by Josh Jacobson, CEO

Happy New Year, one and all! On behalf of everyone at Next Stage, we hope you had a peaceful and restful holiday season.

Sitting here on the first day back in the saddle, I am feeling a wide range of emotions. At times I have to pinch myself to believe it is actually 2022. For as much as 2020 felt like a slow march, the experience of 2021 was a complete blur for the Next Stage team. I know we did so many exciting things – growing our staff substantially, publishing significant thought leadership content, launching new service lines – but I tend to think of the last year as if on a fast-moving train, with mental snapshots of milestones as we drove ever-forward to new horizons.

As great as the last 12 months were, we believe the year to come is going to be even better. We spent our staff meeting this morning collaborating on the development of our new three-year strategic plan, and I frankly can’t stop thinking about it. Eight years after Next Stage was launched, we have built a plan that reframes our value proposition and is all of the hyphenated adjectives – purpose-driven, impact-generating, values-aligned, and achievably-ambitious. While we have built countless strategic plans for our clients, the truth is that Next Stage has never fully taken its own medicine. Until now.

I’ve long described Next Stage as a social enterprise company, “with a mission, values and guiding principles just like the nonprofit sector we are called to serve.” Missing from that equation has been a strongly-developed vision statement and a theory of change for making it happen. We are refining both and look forward to sharing them publicly soon.

In the meantime, inspired by the nonprofit and corporate change-makers with whom we are lucky enough to partner, I’m pleased to share a few of the ways we are working to increase our impact:

Focusing on the Hidden Intersections
If you engaged with us at all in 2021, then you are probably familiar with Profit & Purpose, our magnum opus community report and love letter to the ways in which the private sector and nonprofits relate to each other. It was a long-held belief at Next Stage that a more cohesive framework for social impact collaboration was just out of reach – hard to verbalize but deeply felt and experienced. With P&P, we endeavored to highlight this intersection and spark dialogue, bringing what was once hidden into the light.

Illuminating hidden intersectionality is a role we are called to perform. We believe that working in silos is less likely to produce the results we need to advance our community. Exploring how trends relate to each other and outlining mutually beneficial strategies has been a hallmark of our firm and will start to take center stage for us moving forward. “Working at the intersections” is a new orientation for how we describe our value proposition to the communities we serve.

A Team-Based Approach
For the longest time, Next Stage was just me. I started the firm in 2014 with an ambition to do high-quality work with clients that reflected my own passions. For the first few years, I was content to work quietly on the outskirts of social impact, happy to have finally found my calling.

In recent years, that reserved way of working has been challenged by something new – a growing ambition to drive impact at a much. larger. scale. To make this possible, we’ve succeeded in drafting a stellar team of passionate, hard-working professionals who share with me a calling for fueling community change.

In 2022, we are shifting our client delivery model to work through a team-based approach that ensures our clients receive the benefit of each team member’s unique skills and experiences while also leveraging our combined capacity for impact-generating. We believe this better positions us to work on complex community challenges and source innovative solutions collectively.

Cultivating Knowledge & Networks
As a firm driven by a commitment to equity, we have been increasingly frustrated with the analog nature of consulting. Our current business model has us hired by institutions to work on their behalf to advance their causes, building knowledge and content that is shared in small networks of leadership. We meet with several thousand people annually, but frame our findings and recommendations for a limited number of beneficiaries. In many ways, this is a necessary construct of our work and we are proud of the ways our work leads to increased impact.

But we believe we can also work differently, more equitably, and with an eye toward unleashing information to benefit many more people, institutions and causes. Later this year, we are relaunching CULTIVATE as an online content platform and social network, allowing for the forming of individual and institutional cohorts to advance collective goals. At Next Stage, we aim to decrease barriers to access for change leaders who, like us, share a desire to create a community that is positive and prosperous for all individuals.

A Courage to Change
Today we are celebrating our courage to change, to recognize that what worked before is no longer sufficient. This year, we will highlight on our blog and social media additional case studies of nonprofits, private sector companies and philanthropies that have embraced a will to change in service to increasing impact and creating a more sustainable community.

Got a courage to change story that needs to be told? Drop me a line.