Net Impact is a student group on campus with a focus on business that drives social and environmental sustainability. My name is Shannon McDermott, and I am in the first year of my MBA program at Daniels. With a background in international development I believe business can be a catalyst for change. I joined Net Impact to gain the tools and contacts necessary to pursue a career centered on social and environmental sustainability.

danielspioneer-net-impactThis past winter, I had the opportunity to attend the 2014 Net Impact conference in Minneapolis. The first keynote speaker, Dan Pallotta, said, “he wanted to do something big, but didn’t have any big ideas.” I think many young professionals pursuing a master’s degree have similar aspirations and doubts. How do we become leaders with big ideas who take big action and make a big impact?

My main takeaway, inspired by Dan, is that business leaders have the opportunity to make a big difference when working in non-profits, but only if non-profits reform to reward innovation and growth. Dan argues that non-profits failed to grow, at all, over the last 40 years because there are no incentives. Non-profit leaders should be financially compensated for their big ideas. They need big marketing and advertising budgets to inspire people to donate to the cause, and they need big fundraising budgets to support leaders’ ideas. The idea that non-profits need to spend less on overhead (administrative costs) and put more money towards the cause is backwards, yet widely recognized and rewarded as the best way to use funds from donations. However, if the overhead is going to help the non-profit grow and make a bigger change that’s where I want my donated dollars to go. The non-profit sector needs innovative leaders to transform the way the public thinks about charity.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, non-profits need to grow sustainably focusing on the economic, environmental and social impacts of their organization to ensure they can continue to make a big, lasting, impact. Grad school helps develop the skills to lead organizations ethically and sustainably, and it is this knowledge and understanding that will inspire big ideas and empower us to turn our ideas into action in organizations that will make a big impact.