This article was originally posted by Hannah Gay on on https://hannahgay.com
Let me let you in on a little secret.
We all have an opportunity to influence social impact.
Every one of us. Yes, you too.
This doesn’t mean totally jumping ship and starting a nonprofit. Instead, it’s a process of reflection, deliberate opportunity recognition, creativity, service leadership, and a little bit of soul searching.
And yes, it generally means being intentional with money and power. For better or worse, both of those are the biggest tools out there for igniting (or stifling) social change.
Read on for my top fifteen opportunities for you to integrate impact into your life today, and be sure to download the supplemental worksheet to help guide you through these.
Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor. None of what I say should be taken as investment advice or advice for personal wealth management. Rather, I am putting opportunities on your radar that you can discuss with your financial planner, your family, or whomever helps you make investment decisions. I am not recommending or endorsing any funding/investment opportunity I outline or hyperlink below. A few of the investment opportunities I have outlined are restricted to US citizens. I am not making any judgement claim there about whether or not they should be open internationally. I am a fan of the articles and companies I mention, but my mention and fandom should not be misinterpreted as endorsement. For more, please review my Terms of Service.
Opportunity #1: Give unrestricted funding to nonprofits
Whether you give $10 or $10 million, if you have a day job that is outside of working at the nonprofit you’re giving to, you probably don’t have enough information to decide how those funds should be spent.
I get it, sometimes nonprofit leaders and employees are so overwhelmed that at times, they actually may not have enough information either.
Regardless of who knows more about what, your money should be empowering, not a source of power. There is a difference. Funders want to be able to claim some ownership of results, which is a totally normal expectation, but too often, here’s what happens.
Funder A says “here’s a ton of money to do X.” So the nonprofit, needing money, does X, even if it’s a little different than what they were previously doing.
Funder B comes along and thinks “Shoot. Funder A is funding X, so if I fund X too I can only claim half the credit for the results. So I’m going to fund Y.” The nonprofit hadn’t really been doing Y before, but because it needs money, it now starts doing Y.
And then Funder C comes along and funds Z. And it goes on, until the nonprofit is now doing 10 different things moderately ok to appease funders instead of doing one thing well.
If you sense opportunity for better spending, don’t prescribe anything. Instead, empower staff with help (ahem..this is what I do!) to actually build a sustainable organization in which funds will be spent most effectively, regardless of who’s giving.
Opportunity #2: Fund salaries at nonprofits
There is absolutely nothing stopping a funder from paying directly for overhead. It’s not incredibly sexy, and it’s not going to get you the same bragging rights at a cocktail party as your buddy who says “I helped pay for water for seventeen poor children in this third world country.”
But let me lift back the curtain a little. I’m on a Facebook group that is 30,000+ strong, full of nonprofit employees supporting one another. And guess what conversations I’m seeing pop up each week? How to apply for food stamps. Best tips for living on a $40K salary with a family of four in an urban area. When it’s ok to jump ship to the corporate sector for salary parity.
Larger nonprofits often have some semblance of salary parity, but the smaller ones don’t. A lot of this comes down to the refusal of funders to pay, which is straight up power grab that has detrimental effects on emotional health and wellbeing (see Inequitable Salaries at Nonprofits Are a Kind of Bullying and the study it cites on economic bullying for more).
And those nonprofits that say “100% of your donation will go directly to programming”– insinuating that this is a more worthy donation – piss me off. Because behind the scenes, somebody is paying for salaries and overhead. Nothing effective is totally volunteer run; you know this. If you want to fund world change, you need to be sure that smart, talented people are creating that change. And smart, talented people cost money.
So while you may not be paying directly for clean water for seventeen children in a poor country, you will be paying for talent that sticks around, earns a dignified salary, and enables change for hundreds or thousands of people throughout his or her career.
Opportunity #3: If you’re on a nonprofit board, be a leader in demanding salary parity
There is absolutely zero strategic reason for nonprofit employees to be paid less than their for-profit peers. It’s an industry standard that has led to high turnover which has led, in my opinion, to stagnant results. Yes, there are hundreds of nonprofits out there all trying to solve the same problems. But if you’re on a board, you should truly believe in the change potential of the organization you help lead and its team, and it’s your fiduciary responsibility to ensure impact. Salary parity is a huge step in that direction; there’s a lot more world change that can get done with happy and emotionally healthy employees who stay.
Opportunity #4: Ask the nonprofit you donate to what giving structure is preferred
Say you have $1,000 you want to donate. Some nonprofits may prefer all that cash today, while others may actually prefer you donate $100 a month for the next ten months. Obviously this plays out differently for you, but when you can, it’s great to be willing to at least have this conversation, especially if you’re dishing out larger amounts.
Opportunity #5: Pay for your team or company’s corporate day of service
I know, even typing those words makes me be like – wait what? Pay to give time away?
Yes. Well, mostly. Unless a nonprofit seeks you out or advertises opportunities for service, recognize that oftentimes, creating an opportunity for your team or company to come in and volunteer takes a ton of work. Managing this opportunity and your team also pulls the nonprofit staff away from doing their day-to-day stuff.
Think of literally every other activity you may be do for group bonding and employee engagement. Experience something together like a boat ride or show? Play intramural baseball? Have a corporate retreat in the mountains? All of that costs money, because some other organization is creating and curating an experience for you. The same goes for volunteer days.
Opportunity #6: Design for nonprofits instead of giving away your for profit solution for free
I have been on the customer and client side of free or reduced-price software or pro bono consulting provided to nonprofits. And generally, it’s been a huge pain. I’ve spent more time hacking my way around software or educating pro bono consultants than I have saved from using these products or service.
If you’re offering what you do for free to nonprofits, your software and service was not designed for nonprofit customers and clients; if it had been, they would pay for it (nonprofits do, after all, have budgets, however limited they may be).
Case study: Small nonprofits and social enterprises, oftentimes with five or six figure budgets, pay me – sometimes a lot – because 100% of what I do was designed for them.
If you want to create impact, design for nonprofits and social enterprises. Create SASS products and consulting services that help them align revenue and impact generation. Design something that is both at a price point that works for them and that will generate income for your company, so that in your leaner years, it doesn’t disappear (guess what sucks: when a pro-bono consulting project is cut halfway through implementation because the consultants had to focus on a revenue-generating client instead. True story).
Another case study: Keela. Small nonprofits can probably hack together a bunch of free software to manage projects, donors, end users, and more, or they can pay as little as $35 a month for an all-one nonprofit management system. Nonprofits have a solution, Keela makes money that can sustain it as a company, and everyone wins.
Opportunity #7: Consider this new era of crowdfunding
In the spring of 2016, part of the JOBS Act in the US in (specifically Title III known as Regulation Crowdfunding or Reg CF) opened up revenue sharing opportunities that had previously been restricted to accredited investors – or relatively upper middle class Americans.
This is not your grandma’s crowdfunding where you get a t-shirt in return for what is essentially a donation. This is an actual regulated asset that can get real returns (or, like any other investment, real losses).
The investment is a hybrid debt/equity structure that’s worth exploring, whether you’re an accredited investor or not. But in short, this has opened up small (often as small as $100-$200 minimum) investment opportunities in all sorts of funds and businesses. It’s a great way to help fund small business creation in your backyard or globally in impact areas and communities you care about.
Check out my friends at Startwise.
I’m always looking out for similar platforms and will update this blog as I learn of more. And keep your ear to the ground. I have had opportunities to invest $100 in a fund for low income housing, a woman-empowering media company, and more, just because I love these companies and have followed them pretty closely for awhile. A lot more companies are opening their revenue sharing doors in similar ways.
Opportunity #8: Generally seek out impact investment opportunity
I can’t begin to list all the other opportunities for impact investing that exist or all the case studies thus far that demonstrate the opportunity for significant returns. Whether you have oversight of pension funds or endowments or just a few hundred or thousand dollars of personal wealth, pretty much every single major bank out there now has some sort impact investment portfolio or structure, and platforms like Swell (incubated within Pacific Life) are popping up all the time. Whomever manages these funds will generate both impact and financial performance reporting, and participating in decision making as a shareholder is a great opportunity have a voice in driving that reported impact forward.
Opportunity #9: Bank with credit unions or community banks
Whether you are using it to manage your personal finances or your company’s money, where you bank has tremendous impact. Many community banks and credit unions are established as nonprofits, and so many of them use the revenue your banking helps generate to combat things like predatory lending, or to introduce savings and banking habits to unbanked and underbanked populations – many of which are also lower income and stuck in cycles of high interest rate debt and zero savings.
Local credit unions and community banks are a great way of helping the economic development of your home community, while a lot of online credit unions serve members and communities nationally. Check out Mighty Deposit’s tools for helping you find a bank that effects the change that matters to you most.
Opportunity #10: Hire, manage, and promote for impact
If you lead a team, manage employees, oversee hiring, run professional development, foster talent pipelines, or otherwise have anything to do with the professional and financial opportunity of people who work at your employer or company, you have tremendous opportunity to change the gender, race, and other wage gaps that are sadly the status quo. There’s so much out there on hiring diverse talent, but not enough on fostering equity once someone is already working for you.
Analyze salaries and benefit packages and change things that need to be changed for parity. Change maternity leave to parental leave and open it to all genders. Let every female employee know that they are welcome to start or grow their families while employed with you. Build in a program that allows women to leave for a few months and come back without feeling left behind; they’ll be much more likely to stay with and contribute to your company after their maternity leave if you do so.
And yes, policies like this have up-front costs. But the longer-term returns are proven, as outlined in hundreds of reports like The science behind why paid parental leave is good for everyone.
Opportunity #11: Shop locally, shop small, and shop quality
In December of 2016, I challenged myself to stop shopping for clothes point blank. If I really, really needed or wanted something, it had to be ethically made, it had to be timeless, and it had to be quality. Since then, my wardrobe has gotten a lot more manageable as I’ve lost countless fast-fashion purchases to my rag bin, I have realized how little I needed them and have not had to buy new replacements. And while I’ve formed relationships with a lot of ethical brands, I’ve also let them kindly know that I would likely not be buying their stuff until I needed it – to which they have all responded “duh, that’s part of our mission!” (I’m looking at you Proclaim, my newest BFFs on Instagram)!
One of my business school friends just launched a bathing suit line and posted on LinkedIn about her newfound shock at seeing a $10 bathing suit, when she now knows first hand what it takes to make a quality garment while paying fair wages.
I know not every family can afford to constantly shop with this mindset, but if and when you can, do it (it also has a side benefit of major Marie Kondo clarity, and honestly has saved me tons of money over the long term as I’ve become more conscious of quality over quantity and variety).
If you ever need any inspiration, just Google “ethical brands” or type it into the Instagram search bar. While there’s no universal certification of ethical brands (I do not think something needs to be fair trade or otherwise certified to have positive impact), most brands that are truly impactful are also incredibly transparent.
Opportunity #12: Travel with intention
Yes, I know, travel is typically a luxury. But you don’t need to travel far. Even visiting another neighborhood or nearby town or eating another culture’s food or seeing their performances builds empathy and crosses a lot of bridges. Or maybe it’s just traveling across the street and inviting your neighbors you’d never really talked to over.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in global politics over the last year, empathy is where it’s at, and forming genuine connections and conversations with people is the fastest track to empathy I’ve seen.
If you can, take your kids. I never traveled internationally until I was in college, but even the domestic small trips my parents would take me on (literally never in touristy spots) while I grew up had a huge influence on my career and worldview.
Approach travel with humility and intention. Go outside of the touristy areas. Get a little lost and support small businesses and in the communities you visit. Listen, eat, watch, soak it all in, but don’t ever ask to be educated (and please don’t ask people or children who don’t look like you to pose for hashtagable pictures with you – and ask first before photographing them or their homes). It’s never anybody else’s responsibility to explain their culture or community to you – but if they offer to do so, what an awesome opportunity. Show gratitude.
If you ever need to learn why or want some inspiration, check out my friend Lauren’s blog at Best World Ever. She just took some time off work to travel the world and explore social impact in various cultures and markets, and is an inspiring woman to and through.
Opportunity #13: Speak up
If you have a platform and privilege, use it. It may be a little uncomfortable, but if you don’t, who will?
Interpret this as you will, but I have rarely seen negative repercussions for speaking up on behalf of underserved, discriminated against, or otherwise unfairly treated populations – whether they be halfway across the world or across the conference table from you.
I have seen enormous missed opportunities though when it comes to advocating for them. Take a few moments to start jotting down where you see opportunities to speak up, and next to them write down how you can seize that opportunity next time it comes your way. Look forward not backward, and you will see your impact grow exponentially.
Opportunity #14: Jump ship, but with humility and hunger
Sometimes, it’s just the right time for you to take you talent to a nonprofit, social enterprise, or otherwise socially aware and responsible company. Before you start your search though, take some time to be very deliberate about what you know, what you’re good at, and what you don’t know.
It’s fine to look for a new job in an impact area you’re passionate about, like education, but it’s more impactful to recognize what you have to learn in that space than to spend hours Googling it before your first interview in order to come across as having any expertise. You don’t. The person across the table interviewing you probably does. Let them know that you know that, and that while you’ll do your best to self-educate, you’re also hungry to learn from them and their team.
And then on day one of the job, start learning. Observe, listen, explore what has worked and has not worked in the past before offering your innovative ideas. Listen to learn, not to respond. Make a running list of questions. They may be deep profound thoughts or they may be tactical, and don’t feel the need to answer them all at once.
With time, you’ll be the person at the table with expertise, but know that it’s going to take time. The person who hired you knows that too, and they’d rather you take that time than pretend to know what you don’t.
Opportunity #15: Intention Driven Impact program
Ok, now for why I’m sharing all this. I’m all about opportunity recognition, but at times, we just need a little help and a little discipline when it comes to recognizing opportunities to integrate social impact into our day-to-day lives. I love helping friends and strangers grasp this opportunity over time, something I’ve done informally for long enough that it’s high time I formalize it.
My Intention Driven Impact program – for individuals who want to lead more impactful lives or be more effective at the impact they are already driving – is launching this fall. I’m starting with only a handful of clients as I fit this into my existing client services. Access the supplementary worksheet for this blog post and automatically join the waitlist today to ensure your spot at the top of the list once spots open up.