Foothold Resources and Updates


How Collaboration Became My Best Teacher

Post from Foothold Fellow Cristian King

The learning curve in a new position has always been an uncomfortable space for me to be in. I like to be in the know about everything relevant to my job: the whats, the whys, and the hows. When I began my fellowship with the San Diego Impact Investors Network (SDIIN), I realized the learning curve would be steeper than any other I’d been in.

A significant part of my position in those early days was working on communications pieces (one-page collateral, blog posts, and website design to list a few) and effectively executing this required I have a base understanding of impact investing. Impact investments are investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. The field is incredibly complex, and was something I’d had absolutely no exposure to prior to my fellowship. Credit lines? Market rate returns? Pay for Success grants? These concepts made my head swim. How was I supposed to create documents, some of which were to be directed at investors and others who had familiarity with investing, when I felt as though I couldn’t even begin to grasp the basics?

I recently drafted a blog post to explain the basics of impact investing to nonprofits who are interested in adding it to their funding strategy. This is perfect, I thought, I know exactly what it is like to be in their position! After a few initial drafts, gaps in my understanding began to become apparent: I couldn’t articulate what types of investments were most relevant, I couldn’t define the characteristics an investment ready nonprofit possessed, and the information I was providing was definitely denser than it needed to be. I hit a hard roadblock. What could I do to fix this?

I contacted a member of SDIIN’s executive committee who has extensive knowledge of impact investing and explained to her that I was unsure how to proceed. I wanted the blog to not sound overly academic and to be something that sparked interest, rather than being something which made impact investing seem too complicated to engage with. What resulted was a rich discussion of the topic in which we continuously swapped ideas of how to best present the information. We figured out the best approach was a what-why-how approach: what is impact investing, why should nonprofits utilize it, and how can they begin. As we reordered the information in my blog, the pieces began to fall into place. Before, it was as though I were trying to understand and explain the final step of a math problem without having done the first two. The connections between everything became apparent and everything began to crystallize.

I left this project feeling as though I’d finally gained a strong foundation in the basic what, why, and hows of impact investing to nonprofits. The key was the collaboration. By combining her expertise with my perspective of a learner the blog became a concise, informative resource for nonprofits that I couldn’t have otherwise created. It became something better than either of us could have achieved individually. Isn’t that the beauty of collaboration? Together we were better. I can only imagine what other lessons collaboration will teach me in my fellowship.