This month, Next Stage turns 10 years old! What began at my kitchen table has grown into something far more ambitious. As we launch the second decade of our company, I’m excited to share that ambition with you today.

Last month, we formally approved a three-year strategic plan – a first for our company. That may be surprising if you know how many plans we have developed for clients over the last decade. What’s the saying about the cobbler’s children walking barefoot through the world? Suffice it to say, this is the most robust expression of our aspirations ever committed to print.

We have never had a more clear North Star for where Next Stage desires to go. Over the last 18 months, our team has developed a new mission and theory of change for our work that creates cohesion across a number of concepts. What we once thought were disparate ideas are now being harnessed in service to a new organizational horizon.

Building Belonging at the Intersection of Social Good

Our new purpose statement is building belonging at the intersection of social good. The tenets of this include:

  • Building more cohesive infrastructure and collaboration between six primary sectors (nonprofits, the private sector, municipalities, philanthropic institutions, faith institutions and community-based organizations), channeling more resources to address pressing social causes;
  • Developing a more equitable ‘supply chain of social good’ that ensures decision-making and resources are invested in those who are most proximate to people being served, where trust can be fostered as an asset.

We feel best positioned to support initiatives focused on breaking down walls that contribute to systemic barriers. This work leads us to more community-and-neighborhood-based frameworks that shift power to where trust is most authentically residing. We believe trust capital is the most important asset to overcoming the failure of systems.

It’s a big concept, we know. So what does that mean in practice?

We are called to build a new methodology for collaboration. The pandemic made undeniable what we have all known for decades — that the silos of service delivery are inefficient and ineffective. Greater cohesion and collective effort are needed if we are ever to make inroads on the toughest social issues.

To make that happen, we believe institutions and their leaders must build belonging at that intersection. And not just performative engagement but authentic, hands-on collaboration that is recognized as just as important as the work these institutions individually lead.

In other words, we desperately need each other and must spend more time creating infrastructure and trusted relationships at those intersections.

We’ve explored this in several ways. Our Profit & Purpose series of community reports outlined what we believe is an important bridge between the private sector and nonprofits – one of mutual benefit that has the potential to transform social outcomes. Our recent Inside Out report, making the case for community voice, suggests a need for strengthening between nonprofits and the people they serve.

These are important intersections, but hardly the only ones needed to generate the outcomes we desire. Our next horizon aims to link the six sectors listed above and create new ways of working together for the greater good.

Our Three-Year Strategic Goals

Our plan has three primary goals:

Begin the transformation from a Charlotte-based management consulting firm into a national social innovation company.

The language here is important. We are proud in recent years to have been working with clients throughout the country. Where we once considered these as infrequent interruptions to our primarily Carolinas-focused work, we are now realizing a larger geographic frame.

We are also finally using the terminology that best suits us. We dropped Consulting from our name a few years ago and have taken to calling ourselves a “social impact company.” But going forward, we want to own what we truly believe we are — a social innovation company. We have sought to help institutions navigate change by onboarding fresh ways of working. This is the main idea of our work in an increasingly more national context.

What does that mean for our work in the Carolinas, and especially the Charlotte community we’re proud to call home? We will never abandon our commitment to local and regional partners. This work serves as both an opportunity to improve outcomes for people where we live and a chance to learn by working at the frontlines of social good.

Over the next three years, that research will inform the development of new service lines including two new offerings in 2024: Community Voice and Collaboration Management. We are also conducting new pilots on our digital community of practice platform – Cultivate Impact™ – toward formalizing it as a part of our solutioning process.

Evolve our operational infrastructure and workplace culture to be more optimized, team-based and sustainable.

The biggest difference between the Next Stage of today and the modest consulting firm that declared its existence in 2014 is the collection of talent we have assembled. Our company now comprises seven full-time staff members and a diverse team of contractors and subject matter experts. We are a collective of passionate do-gooders (who we call ‘Next Stagers’) working together to live our shared values.

Our growth led us to establish a base of operations in an office on Central Avenue in the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood of Charlotte. We are so proud of our space and of the mural that greets visitors. Through ArtPop’s Inspiration Projects program, we commissioned artist Darion Fleming to transform our office entryway with a mural depicting his take on our theory of change. It now also adorns the top of our weekly newsletter, appropriately renamed The Intersection.

The onboarding of an office was needed in part as a result of a team-based shift in our work. We are now facilitating more long-term, multi-year engagements with clients that bring our entire team forward to advance positive outcomes. This shift has led to a far healthier and more sustainable approach to working.

Our new strategic plan calls for continued development of our internal operations to support this new way of working. We will leverage technology and project management tools to strengthen workflows and foster cross-team collaboration as we grow our staff team. We are also deeply committed to developing a workplace culture to encourage personal and professional growth while prioritizing both individual and team health and well-being.

Grow awareness, engagement and buy-in, realizing the resources needed to fuel the company‘s mission of social change.

From the very beginning, we have always described Next Stage as a social enterprise. We are shaped by our values and guiding principles, working with and through our clients to make the world we want to see. Every investment in our services sustains a commitment to a social mission that manifests in a variety of ways.

We were proud to launch Charlotte’s first incubator for emerging nonprofit organizations in 2018. In recent years we have produced a number of thought leadership reports and have produced roundtable discussions highlighting what’s next for innovative partnerships. Going above and beyond to deliver value to the community has always been central to our work.

With increased ambition comes the need for larger platforms of engagement. We desire to foster collaborative networks that bridge people across distance, creating peer learning opportunities that lead to deeper understanding across difference.

The next three years will include new thought leadership deliverables, increasing our focus and reach. We are creating new ways to bridge our brand marketing efforts to client services that make access to learning more equitable and achievable for all. We know that will lead to a growing base of client work that will fuel our continued focus on social innovation.

Our Commitment to You

If you’ve read this far, you are very likely a person we are proud to call a partner, colleague and friend. We have only arrived at this point in our evolution through the collaboration and buy-in of countless social good professionals. We thank you for your belief in us.

As we work to realize our ambitious vision, we aim to stay rooted in what got us here — hard work, determination and passionate belief in the power of humans caring for other humans. We will continue to provide high-quality services to clients in the local, regional and national context. We are the friendly neighborhood Next Stage we’ve always been, only now with a new calling and language describing our organizational purpose.

We look forward to seeing you on February 8 for our anniversary event where we will announce the selected organization for the UnFundable Project grant. If you didn’t receive an invitation and want to attend, we’re sorry, it was just an oversight on our part – drop us a line here.