Posts from the ‘Organizational Clarity’ Category

A brief moment for reflection and encouragement

By Way-Ting Chen

My 25th year college reunion was a couple of weeks ago (those of you who know the Blue Garnet founding story know my business partner Jenni Shen also hails from Swarthmore, and she was lucky to attend the reunion). I was disappointed to have missed it, and all the fun and nostalgia that comes with seeing people for the first time in decades, and (re)discovering who they have become in the meantime.

That said, while I missed the in-person fun, I caught some glimpses of the reunion virtually. One post by an onsite classmate included a comment made by the president of Swarthmore College, Valerie Smith (see right). And it gave me pause.

This call to action challenges us to turn inward and examine our own mindset, assumptions, biases and behaviors, even as we collaborate with others to make the world a better place.

Reading this filled me with pride at being part of an institution that would invoke this challenge. More importantly, it relates to an important point of view that Jenni and I intentionally built into our work at Blue Garnet:  No one goes at it alone. It’s the team’s blend of individual strengths that makes us powerful.

The work of social change asks a lot of each of us. And no matter how hard we may try, we alone are not the answer. It takes longer and more energy to do the internal homework that makes each of us comfortable with complexity and ambiguity, in order to effectively join forces with others in pursuit of social change. Yet, this is what we need to do – individually, as a team, and in collaboration with our community.

The process of effective systems change and business model transformations must be inclusive and can be trying. For me, when I am “stuck” in the struggle with no obvious way out, these words remind me that the conditions are ripe for creativity and, potentially, a new path forward:

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work

And when we no longer know which way to go,

We have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

~ Wendell Barry

This summer let’s make time for internal reflection and external aspiration, so we can break through the struggle, and in community with our partners, all be the better for it.

 


Want more content like this directly to your inbox? Sign up for our newsletter here!

Millennials, the Future, and your Workplace

By Sofia Van Cleve and Shannon Johnson

At Blue Garnet, we have a motto: Think long-term, plan for the short term. We want people to think about strategies and solutions for not only today’s needs, but also needs in the future. To what extent do you know the future needs of your team? Your clients? Your community?

It’s a heady question, but we are here to help. While many people tend focus on the tech changes ahead— like the double-edged sword of innovation, technology, and Big Data— we urge you to also consider the changes in people ahead. Namely, Millennials. We think it’s worth your time to learn about this generation, so we compiled some of our learnings and takeaways from recent market research for a corporate strategy project, culture assessment for a regional nonprofit, and “DEI” discussions and workshops.

Millennials are already the largest generation in the labor force and they will become the future leaders of our organizations and our country. Millennials are:

  • Those born between 1981 and 1996*1
  • Now largest generation in the labor force—over 56 million working or looking for work2
  • More educated and racially diverse than previous generations1
  • Urban: they flock to urban areas for the lifestyle benefit and job opportunities, despite higher cost of living3. Also, more Millennial families live in cities than in suburbs4
  • Purpose-driven: companies that prioritize innovation and societal improvement via their business lower Millennial employee turnover and increase loyalty5

And they value…

  • Inclusion and diversity emphasized in the workplace—(including perspective, culture, and lifestyle)5
  • Flexibility: many attracted to the gig economy for flexible schedules and lure of supplemental pay5
  • Experiences: Several successful brands appeal to the younger audience using experience marketing, creating physical spaces for connection and community6

What does all this mean for your workplace? Between volunteers, board members, leaders, and staff – workplaces often are comprised of 4, if not 5, different generations. It can be challenging to work across them to create shared leadership. Be honest, have you ever heard or thought: “Ugh! Millennials are taking over!,” “Why do Millennials feel entitled to such extreme work flexibility?” or “Why can’t Millennials get off their phone for a second?”

It’s important to acknowledge (and even say out loud) that different generations have different norms, values, and “pet peeves”7. However, you can equip yourself and your team to work through the conflicts and determine how to best engage and employ workers across all generations.

Here are some questions7 to mull over at your next coffee break (or matcha break, in true Millennial fashion):

  • How can you expand your conversations to prepare for the future? By focusing and aligning discussions around your organization’s desired future impact, individuals across generations (not just Millennials!) are more likely to be engaged and motivated to make it happen. Pro Tip: make sure you start with together defining a common language about impact.
  • What does the future look like for the people you serve? How will you listen to, learn from, and include your constituents in addressing their changing needs? And what does this mean for your team?
  • To what extent have your leaders evolved their leadership styles? Emerging norms are for leaders to champion change and build a purposeful culture. Sometimes that means creating space for younger people to challenge, innovate, and teach.
  • How do your culture and services factor in generational preferences? How often do you look without blame from different perspectives at your strategies and workplace? In what ways do you seek, listen, and learn from the input of others? How do differing perspectives come to a decision in a healthy way?

We hope this entry sparks some creative thinking on building a healthy cross-generational culture at your organization. Let us know your reactions and experiences related to these questions?

 


Notes:
* According to Pew Research Center, though exact cutoff birth years for Millennials is contentious in generational theory
Source 7: “When Your Normal is My Trigger: Working Successfully Across Multiple Generations in the Workplace and the Link to White Privilege;” 5/21/19 presentation by Barbara Grant and Linda Nageotte at Washington Nonprofit Conference

A holiday hello from Way-Ting

As we near the end of 2018 and reflect on a very full year, I wanted to share a thought that I hope will carry you through the winter holidays and into the new year.

Back in September, at the Southern California Grantmakers conference, speaker john a. powell (Director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society) spoke at great length about “Othering,” or what he defined as THE problem of the 21st Century. The intervention that combats Othering, he said, was Belonging. This resonated deeply with me, and has taken my thinking around diversity and inclusion to a new level.

We all long for a sense of belonging: familiarity, acceptance, and welcome. There is comfort and safety in knowing that you and your loved ones belong in your “tribe.” For my children, I hope this sense of belonging translates into the type of love and fearlessness that will move the world eventually.

In some sense, this is also what we strive for in the social sector—that those we serve would belong and thrive in their communities. From helping a child with a disability access therapeutic services, to developing the symbiotic connection between humans and our natural environment, to geeking out on how to institutionalize organizational capacity being built, Blue Garnet’s client work would not succeed without a “belonging,” of sorts, between us and our client partners.

Here at Blue Garnet, our network of relationships reflect a range of our intrinsic passions and “learner” interests. As a result, we belong to multiple “tribes,” or communities, so to speak. Whether it’s building an inclusive B-Corps community in Los Angeles, learning with NNCG’s popular DEI series, communing with our charter school peeps at ExEd, or contributing to the SCG evaluation and learning group, we are grateful to belong to diverse and intersecting communities of change makers.

My Swedish-American teammate Sofia tells me that the Swedish word for belong, “hör hemma,” has the root word “home.” In this holiday season, we hope that you “hör hemma” at home with your loved ones. Remember: we are all in this together—change, renewal, impact, justice. Let’s continue to strive for Belonging in 2019!

 

Happy holidays from all of us at Blue Garnet!

Way-Ting

 

Hearts of Garnet—Swarthmore Spotlight

By Way-Ting Chen

At Blue Garnet, we celebrate Thanksgiving together every year with a “leftovers lunch” the week following the holiday. At this year’s lunch, I was especially grateful for my (and Jenni’s!) alma mater, Swarthmore College, which played an integral role in the founding of Blue Garnet. Jenni and I met and quickly became friends at Swarthmore, where we honed our passions and abilities for lasting social change. After graduating, we were roommates in New York before moving to opposite coasts, going to business school, and landing at competing management consulting firms. Yet both of us felt called to make a difference in our community, together.

Blue Garnet was born in 2002, named with a nod to our beloved alma mater, whose symbol is The Garnet. As a semi-precious stone, the garnet also represents honesty, loyalty, and true friendship. We wanted to pay homage to Swarthmore, for its role in bringing me and Jenni together, and for helping to make us the change agents that we are. Not only that, when we started the firm, a rare garnet was found in Madagascar that in certain lights looked blue or green. We loved that idea of transformation and change—it worked beautifully. We are proud that Blue Garnet resembles a “mini-Swarthmore” through its ethos, team of learners, and small-by-design environment, which reminds us of where we came from and where we still want to go.

To learn more about our Blue Garnet origin story and Swarthmore, click here to read the Swarthmore College Bulletin article.

 

Jennifer Li Shen and Way-Ting Chen, co-founders of Blue Garnet

Designing with the “End” in Mind

By Seimi Park, Summer Intern

If you enjoy strategy and problem solving as much as we do here at Blue Garnet, odds are that you’re familiar with the term “design thinking.”

Design thinking began as a buzzword in consumer product spaces, at companies like Apple and Nike. In recent years, however, the methodology has been more openly embraced by organizations for which the application of design concepts might seem less intuitive.

The relevance of “design” may not be apparent in the nonprofit and social impact sectors. However,  many design thinking principles are innate to the work of social change organizations. So, what exactly is design thinking and how is it applied in the social sector?

Design thinking is a framework for understanding complex problems and creating innovative, human-centered solutions. Unlike most problem-solving methods, design thinking begins with the end in mind – focusing on solutions and the way that things could be, rather than focusing on problems and the way that things currently are.

The design thinking methodology can be captured in five key stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

  • Empathize: The design thinking process begins with engaging your end-users or beneficiaries through conversation to develop a richer understanding of their experiences, emotions, needs, and desires. E.g. What are your community members saying about what they really need from your services?
  • Define: After gathering insights from your conversations with your end-users, develop an action-oriented problem statement that can be used as a foundation for brainstorming. g. How can you boil down all the point points you heard into prioritized needs?
  • Ideate: Spend some time “dreaming up” potential solutions – be creative and think outside the box! E.g. What would you do for and with your client, if you had unlimited resources and abundant staff?
  • Prototype: Ask yourself what your potential solutions could look like and translate this vision into something tangible by building models or mock-ups. E.g. Can you test out a pilot project of a new program or service you brainstormed?
  • Test: Get feedback from your users on what works and more importantly, what needs improvement. E.g. How did the pilot project meet the community needs identified?

While the methodology can be broken down into these five stages, the process of design thinking is never quite complete, requiring constant iteration. In other words, you’ll likely go through the process multiple times before you generate a viable solution.

The Blue Garnet team after an energizing brainstorming session on ways we can continue to employ design thinking in our work

Here are a few examples of how Blue Garnet uses design thinking principles in our work:

  • People come first. In order to maximize our impact, we focus on better understanding our clients and the communities that they serve. Our work is centered on developing meaningful relations with our clients, learning about the experiences of stakeholders, and putting ourselves in the shoes of the Southern California community through innovative techniques, such as empathy mapping.
  • Starting with the end in mind. When we work with clients, we begin by asking questions: What social impact are you hoping to achieve? How will you measure your impact? What do you need to hone to make this impact possible? We believe that defining your desired impact is critical to ensuring the sustainability and efficacy of your organization. 
  • In order to truly think outside of the box, assume nothing. Don’t limit yourself to conventionality and that which has already been done. Every client is unique. We don’t problem-solve by relying on precedent – rather, we problem-solve by learning from our clients about their individual needs and working through the defining and brainstorming stages of the design thinking process 
  • Continuously iterate. Always ask yourself, “What can we do better?” There is rarely a definitive “end” point to our work in the social impact space. As a “team of learners,” we are continuously thinking of ways to better support our clients and communities. 

At our social impact consulting firm, human-centered problem solving has been woven into the Blue Garnet-DNA. As we continue learning and growing, we would love to hear from you. How are you thinking about design thinking principles in your own organization? Let us know your thoughts at hello@bluegarnet.net.

 

 

Further resources on Design Thinking:

Design Thinking for Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector. Liedtka, Salzman, and Azer https://www.amazon.com/Design-Thinking-Greater-Good-Innovation-ebook/dp/B0719PRBM5

“Bringing Design Thinking To Social Problems, Ideo.org Focuses on the People in Need.” Pastorek https://www.fastcompany.com/3020789/bringing-design-thinking-to-social-problems-ideoorg-focuses-on-the-people-

“Design Thinking for Social Innovation.” Brown and Wyatt https://ssir.org/articles/entry/design_thinking_for_social_innovation

New at Blue (Garnet)

By Sofia Van Cleve

Three months of working as an Analyst at Blue Garnet have flown by! My name is Sofia Van Cleve, and I’d like to formally introduce myself while also giving you a glimpse of what it’s like to start working at Blue Garnet.

To give you a better picture of who I am, here is a picture of my face. What this picture doesn’t show, though, is my mixed, and often confusing, background. (Hang in there for a few seconds!) I was born in Sweden to a Swedish mom and American dad, who had met in Albania as young church planters. We lived mainly in Greece and Albania, with a few months in Scotland, Sweden, and Romania, before we moved to Orange County, California when I was fourteen years old. My years surrounded by poverty abroad inspired me to study International Development at UCLA, from which I graduated in the fall of 2017. I’m dedicated to seeing renewal happen in the world, and Blue Garnet is the perfect place to learn how organizations make lasting change on a local level in Los Angeles.

 But what exactly does Blue Garnet do as a social impact consulting firm? Many people ask me this today, just as I did when I first heard about this industry. Essentially, we help coach, develop, and evaluate organizations working in the social sector. Our clients span foundations, nonprofits, and businesses, who all invest in their strategy and talent to better focus on long-term impact. Many of my coworkers came from for-profit consulting backgrounds, where they helped companies maximize profit; but they migrated to Blue Garnet with a desire to use their skills and giftings to maximize social change.

Entering into this space and adopting the “Blue Garnet Way” necessitates a lot of learning. I had studied some program design, evaluation, and statistics in college, but I definitely needed to tune up my skills in data analysis. I read Naked Statistics and Evaluation in Organizations, as well as taking an Excel course online, to tackle my first project: analyzing multi-year survey results from a nonprofit cohort evaluation. It was daunting, but pretty interesting. I’ve also participated in webinars on topics like social media for social impact, equity in philanthropy, and research on nonprofit sector trends. I totally nerded out over the report “A Portrait of LA1,” which analyzes the American Human Development Index across LA County, segmenting by ethnic group and geographic region. I brought this book to the beach after work (oh, did I mention our office is a 5 minutes’ drive from the beach?) on a Friday and sat for hours reading it. What more could I ask for? The beach close by and a work culture that embraces geekiness? I’m sold!

Other than just being social impact geeks, the Blue Garnet team works on fascinating and diverse projects. Though there is truly no typical day at Blue Garnet, my favorite days are meeting with our clients across Los Angeles and Orange Counties. We regularly travel to in-person design and strategy sessions, focus groups, and other meetings. We’ve had research and learning presentations for a foundation in Santa Monica, volunteer management discussions with nonprofits in Pasadena and Claremont, and conferences in downtown. I’m a huge extrovert, so I really value getting to know our clients face-to-face. Then I love spending quality time on the drives with my coworkers, and LA traffic often gives us plenty of time to chat (if you’ve been in LA more than 2 hours, you know what I mean!)

I would be remiss to share the Blue Garnet life without giving a shoutout to my team. They are seriously the most brilliant, passionate, and caring collection of people I have ever met! They have welcomed me into their lives by taking me out to lunch, inviting me to their Kentucky Derby party, letting me come with them to pick up their kids from school, making sure I go to the doctor when I need to, and always caring about me as a person, not just an employee. I’m tearing up as I write this, overwhelmed with gratitude for the chance to work at Blue Garnet.

Whether you’re a college student looking for hope that postgrad life is truly good, a Blue Garnet client, or a fellow social change agent curious about working with us, I hope this brief introduction gives you a better flavor of the Blue Garnet team and the life of a social impact consulting Analyst.

Feel free to send me a hello or any questions you may have about Blue Garnet: sofia@bluegarnet.net. I hope to meet you soon!

 

 

——————-

A Portrait of Los Angeles County, found at http://www.measureofamerica.org/los-angeles-county/

 

Blue Garnet’s pro tips for every social enterprise

 

By Sofia Van Cleve

Building an impactful social enterprise is far from easy. Through the ups and downs of Blue Garnet’s 15+ years working in social impact consulting and building our own social enterprise, we’ve learned some huge lessons in social entrepreneurship the hard way. In late April, we had the chance to talk about these learnings at Social Enterprise Alliance-LA’s new event, the Professional Services Night. Along with six other volunteering organizations—spanning social media, tech, law, and strategy consulting—Blue Garnet was happy to provide our pro bono help to the participants.

 

The creativity and passion we saw during the night got us super excited about new social enterprises in LA and wanting to share some tips with social entrepreneurs at large. Our co-founder, Way-Ting Chen, and the attendees explored how to improve their existing organizations or build their entrepreneurial dream with an eye for impact. Daniel Nash, a music composer and web designer, said Way-Ting’s help was “Phenomenal—I got the next steps for my business idea and steps down the line that I had no idea about. She helped me think ahead and know what resources I need to connect with and when I will need them.” We loved chatting with people like Daniel (and not just because he gave us the nicest compliment in the entire world!), but we don’t want to be stingy with our advice. So we’re going “open source” with our recommendations, hoping they’ll help other social enterprises out there, too.

 

If you want to maximize your impact and develop a high-performing organization, you need to make sure your organization has the following four components.

What You Need to Know About Impact as a Social Entrepreneur:

  1. Organizational clarity: Start with the end in mind. What impact are you trying to achieve through your social enterprise? What are the top three things YOU need to do really well to get there?
  2. Shared Leadership: Bring others on board to do this together and build your team to complement your strengths.
  3. Healthy Economics: Align your business model to your goals by focusing on who your target client is, what you offer them that truly makes a difference, and how you can afford to do so over time.
  4. Accountability for Results: Define your 10 key measures of success related to both impact and performance. Gather and analyze relevant data for insight, then iterate your strategy.

It’s okay if you don’t have all of these right now. The good news is that you can build them over time. If you have questions or want to build these for your organization, please contact us at sofia@bluegarnet.net.

 

We hope that the Services Night and Blue Garnet sharing these four tenants of impact will inspire social entrepreneurs in LA and beyond!

 


A special thanks to SEA-LA and Danny Brown for organizing this event, and West Monroe Partners for hosting! Thanks also to Daniel Nash for your incredibly kind words (we’re still blushing!).

All Aboard!: A Tool for Changemakers to Create Impact

by: Marcelo Pinell

Setting sail on the sea of social impact can be a daunting and overwhelming feat. Some, out of fear, have yet to leave shore while others have been tossed and turned by the challenging waves of the social sector. As the newest member to step on board Blue Garnet, I have been privileged to navigate these vast waters with a team of skilled and experienced social impact geeks who have steered through the rough seas, withstood the storms and driven the high winds of strategy to help leaders and their teams chart their ultimate impact.

Recently, I had the opportunity to witness these social impact geeks in action as I provided support for our Impact Formula Strategy Lab series. We had three eager organizations initially commit to investing in the development of their strategic thinking for three sessions spread across May through July. I was able to join the second session in June and watched the teams progress all the way up to a fourth session this November, which was later added due to popular demand. As it turns out, the work done during this Lab series was not what I expected. The following are some key insights that I walked away with after the Lab. I hope my reflections serve as a fresh perspective on the value of this Lab series in helping leaders create impact.

 

The right dosage can help leaders and their teams address their outcomes

Truth be told, not every nonprofit can afford consultants who can extensively work with them one-on-one for months on end. Plus, some nonprofits may not even need the full services of a consulting firm. Strategy Lab Session 4 PhotoThe Strategy Lab proved this point for me. Providing the correct dosage of support can help leaders and their teams address their outcomes. From May through July (and then once more in November), we trained and educated teams from three organizations. Once a month, they attended a half-day session in which they actively learned, participated, and worked through their Impact Formula. These teams would then go back to their organizations to work on assignments from the session and would return for another session the following month to gain more clarity and continue to build on their work. It was an iterative process that demanded hard work, but after the Lab series, these teams left with the tools and confidence they needed to head back as change agents for their organizations.

 

Consultants are not the changemakers, leaders are!

I’m sure you’ve heard this proverbial saying before: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” I began to see this proverb unfold before my eyes as I watched the Lab participants wrestle with strategic questions. More than giving them a business model, the Lab gave participants the time and space to work as a team with other people in their organization, which is typically difficult to do due to competing priorities and schedules. Additionally, the Lab allowed participants to gain awareness of a holistic view on achieving their “ends,” ask key learning questions and acquire strategic tools so they could think critically about their organization’s impact.

The assumption so often is that the professional consultant creates the impact. Though there is a place for consultants, no one can replace the passion and hours that these leaders give to the people they serve. If you can help equip a leader and deputize them as a change agent, then he or she can build a culture of change.

 

Reaching your intended impact is an intense, iterative and invaluable process

During the Lab, all of the teams got on board and steered through some serious strategic questions. As they sought to gain clarity, though, I noticed that their comfort articulating their theory of change interestingly and surprisingly took a slight dip during the second session. Strategy Lab Session 2 photoOn a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), the teams rated their comfort articulating their theory of change a 3.6 after the first session, which then dropped down to a 3.3 after session 2. By the third session, however, the rating jumped back up to a 3.8. The data seems to point to the reality of the intense and iterative nature in building discernment. From my perspective, the teams were initially shocked by some big waves regarding their theory of change, but they gained more confidence and clarity over time to create a vision for impact.

The teams were able to create a vision for impact not only because they iterated on their own work, but also because they learned from each organization’s different approach to tackling its Impact Statement. The value of peer learning was so great that the teams asked for a fourth session, which we completed last week. This additional session allowed the teams to check-in and hold each other accountable to their work.

Navigating the waters of social impact can be overwhelming, but the opportunity to help these organizations map out their impact was an invaluable journey for both them and me. I jumped on board the Lab and saw that it provides the right dosage to help these changemakers “zero in on impact.” Great job, teams! I look forward to the impact that comes forth as a result of your labor. Keep on sailing!

Making Strategic Planning Real

by: Shannon Johnson

It’s time to get real…about making social impact in Los Angeles. That’s exactly what The John Gogian Family Foundation did on January 27th, 2016, in Torrance, CA. Lindsey Stammerjohn, Executive Director, understands that long-term sustainable social change doesn’t just happen – it needs to be carefully planned. So she and the foundation stepped up to the plate and hosted a forum for all their grantees (70+ in attendance, their highest ever) focused on “Making Strategic Business Planning Real.” Pretty awesome, huh? We thought so too.

I don’t mean to be Debbie Downer, but strategic business planning is (and should be) hard. You are asking and answering tough, strategic qDilys Garciauestions. Want to know what helps? Learning from others who have been there. That’s why we interviewed Dilys Tosteson Garcia, Executive Director at Court Appointed Special Advocates Los Angeles (CASA), throughout the forum. She candidly painted a real-life picture of the struggles and triumphs in her organization’s strategic planning process. Their process was of particular interest to the attendees as she and her team developed a bold and visionary plan to TRIPLE their impact while simultaneously undergoing a complete shift in their funding model. In the process, they strengthened their program model, invested in data systems and elevated their internal culture!

Thinking of starting a strategic planning process? As we shared during the forum, here are few tips to keep in mind:

  • A Strategic Business Plan becomes REAL when you not only define your desired impact in a measurable way but also align it with your business model, make sure you can afford it, develop a plan for how you’re going to implement it, measure your progress, learn along the way, and hold yourself accountable to it. PS – when all is said and done, it is a very, very powerful and beautiful thing and worth all the effort!

test

  • Process is as important as content. Building a strategic business plan takes time, but it can be “chunked” out into 3 main steps:

Where are we today?

  • Engaging the “right” people at the “right” time is critical. Think about whom, when, and how different stakeholders (e.g. Board, staff, clients, funders, supporters) should be involved. Our motto: involve “early and often.”
  • Your plan should be adaptive. Strategies and plan can (and should) change over time. (Read more about emergent strategies here.)

A big thank you to The John Gogian Family Foundation, Dilys Tosteson Garcia, and all the inspiring nonprofit leaders who attended for an engaging, productive day!

Are you interested in Making Strategic Business Planning Real? Click here to learn more about Blue Garnet’s Impact Accelerator Strategy Labs.

Does your (legal) form follow function?

by: Way-Ting Chen (with Giselle Timmerman and Taylor Chamberlin)

Deciding on the right legal structure for your social purpose organization or social enterprise can be a taxing process (pun intended), with many trade-offs to consider. Figuring out the differences between a Low-Profit LLC, Social Purpose Corporation, Benefit LLC, or traditional exempt organization is difficult enough to untangle, much less being certain of making the right choice for what your organization needs.

When considering legal structure decisions, start with the end in mind

Before deciding on a legal structure, consider your ultimate “ends”: your impact.

We’d like to help make this decision a little less tangled and a little better informed for you, and the first step is to answer the question, “legal structure for what?” Remember that in the world of social impact, your legal structure is just another means to achieving your ultimate ends: your impact. Simply put, your “ends” is your long-term organizational strategy, or intended ultimate impact. With the end in mind, you will have clarity about which legal status will help you to achieve your intended impact.

Let’s look at two client examples to put this approach into practice.

A supportive housing organization and a start-up apparel company both want to increase their financial sustainability while also growing their services. The supportive housing organization (let’s call it “Safe Haven”) is presented with the opportunity to develop a real-estate property adjacent to its building. The apparel company (we’ll call it “Sustainawrap”) is presented with the opportunity to create and sell products. How does each organization move forward with assessing the merits of these opportunities and their legal implications?

Safe Haven weighed the pros and cons of leasing market rate rental units or providing permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals. Their discussions landed on a critical question: Real-estate property for what end? They needed to define their intended ultimate impact in order to get clear and unified on what purpose the real estate property needed to serve. Ultimately, they realized they did not need a “cash cow” to generate unrestricted cash flow, so they committed to using this real estate for permanent supportive housing (using a hybrid legal model to minimize legal liability) to directly further their mission.

Safe Haven’s impact statement provided strategic direction: By 2023, North County homeless population will be reduced by 50%.

Sustainawrap weighed the pros and cons of launching a social enterprise to sell baby products. They struggled at first with defining how the social enterprise would contribute to their overall organizational strategy. After agreeing that their “ends” must be women’s self-sufficiency, they used their impact statement to help filter and guide decision-making.

Sustainawrap impact statement: By 2025, 100 homeless women living below the poverty line in LA County will be on the path to financial self-sufficiency. The means to their ends became creating jobs and selling unique baby products, so that impoverished women were employed. With this strategic goal in mind, business planning for their social enterprise was much easier, and they decided that a for-profit legal structure provided the simplicity and flexibility needed to achieve their ends. 

Organizations with similar mission statements may have very different impact statements. But, with clarity on their long-term strategic direction, the legal structure decision (along with many other critical choices) becomes simpler.

Finally, the expectations and perceptions we have of various legal structures is evolving. Based on the most recent Edelman trust barometer report, a full 80% of people agree that business must play a role in addressing societal issues.

"Scrooge McDuck"

A “for-profit” legal structure doesn’t make you a Scrooge McDuck

A for-profit structure doesn’t make you a Scrooge McDuck, just as a nonprofit status doesn’t put a halo over your head.  So, setting aside any expectations or stereotypes, make the hard decisions to figure out your intended impact and strategy, then make the legal structure decision that follows.

Click here for our briefing on what an impact thinking mindset is, and here for how you can become a better ‘impact do-er’. For further help with your social enterprise’s legal structure, check out Sustainable Law Group, and the webinar series we presented together with the Society for Nonprofits.