Request from a CSR Job Seeker

Raise your hand if you're graduating from business school!

I'm thrilled to announce that in two weeks I'll be graduating from business school!

As unbelievable as it sounds (even when I say it), the end of my MBA program is amazingly just around the corner. While it hasn’t always been fun – derivative equations in economics class come to mind – it has been an incredible two years of learning and 100% worth it.

Now with my diploma (almost) in hand, I’m ready to take all of my new knowledge and skills out into the big wide world and get to work.

The only problem? I need a job! Which is where my request for help comes in...

In past posts I’ve tried to stay away from obvious self-promotion – if only because I wanted the CSR stories and innovations to take center stage.

While this will almost always be true here on The Changebase, I also have to own up to the fact that I’m an MBA who’s done enough IT strategy coursework to understand the value of crowdsourcing.

Knowing that I'm lucky enough to have readers from all professions and areas of expertise, I was hoping to enlist your help in my job search. As you'll see below, I've taken a few paragraphs to outline who I am, what I do well, and how I might be able to help your organization with its CSR work.

And, if you like what you read and have some ideas or suggestions to share, of course I'd love to hear from you.

Who I Am: I’m a CSR strategy and communications specialist with a combined 7 years of experience in nonprofit fundraising, corporate philanthropy, marketing, and social media. As an MBA I have consulted with a number of corporate, agency and social enterprise clients on topics including sustainability strategy and reporting, stakeholder engagement, brand management, and consumer marketing. Curious to learn more? Check out my LinkedIn profile.

What I Do Well: While I like to think I’m pretty good at a number of different things, there are a few areas that I think are my core competencies:

CSR Strategy and Communications – I have deep subject-matter expertise and experience in CSR strategy and marketing, and I get especially excited about opportunities to help companies tell their CSR stories in ways that resonate with stakeholders and drive business value. Want an example? Check out this press release to learn more about a sustainability communications project I recently completed.

Social Media Strategy and Execution – Since starting my blog I have basically embedded myself in the social media world and, through thoughtful strategy (and lots of practice), I believe I’ve developed an approach to social media for CSR that is effective and successful. Want to see my social media work in action? Check out my Twitter feed – in just over a year I’ve built an engaged group of almost 1,200 followers through tactics that include developing a point of view, staying on message, and creating genuine conversations.

Research and Writing – Given my blog, it’s probably no surprise that I love to write. It turns out, though, that I also really enjoy doing research. Whether it’s gathering secondary data, creating surveys and analyzing results, or performing in-depth interviews, I have extensive hands-on experience with market research methods and tools. The best of all? I can turn that research into persuasive, actionable white papers for clients looking to create or maintain a thought leadership position in the CSR space.

People, People, People – It's safe to say that, in many ways, a successful CSR strategy hinges on whether you can build relationships and create allies both inside and outside your organization. Whether it's facilitating conversations, building partnerships, leading teams, or even engaging critics - you name it, I enjoy it. And I think I'm pretty good at it too.

How I Can Help You: I believe my experience and background in CSR, philanthropy and marketing can add value to the following kinds of organizations:

  1. Corporate brands that have CSR programs and/or a sustainability focus
  2. PR, communications, or consulting agencies that specialize in CSR marketing and strategy
  3. Start-ups with innovative business ideas for “doing good and doing well.”

Whether it's crafting a CSR communications strategy for your client; integrating social media into your corporate marketing portfolio; or developing a sustainability strategy for your new start-up, I know I have the skills and experience to help you get to where you want to go.

A few other details: as I mentioned, I graduate in two weeks and I’m able to start working shortly thereafter. Oh, and I’m focusing my search in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest (Seattle, WA or Portland, OR).

So, what do you think? Are you looking for help strategizing, implementing, or growing your CSR program? Know someone who is?

Please feel free to contact me - I’d love to hear more and talk through specific ways that I can help you and your company achieve your CSR goals.

Thanks again for all of the support you have given me throughout my MBA journey. It’s an exciting time and I’m really looking forward to starting my next adventure!


Meeting Our Future Women Leaders

85BroadsBU This weekend I was lucky enough to be featured as a panelist at the third annual Boston University 85 Broads conference. The theme of the event was “Rising to the Top,” and it brought together an incredible group of professional and undergraduate women to learn from each other and network.

If you aren’t familiar with 85 Broads, a quick check of their website tells an interesting story:

85 Broads is a global network of 20,000 trailblazing women who are inspired, empowered, and connected.

The "founding members" of 85 Broads were women who worked for Goldman Sachs at 85 Broad Street, the investment banking firm's NYC headquarters. Over the past decade, 85 Broads expanded its membership to include women who are alumnae and students of the world's leading colleges, universities, and graduate schools worldwide. Our members are located in 82 countries around the world and work for thousands of for-profit companies and not-for-profit organizations.

As a graduate of an all-girls high school and a big proponent of creating leadership opportunities for women in business, I’ve always been curious about 85 Broads – which is why it was so exciting to be invited to present at the BU chapter’s annual conference.

The panel I participated in was for undergraduate women interested in pursuing nonprofit careers, and I was joined by two other panelists doing some incredible work:

  • Amma Sefa-Dedeh, executive director of One Hen (a very cool microfinance nonprofit here in Boston) and a recent Babson MBA graduate
  • Jenny Jordon, associate consultant at The Bridgespan Group (an off-shoot of Bain & Company that works specifically with nonprofit clients).

Amma, Jenny and I were there to talk about our experiences working in nonprofit leadership roles, discuss the various advantages and challenges of working in the nonprofit sector, and to answer questions from the young women in attendance.

For my part, I got the chance to talk about my work in fundraising, my interest in corporate social responsibility, and my decision to pursue an MBA. Many attendees were also interested to hear how I was using The Changebase to not only share ideas and create conversation, but also as a personal branding tool during my job search.

One particular question seemed to strike a chord not just for the women in the audience but for me as well.

An attendee asked about switching from the nonprofit sector to the corporate world, and vice versa: “Is it hard to make the switch” she wondered, “or do I need to pick one sector and stick with it?”

Given that I am a sector-switcher myself, this is something I tackle regularly in my cover letters and job applications. My feeling is that there’s nothing wrong with “switching sides” but you do need to be prepared to do a little extra hand-holding with potential employers. The experience and background that resonates with recruiters in one sector might not be what resonates with recruiters in another, so job seekers need to be prepared for this.

As Amma so insightfully put it: “Career switchers need to put in 200% extra effort” – whether you’re moving from one sector to another, or simply switching functions like going from engineering to finance, you need to be ready to work that much harder to get people to take a chance on you and your skills.

Certainly valuable advice for everyone in the room – even me!

In all I was incredibly impressed by the roughly 25-30 young women in attendance (dressed in suits on a Saturday no less!). Between the thoughtfulness of their questions and their passion for learning about and doing this important work, it was clear to me that these women are motivated to not only make social change, but to forge ahead in their own professional careers.

In my opinion, if the women in attendance are any indication of the quality of our future women leaders, I think we’re in good hands!

Want a CSR Job? Read This First.

graduation capWith just over two months left until I graduate from business school, I’ve started to reflect on what I’ve accomplished over the last two years. Without a doubt, the most fulfilling experiences of my MBA program have been the chances I’ve had to engage in real-world consulting projects for corporate and nonprofit clients.

In the last four semesters, I’ve worked on some pretty terrific marketing and corporate social responsibility projects - including brand audits, marketing research plans, stakeholder communications strategies, and social media tactics.

But perhaps my most satisfying consulting project was a sustainability reporting and stakeholder engagement plan for Praxair, a $9B Fortune 300 industrial gas manufacturer in Danbury, CT. I’ve talked about this project in past posts, and I was thrilled to see that Boston University recently issued a press release about this engagement (including a quote from yours truly!).

These consulting projects have been the most rewarding part of my MBA, but they’ve also been the most challenging and time-consuming. In the end, though, I’ve signed up for all of them without hesitation – in large part because I (and many of my fellow MBA classmates) believed they’d serve as proof of our experience to potential employers come recruiting season.

Interestingly, last week The Wall Street Journal published an article about companies partnering with business schools to create these sorts of CSR projects for students. The article starts out positively, saying urgent “social concerns” are leading more and more companies to partner with business schools to provide real-world education and training to students (aka: potential employees).

Unfortunately the story takes on a different tone just a few sentences later:

The effort [to create real-world CSR consulting projects] is being met with both gratitude and skepticism from business schools, which say that despite the emphasis on integrating these hot-button topics into the curriculum, it's business as usual at recruiting time. Few hiring managers, they say, ask students about corporate-responsibility training or indicate it's a priority.

That’s right – according to the article, these CSR projects may be happening more frequently on business school campuses, but that doesn’t mean they’re turning into more CSR jobs for MBA graduates after school.

The article drills home the point even further, saying that engaging students in these kinds of projects “doesn't translate into hiring socially responsible M.B.As, an issue that “points to a disconnect on part of the companies: There's enthusiasm in the classroom for imparting corporate responsibility and sustainability concepts, but hiring managers attending campus recruiting sessions say it's rarely something they quiz candidates about.”

In the end it seems that MBA grads looking for CSR jobs can easily find themselves between that proverbial rock and a hard place – on the one hand, they’re receiving extraordinary real-world training for future sustainability positions; yet on the other, there’s often no opportunity to continue this work once they finish business school.

Another related and interesting study that just came out also reinforced this point:

Ellen Weinreb from WeinrebGroup analyzed six years of CSR job postings and drew conclusions about the availability of jobs and overall trends in CSR recruiting. Her findings point to an interesting conclusion for recent MBA grads wanting to get into CSR (which, by the way, is the same conclusion drawn by the Wall Street Journal article):

If you want to work in CSR, get functional experience first.

Ellen’s study shows an increase over time in VP and Director-level CSR jobs – which is great news for people already working in CSR but not so great for MBA grads just trying to jump in.

Since those high-level CSR jobs are most likely out of reach for newly-minted MBAs, Ellen suggests job seekers embed themselves in a corporate function (marketing, finance, strategy etc), learn the business, and then transition internally to a CSR role.

When you think about it, this advice makes sense; after all, to be effective in sustainability, you’ve got to first understand the business you’re in.

For my part, it turns out that I’ve actually heard this advice many, many times – and given the frequency with which it’s said, I’ve taken it seriously to heart.

Still, this puts me – and many other soon-to-be MBA grads – in a bit of an awkward position going forward.

My goal is to work in a CSR role within a big consumer brand, so I’ve stacked my resume with CSR-related projects and classes to show future employers that I know what I’m talking about.

But if in the end it turns out that these kinds of activities don’t necessarily translate into a job-seeker’s “competitive advantage,” did I waste my time on these projects when I should have been doing something else? Obviously that’s being overly dramatic, but the issue certainly gives me pause.

In the end, the best advice I can give to CSR job-seekers is sort of a hybrid model:

Learn the business through functional experience, but bring sustainability to work every day.

Yes, getting that marketing, or finance, or supply chain experience under your belt will be crucially important – not only to build credibility and a reputation for yourself, but also as a way to help you think about sustainability and CSR opportunities from within.

But just because you’re working in a non-CSR function doesn’t mean that you should chuck your CSR know-how and skills out the window. On the contrary, your understanding and flexibility in CSR can only help you do your functional job better.

We can still hope that one day CSR will be such a corporate priority that all companies will recruit for these positions. In the meantime, my advice is to earn your stripes at a company you respect and admire, make your interest and intentions in sustainability clear, and with time transition into the CSR job you want.

As the old saying goes, “Your patience will be rewarded”.

Micro-Actions for Change

DUMP Week When it comes to the crisis of Global Warming (what author and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman says should actually be called "Global Weirding"), things can get pretty overwhelming fast.

Animal extinction, water scarcity, rainforest destruction – these are all pretty heavy topics requiring big picture thinking and action.

And if world governments can't even build consensus to take action, how can we as individuals ever expect to make a difference?

Well, I'm here to say: Don't Get Discouraged.

Sure, many of these issues can only be solved through global coalitions that unite for a common purpose (and boy, does that sound like hard work!).

Nonetheless, it's important to remember that even big problems can be helped through small “micro-actions".

Take, for example, what happened just a few weeks ago at my own business school. The Boston University chapter of Net Impact organized something called “D.U.M.P. Week” (aka: Don’t Use More Plastic).

In essence, D.U.M.P. Week was about rallying the internal community to consider how their everyday choices – in this case, using plastic bottles – impact the world around them.

During each day of the promotion, members of the Net Impact board set up shop in the graduate student lounge to educate and connect with students around the topic of sustainability. Through tidbits and facts written on poster board, an informational video showing the impact that plastic has on the Earth, and fun contests and games, the chapter leaders were able to successfully and effectively get the student body engaged in sustainability in a very personal and on-the-ground way.

In addition to education, the organizers of D.U.M.P. Week asked students to consider signing a sustainability pledge that outlined a set of behaviors each student would agree to uphold. These included:

  1. Power Down Computers
  2. Bring Your Own Mug and Water Bottle
  3. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  4. Think Before Your Print
  5. Use Compact Fluorescent Bulbs
  6. Turn Off the Lights
  7. Take Shorter Showers
  8. Carry a Reusable Shopping Bag
  9. Walk More, Drive Less
  10. Wash Laundry in Cold Water

In exchange for signing the pledge, each student received his or her very own reusable water bottle (not plastic!) to kick-start these new behaviors.

Water Bottles

So why was D.U.M.P. Week so successful? In many ways, it serves as a real-life example of everything I'm learning in my marketing classes:

You can always grab people's attention with big ideas, questions, even images. But until you tell consumers why it matters to them, you're missing your opportunity to connect, engage and inspire action.

D.U.M.P. Week wasn't just about scary doomsday scenarios or cold environmental terminology; it was about inspiring our community to connect, learn, and take action in easy and understandable ways.

As I waited in line to sign the pledge myself, I couldn’t help but feel excited by this small yet motivated demonstration of commitment by my fellow students (who, by the way, are still using their water bottles weeks later).

On their own, these behavior changes may seem like a drop in the bucket – but taken together they represent a collective, united plan of action that can and will have meaningful impact.

When it comes to sustainability, every bit (or micro-action) counts.

I encourage you to think about what micro-actions you could take to help move us toward a more sustainable planet.

And, if you’re looking for other examples of micro-change, check out Cindy Gallop and Cindy and her team (who I first learned about at The Feast) have created a crowd-sourcing platform for people to declare the actions (big and small) that they would take if they ran the world. Even better, the platform lets you share your idea with others and activate your network to get involved. Definitely worth checking out.