Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

ProInspire: Building the Next Generation of Nonprofit Leaders

ProInspire: Building the Next Generation of Nonprofit LeadersOn February 26, 2009 I launched ProInspire, with the mission of building the next generation of nonprofit leaders by expanding the talent pipeline, developing professionals, and increasing diversity. The idea for ProInspire stemmed from my own experiences and a call to action to address leadership challenges in the nonprofit sector.

Where It Began

My passion to launch ProInspire stemmed from my own experiences and challenges facing the nonprofit sector. I started my career as a consultant with Arthur Andersen. I always wanted to do work focused on social impact, but thought I would get some business skills first and then move into the nonprofit sector.

When I was ready to make the switch after two years of consulting, I found it was really challenging to find opportunities because 1) nonprofits weren’t looking for people with my background and 2) I did not have a network in the sector. Eventually I was able to find an opportunity with CARE India – writing the business plan for a sustainable program to support micro-entrepreneurs. It was a fantastic experience – CARE needed someone who had experience writing business plans (which I did from my consulting days), and I had the opportunity to learn about working for a nonprofit.

After CARE, I returned to the US and joined the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, a nonprofit using business approaches to inner city economic development. Then I went to Harvard Business School to get my MBA, spent time learning about social enterprise, and worked on projects with the Clinton Foundation and Citigroup’s Microfinance Group. After graduation, I was selected as a HBS Leadership Fellow with ACCION International, a leader in microfinance. As a Fellow, I helped ACCION launch their micro-insurance program and partnerships with corporations, including Visa International.

The “Aha” Moment That Started It All

Over the years I was struck by how many business professionals asked me for advice on moving into the nonprofit sector, as well as how many nonprofit leaders asked me where they could find more people with analytical and strategic thinking skills. In 2008, I attended a conference where Tom Tierney from the Bridgespan Group spoke about the nonprofit leadership deficit and the need for 80,000 managers per year to fill the gap.

That was my “aha” moment: there was a sector-wide challenge and a call to action to find new solutions. I had noticed for years that there was a gap between the supply of business professionals wanting to work in the nonprofit sector and the demand from organizations for that talent. Could there be a way to expand talent pools in the nonprofit sector by connecting supply and demand? I spent six months researching talent in the nonprofit sector to understand what was working and areas where a new organization could create value. I spoke with sector switchers and connected with organizations who became key supporters, such as Commongood Careers and Education Pioneers.

ProInspire’s Model

In 2009, I launched ProInspire with a hypothesis that we could expand talent pools and increase diversity in the sector by creating a Fellowship targeting young business professionals. I knew from my experience as an HBS Leadership Fellow that fellowships provide an effective mechanism for organizations to get great, affordable talent, and for professionals to enter a new field with a support system. I also knew that many young professionals who pursued consulting, finance, and other jobs out of college were eager to get exposure to the social sector before pursuing graduate degrees. While private equity firms and corporations had figured out how to recruit analysts from investment banks and consulting firms into their associate programs, nonprofits were generally unaware of how to use this talent pool.

From my research, I determined five key areas for the Fellowship:

  • Centralized recruiting: providing sector switchers a clear entry point into nonprofits with roles that targeted their skill set, and offering nonprofits access to a large pool of top business talent with minimal recruiting effort
  • Professional development: providing monthly training and coaching to Fellows to help them translate their business experience to the sector
  • Cohort experience: building a network of young business professionals going through similar transitions and committed to social impact
  • Compensation: standard salary paid by the nonprofit directly to the Fellow, enabling clear expectations for both Fellows and organizations
  • Earned Income: charging a program fee to nonprofit partners to help off-set the costs of the program (with remainder costs covered by fundraising)
ProInspire: Building the Next Generation of Nonprofit Leaders

Monisha Kapila

The Program Launch

We decide to pilot the model with a small class of Fellows starting in Fall 2009. In March 2009, we began recruiting candidates for the Fellowship and received over 120 applications! Most of our applicants were finishing analyst programs at consulting firms, investment banks, and private equity firms. We realized that there was tremendous interest amongst young business professionals to use their skills for social impact. At the same time, as we were recruiting I reached out to nonprofits to identify partners that would hire Fellows. Many nonprofits faced hiring freezes with the recession, but we were able to find five great organizations who decided to hire Fellows in our pilot program.

By early 2010, we had received excellent feedback from nonprofit partners about the value Fellows were adding in their organizations and from Fellows about their experiences in the sector. We decided to expand the program and focus on nonprofit partners in four key sectors: community development, education & youth development, impact investing, and international development. We have since grown to 12 Fellows in 2010 and 13 Fellows in 2011.

Achieving Results

The Fellowship has grown over the past three years, and we have achieved some great results:

  • Over 700 candidates have applied to be an Inspire Fellow over the past three years
  • 30 Fellows have been selected
  • 60% of Fellows over the program’s history are persons of color
  • 50% of Fellows have stayed on at their organization after the Fellowship ends
  • 80% of our nonprofit partners keep their current Fellow or hire a new Fellow each year (and some do both!)

Our talent pool has grown and we have had Fellows coming from many leading companies – including Accenture, Bain, Credit Suisse, Deloitte, JP Morgan, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Parthenon Capital, Sephora, and UBS. I still hear from nonprofit partners that they can’t believe our Fellows left jobs with such well-known companies to come and work in the sector. But we know that the Fellowship enables them to connect their skills with their passions and long term career interests.

ProInspire: Building the Next Generation of Nonprofit LeadersProInspire’s Growth Strategy

Now that we have launched our third class of Inspire Fellows, we are confident that our hypothesis makes sense. The movement is growing – our community of Fellows, alumni, nonprofit partners, advisors, and Board members continues to expand. We have also received requests from nonprofits in other cities asking if they can bring on Fellows. The Fellowship is an important tool to expand talent pools, skill sets, and diversity in the sector. We also recognize that ProInspire must grow to create systemic change in how the sector recruits, develops, and supports talent.

This summer, our organization began a growth strategy process that we are continuing through the end of the year. We are using the Hedgehog Concept from Good to Great as a framework for our strategy, which you can read more about it on our blog. Moving into 2012, I expect that we will expand our Fellowship program and also pilot some new programs to develop leaders in the nonprofit sector.

Join Us

We invite you to join us in the important work of building the next generation of nonprofit leaders. We believe that nonprofit leaders have the potential to change the world, and we are there to support them to do that.


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