The Number One Secret to Job Hunting: Weak Connections

Thanks to technology like LinkedIn's new easy-application feature and the hundreds of job matching platforms, applying for a job is easier than ever. Once you've identified your interest and potential alignment, submission is only a few survey questions, a resume upload, and a click away. However, the abundance of tools making jobseeking easier are not necessarily making it more effective. In fact, it may be harder than ever before to differentiate yourself from the thousands of other online applicants, as seen in this article about a jobseeker who actually built a bot to troll postings and create customized applications to thousands of jobs at once. Spoiler alert: even his customized and thorough solution didn't work, because his materials still weren't being read.

That's because, by some estimates, like a survey from this hiring consultant, over 80% of jobs are found through direct introductions, and not through cold postings. The problem is finding those introductions. If you're switching sectors, industries, locations, or if you've been out of the workforce, the odds are that your network won't be super helpful in leveraging their connections to help get your application to the top of the pile.

The solution? Weak ties. This [pretty dense] 1973 Stanford study argued, long before the advent of LinkedIn and Twitter, that weak ties were actually more important in the maintenance of communities and inclusion than strong ties. That still rings true today, but we now have all sorts of tools and strategies that can help specifically cultivate those weak ties into an army of advocates for you. Here's a few thoughts to get you started:

  1. Most obvious: Send an email to "your people" with some specific parameters of what you're looking for, and a targeted ask.  Pull together (and blind copy) a list of your close friends, cousins, or whoever has your best interests in mind, and give them a descriptor of the kinds of organizations and roles you're most interested in. Ex: "I'd love to hear about any interesting medium-sized apparel companies in your orbit who might be looking for communications support, specifically around brand strategy. I'd be happy to talk to any connections you think could be worthwhile for me to get a sense of the current landscape and big players in the space."
  2. Less obvious: Join relevant LinkedIn groups, and message fellow members to ask who they think the most salient people or companies are for you to look at. Rather than asking a stranger (or in this case, a like-minded, but very weak connection) to connect you directly, try asking them for something more general that calls on their specific area of expertise. People love giving advice, and if it's a pretty small ask, they're more likely to respond. Try: "Hi X, Since we're both members of the Impact Investing Forum, I wanted to see if you have suggestions for the 3 companies you think are most innovative in their investment strategy this year-- I'd love to hear what you think is top of mind, since I'm in the process of orienting myself in the sector!"
  3. Least obvious: Join a network or platform that will advocate on your behalf. Organizations like Après (for women re-entering the workforce) or Rework are in the business of talking directly to employers, so they advocate on behalf of those who apply through their platform to help ensure that those employers read their applications. For any industry or sector, there are networking groups or professional associations, and many of them have job boards. If they do, try asking if they'd forward your application along with an endorsement. Ex: "I'm excited to apply for the role you posted at X organization-- thanks for facilitating my discovery of such a cool opportunity. Please find attached my resume and cover letter-- would you mind passing this along to your contact there? My experience in merchandising and interest in design make me a good fit, and your outreach might help ensure that my application gets reviewed. I appreciate your advocacy on my behalf!"

Though it may feel a bit awkward, cultivating weak ties can make a HUGE difference. In the last year, I've made over 80 direct introductions for our fellowship program alumnae to potential employers, volunteer opportunities, investing networks, and more. It doesn't only help them, but it also gives me an excuse to reach out to several of the clients and partners in our network and offer them the "service" of putting them in touch with someone who is likely well-suited for their role. It's a positive touchpoint on all sides, and a win-win-win that hopefully also results in a good fit and new partnership for two of the parties.

Think of one way you could strengthen your weak ties this week, and dedicate less time to online applications and more time to direct networking. The investment will pay off, and you'll create a new professional network along the way!

Taking the Social Impact Plunge

Trace is a second-year MBA at Columbia Business School

Trace is a second-year MBA at Columbia Business School

On the first day of orientation at Columbia Business School, our Dean delivered a speech that I am sure is approximately the same speech rattled off at Business Schools around the country. 

  • Step 1) Inflate the incoming students’ egos: “best and brightest” references abound.
  • Step 2) Convince new students that [insert school] has the best resources and network in the world 
  • Step 3) Pull the two together and end with a charge like “you are the future leaders of business,  now go change the world.”                  

Perhaps it’s a bit formulaic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not true.  I, like everyone, left a good job that I enjoyed to come to Business School because I saw it as a way to amplify my potential.  I didn’t take the time to define “potential,” but if I did I think it would’ve been some combination of skills, status, salary, and this nebulous idea of making the world a better place. So walking out of that auditorium, I felt more assured in my decision to leave the working world for a two year detour in b-school.  A mere $200k and two years of foregone salary is a pretty small investment to change the world, right?

All you have to do from there is figure out how exactly you want to change the world.  The task seems a little less daunting because of the certainty with which it was presented in orientation, but then things start happening really fast.  You’re whisked away to a few accounting classes: debits on the left, credits on the right…got it, brush up on the basics of stats then tell yourself you will hire an analyst to do the complex stuff, then you try to find the bottleneck in cranberry production, and suddenly you look up and realize that all your classmates are wearing suits to class…which can only mean one thing: it’s already recruiting season.  In the weeks or months before you start recruiting, it is a near certainty that you didn’t take advantage of all the resources you wanted to, didn’t explore all the different industries or have all the coffee chats you wanted to, and now you have to make the biggest decision of your first year: where should I intern?

I can’t speak for everyone, but here was my thought process for choosing my internship, and my experience at Inspiring Capital.  I came from a pretty traditional finance background.  My main goal for the summer was to branch out from finance and find a job that allowed me to apply and further develop the tactical business skills I had been learning.  As I began to look at different options, the aforementioned nebulous feeling of wanting to make the world a better place became more prominent.  Ultimately I accepted an offer with Inspiring Capital; I really liked their pitch: aligning business professionals and high-potential, purpose-driven organizations.  Sounded great on paper, but because your one summer internship is such a scarce resource, I had a lot of questions: I don’t have any social impact experience, can I really get a good feel for the sector in 10 weeks?  Will I actually get to work on high-level business problems? And, will my experience this summer help me practically and translate into a good story to get a full-time job?

After completing the summer at Inspiring Capital, I feel quite comfortable answering “yes” to all of those questions.  In our cohort of 10 MBAs and 7 Undergrads, we had a wide-range of experience in the social sector. Some people had worked at nonprofits, some had started nonprofits, and some, like me, just had an interest in the sector.  Over the course of the summer, we heard from dozens of speakers, ranging from social enterprise entrepreneurs, to impact investors, to Directors of nonprofits.  Through the summer, we got a pretty holistic view of the sector, and you start piecing together trends and better understanding the nuances of problems that continue to pop up like scalability, impact measurement, and sustainability.

As for my actual project, I, along with my undergrad partner Marissa, worked with GSMA, a nonprofit representing the interests of about 800 mobile operators globally.  One of GSMA’s goals is to ensure that everyone in developing markets has access to mobile phones and to understand how people’s lives can be improved through that access. My project was to help GSMA think about how to better engage mobile operators and local entrepreneurs in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East to build a global innovation network.  This seemed like, and was, a huge undertaking, but it was also really valuable experience. I wasn’t a spectator/PowerPoint-formatter on a project, I was the one talking to the client, driving the project forward, and executing the vision.  Over the course of the summer I found myself at pitch nights for startups in Silicon Valley, on calls with entrepreneurs and CEOs in Korea, Kenya, and Ghana, discussing the funding landscape with VCs in China and the UAE, and ultimately in London delivering our results to GSMA leadership. It was a really fun experience to be a small part of GSMA’s expansion into the innovation ecosystem in various emerging markets…be on the lookout for accelerators, incubators, meetups, and VC funds from GSMA soon!

The line between traditional business and the impact sector is blurring as consumers, employees, and investors demand more from companies, while nonprofits and impact-first investors are placing greater focus on using funds efficiently and financial sustainability.  I’m generally not much help when people ask me whether they should do “social impact” internships, but I do know that I certainly don’t felt like I sacrificed a chance to gain real business experience by joining Inspiring Capital. As for the challenge to go change the world…the world will inevitably change an unimaginable amount over the course of our careers, but I think my Business School experience, in large part because of Inspiring Capital, has prepared me to be a more thoughtful observer of that change and hopefully a more active participant. 

The Most Tragically Overlooked Recruitment Tool (at least for roles that require interaction with other humans)

The vast majority of jobs require some version of interaction with other people. And yet, employers rarely bother to test how candidates work with other people during the hiring process. At least not in any reliable way. Group interviews require some extra leg work and coordination. And if you’re only hiring one person for a certain role, it can be awkward to have candidates in the same room, much less interacting. But the payoff - for both employer and candidate! - far outweighs the downsides.

Why do we go to the trouble of coordinating 80+ busy people (1st year MBA students) from around the country to gather in groups of 4-8 (in person or online) for a highly-structured group activity that’s challenging, fast-moving, and a little bit uncomfortable?

This year, we actually asked the candidates themselves why they thought we do the group interview. As reassuring testimony to their extraordinary qualifications, they pretty much nailed it. So here are their insights about the value of group interviews - from a candidate perspective (the direct quotes below are theirs, to give you an idea of exactly what they noticed and appreciated). 

If you’re in the market for highly motivated, business-minded, purpose-driven talent, here’s what they want to see in the recruitment process. 


Several of our candidates noticed that we were testing their performance in skills that we expect of our Fellows, as well as showcasing our own way of working. Specifically, we’re looking for: 

A. Teamwork

We need to know:

  • Can they "interact well with a team while still driving things forward," making decisions and planning presentations?
  • Can they "challenge others’ ideas productively,” to build an informed consensus? 

They appreciated:

  • the opportunity to interact with “impressive and like-minded peers," as our fellows get to do.

B. Efficiency and Effectiveness

We need to know:

  • Can they keep pace and calm through a series of "thoughtful and fast-moving activities"?

They appreciated:

  • The "logical process of the exercise, that built on itself throughout."

C. Flexibility

We need to know:

  • Can they "get behind something that wasn’t their original thought and help their team to defend it compellingly"?


Because our Fellowships are designed to help professionals grow - indeed, one of our company values is continuous improvement - we have to identify candidates who are willing and eager to do the hard work of growth.

We need to know:

  • Did they respond to our intentionally tough (heard through VFA) feedback with the right blend of humility that they might have been wrong and conviction that they had a valid thought process?

They appreciated:

  • “Live, real time feedback, not just on their formal presentations, but also the discussion and planning process in between."
  •  “The opportunity for self-reflection" that we provided at the end of the exercise.

3) FIT

Finally, it was clear to the candidates that we were looking to gauge their enthusiasm about our work and philosophical fit for our approach. Of course, we are also providing them with first-hand insights about whether joining us as a Fellow is right for them. 

We need to know:

  • Do they catch the same factors about impact that we focus on, and recognize the potential tradeoffs and complications of those factors?  

They appreciated:

  • An inside look at our team, working style, and specifically, our selection process for Fellows.

Many candidates have mentioned the group interview as a critical part of the recruitment process that got them even more excited about the opportunity, and confirmed our Fellowship was the right choice for them. So, consider how to integrate a group exercise (whether among candidates or a mixed group of candidate(s) and your team) into your hiring process. You and your potential new teammates will gain insights well worth the logistical hassle or initial awkwardness of setting them up! 


The Power of Projects

Whether you’re a manager, entrepreneur, or professional (particularly a professional thinking of a career change), projects are a powerful tool. When, as with all tools, used correctly. 

Particularly when starting a new initiative, or adding a function to your team, defining work as a discrete, time-limited project forces clarity around what you want done. It’s too easy to hire a ‘Sales Manager,’ or ‘Growth Analyst,’ or ’Social Enterprise Associate,’ without REALLY defining what that person will be working on. Which sets everyone involved up for frustration and failure. 

On the other hand, imagine starting with a specific project, for example a 4-week assignment to map your target market and identify and rank 500 sales prospects. Or an 8-week window to do a feasibility study and financial models for a new business line. 

WHY is the project-based approach better? 

1) Try-before-you-buy

These specific, bite-sized mandates help align expectations, and provide an opportunity for both the project-doer and the organization to get to know each others’ working styles and needs. Assuming the organization has other projects that require similar skillsets, or the current project has grown into a full-time role, the decision to work more together is a lot less risky than making a hire after the famously flawed interview process.

2) Accountability

The process of scoping a project forces clarity about what the deliverables and timeline are. With this clarity, there’s no room for misunderstanding about whether the project-doer has fulfilled his or her obligation to the organization or not. Particularly in the case of a new role to the organization, job descriptions can be vague, with myriad variations in responsibilities and critical success factors. The specificity that comes with a project scope protects both the organization and the project-doer from wasting resources or compromising their reputation, respectively. 

3) Momentum

Setting specific goals to reach within a specific time frame creates a sense of progress and momentum, again particularly for a new initiative. The wrap-up of every well-executed project includes suggestions and discussion of next steps, which may likely include another project to advance the work being done. Rather than making a one-time decision to hire someone to begin work on an initiative or functional area in your organization, working on a series of projects ensures the progress checks and planning necessary to build and sustain momentum.

HOW to ensure a successful project? 

The guidelines for a successful project are actually quite similar on both sides. 


The scoping process is critical to the success of any project. It’s important to spend the time to clarify the desired outcome and deliverables, and the steps that will likely lead to those results. Project-doers hold the responsibility for getting all the information and guidance they need before diving in - it’s easy for organizations to take things for granted about their business, organization, or culture. 

The organization has the primary responsibility to ensure that the project is well-publicized internally so that all related individuals and departments know what’s happening and can support the project-doer. The project-doer can also help make sure this happens by asking to meet all relevant stakeholders before kicking off. 


It’s critical to schedule and uphold regular check-ins. Communicate early and and often about successes, challenges, surprises, and changes to the project. The project-doer holds ultimate responsibility for scheduling and having these check-ins, but certainly requires (and deserves!) the full participation of the organization. 

Look for ways to integrate the project-doer into the larger organization. Even over four weeks, find opportunities for that person to get acquainted with the staff and business of the organization, whether by attending meetings or office social events, informal lunches or happy hours with the team (beyond their direct counterparts for the project), or participating in the organization’s core business on the front lines. We all work better when we’re working with and for people whom we know, respect, and enjoy. It’s easy for project-doers to remain isolated, which compromises the value of their work product to the organization.


A deliverable for every project should be recommended next steps. And the wrap-up meeting should include thorough discussion of those recommendations in terms of who should lead the next steps, what likely obstacles may be, and other tips based on the project-doers experience with the organization. An internal contact, whether the main point of contact or not, should be charged with the follow-up on the project to ensure that it doesn’t become a report on the shelf as so many. 

Finally, both sides should request thorough written feedback. It will serve the organization in getting smarter about engaging project-based talent, and serve as a reference for the project-doer in getting future gigs. 

If your organization - or your career - is changing or growing at all these days, get good at  managing - or doing - project-based work. It’s the most effective and affordable path to sustainable progress!  

Have a project you could use some high-octane talent to help with? Email us:

Name *

North Carolina Kickoff Unites Purpose-Driven Community Leaders around Impact

As an organization built around catalyzing impact, one of the biggest wins for us is to see the incredible (and tangible) results that come from putting like-minded, purpose driven leaders in a room. Our 2017 Kickoff at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina was a fantastic evening spent with more than 65 professionals and students from over 50 different organizations and 4 local universities, all coming together to share ideas on social impact, learn from one another, and make new connections to accelerate their work.

During the event, 7 remarkable organizations* each led an hour of in-depth conversations in small breakout groups about their unique missions, impact models, and the questions that keep them up at night. One participant described the activity as “thoughtful, insightful, and effective." Crowdsourced solutions and suggestions to our organizations’ challenges have already led to:

  • One attendee's idea for attracting millennials as clients being presented to an organization’s board as a proposed new initiative for 2017.
  • A sales meeting for one of the presenting organizations with a corporate client that will help expand the impact of both organizations.
  • The creation of a more robust network for early stage entrepreneurs as they approach their first round of investment.

It's amazing to see how the power of conversation between diverse members of a community can have an immediate impact on the social sector. One description of the attendees from the evening describe a group that was “diverse, engaged, and ready to create positive change in their community”. Our IC team was inspired (pun intended!) and invigorated to see such collaborative and open discussion amongst the diverse set of attendees, and more excited than ever to continue the rollout of our programs in North Carolina in 2017!

* Thanks to our presenting impact organizations: Leadership Triangle, Bee Downtown, Blinded HR, Protopia, Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation, Carroll’s Kitchen, and HealthBeM.

Want to know more about our work in North Carolina? Email our Program Director, Pat, at

"Quick Wins" from our NYC 2017 Kickoff Event

One of the interactive activities at our 2017 Kickoff event was rapid brainstorming "quick wins" for the year for each attendee to find small ways to make an impact from their current roles. Here are some of the quick wins they came up with:

  • Leverage $10,000 to a new womens issue in 2017 through a new financial product
  • Increase my thought leadership -- don't be afraid to put out some new training
  • Reach out to people I don't know and learn more about what they do and how they got into it
  • Leverage relationship with a radio show I know to connect with social impact orgs 
  • Help victims of financial abuse
  • Help elder scientists to implement and make alive their ideas through tech and modern tools
  • Meditate 5x/week
  • Help teachers budget their lives
  • Volunteer with an environmental org
  • Network within my own organization and see the value in existing relationships
  • Find out who works in sustainability at my company
  • Make sure the charity I am on the board of chooses an investment advisor who cares a lot about climate change & other factors
  • Support the refugee community with unique skills, find roles for refugees through network

What's your "quick win" for 2017?

Are Pro Bono Volunteers "Worth It"?

I recently found that the "value" of volunteer time was estimated to be around $24/hour, and that 85% of nonprofits in the U.S. rely exclusively on volunteers. That's a lot of important social impact work being done pro bono.

Now, as someone who works with a nonprofit on a pro bono basis myself, I totally understand the logic. Why would you actively seek to pay for talent that you can get for free? Every dollar spent on overhead is a dollar diverted away from programming and impact, so there had better be a really compelling ROI in order to spend money on talent (and fundraising for overhead is both challenging and controversial).

Without oversimplifying the situation to "you get what you pay for," there are compelling reasons to consider investing capital (yes, real, financial capital) in trained professionals. They should be paid for achieving projects that are either critical to the sustainability or growth of your organization or that are nuanced enough to require an expert opinion that may not necessarily align with the acumen of even your most helpful board member.

If you do have board members, volunteers, pro bono consultants, or even distant cousins that are able to successfully execute strategic projects for you for free … that is awesome [truly]. Hold on to them! Feature them in your annual report. Send them 1,000 thank you notes and hope that they will continue filing your nonprofit's 990 form, coordinating the annual report, calling donors, or writing grants for you in perpetuity. But, if you are like most of us, dealing with volunteers that also have lives, jobs, and priorities outside of our orgs., the chances are that their abilities, time, and willingness to take on projects will not always align with your organizational needs and deadlines.

And when you start from the perspective of identifying organizational needs, you no longer have to think about projects from the context of a volunteer's perspective. Hosting a gala and writing a grant are both fundraising initiatives … what if you paid a business development professional to build a customer acquisition strategy for an earned revenue line instead? What if you commissioned a consultant to create an impact assessment framework that could self-populate data into compelling templates for use in donor marketing materials? For bigger questions, like the pricing strategy of your programs or services, or expansion planning into new markets or geographies, having access to a seasoned expert in these areas mitigates risk and maximizes potential returns.

Finally, I've seen firsthand the power of having skin in the game. A fee-for-service model demands a higher level of buy-in to the project, a greater sense of accountability for the outcome, and prevents any discrepancy between your expectations and needs and the ability of the person executing the project.

Nonprofits are forced to operate in a resource-constrained environment, but reliance on pro bono services exclusively is not the right answer. As more foundations seek to fund capacity and more affordable talent options emerge, I think we'll see a trend toward increased fee-for-service solutions for nonprofits.

How a Professional Development Program Unites Millennials & Boomers Around Purpose

Our new Professionals Program has been over a year in development. As we launched our MBA, Undergrad, and Women's Re-Inspiration programs over the course of the last 4 years, our team constantly fielded inbound requests from professionals who didn't neatly fit into one of the demographics these programs represented. As we rethought our customer segmentation to expand our social impact training, we realized something important: purpose-seekers are a psychographic, not a demographic.

Political Engagement Tips from a Former Congressional Staffer

One of our former volunteers, Lily, had previously come from Washington as a legislative assistant and frequently helped us better understand the ins-and-outs of life on the Hill. Now, she shares a way to help increase political engagement:

Lily recently spent four years in the nation’s capitol as a congressional aide. 

Lily recently spent four years in the nation’s capitol as a congressional aide. 

Although the presidential election has come and gone, many of us want to continue being involved with the policies that shape our lives. One of the best ways to be involved is to contact your elected officials. It can be a little daunting, but as a former legislative aide, I have a few tips to make it go a little smoother. 

1) Find out who your federal elected officials are. You can find them online at and by entering your address in these websites. You have two senators and one representative (often times referred to as "congressman" or "congresswoman"), so you will have three officials to contact. You should call all three, unless it's a matter that is only handled by one chamber. 

2) Once you have their names, visit their websites. From there, find their Washington, DC. phone numbers. This is where you call to leave comments for your federal elected officials. Also, take time to explore their website. Do they have statements on the issues you're calling about?  There is often an "Issues" or "Legislation tab" that provides this information. You may also go through their press releases on their website to get updated information. Another great resource is, where you can find bill information including sponsors, movement in the legislative process, and related bills. 

3) Armed with the correct phone number and basic information, call your rep! You may also want to email them through the website, but know that it may take awhile to be read because of the incoming volume of emails they receive daily. A call is quickest way to be heard. However, if you have a long story that you'd like to communicate, you should send an email. That's usually done through their website. They often have a button that says "Contact Me" or "Email Me". 

4) On the phone, be polite. The staffer answering the phone is not the lawmaker! You may begin by asking where your representative stands on the issue, if you don't already know. If you do, you may begin by stating your name, city, and that you'd like to leave a comment about xyz issue. Explain how you feel about the issue and how it would impact your or your community. Ask that you hope your rep will keep your thoughts in mind and that she/he votes in line with your priorities. If you'd like a response, you may say that. However, keep in mind that staff is often backlogged with mailing out responses, so asking for a response is most effective when you disagree with your representative. 

5) Each office processes constituent comments differently. However, all Members of Congress get feedback on how constituents are calling in or writing about certain topics. So, keep emailing or calling.

That's it! You've taken action! All it takes is to do a bit research, finding the right phone numbers, and explaining your thoughts about an issue you're passionate about in an articulate, polite manner. Open communication with your representative is the hallmark of democracy, so I hope you start calling today!

Curious to know more about Lily or her work? Get in touch via the form below:

Name *



My Journey Toward Re-Inspiration

Janet Hammond is IC's Raleigh Women's Program Associate.

Janet Hammond is IC's Raleigh Women's Program Associate.

365 days ago, I saw a post on LinkedIn through a new contact I had just made.  It was about Inspiring Capital’s Women’s Re-Inspiration program and it seemed to be the intersection of where I wanted to be. I had taken a significant career break and wanted to transition to more meaningful work, and I had no network of my own. I had financial skills but a passion for helping women and children. I was stuck. 

I had spent the previous 2 years trying to figure out what I wanted to be “when I grew up." It was a daunting task. I had always followed the playbook and done what was expected of me.   The thing was, I was at a point in my life where there was no playbook. I needed to figure this out for myself, and I was at a loss as to what steps to take and make sure I got it right.   So…I decided to just go ahead and take all of the steps in front of me.

I recently read an article from Ellevate's daily newsletter on Why Smart Women Get Stuck and how using the “Lighthouse Method” can help them get started in finding rewarding new careers. Without knowing it at the time, this articulates exactly what I did. I “lost the map," and I decided to “row with the flow” and just try everything that seemed appealing. I volunteered at a Women’s Empowerment Center. I took a part-time job in the field of sustainability. And, I went to a conference for women looking to re-enter the workforce even though I had some work and things were going pretty well.

That conference is where I made my connection who would later introduce me to Inspiring Capital. At the time I did not think much of it, but in the end it made all the difference. A simple decision just to sit down for lunch at the conference with my new friend made it so that I felt comfortable going back less than a month later and asking her for an introduction.  Again, I had no idea where that introduction would lead, but this is what happened next…

I started a conversation with Inspiring Capital about participating in the Women’s Re-Inspiration Program, not knowing how that could actually work.  They were in New York, as was their network, and I was in North Carolina. We sent emails and eventually talked in person at the Net Impact Conference we were both attending.  I kept the conversation going without a pre-determined end game because it felt right and I really believed in what they were doing. 

Things started to catalyze quickly. I flew up to NYC to experience part of their program for myself, and started to explore the possibility of a similar program in North Carolina. Somewhere between last October 26 and today, the decision was made to make North Carolina’s Research Triangle the site of Inspiring Capital’s first geographic expansion. A year later, I'm not just participating in the workshop-- I am facilitating the inaugural cohort! Our final day of cohort #1 will be tomorrow. If you had told me this would be the outcome of that one connection I had made one year ago today, I would never have believed you. 

There are so many of us who are trying to figure out what to do next whether we have taken a career break or have been doing a job we find unfulfilling for years. We look at our millennial children and are so proud of them for challenging the status quo and going after what feels right to them. Now – it’s our turn. 

If you find yourself in this situation, I hope you can switch your mindset and consider the Lighthouse Method. There are no rules for you right now. If it feels right, go with it. Things might work out, or they might not. Remember, if you don’t have expectations for a certain outcome, it is hard to end up disappointed. At worst, you'll learn more about yourself and your options, and at best, you'll start to follow new leads of programs and people that inspire and motivate you.

The one thing I know for sure is that if you are far from shore and it is dark out, you need to start rowing. The lighthouse might be far away and the light barely visible, but you won’t get anywhere if you don’t start. Make any and all connections that you can. You never know what that next conversation will lead to. Sign up for a class on whatever subject interests you. Don’t say no to yourself and don’t judge your ideas. Go with it.

The journey is not over for me, but 365 days later I am proud and excited to be a part of this innovative organization that was willing to let me climb into their boat and row with them. I hope you'll join us in re-drawing the map for women, as we bravely start to make those first strokes into uncharted waters together.

Is it really possible to do "well" while doing "good?"

The answer is a resounding “Yes!” for a growing percentage of professionals, young and old alike. In some circles, a potential new employer’s “social impact” is now just as important to consider as its compensation plans and broader reputation.

This search for a deeper sense of “purpose” at work certainly isn’t new. But in the last decade, we have seen a resurgence of interest in (and creation of) organizations that are committed to traditional profit-driven “success” and to having a positive impact on the world.

What’s at the root of this rising demand for socially-conscious business?

Whether it’s the influential “one-for-one” model of profit sharing used by Toms, the inspired “Open Hiring” policy of Greyston Bakery or the crowd-sourced problem solving of OpenIDEO, successful new models are emerging that prove that “doing business” and “doing good” can be synonymous.

Great. But where do I come in?

The global social impact sector is evolving so rapidly that it can be difficult for job (and fellowship!) seekers to understand their options.

Our first and flagship offering, the Inspiring Capital Summer MBA Fellowship, is a 10-week hybrid consulting and training program that immerses first-year business students in the social impact world through hands-on work experiences, structured learning and network building.

The fellowship (based in NYC, also now in Raleigh, NC!) is designed to open fellows’ eyes to the varied opportunities, approaches and attitudes that make up the “social sector.” Our fellows work directly with client organizations to solve real problems--think: Earned Income strategy, operational efficiency, financial analysis–while honing their skill sets and career goals through over 100 hour of training.

This summer, we’re also thrilled to be recruiting for the National Parks Business Plan Internship (BPI)--an 11-week program where interns live and work in some of America’s greatest cultural treasures. The BPI program is open to all interested graduate students--not just first-year MBAs.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to use your business acumen for good this summer, consider applying for one of these two fellowships today!

APPLICATION DEADLINE for both fellowships: December 12, 2016

Learn more about Inspiring Capital’s summer fellowship.

Learn more about the National Parks Business Plan Internship.

Rule #1 of (Financial) Modeling: Inform Your Assumptions

Janet is a 2nd year MBA at UTAustin McCombs School of Business, and worked this summer with Goodwill NYNJ.

Janet is a 2nd year MBA at UTAustin McCombs School of Business, and worked this summer with Goodwill NYNJ.

If I had to choose a single takeaway from a summer of numerous experiences and lessons, it would be this: Anyone pursuing a career in social impact better get comfortable with ambiguity. For the most part, that excites me. Uncertainty leaves room for creativity surrounding strategy and solutions, offers increased leadership opportunities, and creates space to make your impact. But, I have to admit, there are a couple of drawbacks. As someone who loves curling up with coffee and a good excel-sheet, ambiguity can sometimes slow my roll. (Luckily, Anjali Patel has a few tips to help me out with that.)

Yes, I am that colleague who is overenthusiastic about the magic of VLOOKUP (save the making-fun for later, contact form below). But more importantly, I value the power of financial modeling as a decision-making tool given a series of assumptions. I was fortunate enough to be able to use this tool to analyze a potential earned-income business line as a fellow at Goodwill NYNJ, a social enterprise that strives to empower individuals with disabilities and other barriers to entry through the dignity of work. However, given the ambiguity of the potential business model and many unanswered questions, the vast majority of my time was spent on gauging the appropriate parameters that went into my analysis. A model, no matter how beautifully designed, is useless if the assumptions that it is built upon are not accurate.

My colleague Maggie Nazer offered an insightful thought process on initiating an earned revenue stream. Below, I offer a few notes on navigating the uncertainty around the assumptions, specifically as they pertain to a financial model.

·       Understand all related costs: When forecasting for a new opportunity or a new business, it is important to flush out all inputs. For example, in a non-profit, this most likely includes deducting a certain percentage of revenues for potential administrative overhead.

·       Be honest about sales and revenue growth: Many non-profits and social enterprises do not put as much effort into sales and marketing as a purely for-profit business. It then follows that sales growth assumptions must be tempered.

·       Evaluate core competencies: Given that this opportunity is mission and value aligned, it is also possible that the organization already contains the necessary labor, equipment, relationships (especially important) and expertise. The more competencies utilized the better, and it is important to incorporate this possibility into your cost and growth assumptions.

Easy, right?






No, definitely not. All of the researching, preparation, and excel rows cannot guarantee an outcome, especially when trying to engage with important problems and opportunities in our own communities. However, a thoughtful approach to the financial analysis of those opportunities can be invaluable in the decision-making process.

Further, I’ve learned that it’s important to take that understanding and apply it to my career goals as much as I applied it to my financial model. My time with Inspiring Capital provided the space and resources to learn as much as possible about the social impact space in a 10-week span. Ironically, the more I learned, the more wide-open and confusing my own potential path started to seem. Fortunately, the fellowship also allowed for time to hone in on my own personal “variables.” I’ve learned that I would thrive in a role that empowers me to thoughtfully analyze opportunities or investments and execute on that analysis in a small social enterprise organization or team. These assumptions are always subject to an edit given new information, but the intentional thought process that continues to inform them is imperative. Like the model I built this summer, the path I set for myself inaccurate without continued reflection around my own assumptions. 

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Evaluating Impact: Summer 2016 Analytics

Another IC summer fellowship has come and gone, as our 17 summer fellows return to the familiar ritual of their classes and campus life. For ten weeks, from June to August, these students came from around the country and the world to participate in a weekly training curriculum and concurrently complete a consulting project for a nonprofit or social enterprise.

Since many of our consulting projects revolve around impact assessment, we know the importance of evaluation, and the challenge many social impact organizations face in measuring and making sense of the metrics that result from their programs.

On the training side, the purpose of our summer program is to help MBAs and Undergrads better understand how to leverage their skill sets on behalf of social sector organizations, and to get a feel for some of the challenges organizations and employees in the sector face. We measure this through pre- and post-program surveys, as well as surveys throughout the summer training curriculum.

THIS summer, 

- Our fellows reported they were 70% more familiar with the field of social enterprise after the program than they had been at the start.

- They also reported a 40-50% increase in their familiarity with the fields of nonprofit, impact investing, and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).

- They reported significant increases (30%+) in their understanding of how they could personally contribute to social change, the challenges of working in the sector, and their preparedness to navigate those challenges.

- Finally, the fellows reported that the strength of their social sector network in NYC increased by 1.5X over the course of the program.

We’re thrilled by the success these results indicate, and grateful for the 17 fellows that put a great deal of work and thought into our training days and client projects. 

The ultimate impact of our fellows' work still falls in that messy metrics category, since it's more difficult to measure the outcomes of their influence within the organizations they consulted for. While we can proudly say that 100% of our summer clients would recommend us to others and reported high satisfaction with their fellows' work, the impact of the work itself is more difficult to pinpoint within the larger context of each organization's ongoing operations. 

Our clients listed the following among the most valuable contributions their summer fellows’ made:

“A deep dive into our analytics that was incredibly insightful and helpful."

“A brilliant and comprehensive plan and model"

“He made a new area for us understandable, and set forth a strategy that I think we can follow."

“They allowed us to focus and have dedicated support on a very meaningful project for the future of our organization."

“She helped bring various business metrics into focus."

We’re delighted at the mutual success of this summer’s fellowship program and consulting work, and we're eager to continue building capacity for business talent in the sector and providing continued access to this talent for terrific organizations. 

We’ve expanded our consulting offering to add more access to our talent throughout the year, employee and board engagement strategies, and deeper preparation for the summer fellowship project. Know an organization we should be working with? Fill out our consulting interest form to get more information.

Earned Income for Nonprofits in 5 Steps

Maggie Nazer is a senior at Middlebury College and a summer sales intern for Inspiring Capital.

Maggie Nazer is a senior at Middlebury College and a summer sales intern for Inspiring Capital.

As an intern at Inspiring Capital this past summer, I developed an interest in how nonprofits can achieve sustainability. Although I had myself started and run a small NGO at age 16, the concept of earned income was both new and puzzling to me. Hearing many say that nonprofits should be run as businesses, the sociologist in me kept wondering whether earned income could truly be a strategy to ensuring nonprofits’ independence without compromising their mission. 

With Inspiring Capital’s support and many more questions in mind, I compiled a list of some of the most intriguing organizations I had come across throughout my internship, e-mailed and asked them to give up some precious time to talk with me. These conversations were inspiring, insightful, informative and well-worth writing a short piece to highlight some of the main points made by the leaders I talked with.

The following five steps can help nonprofits explore the possibility of earning income and develop effective strategies for income provision beyond fundraising.

1.     Make sure earned income is on the table at Board meetings

Daniel Rabuzzi, Executive Director of, shared that his organization’s Board of Advisors is strongly committed to expanding income generation through partnerships with interested parties: “We talk about this all the time because traditional philanthropy isn’t able to cover what we’d like to see happen."

2.     Have a rationale!

While he sees the value in developing earned income strategies for nonprofits, Programs & Aging Initiatives Manager at Citymeals on Wheels Jose Luis Sanchez emphasized the importance of being intentional and thoughtful when deciding to explore earned income strategies versus traditional fundraising. According to Sanchez, pushing for earned income as a nonprofit may bring business and reputational risks that should be carefully considered. The size of a nonprofit, together with public perceptions about the work it does and target groups it serves are some of the factors which may complicate, if not prevent an organization from pursuing earned income.

Mrs. Ann Morris, CFO of NYC Outward Bound Schools similarly encouraged careful consideration of “Why?” and “How?” to go about earned income. Communicating the rationale for choosing earned income over philanthropy and vice versa is critical. NYC Outward Bound Schools asks inner city schools for some contribution towards the implementation of wilderness and adventure programs tailored to their students and fundraises the rest of its costs. “We expect our schools to pay something, but it’s clear that it’s nowhere near the real price," Morris said. Charging inner city schools a small percentage of the cost of the programs NYC Outward Bound Schools provides them with is a strategy which fits well with the organization’s long term growth plan, as well as with its commitment to empower communities to make smart choices for their children’s education.

3.     Look for alignment with values and missions

NYC Outward Bound Schools ensures that everything they do is within their mission. The adventure and team-building programs offered to organizations and schools, as well as professional development consulting, are firmly grounded in their educational approach and mission to bring adventure and discovery into schooling and help the organization earn much needed income to support its core activities and constituents. Providing these services not only doesn’t detract from the organization’s main commitment to serving youth from poorer communities, but also helps the organization enhance the quality of its offerings and decrease its dependence on philanthropic donations. That said, a clear understanding of how to manage income must be in place. While income areas prove more difficult to fundraise for, design of new programs is where fundraising is vital.

In the case of Citymeals on Wheels, understanding of the added value to income generation has not led to a change in how the organization is funded.  Despite being aware of practices whereby charitable food giveaways have been complemented with income generation activities, Citymeals on Wheels has decided that earned income doesn’t fit their unique to NYC model. The organization funds 31 community-based agencies, which in 2015 alone have brought over 2 million meals to 18,000 elderly citizens of New York City, in addition to granting them with priceless human interactions and attention.  

4.     Create win-win situations empowers all students to use technology as a force for good, with a focus on young learners from under-resourced communities.  Recently the nonprofit partnered with for-profit cyber security leader Symantec in what can be considered a great example of creating high-quality and high-impact “win-win” collaboration.

Symantec contracted to create a curriculum in order to educate young learners about cyber security threats. This project not only generated income for Mouse, but was also included as a content module in their comprehensive curriculum taught to high school students.

Digital Divide Data (DDD) is a hybrid social enterprise (combination of non-profit and for-profit entities) which delivers services and solutions that clients use to create, manage and distribute digital information. The organization has offices in Cambodia, Laos and Kenya where it trains local youth, employs them and offers them scholarships to pursue university degrees while gaining valuable work experience.  With more than 80% of its earnings coming from earned income, Digital Divide Data is the pioneer of “impact outsourcing”, a practice predicted to grow tremendously in the near future due to the increasing concern for social impact by corporate partners as well the public.

Michael Chertok, co-founder and Executive Vice President of DDD, talked to me about earned income as a way to engage organizations with your mission, even if they are unable to contribute through traditional philanthropy. “We couldn’t request a grant, for example, from Stanford University, but they have needs for services and we are able to meet these,” he said, speaking of one of the many digitization projects DDD has delivered. Satisfied with the quality of services provided as well as the impact made, some corporate clients that the organization has served are also donors.

5.     “Don’t be afraid from earned income, even if you have to be taxed”- it pays off!

Self-proclaimed “fierce advocate” for earned income, Daniel Rabuzzi, argues that the opportunity to fund more programming and serve more constituents makes earned income well-justified. 

According to Rabuzzi, many nonprofits overlook income generation for two main reasons: first, they perceive income generation as an inevitable distraction which will diminish the organization’s capacity to serve its main beneficiaries. Additionally, many organizations fear that earned income will be taxed.

However, as CFO Ann Morris assured me, nonprofits are taxed only for “unrelated business income” and not income earned through activity aligned with the organization’s legally stated mission. For example, if a nonprofit owns a coffee shop, yet selling beverages is not directly related to its mission and core activities, it would get taxed for the income produced by the coffee shop.



How My Childhood Taught me to Thrive at an Early-Stage Startup

Anjali is a 2nd year MBA at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, and worked with Viable this summer

Anjali is a 2nd year MBA at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, and worked with Viable this summer

Growing up, my mom and dad dragged me into all of their “projects”, which included everything from selling hot sauces to starting a Mexican restaurant to renovating a convent. They used to either (a) force us into helping them or (b) bribe us with ice cream, cake, or charms (in the shape of ice cream or cake). After years of grumbling, I actually voluntarily choose to do this kind of stuff now. Somehow, my parents didn’t just trick me into doing all those random jobs, but also tricked me into liking it. They're sneaky like that.

Little did I know, they were preparing me for my summer with Inspiring Capital. After years of consulting in corporate America and then business school, I had grown accustomed to a predictable life of methodologies, processes, and frameworks. When placed with Viable, an early stage venture that provides corporates access to validated business ideas from a global community, I knew it was an opportunity to get back to my entrepreneurial roots. 

My project scope initially involved developing an incubation process for Viable, but I quickly found myself immersed in the startup whirlwind. This internship, along with all my parents’ projects, taught me that the best ways to thrive at a startup are to:

·       Embrace the ambiguity. There was a lot to do, and it was often hard to know where or how to start. There was no typical day with Viable. Most days, I didn't know where I would be or what I would be doing until I was actually there doing it. Accepting a certain level of chaos was not only thrilling but also productive, particularly when in brainstorming mode.

·       Take Charge. I was given a lot of flexibility and authority to drive my own activities, which required a certain level of direction amidst the chaos. With limited resources and supervision, I had to be resourceful and figure out the appropriate course of action. And when I felt I had gaps in my knowledge, I connected with experts from the Inspiring Capital community and my own network for help. 

·       Keep it simple. Our options were endless, especially at such an early stage. What started as a simple idea would morph into a muddled business model in an attempt to as much impact as possible, which had implications on resource requirements, process design, marketing, pretty much everything. Once we got back to the basics, it was much easier to focus on the mission critical areas and communicate Viable's value.

·       Just do it. Viable believes that ideas are powerful but execution is paramount. It's easy to overthink our work, as if everything would all come crashing down if each detail isn't exactly right. It was difficult to set that aside and present an imperfect solution, but we made more progress putting it to the test than when we just theorized.

Each day with Inspiring Capital has presented me with new trials and uncertainty, but also inspiration and fun. While the work was a constant challenge, I was able to create meaningful progress in laying the groundwork for Viable’s launch and can't imagine a more rewarding summer internship experience.

Want to get in touch with Anjali? Interested in discussing something you read above? Fill out the form below:

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A Summer of Meaningful, Lasting Impact

Jane is a senior at Davidson College and worked this summer for Greyston Foundation

Jane is a senior at Davidson College and worked this summer for Greyston Foundation

My move to New York City for the summer introduced me to new sights, amazing events, and adventures everyday. From one bustling hub to another, I soon embraced the fast-paced energy around me.

But everyday I also bore witness to issues, challenges, and injustices of a caliber I had never seen before. For a city that boasts the glitz and glamour of go-getters, it harbors extreme, deep-seated poverty. I was inspired to learn what is being done, what isn’t being done, and what I could do differently to make an impact. Inspiring Capital gave me the chance and resources to do something of consequence this summer.

I was linked to Inspiring Capital through fellow Davidson wildcat Alex Hanken ’12, their Strategy and Operations Associate. Inspiring Capital supports long-term sustainability within nonprofits by being both purpose-and-profit-driven. They pair top MBA candidates and undergraduate students to consult for nonprofit clients throughout the country. Throughout the summer, the Inspiring Capital team also hosts training sessions and welcomes an impressive rotation of speakers from across the social impact sector. Earlier this summer, we heard from Youth INC, Robin Hood Foundation, and Davidson graduate Morgan Tarrant ’13 from Bloomberg’s ESG Data Division. We investigate social enterprise models and strategies, impact investing, and entrepreneurial finances. In this training space, we learn, debate, and further develop what it means for an organization to make an impact, which we then translate into our client-projects.

I am fortunate enough to have been paired with the Greyston Foundation, located in Southwest Yonkers. Greyston is the country’s leading social enterprise since 1982, providing low income individuals and families with job opportunities and support services. Through the practice of Open Hiring™, Greyston employs individuals, regardless of background or work experience, to make brownies at their bakery. Greyston’s successes are unmistakable: producing 4.6 million pounds of brownies for Whole Foods and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, earning $13.4 million in sales, and employing 144 individuals. Greyston provides green spaces and nutrition education through their community gardens; affordable housing and treatment for homeless individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS; early education in their Childcare Center; and job training and workforce development. Their core competencies are far and wide, as they find the best ways to reach underserved populations, yet they face an interesting challenge.

The social sector has evolved, and funders want to see an organization’s impact reported in a concise, quantifiable way. My team was charged with creating a framework for Greyston to analyze the impact of its support programs (housing, childcare, community gardens, and workforce development).

This process has been particularly interesting to me, as my previous experience in the social sector focused exclusively in fundraising and advocacy. With my non-profit projects on Davidson’s campus, I always considered impact in anecdotes rather than in metrics. I raised money and awareness for a good cause, and that’s what I reported out on. I know now that mindset is not sustainable, especially with nonprofits that need funding. Organizations like Greyston, who are finding solutions to complex problems of poverty, need to understand and share their impact in a standardized way, to improve current and inspire future success within the sector.

I thought that at the close of program I would reach a conclusion as to which kind of social impact is most effective. Instead, Inspiring Capital has introduced me to many different impact opportunities in New York and inspired me to continue exploring change-making processes. When I return to Davidson this fall, it will be with a more nuanced understanding of my strengths as a change-maker and with fresh ideas about how I can work with nonprofits and other social enterprises moving forward.

Want to get in touch with Jane? Have a thought or reaction to share? Fill out the form below:

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Pricing for Nonprofits: 6 Tactical Tips for Selling Services to Your Constituents

Fabian is a second-year MBA at Yale's School of Management and is working this summer with Welcoming America.

Fabian is a second-year MBA at Yale's School of Management and is working this summer with Welcoming America.

Pricing is not rocket science. After working with the world’s leading pricing consultancy for more than four years, I was particularly excited to apply my skills and insights to a social sector that sees more professionalization in a bid to be more effective, organized and impactful. My work with Inspiring Capital has given me access to such diverse challenges as managing earned income, defining pricing strategies, and introducing social impact metrics.

There sure are differences between the worlds: Impact is hard to measure and evaluate. The role of earned income can range from self-sustaining to cross-subsidizing. Reputational risks of charging as a nonprofit have to be addressed. Customers’ willingness is often widely different from their ability to pay. And – as the name says – nonprofits do not exist to maximize profit for shareholders but rather to maximize positive impact for stakeholders.

Navigating within these new boundaries has been challenging and insightful. Yet, to my surprise, many of the key improvements in nonprofit pricing can be quite simple. So if you face the challenge of finding a good price for an earned income stream, here are six tactical tips that can help guide you in the process.

1.     Understand your portfolio: Collect economic basics behind your key services – figure out important information like your cost breakdown and break-even price per service, and understand market prices based on competitors and your own experiences.
Tip: Create a simple internal list with descriptions, average costs, time requirements, ask prices, margins, uptake and average discounts for each of your services.

2.     Understand your customer’s full needs: Building a proposal, try to first learn what your audience wants and needs that you could provide while advancing your mission. Do this before any budget and resource discussions to be less restricted in your offer creation.
Tip: In a service inquiry, ask for key goals from using your services. Create a first ‘ideal offer’ based on that information. Only think about how to fit it to a given budget once you have understood how much work and impact the client is ideally asking for.

3.     Communicate the full price: Internally, calculate the full price for your offer to understand the gap to actual budgets. In your proposal, communicate this price and the value received – even if you are giving the service away for less! Anchoring the service helps your customer in understanding the total offer value and does not dilute future market prices.
Tip: You calculate an ideal package at $5,000 given the services in your proposal, but you know the budget is $3,000. Once you decide that this is what you want to sell, communicate it with all the value and the full price of $5,000, together with a potential discount.

4.     Offer and explain discounts: Your strategic audience will often not have the budget to pay the full price – this is perfectly fine! Offer discounts to your mission-relevant customers while breaking down the reasons and always asking for something in return – either reduce the service level you provide, or base discounts on an existing benefit like network membership or small asks like participating in a future webinar.
Tip: Explain that the above offer is at a 20% discount as the customer guarantees full uptake. Offer an extra 13% discount to $3,000 if they connect you to two entities in their network that don’t know about your services yet.

5.     Give alternatives: Do not settle with one ask in your proposal – create 2-3 packages that highlight a range of prices and values. This will help your customer in optimizing needs while learning about your services, and in providing arguments to explain budgets allocated now or in the future. It will also help you, in granting fewer discounts by varying the amount of services provided instead.
Tip: Create a ‘maximum value package’ for $8,000 as an anchor, and a $3,000 ‘minimum package’ with half of the services. Give a discount for both, but don’t offer the full discount for either package so as to make the middle offer more appealing.

6.     Document the information: Collect all relevant data along the way in one place for future analysis and insights. Learn from your past offers to improve your margins, provide more targeted proposals, or identify customers that do not need steep discounts.
Tip: Set up a deal pipeline with ask prices, discounts offered, bid win/loss information, final prices and value in return. Track offer-related expenses such as employee preparation time or transportation costs. Compare new offers to this database to look for similarities.

While there is a lot of content on pricing strategy, tactics and implementation behind each of these tips, they serve as a good checklist to a more professionalized offer that educates your audience on earned income. Some organizations may already have a good grasp on many of these and should focus on developing one point in more detail, while others will find it more helpful to set up basics for each of these.

Pricing your services should not be about creating the right offer overnight to overwhelm the market. It is about gradually supporting your mission with a source of sustainable revenue. Think of organic growth, and not rocket science.


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Networking Events are my Hunger Games

Harini is an MBA Fellow from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and is working with Greyston Foundation this summer.

Harini is an MBA Fellow from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and is working with Greyston Foundation this summer.

Hi. My name is Harini Sathi and I am an introvert. Introverted to the point where in Kindergarten, the teacher mispronounced my name, and I decided to go with it for the next 25 years. I just started attempting to teach the correct pronunciation this past year. (FYI: Instinct is to say 'ha-REE-nee'. Correct pronunciation - 'hurry-knee').

Admitting it is the first step to recovery. That and realizing that being an introvert is not someone's sole defining characteristic (more on this later).  

I was lucky this summer to be selected as one of Inspiring Capital's (IC) Inspire Impact MBA Fellows. While I could rattle off 10 different reasons why the IC Fellowship appealed to me, the main one was their focus on helping Fellows create a social impact network. Industry agnostic, the most compelling career success stories have been dependent on building and maintaining a strong network. As a new entrant to the impact sector I was desperate to get a jump start on building my network, and IC provided countless opportunities to leverage: in-house training sessions by industry experts, panels of impact thought leaders, and formalized after-work networking events. But, let's be honest. As much as I needed this, the word 'networking' has always induced a Pavlovian-like response of anxiety.

Networking events are my Hunger Games. During these moments of panic, I tend to get wrapped up in my trait that pulls me into my introverted hole. I end up forgetting that there are 50+ different personality traits make me Harini. I forget my strengths. I cower under the label of introvert and stay there.

This is why I love personality assessments (please note that the assessments I refer to are not the: 'Which Friends Character are you?' Or 'What sandwich are you based on your zodiac sign?'). At my previous position before starting the MBA program, I worked with a number of leadership personality assessments1. I'm careful to say 'worked with' instead of just 'took', because working with personality assessments is an ongoing process. While most people complete them online, receive a report and call it a day, the true benefit is reaped by reviewing the results, verifying if the assessment resonates with actual behavior, and then strategy building. My self-awareness quadrupled after this exercise.

I am so much more than an introvert! All of us are made up of 50+ traits that make us uniquely us. What's more, is that different traits work in combination with each other to bring about our behaviors and responses to events. Even the quality of being introverted breaks down further. For example, I have very high sociability (ability and desire to work with people) and low gregariousness (comfort being around groups of people and crowds).  Understanding my personality and my trait mix helps me modify a typically panic-ridden situation into one that I can excel at.

It would be easy to say 'I'm an introvert, so I hate networking' but scheduling coffee meetings with panel members for a later date and playing to my strength of one-on-one interactions has been much more beneficial. Leveraging your strengths will always be more effective, more fun, and less exhausting than overcoming your weaknesses.

So… Hi. My name is Harini and I'm an introvert. AND a great listener, AND a strong analytical thinker, AND an energetic communicator, etc. etc. etc.


1* The personality test I worked with the most is the Caliper Assessment. I also had a really great experience with Strengthsfinder.


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5 Tips to Help You Find Fulfilling Work in the Social Impact Sector

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonprofits accounted for 11.4 million jobs and 10.3 percent of all private sector employment in 2014. Not included in this statistic are the growing numbers of social enterprises and mission-driven for-profits that all contribute to what we call “the social sector.” It’s a growing field, and brings with it the promise of paid employment that simultaneously benefits and addresses social and environmental problems in the world.

At Inspiring Capital, I work with lots of people who want to work in the social sector. In our summer fellowship programs, we train Undergrads and MBAs who want to leverage their education and skills for good rather than following the more traditional private-sector trajectories of their peers. Throughout the year, we train women who are re-entering the workforce or who are transitioning between sectors to help them find meaningful work as well.

Why do we do this? Because our work consulting with innovative non-profits, social ventures, and corporates to integrate their profit and purpose has taught us a lot about what employment options exist in the sector. And, the resulting network we’ve grown makes us well-positioned to help high-potential professionals and purpose-driven employers find one another more efficiently.

If you want to know how you could make your work more fulfilling by working for a mission-driven organization, here’s a few tips to help get you started:

1. Figure out WHY you want to be in the sector. 

EVERY organization in the social sector exists for the main purpose of fulfilling a particular mission, and those who fail do so because they don’t effectively align their business model or structure with their impact goals. You need to do the same, by figuring out what exactly the driving motivation is that brings you to the social sector in the first place. Is it the desire to “give back” or fulfill a moral obligation to use your privilege to help others? Are you in pursuit of a sense of meaning or purpose that you feel closest to when pursuing mission-driven work? Is there a particular issue area or social/environmental problem that you can’t live with, or feel particularly well-suited to help fix? Before you start your job search, work to identify your motivations, and consider how you might be able to communicate them to a potential employer in a compelling way. The sector is filled with passionate people who care A LOT about their work, and they will expect a similarly enthusiastic commitment from their employees.

 2. Get the lay of the land.

As with any industry or sector, the social sector can be confusing and hard to navigate. Mission-driven organizations span a variety of tax statuses and organizational structures, and so knowing nonprofits from hybrids from B-Corps from Corporate Governance departments is important. Each type of structure has its own patterns of compensation, formality, and operations, and they each vary on their level of direct connection or interaction with the mission or intended purpose of the organization. For example, some jobs at a nonprofit might require you to interact directly with the beneficiaries they serve (i.e. teaching kids to read in the Bronx), but that same nonprofit will have entire departments of staff that may never interact with a single beneficiary.

They all still require administrative professionals, legal work, operations strategy, and program management, but the specific responsibilities and titles vary WIDELY from organization to organization. The joke in the sector is, “If you know a single nonprofit, you know a single nonprofit.” (Sub in foundation/social enterprise/impact investor, and you catch the drift.)  LOTS of different kinds of organizations with a single shared mission exist within the sector. A for-profit selling brownies might have the same mission of reducing recidivism as a nonprofit teaching formerly incarcerated people. Do your diligence, and use the abundance of resources, articles, websites, and professionals in your network to create a “sector landscape” for yourself that helps you understand how the sector is similar or different from the background you’re coming from. (OR, take an Inspiring Capital course! We do “sector mapping” in all our programs, breaking down each type of org. by tax status, compensation, structure, and where to find jobs) 

3. Learn the lingo. As with other sectors, the social sector is filled with acronyms, from ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) to SRI (Socially Responsible Investment). Beyond acronyms, some concepts that seem obvious or simple get much more complicated the closer you get. For example, I can’t tell you how often private-sector professionals of all levels ask me, “How would nonprofits be able to earn revenue when they’re not-for-profit?” Earned income is something we specialize in at Inspiring Capital, and it means an organizational model where a non-profit identifies ways to leverage its assets to generate income (and yes, profit!) in order to create additional funding. This doesn’t mean the non-profit has to hybridize its model, it just means that the profit generated through earned income subsidizes the funding they earn through donations, which all goes back to be re-invested in program-related expenses, like overhead from staffing and business costs.Knowing what you're talking about will help instill an employer's trust and confidence in you, and will avoid you making an incorrect assumption about the organization's structure.

4. Get specific. Once you have a good idea of what type of organization/issue area/role might be a good fit for you, start referring to it, and be deliberate about the language you use. The sector is nascent and rapidly evolving, so the professionals you talk to may only be super-familiar with the particular sector area they’re involved in. Specificity will keep you from "job-creep", where you start to diverge from the path that is the best fit for you in response to the offers and existing positions you see posted. Be firm about the specific skills you have to offer, and which kinds of organizations or roles you would make the biggest impact in. The sector is hungry for terrific people, but they’ll need your help in understanding exactly how you could make their job easier and their organizational mission more effective. 

5. Get connected. One of the BEST characteristics of this relatively young sector is that it is ultra-collaborative. I run three BrainTrust groups that are all direct competitors or similar players who collaborate regularly to address trends and crowdsource solutions to common obstacles. While organizations tend to be defensive about their particular approach to addressing a mission, they also often collaborate and know the other organizations who work in a particular space, and so you can often find pockets of organizations with similar structure, mission, or even other commonalities like funding sources. Creating a network of like-minded organizations, professionals, and channels is vital. Come to our Summer Showcase event on August 4 to get an idea of the breadth of the kind of professionals that exist in the sector and how you might fit among them. 

The Hidden Costs of Consumerism

Santiago Roberts is an MBA from Babson working with Spend Consciously this summer.

Santiago Roberts is an MBA from Babson working with Spend Consciously this summer.

Have you ever stopped to consider how was it possible to pay $15 for a pair of jeans made on the opposite side of the earth? Or 30 cents for a banana that comes from a remote village in the Caribbean? Or $72 for a smartphone that has gone through dozens of hands?  You would probably attribute it to the power of industrialization and economies of scale…but I would counter that it’s actually the power of not paying the real costs of things. Call them negative externalities, environmental or social costs. Call them climate change, or modern slavery, call them whatever name you want, but you can't keep on ignoring them.  Yes, technology and economies of scale have definitely had a great impact in decreasing the costs of products, but for any mind with the ability to reason, the current price of things must at least ring a bell that there must be costs that we are not paying. And nothing comes for free forever.

I’m an MBA fellow at Inspiring Capital, participating in the summer internship program. I’m currently a Babson College MBA student, and an Environmental Scientist from Argentina. Also, I’m kind of a writer (In 2015 I published my first fantasy novel). I’m a brother of seven, I have 16 nieces and nephews, a bunch of really great friends, and a girlfriend that I love dearly.  “And why are you telling me all this about you?” you may ask. Because, as with people, I think products cannot be considered or valued just on one aspect (usually price). We as people are much more than just one thing (MBA, Engineer, teacher…ext.). We are a collection of experiences, circumstances, choices, and people that surround us, and products should also be looked in that collective and holistic way.

This summer I’m working with Spend Consciously, a clever proposal that is trying to give consumers the tools to start addressing this problem. A creation of Matthew Colbert (and his 15 years of experience in politics and tech), Spend Consciously will provide all the information consumers need to be able to choose the products and brands that align with their values. This is a fundamental necessity to foster the needed change in consumerism. We need this information in order to be able to make decisions, but sometimes the amount of information can be overwhelming. Spend Consciously’s platform will enable consumers to have instant, summarized and neutral information for each product or brand, just a scan of a barcode away.

I’m super excited to be a part of this project, a platform that addresses one of the biggest problems our time. I hope that you will use it, and become an agent for change.  


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