It might seem obvious, but I would like to start a movement that would help all nonprofits reach their full potential for impact. That’s what we ultimately hope to do as we get the Nonprofit Impact System in front of more organizations. With the right tools and approaches, I truly believe nonprofits can change our world for the better.
Asa part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alyssa Conrardy and Lindsay Mullen, co-founders of Prosper Strategies.
Alyssa Conrardy: As the president and co-founder of Prosper Strategies, Alyssa Conrardy is on a mission to help nonprofits realize the full potential of strategy so that the nonprofit sector can realize its full potential to change the world. Alyssa is recognized as an expert by nonprofits across the country thanks to her ability to lead strategy, fundraising, marketing and communications projects that advance nonprofit missions and drive social change. She is also a board member and development committee chair of the Great Books Foundation.
Lindsay Mullen: Lindsay is the co-founder and CEO of Prosper Strategies, the leading consultancy for nonprofits, where she brings strategic vision and a growth mindset to the firm, clients and their missions. In addition to her work at Prosper Strategies, she is a board member of Ignite, a leading human resources nonprofit that supports youth experiencing homelessness.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Lindsay: I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so I always knew I wanted to run my own business. Several years into my career, I saw an opportunity to step out on my own and I embraced it. My vision was to run a company that supported changemakers and organizations that were doing groundbreaking things to make the world a better place. Shortly after starting my business, I met Alyssa. She was smart, creative and more ambitious than almost anyone else I’d ever met. I thought, “I’d never want to go up against her in a new business pitch.” As luck would have it, I never had to. Our visions and desires for the future we’re so aligned, we decided to partner. I think we can both agree, it’s the best decision we’ve ever made.
Alyssa: I grew up around nonprofits. My dad is the president of a large human services agency in Wisconsin and from a young age, reinforced the idea that I should find a way to use my skills and talents for good, whether inside or outside of the nonprofit sector. My early career interests were in marketing and communications (that’s what I went to school for). I liked the variety of working with a wide range of different organizations, but when I couldn’t find an agency environment that provided that opportunity, I decided to create my own. Over time, as I began to work on deeper and more complex marketing challenges with Lindsay and the team at Prosper, I began to realize that many of them were actually rooted in strategic, fundraising, team and measurement challenges, and we pivoted our firm to work in all of those areas, not just marketing. Now, we’re able to do even more to help nonprofits increase their effectiveness.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Never before has the world needed nonprofits as badly as it does now. And yet, most are having to do more with less. Demand is growing, resources are shrinking, competition is fierce, trust in nonprofits is declining, and the nonprofit starvation cycle is accelerating as funders and supporters continue to look to the wrong metrics to determine nonprofit effectiveness. COVID-19 and this “new normal” will cripple nonprofits across the country unless action is taken to help them rethink how they operate. We’re on a mission to reimagine how nonprofits can thrive and grow in these times of uncertainty.
To date, the majority of models offered to nonprofits for building their brands and improving their strategies have been poor adaptations of models that were born and bred in the private sector. The careless application of for-profit strategies to nonprofit problems isn’t the only issue, either. There is still a pervasive misconception that the best measure of a nonprofit’s performance is the percentage of expenses that go to “overhead.” As a result, the pressure from donors and funders to minimize administrative, fundraising and marketing expenses is still extremely high. This causes many nonprofits to underinvest in the very strategies, systems, people and processes that make them successful, and in turn, they fail to realize their true potential to drive change. That’s why we launched The Nonprofit Impact System™.
The Nonprofit Impact System™ is a complete set of tools and approaches that helps nonprofits increase their effectiveness. Through Focus, Strategy, People and Progress, the foundation of the system, nonprofits of all shapes and sizes have been able to drive greater impact.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Lindsay: It takes a village. My dad is an entrepreneur and my most trusted source of advice. My mom showed me what it meant to be a working mom, and a darn good one at that. My former boss, Greg Goldner at Resolute Consulting has been a mentor and champion since the day I told him I wanted to go out on my own. He always tells me, “I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what not to do.” I’ve also had the support of other female entrepreneurs and business leaders, including a former client who saw to it that I received a career-changing opportunity when I couldn’t be in the room to make the case for myself.
Alyssa: As mentioned previously, my dad has always been a mentor for me, both in my career and my life. His mentorship has mostly focused on helping me find ways to connect my talents and interests to my desire to make an impact and find a way to do both at once.
Several Prosper clients have also been mentors for me, whether they know it or not. I learn so much from our clients and am always so impressed by how smart, forward thinking and innovative they are. The nonprofit sector gets a bad rap for being slow to adapt or “behind” but that couldn’t be less true, at least based on what I’ve experienced with our clients.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Lindsay: Network with your peers. When I was starting out in my career, someone said to me don’t just try to meet with people who are years ahead in their careers, make friends with smart people your own age. As you advance in your career, you’ll advance together and these people will become your friends, your support system and your clients.
Never burn a bridge. My dad tells me this often, including a time several years ago when one of our contractor relationships wasn’t going very smoothly. Turns out the reason it wasn’t going smoothly was because that person was facing their own challenges. In showing them understanding, we were able to turn the relationship around and this person is now a great friend and partner to our business.
Never run from something, always run to something. I got this advice from a mentor early in my career as I, like many new grads, found myself unhappy in my first job. Rather than jumping into another opportunity that probably would have been a poor fit, it caused me to slow down and come up with the idea to launch the company that would ultimately become Prosper Strategies.
How are you going to shake things up next?
It can be easy to think that by focusing your work in one area, you’re narrowing your opportunity. When we made the decision to work exclusively with nonprofits, that was a fear. However, what we’ve experienced is that by going deep in one sector, our opportunity and our ability to positively impact the nonprofits we work with has expanded significantly. Our first goal is to scale The Nonprofit Impact System. As we put it to work for more and more nonprofits, no doubt our horizons will continue to expand and we won’t sit idle.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Lindsay: Early in my career, I was getting antsy. I wanted to be the CEO, not the junior associate. Then I read the book, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, which went through the stages of leadership in your career. It reminded me that as a young person, my role was to put my head down and work really hard. If I did that, doors would open. And, that’s exactly what I did from that day until I started my own business.
Alyssa: The two I always think of are 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People influenced my thinking a lot when I was just beginning my career and I have benefitted a lot from the habit of “beginning with the end in mind” and the idea of having a personal mission statement to guide my life. The Desire Map is a more recent discovery that caused me to do a deep exploration of how I want to feel in my day-to-day life and to re-align my priorities, time and mindset around those “core desired feelings.” I recommend both of those books often!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Lindsay: We work and hear from so many nonprofit organizations at Prosper Strategies. Some of them are very similar, some of them are entirely unique, some of them have solved significant challenges on a very small scale or in one location, some of them have developed a solution for one small piece of a bigger puzzle. I want to connect the dots of information as well as the dots of resources, so we are solving problems comprehensively and at their root.
Alyssa: It might seem obvious, but I would like to start a movement that would help all nonprofits reach their full potential for impact. That’s what we ultimately hope to do as we get the Nonprofit Impact System in front of more organizations. With the right tools and approaches, I truly believe nonprofits can change our world for the better.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Lindsay: Well behaved women rarely make history. My one and half year old daughter is a spicy thing. Even though she can only say a handful of words, she has opinions and she makes them known. This and everything about her makes me happy because she is the kind of vivacious little human who’s coming for the world in the best way possible. She will not always be “well behaved” (she already isn’t), but I hope that because of that, she will push the boundaries and be a force for positive change.
Alyssa: Live with intention. I have this tattooed on my foot and it reminds me to live every day fully rather than just going through the motions. It reminds me that we only have one life (that we know of at least — ha!) to “dent the universe” as Steve Jobs would say and that I ought not to waste it. It also reminds me to take nothing for granted and to revel in the simple pleasures of life and everything I have to be grateful for, in good times and in bad.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can read new writing from Proper Strategies on our website every single week, and follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram (@prosperstrategies) for new updates and information. You can find Lindsay on LinkedIn here and Alyssa on LinkedIn here.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!