship.
  • The goal of the first meeting is to come away with clear next steps, not to close the deal.


Mo asks Jonathan Reckford: What’s your favorite science, step, or story from GrowBIG Training or the Snowball System?

  • Jonathan’s first favorite is the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument. He uses it all the time in talking with potential partners and tailoring the conversation to how they process information and think.
  • Wrapping your data into a story is a great way to hit on more of the four ways people think, but also make your data more memorable at the same time.
  • Jonathan’s second favorite is simply discipline with the Protomoi List. Every month, Jonathan and his team review his list and look at how they are adding value to those relationships.
  • The takeaway was the discipline and rigor of being very intentional about your most important relationships. Jonathan makes sure that there is time booked into his calendar to make connections, either physical or digital, with the most important relationships in his life.
  • Sending a note to someone has more weight to it when they know you’re busy.


Mo asks Jonathan Reckford: Tell us a development or growth story that you're really particularly proud of.

  • Jonathan tells the story of a complex corporate partnership between Habitat for Humanity and Hilty, and how they’ve worked together closely after building a relationship over the years.
  • Each year, the two organizations began to work more closely together and started developing new innovative approaches to achieving their mutual goals.
  • There's not only funding, but it's making both parties better. They are achieving their goals as well inside a full strategic partnership which is much more exciting than just a transactional donor relationship.
  • Jonathan’s role was in building trust with the head of the foundation. Without that relationship, the partnership probably wouldn’t exist. It also taught Jonathan a lot about building trust and being direct.


Mo asks Jonathan Reckford: You get to magically record a video and send it back to your younger self with some advice. What do you say?

  • Jonathan spent most of his youth thinking about what he wanted to do instead of who he wanted to be. He would tell his younger self to focus on the ‘who’ before the ‘what’ first.
  • If you never fail, it's likely you're not going big enough.
  • Hope is built in the community. Volunteering gives you a sense of the community and how you can bring the virtues of kindness and love into the world.
  • Following your passion is incomplete. You need to search for the intersection between what you’re passionate about and where your skills, ability, and talent lie.
  • Jonathan tells the story of Doris, and how he grew up in a poor neighborhood in North Carolina and how his life completely changed after his mom qualified to buy a Habitat house in Optimist Park. Doris is the first person to grow up in a Habitat for Humanity house and to serve on the board as well.
  • The story perfectly encapsulates the mission and purpose of Habitat for Humanity and how giving people a platform and foundation for a stable, healthy life can impact their community and society as a whole.



Mentioned in this Episode:




Our Better Angels: Seven Simple Virtues That Will Change Your Life and the World by Jonathan Reckford