What if your social impact strategy is denied? (and what to do about it!)

In today’s video, you’ll learn how to proceed if your social impact strategy is denied. We chat with Nicole McPhail, Co-founder and Managing Partner with Darwin Pivot, and explore how to find your employee and executive champions and how to keep them engaged. We also discuss where to find the unlikely advocates and how to line them up before making your strategy pitch.

Watch, listen to read the full series on developing a social impact and CSR strategy:

Part 1: The Research phase

Part 2: The Articulate phase

Part 3: Benchmarking

Part 4: Finding Champions

Part 5: The Pitch

Watch the episode:
Prefer to listen?


Read what we discussed:

Karl Yeh: 

My guest today is Nicole McPhail, she is the managing partner and co-founder of Darwin Pivot. Now, this is part, I guess part six or the epilogue of how to build a social impact strategy. We've gone through the first five parts in our previous video and our previous podcasts. Nicole, what is part six?

Nicole McPhail:
Part six is, we touched on this slightly, but I think it warrants a larger conversation.

What do you do if you don't get it?

Karl Yeh:
What does that mean? Does that mean the... In our previous interview we talked about the pitch, we pitch to executives, we pitch to leadership.

Does that mean your whole program has not been approved, or does that mean they want you to come back with a different presentation, or maybe reduce the budget, or take out some programs?

What have you seen in the past?

Nicole McPhail:

I think it could be any number of those things.

But the main overarching header being, you went in there hoping for something and you didn't get it.

That could be a brand new program, it could be an increased budget, it could be a whole bunch of things. And, what do you do? And I think that a lot of people have been in this position, I know that I've been there before.

And I think the first thing that you just need to remember is it doesn't mean that it's about you, and it doesn't mean that you're not presenting something that's worthwhile. It could just be that you need to tweak the way you're demonstrating that value proposition.

Or it could just mean that the timing's not right. It has nothing to do with the value of what you're doing.

Karl Yeh:

What are some best practices when you've been denied what exactly you wanted to do? What are the next steps that you take?

What are your next steps if your strategy is not approved?

Nicole McPhail:

Ideally, if you're getting that sense in the meeting that it's just not going to happen, I would think about some alternatives that might be baby steps into achieving what you want to achieve.

For instance, say you're trying to launch, I say this because I'm speaking with Benevity, an employee-wide granting or employee giving a volunteering program, and they are not giving you that buy-in.

It could be that you launch a portion of it and suggest doing a pilot.

Maybe it's within one business unit, maybe it's within the one that you are currently operating in, where you can set specific objectives and goals.

For instance, will this giving volunteering program increase the positive sentiments that the participants have towards the company, and the company values? And you can measure that through employee surveying before and after.

Or maybe instead of something that requires a budget, you could try doing things that have non-monetary incentives.

So just an ad hoc giving volunteering program where if people volunteer, they could win a lunch with an executive. Little low cost, low risk tests.

So then at least you can prove a point that you can go back in and say, "Okay, well this is a huge success." The other thing is, if you're in the meeting and you're getting this sense it's not going well, start asking questions.

Again, these are your leaders and they care about the company, they care about their employees.

And so it's also a learning and a coaching moment to ask, is there something that could be required that would help make this decision?

Or, do you have any feedback for how we're presenting this, or the program in the first place? It could be a development opportunity for yourself.

Or it could be a way to take this information, go back to the drawing board, and come back.

If though you see that it's not resonating at all, I would try and be objective as possible, and ideally have someone else with you in the presentation, because sometimes you can get emotional about these things because you're so invested.

To look at it clearly, and then debrief afterwards and start to isolate potential areas where it didn't go well.

And then explore those maybe with an HR business partner to get a sense of what actually went on.

Because it could very well be just how you framed it, or maybe you didn't pick the right value proposition. And you need to go back and think about, what is the why? What do these decision-makers care about? And then try it again.

Karl Yeh:

I think this is where your executive champion, or whoever your advocates are, can really help you.

Because they probably have the inside information of why certain things were not approved, why your entire program wasn't approved too. Right?

How your executive champion can help

Nicole McPhail:

Yeah. And honestly, even when I did this in-house, there were times where I'd be presenting to someone and maybe they had a very bad day.

And they didn't even want to consume more information, and that's why the decision wasn't made.

And then going back and catching them maybe at a social or whatever and talking about it outside of the boardroom could be a way to get that feedback and get a sense of, is it me?

Is it what I'm offering? Or was it just a bad time?

Karl Yeh:

Is it different when you've been denied when you're starting a program?

So when you're actually building a social impact program and you get denied for that.

And how is that different than, let's say you already have one established, but you wanted to expand it?

You still have your program ongoing, but maybe you just don't get the budget, versus your leadership actually just kiboshed the entire program. I'm sure those are two very different situations.

How to deal with rejection for a new program and an existing program

Nicole McPhail:

I think if you have, say a CSR team or social impact team and you're not getting that buy-in, typically you already would've had an established relationship with these decision-makers.

And that is different. And I think that allows you... You have a little bit more control and power to run these tests without getting explicit permission to do so.

In that situation, I might not ask about running a pilot, I might just do something that doesn't include a budget and just do it.

I am very much of the mind, beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission, as long as you're being somewhat responsible. Actually, not somewhat responsible, or responsible. I don't want to get anyone in trouble here.

But if you're pitching a new program, and if you're not asking a lot and it's not getting the traction, I think what you need to do is more external benchmarking and demonstrating the landscape of the expectations that consumers, stakeholders, and employees have on these things.

And you maybe need to have more conversations and do more of that advocacy stage.

Because at this point most companies should at least understand why purpose and having these types of social impact programs is really important for who they're as a company, but also for their bottom line. I would say that's the approach I would take.

Karl Yeh:

If I was building this entire program from scratch.

There's no program existing.

That would be a pretty significant blow to the rationale of having social impact in your organization, wouldn't it be?

Nicole McPhail:

Yeah. That's why I was thinking the external benchmarking would be essential if people aren't really wrapping their heads around why it's important to prioritize.

And then what I would also do is create grassroots movements, and just start creating organic opportunities, trying to find advocates and champions at certain locations to do the same. And then the people, the tail will wag the dog eventually.

If you have enough passion and time and internal relationships to actually start doing some of these things even if it's outside of work, but it's employees doing it.

Karl Yeh:

All the steps, research phase, articulate, back it up, advocacy, even your pitch, you would probably get a sense that your leadership team, by the time you pitch, that this program's going to be approved or not approved.

It's very rare you go into a meeting, you have all your champions, you have an executive champion.

You don't go into a meeting with 70/30 that you're probably not going to get your program approved.

By going into that pitch, most likely there is a high chance you're probably going to get the strategy.

Have you been in any situation that you've seen that surprise outcome?

The unknown variable impacting your pitch

Nicole McPhail:

Yes. Fantastic question.

Because I think the one thing that anyone in this situation needs to keep in mind is the variable of the unknown, which is what I mentioned before.

Someone could be in a bad mood, someone could have just lost a major customer.

And they're coming in there and it then becomes emotional and about time, and it's nothing that you could have done.

And I think in those situations, if you have pre-vetted, if you had gotten all the feedback you need.

If you understand what your stakeholders care about most and have the data points to actually align to that, you pitch it well. If you get a no, I wouldn't pack up your stuff and head out, I would reflect on it. Come back, talk to one of your closer champions.

You can typically see the people that are not into this, and go back and think about when you might be able to bring this up again.

And even if it's not you doing it, maybe it's someone on your behalf that's starting to, say a champion resocialize it in an executive meeting or foundation board meeting, something like that.

That might be another way to do it. Because it doesn't matter who's doing the pitch, it's just a matter of making sure it happens.

And the other point to your question, when it happened to me, this was with a client a long time ago.

And we already had the buy-in for it.

They were excited about it, they were championing it. And then one of the people who was one of the bigger champions came in and almost pretended he didn't even know who made the decision in the first place. And so we were like, huh.

And it was because he had a terrible day, and that was it. That's a long way of saying, don't stress out about it, keep going, and lean on your champions.

Karl Yeh:

Nicole, do you have anything else to add for our viewers and listeners who, let's say didn't get that program or additional funding to help build their program or grow their program?

Nicole McPhail:

Dust yourself off, you can do it. Just keep going.

These things don't usually happen overnight.

Sometimes they can. So just know that, and don't take it personally. I've said this 10 times because I think our natural inclination is to think like, what did I do? It's not always the case.

But also be critical and have that challenge network, because maybe it was something that you did, but at least know you can try again and you can improve if you position this in a way that your stakeholders can see the value.

Karl Yeh:
Nicole, if our audience wants to connect with you, reach out, what's the best place to reach you?

Nicole McPhail:

Yes, you can find us at www.darwinpivot.com.

And if you want to shoot me a note, nicole@darwinpivot.com.

And you can find me on LinkedIn as well, I've had some great chats with folks from The Social Impact Show on there, so feel free to join over there.