The Role of For-Profit Companies in Creating Equity with Dr. Randal Pinkett

This week’s guest on the Nonprofit Build Up is Dr. Randal Pinkett. Randal is an entrepreneur, speaker, author, and scholar, and a leading voice in business, technology, diversity and inclusion. He is the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of his fifth venture, BCT Partners, a multimillion-dollar research, training, consulting, technology, and data analytics firm headquartered in Newark, NJ.

Randal really highlights the role of for-profit companies that are focused on social impact and the role that the for-profit sector can play in building and supporting equity. He offers advice to nonprofits and funders on the role of infrastructure and how to leverage big data to better understand and support stakeholders in determining community needs.

Listen to the podcast here:


About Dr. Randal Pinkett

Dr. Randal Pinkett has established himself as an entrepreneur, speaker, author and scholar, and as a leading voice for his generation in business, technology, diversity and inclusion.  He is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of his fifth venture, BCT Partners, a multimillion-dollar research, training, consulting, technology, and data analytics firm headquartered in Newark, NJ.  BCT’s mission is to provide insights about diverse people that lead to equity and the company has been named to Black Enterprise’s BE 100 list of the nation’s largest African American-owned businesses.

Dr. Pinkett has received numerous awards for entrepreneurial excellence including the Congressional Minority Business Award, National Society of Black Engineers’ Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and National Urban League’s Business Excellence Award.  He is an expert in several areas relating to emerging technologies, “big data” analytics, social innovation, culture, diversity, equity and inclusion, and is a regular contributor on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox Business News.

Dr. Pinkett is the author of Campus CEO: The Student Entrepreneur’s Guide to Launching a Multimillion-Dollar Business and No-Money Down CEO: How to Start Your Dream Business with Little or No Cash and co-author of Black Faces in White Places: 10 Game-Changing Strategies to Achieve Success and Find Greatness, which was named one of “The Best Books of 2010.”  He holds five degrees including: a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Rutgers University; a M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Oxford in England; and a M.S. in Electrical Engineering, MBA, and Ph.D. from MIT.  Most notably, he was the first and only African-American to receive the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship at Rutgers University; he was inducted to the Academic All-America Hall of Fame, as a former high jumper, long jumper, sprinter and captain of the men’s track and field team; and he was the winner of NBC’s hit reality television show, “The Apprentice.”

Born in Philadelphia and raised in New Jersey, Dr. Pinkett is a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated and First Baptist Church in Somerset, NJ, where he resides with his family, including a daughter and two sons.  Dr. Pinkett firmly believes that “for those to whom much is given, much is expected,” so throughout his endeavors, he places great emphasis on his desire to give back to the community.

Read the podcast transcription below:

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast and I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity, and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Nicole Campbell: Hi everyone, this week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking with Dr. Randal Pinkett. Randal is an entrepreneur, speaker, author, and scholar, and a leading voice in business, technology, diversity, and inclusion. He’s the Co-Founder, Chairman, and CEO of his fifth venture BCT Partners, a multi-million dollar research, training, consulting, technology, and data analytics firm headquartered in Newark, New Jersey. BCT’s mission is to provide insights about diverse people that lead to equity, and the company has been named to Black Enterprise’s BE 100 list of the nation’s largest African-American owned businesses. Randal has received numerous awards for entrepreneurial excellence, including the Congressional Minority Business Award, National Society of Black Engineers’ Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and National Urban League’s Business Excellence Award. He’s an expert in several areas relating to emerging technologies, big data analytics, social innovation, culture, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and is a regular contributor on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox Business News. This episode was recorded last summer when the pursuit of equity moved from the margins and into mainstream conversation in the United States, and Randal talks about BCT’s work in the space, and the successes and challenges within the for-profit sector as a black owned business.

Nicole Campbell: Randal shines a light on what it means to be a for-profit company focused on social impact, how nonprofit and for-profit entities can build win-win relationships, and the role of technology in creating leverage, and pursuing equity. Listen to the powerful tools that BCT has created to determine community services using precision analytics. It’s incredible. Randal really highlights the role of for-profit companies that are focused on social impact and the role that the for-profit sector can play in building and supporting equity. He offers advice to nonprofits and funders on the role of infrastructure and how to leverage big data to better understand and support stakeholders in determining community needs. It’s such a thoughtful, innovation rich conversation. And with that, here is Dr. Randal Pinkett

Nicole Campbell: Hi, Randal. I am so excited to have you join us for our Fast Build Leader Series and to get us started, can you tell us about BCT Partners, your role there and what BCT Partners is focused on, particularly now given our current environment?

Randal Pinkett: Well, it’s good to be with you, Nicole, and thank you for the invitation to be a part of this conversation. I am the Chairman and CEO, and one of the Co-Founders of BCT partners. We’re proud to celebrate 20 years this year for BCT. And we were just named to the Forbes list of America’s Top Management Consulting Companies, and also the Black Enterprise list of the largest black owned businesses in the country. Our mission at BCT is to provide insights about diverse people that lead to equity. And there’s three key words in that mission: insights, diversity, and equity. I’ll begin and work backwards. Equity is our end game, and we work in a number of different sectors; housing, community development, economic development, children and families, workforce development, healthcare – all sectors that deal with healthy communities, what it means to create and foster healthy, thriving communities. That’s where we focus on achieving equity.

Randal Pinkett: From a insights perspective, historically, we’ve leveraged a lot of different tools, but more recently we’ve begun to really focus in on data analytics as a big focus for our practice. In our mission, some ways, insights to action and action to equity. The insights to action is around analytics and being data-driven. And then the action to equity is around building capacity of nonprofits to achieve equity in the work that they do. And then lastly, diversity. We’re living in an increasingly diverse society and nonprofits are all asking the question, “How do I better understand? How do I better serve? How do I better support the diverse stakeholders that are embedded within my mission?” And we’re here to work with them in that whole continuum of providing insights to be data-driven that can lead to action, building capacity that can create better action to get to equity, and supporting diverse stakeholders and diverse communities along that entire continuum.

Nicole Campbell: So, I really liked that, Randal; insights, diversity, and equity. And I particularly like how you’re talking about building the capacity of organizations to actually do the work and have the impact in the communities that they’re serving. I know that you’re a for-profit company. So why this focus on social impact and not just on profits?

Randal Pinkett: We’re big believers in being mission-driven and making a difference in society. I have three business partners with whom I’ve been in business for 27 years. We were classmates at Rutgers University, and I’m proud to say, we’re not only still business partners, we’re still friends. We still like each other. Hahahaha. But when we were in college, we sat around the cafeteria table and asked ourselves the question, “How can we make a difference? How can we have an impact?” And we were all engineers. So at the time, technology was – and still is – a core component of the work that we envisioned. But to your point, we have the entrepreneurial spirit, but it’s not just about making a dollar, it’s about making a difference. And so we are very mission-driven, it’s a part of who we are and what we do. And we believe that we’re all called to do something in this world that benefits others. We just happen to channel that energy through a for-profit that works with nonprofits. That’s how we’ve answered that call.

Nicole Campbell: I think that’s really terrific. And speaking of technology to help create leverage for organizations and pursue equity, I know that BCT has an equitable impact platform. I wonder if you could talk more about the platform, and the products, and how nonprofit organizations can take advantage of it – funders and communities that they’re serving.

Randal Pinkett: Absolutely. So we have pioneered an approach to leveraging administrative data that we call precision analytics. And when I say administrative data, I’m not talking about new data collection, but data that’s sitting in a case management system, an electronic health record system, a program management system, any system to manage the delivery of programs and services. And precision analytics is a play off of precision medicine. It’s just as medicine says: I can create a drug that is uniquely tailored to your DNA, your biology. Precision analytics says I can take your administrative data and I can give you a recommendation, a prescription, a prescriptive analytic set of insights of what’s the right mix of services to maximize success for an individual or for a community. And we do that by leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence and predictive and prescriptive analytics. But we can be very, very precise in not only offering a prescription of what’s the right mix of services, but also what is a very granular way of thinking about that according to different demographic groups, what we call matched comparison groups.

Randal Pinkett: And the equitable impact platform takes that precision analytics engine and puts it on steroids because it takes that information and it makes it geospatial, which means we can now look at specific census tract and we can ask what’s the right mix of services – whether it’s employment, housing, education, health, criminal justice – the right mix of services for that community. And then we can do two things: offer a prescription, as I just mentioned, and if you are to follow that prescription, what is the prediction of how you can move the needle on community wellbeing. And the equitable impact platform takes IRS 990 data for all nonprofits, 325,000. It takes census American community survey data and combines that to be able to run these kinds of analyses and offer these kinds of recommendations and insights.

Nicole Campbell: Wow. So I am really excited and I want to talk more about this because I’m thinking of the executive director or the CEO of a grassroots organization – a smaller organization, a smaller nonprofit organization – who’s listening to that and is saying, “Wow, this could really help us, but we’re too small to take advantage of this.” Or, “How will we ever be able to afford this or have access to this?” And what would you say to those organizations as to how they could take advantage of this platform which sounds amazing?

Randal Pinkett: Well, the good news is that in the era of big data, these tools are not that expensive. In the era we live in, we are able to deliver some very powerful tools right to your mobile phone, right to your tablet, right to your desktop computer, at a very low price. You know, it’s the whole software as a service model, which says you have a modest subscription fee to gain access to very powerful tools. And that’s what we’ve done. And in fact, we have a free product of the equitable impact platform called the COVID-19 urgent service provider tool, which we call CUSP. So again, equip is a platform upon which we can build lots of different products. CUSP, the COVID-19 urgent service provider tool is a product we’ve built on top of equip and it’s free. You can go to cusp.equitableimpact.com and you can access a tool that can help you analyze nonprofit data, analyze communities, to determine which organizations are best positioned to address which issues juxtapose against a live feed of COVID-19 data. That’s free and available right now.

Nicole Campbell: I think that’s really amazing because, just a couple of thoughts that come immediately to mind about how nonprofit organizations in the sector could be using CUSP; and that’s one with funders who come in and say, “We have an idea of all of the different grantees and organizations that we’re working with. We have the ability to see across fields, and we think this is going to be helpful to these cohorts of organizations that they can bring together.” Organizations themselves could actually use it in their own strategic planning of the platform, as well as the CUSP tool, which is free as you mentioned. So I think that these resources are amazing. And with all of the work that you’re doing in this space, in this area, Randal, I wonder if you have any advice for nonprofit organizations, particularly in the area of technology and being able to leverage technology to get them where they want to go. What would you say to them as they’re trying to raise funds, they’re in this environment of COVID-19, they’re in this environment of social unrest; how do they step up? How do they start to fulfill their mission using or leveraging technology?

Randal Pinkett: That’s a great question, Nicole, and it’s a timely one. And here’s what I would say to that is, if I layer COVID-19 on top of civil unrest – George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor – among the many important questions that are being lifted up, is to what extent is a racial equity lens guiding the work that you do. And let’s take it a level deeper, getting back to what you said about technology and data. Every nonprofit has a set of stakeholders that they are seeking to support or issues are looking to address. And it begs the question, are you dis-aggregating your data to know the extent to which you are or are not serving different populations effectively. And more specifically, are you serving black people, African-Americans, Latinos, certain ethnic and groups effectively? Or are you not dis-aggregating your data to know the extent to which that is or is not the case? And technology and data give us the ability to slice and dice our data. Assuming we’re collecting the right data, which is a whole other conversation, to really get down to a level where we can understand which populations we serve well, which ones we don’t. And getting back to our earlier conversation about precision analytics, what’s working and for whom, and what’s not working and for whom. Because then we can be far more strategic at addressing these inequities because we have the data around where those inequities lie.

Nicole Campbell: And what you’re really talking about, which resonates, is this connection between technology and data, to getting you to racial equity. Being able to leverage those things, to have a racial equity lens to the work that you’re doing, which as you mentioned, creates better solutions, helps you become a more strategic problem solver. And you know, a lot of times, we don’t hear that technology and data are being used that way. So I really like how you talked about that. And if we look on it on the other side, then Randal, we’re thinking of the funders who are funding these organizations to do this amazing work. What advice are you offering to them?

Randal Pinkett: Another great question, Nicole. And here the advice is, the needs of communities lead the way, as we think about how we make investments. Not necessarily the needs of the service provider, meaning: let’s look down to the community level and ask the question, “Are there communities that aren’t getting enough services? Are there communities that are getting too many services? Are we over-investing in certain areas or under investing in others?” An organizational lens won’t answer that question, but a racial equity lens will give us the tools to know which communities are not getting what they need and therefore we can drive our investments to address the need. And again, big technology and data are one of the tools that give us those insights, but then it’s of course, incumbent upon us as funders to make sure that we’re partnering with the right organizations that have proven and have evidence-based programs and services, and a demonstrated ability to achieve impact with the communities and populations that we endeavor to serve.

Nicole Campbell: I really like what you’re saying, Randal, and the reason that it’s resonating so much with me is that the conversations that I’ve had in the sector around data and technology have been separate from racial equity. I mean it’s sort of, you use the data to come up with some numbers, and then you go into the strategic planning process around racial equity. And what you’re really talking about is no, it’s partial of the same thing. You actually cannot come up with a comprehensive solution using a racial equity lens unless you’re really leveraging technology and data. So I just like how you’re about that strategically and putting them together. You’re a for-profit organization that is focused on having social impact and is mission driven. I usually ask the question to nonprofit leaders about what they think the sector should be doing less of, but I want to twist that question a little bit for you and ask, what do you think for-profits should be doing less of and what should they be doing more when it comes to working with nonprofit organizations, working with communities that are vulnerable and marginalized, knowing that they do have a business model to maintain, but what are you seeing based on what BCT partners is doing, that you think that organizations for-profit organizations on the whole should be doing less of, what they should be doing more of?

Randal Pinkett: We’ve never been busier than we are right now when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion work. We do a lot of work around DEI strategic planning and assessments and training. And our phone has been ringing off the hook, Nicole, and that’s a good thing. And if you’re listening, call us, we don’t mind more calls. Hahaha. But having said that, when we think about DEI, we think about it in four domains. We think about the work force diversity – who you hire, who you recruit – the workplace diversity and inclusion – who gets promoted and how do we treat each other in the places that we work – we think about the marketplace diversity, equity and inclusion – who are you serving as a for-profit, to your question – and how do you best understand and are most responsive to the needs of those marketplace stakeholders. But the last one really gets at your question, which is community.


Randal Pinkett: And I would argue that it’s probably in that last domain that companies aren’t doing enough. Meaning, most are doing workforce and workplace if they’re doing anything at all. Some of them feel like multicultural marketing might be thinking about the diversity of their customers. But when we think about the community, when I think about Minneapolis, Minnesota, when I think about Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all of what we’re seeing with the civil unrest in our country. Now, of course, we’re seeing companies making statements and making commitments to investments because now this issue has been lifted up so sufficiently that it’s higher on their radar, but before George Floyd, it was completely off the radar to the same extent that it is now. So I think we need to be doing more to put some real teeth behind these commitments and investments that are really going to address systemic and institutional racism given the moment that we’re in so that that moment can become a movement. And I think we need to do less of talking the talk. And I’ve seen organizations make statements, Nicole, and I’ve seen their employees called them out, saying, “You’ve done nothing up until now.” So let’s do less of the talk and more of the walk so that we can really, finally get at what’s under the hood on systemic, institutional racism, so that we’re not in this place a year from now.

Nicole Campbell: I like that, less talk and more walk. And along those lines, let’s say you have a corporation who says, “You know what? I agree, Randal, I’m going to do more walk. And I want to fund an organization, or I want to enter into a partnership with a nonprofit organization because I’ve identified a community that needs the help. And I’m coming with resources and funding.” How do you think about structuring that partnership between the for-profit and the nonprofit? What are the things that we should keep in mind? And when we’re thinking of funding relationships, where the for-profit says, “We want to fund a nonprofit that’s doing great work.” What advice are you giving to that for-profit and even to the nonprofit as they enter into that sort of relationship that might be brand new?

Randal Pinkett: My advice is to really seek out relationships that are win-win; it can’t be a for-profit coming in feeling like they are doing the nonprofit a favor by supporting them – like this is purely charitable, unidirectional in its relationship. Nonprofits bring a lot to the table and have a lot of value to offer to a for-profit in a partnership. So let’s think about how this can be structured as a true win-win where everyone sees value in the relationship and there’s no paternalistic fantasy that this is a one directional street. And more specifically, as a for-profit, there’s a certain set of products and services you’re looking to offer to the marketplace. How can a partnership help to amplify? How can you add value? So if you’re a for-profit that is doing work around technology, great example, then is there a way that through your technology, you can amplify the work of nonprofits? Can you bring your talents, your treasure, and your time that can add value to a nonprofit? And then can the nonprofit, therefore, also add value back to you in terms of how that is informing your community engagement, your agenda for how you engage diverse communities, how you think about your diverse marketplace, how you think about diverse customers and communities in which they’re already engaged? So that it really is symbiotic in how both organizations benefit. And that’s going to make the partnership that much more real and that much more sustainable, that much more lasting.

Nicole Campbell: I think it’s so important, what you’re pointing out, that nonprofits to think and realize that they have a lot of assets that they’re bringing to the table. They’re bringing a lot of resources. They’re also bringing value to that partnership. Because I think often, at least from the conversations I’ve been having with a lot of leaders of nonprofits, particularly the smaller organizations, they don’t think they have a lot of leverage when they’re coming to the table, so to speak, with a for-profit partner. And so to hear you say that, I think it’s just important to really reiterate that it is not, as you said, a one-directional type of relationship and that each party is receiving something of value from the other. So, you know, Randal, a lot of what I do, all I do, is really focus on infrastructure. And that’s building the framework of an organization to support its programmatic work and the programmatic outcomes that it wants to have.

Nicole Campbell: And so we look at things like governance and organizational development within the organization itself; how is its teams set up, how…are the people in the right seats? And then even external structuring, do you have the right vehicle to do the kind of work that you want to do? If you’re engaged in grant making, what does that grant making process look like? So with all of those things in mind, when you think about building the infrastructure of an organization, how does that then play out in ensuring the sustainability of programmatic outcomes? You talked about equity being a key focus of what you do. How does the infrastructure of BCT Partners help create that sort of sustainability and help you deliver on that promise?

Randal Pinkett: You’re going to appreciate my lead-in to my answer, Nicole. I believe the work you’re doing is critically important, and I believe one of the greatest tragedies of how the nonprofit philanthropic sector has evolved over the past 10 years, is this idea of program grants. This idea that I can only fund the program and not fund the infrastructure. You have got to be kidding me. You cannot have the orange without the peel. I’m going to say that again, you cannot have the orange without the peel. So if you want to just strip out the orange and not fund the peel, you’re not funding the orange. So your points and your work, Nicole, I told you, you’re going to appreciate my lead-in. You know, your work around infrastructure is the foundation of how the work gets done. And so for us at BCT, for you in your organization, for any nonprofit listening, for funders and philanthropists who are investing, infrastructure is the beginning and the end.

Randal Pinkett: So it’s critically important for us. When we think about our back office, our accounting, our systems, our human infrastructure, our processes, our policies, like all of that stuff is what powers our enterprise. And if we don’t get that right, we can’t scale, we can’t achieve efficiencies, we can’t achieve economies of scope. I mean, it undermines everything that we do. And so I credit our President, my business partner, Lawrence Hibbert, who’s the equivalent of our Chief Operating Officer. He’s our President, I’m the CEO. I handle all of the outward facing stuff, marketing, sales, customer relationship management. I get to do webinars with people like Nicole Campbell and Lawrence handles the back office. He handles the infrastructure and making sure it’s an efficient, well-oiled machine, so we can build a successful enterprise.

Nicole Campbell: I really like that Randal, you cannot have the orange without the peel. I’m going to use that, because when you’re talking about infrastructure powering the enterprise, it really resonates. And to hear you say, “Listen, without infrastructure, without strengthening it, we cannot scale. And it really will undermine everything you do if you have a weak infrastructure.” So I did really appreciate that response. So Randal, your responses have been so insightful, so thoughtful, and I really like the perspective that you brought, being not within the nonprofit sector as a nonprofit organization, but as a for-profit company that’s mission driven and really focused on social impact. I want to ask you a question to help us continue to build knowledge through books and people we should learn from or about to close us out. What book do you think we should read next? Or what artists do you think we should be paying attention to?


Randal Pinkett: I’ll give you two answers in the book. One that is wholly self-serving and the other that actually probably gets to the spirit of your question. So we’re talking a lot about civil unrest and racial equity. My last book was ‘Black Faces in White Places’, which looks at the experiences of African-Americans’ industries, including the nonprofit sector, where we are underrepresented. And I interviewed dozens of African-Americans across multiple sectors; entrepreneurs, nonprofit executive directors, foundation executives, corporate CEOs, and distilled what had been the strategy that they used to navigate environments where we’re underrepresented, but still maintain a sense of self. I think it raises up a lot of important questions and conversations that we’re having right now about racial equity. I’d also add to that, another book I found to be fascinating is a book called ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’. And the simple idea is if you’re competing in the marketplace, you can either compete in the red ocean where there’s existing competition and it’s crowded and you can get real bloody, hence the red ocean, or you can look to establish a whole new marketplace where there is no competition, an uncontested space.

Randal Pinkett: A great example from the book is Cirque du Soleil. You know, you ask the question, what is Cirque du Soleil? And the answer is Cirque du Soleil. There’s nothing like it. It’s not the circus. It’s not the movies. It’s not theater. It is Cirque du Soleil. They exist in their own space. They have no competition. I mean, they do but they don’t. And so for any nonprofit leader, for-profit leader, civic leader, government leader, you have to ask the question, “What are the uncontested spaces that I should be exploring?” Because it doesn’t currently exist. You know? And there’s a time when things like big data didn’t exist, when things like case management systems didn’t exist, and somebody created it. And that’s the kind of innovative thinking I think we need to apply to all sectors because that’s where innovation really does get fostered.

Nicole Campbell: So, thanks so much for both of those recommendations, Randal, I think ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ is a great recommendation, particularly for the reason you stated, to think about the uncontested spaces that you as a nonprofit organization should be exploring. And I think that’s really pushing organizations to think outside the box and think outside of the status quo. And of course, I really appreciate the recommendation of ‘Black Faces in White Places’ that you have written.

Nicole Campbell: And you know, Randal, one last question on that. Because I do want to raise this and give you the opportunity to talk about your experience. Because I do think it is amazing that you have a black-led organization that is doing extremely well. That is mission-driven, focused on social impact, and doing such amazing things, particularly in the technology space and managing space. And you even talked about the work that you’re doing around diversity, equity and inclusion, and I’d love to hear from you about how that experience has been. How has it shaped you into the leader that you are today, your role within the organization? How does it allow you to show up in different spaces, particularly when they are not as welcoming as you would think they should be? I’d love to hear about your experience within all of that. And just any sorts of words of wisdom or advice that you might offer for other CEOs of organizations that are in a similar space.

Randal Pinkett: I appreciate the kind words, and I genuinely appreciate the question. You know, I’ve been an entrepreneur for 27 years and as an African-American man in business, I say this very humbly. So take this in the way it’s intended. You know, I’ve been extremely blessed, as have you. I mean, you know, MIT is our common thread. I’ve gone to Oxford, I’ve won a Rhodes Scholarship. You know, I’ve got five academic degrees. In that regard, I consider myself a bit of a litmus test. So what if you sent a highly educated, highly credentialed African-American out into the business world? What would that experience look like? Well, I have the experience and despite all of what I bring to the table, it’s been rough. It’s been a tough road. It’s been a very difficult road and for a variety of reasons. Among them, you know, the difficulties in getting access to capital as an entrepreneur, the difficulty in fostering relationships to more powerful, influential individuals that make the real decisions of who gets the deal and who doesn’t get the deal. The perceptions almost implicitly of what we can and can’t do as a black owned organization and constantly having to dispel the myth or the perception or overcome the stereotype that we can’t compete with the likes of a Deloitte or a McKinsey or a Boston Consulting Group, or the list goes on.

Randal Pinkett: And I don’t say that as a complaint, I say that just to keep it real; that I’ve enjoyed every single step of this journey. I love what I do. I love the mission-driven. I’ve loved the partnership that I’ve had with three other black men, Lawrence Hibbert, Dallas Grundy, and Jeffrey Robinson. I mean, we are like new edition with no Bobby Brown. Hahaha. And it’s nothing but love amongst the four of us. I mean, I have deepest respect and admiration for those gentlemen and for our executive team at BCT, which is predominantly African-American. But I can’t ignore the fact that it’s been a very difficult road and that I see it as my responsibility, my obligation, to make it easier for the next generation of social entrepreneurs, social innovators who follow in our footsteps. You know, BCT has been an experiment with the double bottom line, making a profit and making a difference. You know, financial return on investment and social return on investment. And we’ve learned a lot that we hope that our example, to your opening question, can be a light for others that say, “You don’t have to just go for the money. You don’t just have to go for the social impact. You can do both and you can do it with dignity, honor, and respect. And you can do it as an African-American and still be successful, despite any challenges or obstacles that may come your way.”

Nicole Campbell: Thank you so much for sharing that, Randal. I’m talking about that double bottom line. Again, Randal, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and your insights that are not only just visionary, from where I’m sitting, but they’re also practical. You’re sharing steps, what leaders themselves can do to be successful in their own organizations and in spaces in which their organizations work. And you’re allowing them to help build their organizations bravely. So I just want to thank you again for joining us.

Randal Pinkett: Thank you, Nicole, for the invitation to be a part of the discussion, and also thanks to you for all of what you’re doing to lift up diverse voices, to lift up important topics for the nonprofit community. We appreciate you for what you do. Thank you.


-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources, and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely.

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Welcome to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast!

Welcome to the Nonprofit Build Up, hosted by A. Nicole Campbell. Discover insights from nonprofit and philanthropy leaders about assessing and building better organizational infrastructure, programmatic strategies, and challenging traditional sector approaches on how to support some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

A. Nicole Campbell has over fifteen years of legal and operational experience in the social sector and has worked in private practice, private philanthropy, and the public sector. Nic is currently the Founder and CEO of Build Up Advisory Group®, a global advisory firm that specializes in building the organizational infrastructure capacity of brave nonprofits and philanthropies.

Immediately prior to founding Build Up Advisory Group®, Nic was the Senior Director of Operations and Foundation Counsel for Dalio Philanthropies, the philanthropy of Ray Dalio, where she was responsible for the Philanthropies’ infrastructure build-out, management of the Philanthropies’ legal affairs, and programmatic leadership of the Philanthropies’ China portfolio of grants.

Immediately prior to joining Dalio Philanthropies, she was the Deputy General Counsel and Secretary for the Open Society Foundations, where she was responsible for providing strategic legal, governance, grant-making, and operational advice to the global network of over 35 charitable organizations and foundations created by George Soros.

Nic is frequently asked to lecture and speak at professional meetings and conferences in various regions around the world, including the Caribbean, West, East, and Southern Africa, Europe, and throughout the United States, on a variety of topics impacting the social sector, including philanthropy trends, governance, and grant making.

Nic is passionate about using her legal training, operations and strategy expertise, and knowledge of nonprofit law to think creatively to transform the way organizations work and learn from their work. Now, on the Nonprofit Build Up podcast, she brings that same dedication and passion to help nonprofits and philanthropies consistently and sustainably support the marginalized and vulnerable communities they serve.

The Nonprofit Build Up provides fundraising and development ideas, program strategy, innovative thinking, organizational structuring, and grant-making policies and practices for the sector to help you transform the way you and your organization work. For nonprofits, securing funding for work and operations, making better grants, designing stronger programs, and strengthening organizational infrastructure can be daunting while also trying to effect change in the communities they serve. And philanthropies can be challenged with how to support their grantees to create sustainable outcomes for the marginalized communities they serve. The bottom line is if you are struggling with how to build capacity and scale your impact, you are diverting your focus from the communities that need you.

Start the power shift. Here. Now. Join Nonprofit Build Up with A. Nicole Campbell today.

Listen to the podcast here:


About A. Nicole Campbell

A. Nicole Campbell specializes in creating peace of mind. She has provided strategic legal, governance, and operational guidance as a senior advisor for two of the world’s most prominent philanthropists, and has spoken on and trained senior management teams and board members in nearly every region of the world in grant making, governance, and organizational design.

With more than fifteen years of experience in the public and private sectors, Nic has deep expertise in designing and building nonprofit organizations from concept phase to full independence and designing innovative organizational, grant-making, and governance structures. For her entire career, she has been a sought-after strategist and thought partner to philanthropists, philanthropies, collaboratives, movements, and nonprofit organizations in the United States, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, and around the world.

Nic is founder of the Build Up Companies, a federated group of companies comprised of Build Up Advisory Group, The Campbell Law Firm, and Build Up, Inc. and focused on transforming outcomes for vulnerable and marginalized communities. She is Chief Executive Officer of Build Up Advisory Group, an advisory firm that specializes in improving governance, grant making, and organizational design for brave philanthropists, philanthropies, movements, and nonprofit organizations to provide them with the structural capacity to deliver on their missions.

She is Managing Partner of The Campbell Law Firm, a boutique law firm that serves as a trusted advisor to brave grant-making nonprofits, movements, philanthropies, and philanthropists to interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity. She is also President of Build Up, Inc., a nonprofit capacity builder that supports leaders of color and incubates and fiscally sponsors charitable projects and organizations that work with under-resourced and invisibilized communities around the world.

Prior to founding the Build Up Companies, Nic was Senior Director of Operations and Foundation Counsel for Dalio Philanthropies, Ray Dalio’s global, multi-million dollar family philanthropy; Deputy General Counsel and Secretary for the Open Society Foundations, George Soros’s global, multi-billion dollar philanthropic network; and Associate General Counsel for the New York Community Trust, a multi-billion dollar community foundation. Prior to her in-house roles, Nic was a tax associate attorney in private practice working with both nonprofit and for-profit clients.

Nic received her B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law, and her LL.M. in Taxation from New York University School of Law.

Read podcast transcription below:

 -Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast and I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity, and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Nic Campbell: Hi everyone! Welcome to the first episode of the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast. I’m your host, Nic Campbell. Thank you so much for tuning in, I’m so excited to be launching this podcast and to be in conversation with you.

Nic Campbell: On this first episode, I wanted to do a couple of things. First, I wanted to talk about the purpose of the podcast itself; what it’s all about and what we’ll cover. I also wanted to introduce myself and share the reason why I wanted to do this podcast in the first place. So, what is the Nonprofit Buildup Podcast all about? This podcast is about hearing the diverse voices that comprise the sector – so, hearing from the people who are doing the actual work. They’re not just thinking about it and writing about it; they’re doing those things too but they’re actually in nonprofit organizations, philanthropies, and they’re in the trenches, so to speak. Why is this important? Why does it matter?

Nic Campbell: I think that this practitioner perspective is so critical, because what it does is it allows us to gain insight into things that we would have to work for years, or even sometimes decades, to understand, appreciate, or even experience. Through this podcast, we’ll be able to hear directly from people who are doing the actual work. They’re bringing a really comprehensive way to think about the questions that we’ll be talking through and the issues that we’ll be wrestling with. We get to hear their strategies, their thoughts, and their insights about the sector, nonprofits, philanthropies, and social impact vehicles.

Nic Campbell: I know that there is a lot of conversation happening right now within the sector about social impact vehicles. What are they? They’re not really nonprofits. They’re not philanthropies. How do they fit within the sector? How do we work alongside these organizations? How are philanthropists thinking about incorporating these vehicles into their ecosystem? How are social impact entrepreneurs thinking about working with and using these vehicles? This podcast will be able to tease that out a bit, and make sure that we’re having those conversations, and thinking about how we’re working alongside these vehicles.

Nic Campbell: We’ll also focus on how we can build better, stronger, and faster. I think that there is a real push in the sector to build slowly and steadily – which I can certainly appreciate. But, I think, in 2021, we should realize that we need to build better much, much, faster. I want to think about how we can build faster but do it deliberately and with integrity. I want to hear from people who can put us in conversation about this topic and have us thinking critically about ways that we can build better, stronger, and faster.

Nic Campbell: We’ll also be able to hear how we can make sure that those who have been invisibilized or silenced by the systems and society are able to be heard loudest while we’re problem-solving alongside them.

Nic Campbell: This podcast is also about sharing my experience in the sector. As a person that is exclusively focused on infrastructure, I understand and appreciate the emphasis on programmatic strategy and making sure that you have a strong programmatic strategy to create a strong organization. But I also understand, appreciate, and know that you need a strong infrastructure to support that strategy in order to create a sustainable organization. Being able to talk about infrastructure when we’re talking about creating strong organizations, creating organizations that are sustainable, and organizations that have a tremendous impact in the communities that they’re serving, is extremely important to me.

Nic Campbell: I want to make sure this podcast enables us to have those kinds of conversations and we’re not thinking about infrastructure as an afterthought.

This podcast is also about sharing my experience as a black woman in the sector – working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies – and my experience as an immigrant. All of these experiences come to bear on how I view nonprofits, philanthropies, social impact vehicles and who’s building them, who’s not building them, who’s been excluded, and how we can be more inclusive.

Nic Campbell: I want to hear from people with diverse perspectives who are not the typical voices you’re hearing all the time in the sector. That’s so that we can challenge ourselves, learn from each other, share our thoughts, and showcase best practices. I also want to focus on the nonprofit sector around the world. There is a real emphasis on the United States when you hear about nonprofit podcasts, and I can appreciate that. I am a U.S. practitioner and I work with U.S. nonprofits and philanthropies, but I also work very closely with organizations that are outside of the United States. So, I want to think about how we build organizations, institutions, practices, strategies, and capacity globally.

Nic Campbell: I want us to understand that when we are building capacity of nonprofits and philanthropies in the United States, how does that impact the building of capacity in the Caribbean, for example? The more we think about how this sector can be aligned, the stronger it can become. Capacity building within different regions around the world: when those things are aligned, when best practices are aligned to the extent that they can be – we are creating a stronger nonprofit sector, stronger organizations, and creating more sustainable impact.

Nic Campbell: So, you might be thinking: “Wow, these are a lot of topics. This is really interesting. These are exactly the kinds of things I’d love to be talking about and I’m really excited about this podcast.” But you might also be having the question of: “Well, who is this woman who will be leading this dialogue and facilitating these conversations?”

Nic Campbell: I’m the Founder and CEO of the Build Up Companies which is comprised of Build Up Advisory Group – an advisory firm that focuses on strengthening the infrastructure of nonprofits and philanthropies.

Nic Campbell: So, what that really means is that we spend all of our time focused on strengthening governance, grant-making, and structuring of organization. So, making sure that they have compliance capacity, that they’re structured the right way, and they’re set up to do their best work. That their grant-making allows their organizational values to show through in the processes that they have, money is getting out of the door really quickly to those who need it, and their governance structures – their board – is set up in such a way that they’re providing the necessary oversight for the organization’s strategy, their people, and to make sure that they’re set up sustainably.

Nic Campbell: The other company that’s within the Build Up Companies is the Campbell Law Firm, and that is a law firm that works only with nonprofits and philanthropies to make sure that they are getting the legal guidance, advice, and counsel that they need. They’re doing it in a way where they’re in partnership with their counsel as opposed to being transactional.

Nic Campbell: Then finally, is Build Up, Inc., which is a nonprofit fiscal sponsor working with grassroots projects and initiatives around the globe that are focused on supporting vulnerable and marginalized communities. So, all of these companies comprise Build Up Companies, and at the end of the day, are focused on strengthening nonprofits, philanthropies, and social impact entrepreneurs.

Nic Campbell: We essentially work with brave nonprofits and philanthropies that are trying to problem solve alongside vulnerable and marginalized communities. The concept of bravery is core to our work. Bravery, as we see it, is the ability to authentically create your infrastructure and strategy so that the voices of the marginalized communities that you’re serving are heard loudest. I’ve worked in and with nonprofits, philanthropies, foundations, public charities, social welfare organizations as that entity is known in the United States – so these are the 501(c)(4)’s. I’ve worked literally with nonprofits, foundations, and philanthropies around the globe.

Nic Campbell: I have seen the way infrastructure has been built in different regions. I have seen how strategy plays with infrastructure and understand that capacity is needed to do our best work. So, I’m on a mission to make sure that infrastructure is part of our everyday conversation when we’re talking about capacity building for nonprofit organizations. I’m also on a mission to create more general support awards.

Nic Campbell: The more flexible funding that is awarded to nonprofits, the more they have the ability to do their work. I’m also a big proponent of including technical assistance and support with that general support award. I don’t think that you just give a bunch of money to anyone – to any organization without also saying, “Here is the additional support and capacity to be able to use that money in the best way.” I think providing additional support is always a great thing.

Nic Campbell: I also want to push innovation in grant-making and structuring. Innovation is not only present or needed in programmatic strategy; you also need it in your grant-making and the way your organization is structured. I want flexibility to be a given in the sector, as you can see, and the work that nonprofits and philanthropies do. My vision is to create 100 big, bettable grassroots organizations by 2025. So, let’s start to place our bets on these organizations that are community-based, community-led, and are closest to the problem and the solution.

Nic Campbell: I believe that if we can create more big, bettable grassroots organizations – these organizations that are smaller but they get huge grant awards that are flexible, they come with technical assistance and support – that we can change the world.

Nic Campbell: Once we have organizations that are grassroots and are big bets, we can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity. I am so excited to keep this conversation going. It’s incredibly important and necessary. Thank you so much for listening to our very first episode and I’ll talk with you soon.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources, and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely

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