Note, this is cross-posted from YNPNdc’s blog.
I went to the Net Impact conference last week ready for the next career step after working for four years at an association of international NGO’s, receiving a StartingBloc fellowship, and ready to work with friends on a women’s empowerment NGO in Kenya. Having never been to the conference before, I didn’t know what to expect. By the end of the first day, my car was full of seven new friends on our way to PBR from the entrepreneurship dinner, my heart was racing, and I knew I had found new ways to make an impact with my career.
1. Follow the money.
In the 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting my Social Enterprise session, Darrell Hammond, founder of KaBOOM!, described the sea change that happened over the past 10 years. Ten years ago foundations used to fund nonprofit strategy. Now, they have their own strategy and nonprofits have to fit into that. If nonprofits want to develop their own strategy, they should consider other business models like fee for service or selling a product. So perhaps skills in product development or sales will become more useful and transferable to the nonprofit sector.
2. Don’t declare your career, declare your purpose.
Darrell Hammond founded KaBOOM! because he was pissed off that no one cared that 2 boys died playing in a car because there were no playgrounds in their neighborhood in which to play. What fuels your fire so much that you don’t have to overthink but get to work making something happen? Also, don’t get stuck on titles or career advancement. Know what you need to do, why you need to do it, and do it because it matters and not for the recognition. Finally, take a long-term view. KaBOOM! was a 16-year overnight success, which Darrell started as a side project while working full time.
3. Disruption starts with deep knowledge of an issue/industry and knowing the way it’s been done won’t continue to work.
Sara Horowitz was a union organizer and labor lawyer for 8 years before she founded the Freelancers Union. She knew that the way we work was not going to continue to work and established the organization to offer group health care coverage and other services to freelancers. You cannot change something you know very little about, so work with an issue long enough to get a grasp on the available levers of social change that is the most necessary to change.
4. Don’t go it alone.
The people you hang out with have the biggest effect on your career and your life. If you have an idea for a business or project, find like-minded people to help you get it off the found. A great new startup in DC is PunchRock, which is a co-working space in Adams Morgan for entrepreneurs that stays open from 8am to 2am every day. Also, when you get stuck, make a list of the 10 smartest people you can think of (regardless of if you know them personally). Then call them and ask for their advice. “I’ve never been taken to the Emergency Room for not receiving a return phone call,” advised Kyle Zimmer, founder ofFirst Book.
5. You could be failing faster.
New planning processes like design thinking and the lean startup get your plans from idea to prototype to customer faster than trying to develop the perfect business plan or strategy. At the Design Thinking vs. Lean Startup session, a small group of us were able to come up with a 60-second pitch for a ride-sharing app to reduce the carbon footprint of conference attendees with only 45 minutes to work on the plan. Once your idea gets out of your head and in front of investors (or your boss), you can fail faster to learn and correct as you go.
You can check out more highlights from the conference curated by Net Impact via Storify on this website.