As existential threats to business continue to mount, how can companies ensure the health and long-term viability of their company and employees? Hear from Isabel Kelly, non-executive director at the Panoply and CEO of Profit with Purpose, on the importance of nonprofit and for-profit collaboration.

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Benefits from a Nonprofit Background

Isabell Kelly serves as a prime example of the way companies are looking for diversity of backgrounds on their boards. She began in consulting at the Panoply, which eventually led to a larger role: “They offered me a seat on the board since I believed social impact had to come from the board level,” She explains, “Eventually, I became the chair of the ESG Committee there.” She explains the reasons why she was able to work comfortably and effectively in a new environment: “I was the first board member they invited. The chair invited me, so it was embedded across the board and leadership that I had a right to be there, despite what they thought of my methods at first.”

She goes on to elaborate on what she brought to her roles: “Coming from a nonprofit background, I brought rigor and accountability, which sometimes surprised those in the corporate space. People thought I wouldn’t know how to deliver against a project or budget, or work to a deadline. Those with nonprofit backgrounds are used to delivering a lot with a little and making smart use of their networks to do so. We are accountable not just to shareholders, but to full set of stakeholders: Environmental NGOs, communities, and so on.”

Kelly then discussed the similarities and differences she noticed between working in the nonprofit versus the for-profit space: “I saw a lot of assumptions about the other side: How people dress, how people talk. I had a nonprofit leader come to me this morning to say he needed training in how to talk to a business crowd.”

“In both for-profit and nonprofit environments, people care about the world and want to see change, they are just going about it in a different way.”

Isabel Kelly, non-executive director at the Panoply and CEO of Profit with Purpose

The Importance of Collaboration

In 2020, directors had to answer a plethora of new questions when it came to the “S” aspects of ESG and also how companies should commit to DE&I. Kelly discusses how her background helped her to answer those questions: “Nonprofits have worked to standards for a very long time, which runs counter to how some companies think about short-term output. Nonprofits are used to these long-term goals.”

She emphasizes the importance of collaboration between all types of organizations: “Companies are familiar with working for governments, and nonprofits work with governments all the time. But, companies don’t work as closely with nonprofits.” She gives an example: “Take the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). They are laid out very clearly. In order to adhere to these, nonprofits, for profit companies, and governments all need to work together.”

For Kelly, this all goes back to a concept of shared value: “This idea of collaboration and learning goes both ways. Nonprofits and companies need to come together to see what resources and expertise they have to solve the world’s biggest problems, and to find the right balance between efficiency and speed.”

“We need to focus on the concept of shared value. Nonprofit and for-profit companies need to come together to effectively utilize shared resources and expertise to solve the world’s biggest problems”

Isabel Kelly, non-executive director at the Panoply and CEO of Profit with Purpose