Forbes Nonprofit Council members come from a wide range of backgrounds. And with their wide range of experiences, they have a lot to share with fellow members of the community. To help them share with an even greater audience, we’re profiling Forbes Nonprofit Council members here on the blog. This week: Daniel Hill.
Daniel Hill is the co-founder and president of Green Impact Campaign, a nonprofit organization that brings together student volunteers and small businesses to mitigate climate change. Hill’s professional background is in energy management, sustainability strategy development, and occupant engagement program design. He was named the 2015 Rising Star of Energy Efficiency Award Winner by the Alliance to Save Energy and is a 2014 Echoing Green Climate Fellow.
How did your career as a nonprofit executive take off, and what do you attribute your success to most?
My career as a nonprofit executive began with me leaving the private sector out of frustration over working in an impact-driven industry without seeing any impact. Although my passion was reducing the energy use in commercial buildings, my job was to make the company money. And once that became the priority over creating incremental climate change progress, I decided that I could create the change I was seeking. Six months later, I received an Echoing Green Climate Fellowship which provided my nonprofit the funding and provided me the leadership development I needed to be successful. I realized that having access to a network of like-minded social entrepreneurs was the most accelerated method of learning possible, not to mention a safe space to cry and rant. My organization and my own success would have never been possible without that support and springboard.
How do you keep yourself passionate and driven regardless of how busy you are day to day?
I remain driven by staying connected to the program and not sitting. It can be challenging when much of the day is spent on fundraising, accounting and payroll. Those were certainly not the things that drove me to start Green Impact Campaign. My passion is the impact. Because of that, I make it a point to go out in the field at least once a month to complete an energy assessment alongside our student volunteers. There’s nothing more motivating to me than to see the impact our program is having firsthand. It also gives me a chance to have conversations with volunteers and beneficiaries so we can continue to improve our program. Additionally, I am a huge believer in the idea that you must be healthy yourself to run a healthy organization. Regular exercise, hiking and sports are key for me to keep up my energy and passion.
What do you see as the future of nonprofits?
I believe the line between nonprofit and for-profit organizations will blur over time. Nonprofits are getting better (and are now expected from funders) at developing sustainable earned-revenue streams. The best of those being the programs that create income for the beneficiaries. Meanwhile, for-profits are seeing more emphasis on social impact beyond profits. I believe this blending of social ventures is accelerating at a tremendous rate. For nonprofits, the lessened dependence on foundation and grant support will actually lead to deeper impact programs. In my experience, there are funders that chase headlines, meaning they change their funding priorities based on what is getting the most media exposure at that time instead of taking long-term strategies to systemic change. As a result, some nonprofits will change their programming to meet funding requirements and, in some cases, deviate from their original theory of change. I believe the future of nonprofits is innovative, impact-driven, revenue-generating programs.
What is your best nonprofit leadership or strategy tip for businesses?
Practice powerful vulnerability. The concept has been called many things, but the idea is the same: Be honest and upfront with people about challenges you’re facing. I think the natural reaction when pitching or having a meeting is to tell the person that everything is amazing, which is what I did when I was first starting out. This usually leaves the person to think, “Well then why do you need my support?” — or worse, “They’re not telling me something.” Being honest about challenges or failures that your organization is facing is the best way to build a strong, mutually-beneficial partnership. This isn’t to say that you should be pessimistic and whine about all the frustrating things, but it’s good to discuss what hasn’t been working and what your plan is to turn that around in the future. This strategy has not only allowed me to build new relationships, but it has also resulted in partners formulating creative solutions and support to difficult challenges. Honesty and optimism. They’re very powerful tools.