Spotlight

Stephanie Dolan, MBA ’13

Leveraging the Ross network for Social Impact in Chicago

Stephanie Dolan graduated from Ross in May 2013 and is now an Associate Principal at Civic Consulting Alliance in Chicago, a participating organization in the Center for Social Impact’s Impact Corps program. Since graduating from Ross, she has leveraged Ross’ Management & Organization courses, MAP coaching, and Negotiations courses in her current position. In November, we spoke with Stephanie about life in the social impact space.

What are some of the clients that you work with at Civic Consulting Alliance (CCA)?

As a Chicago-based impact consulting firm, CCA works with nonprofits and foundations, government agencies, and large community organizations to drive change in our city, county, and state. We work across three primary areas: education (working with clients like Chicago Public Schools), economic development (engaging with community banks and local foundations), and public safety and criminal justice (advising the Chicago Police Department, the Public Defender, etc.).

Personally, I’ve focused my projects to-date in our economic development area, given my background in microfinance. I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Mayor’s Office, interview 40+ leaders of organizations that provide small businesses with access to capital, and I am currently supporting economic growth efforts on the South Side of Chicago through work with a local nonprofit.

What does CCA look for in a Summer Associate? What kinds of projects will summer associates work on? 

CCA looks for the following skills and experiences for Summer Associates:

  • Problem-solving and analytical skills
  • Communication skills (both writing and verbal)
  • Passion for social impact, including improving the city of Chicago
  • At least 2-3 years of work experience prior to grad school

We “test” for these skills by requesting a resume, a cover letter (a great place to voice your interest in social impact and in Chicago!), and a one-page essay on a critical issue facing the city of Chicago.

Summer Associates benefit from CCA’s small size and are able to truly “own” both projects and the client relationship – at some of the most prominent organizations in the City.

Of our three 2017 Summer Associates:

  • One worked with the Chicago Police Department, helping them budget for and prioritize dozens of strategic initiatives
  • One supported Chicago Public Schools to roll out a mandatory computer science class across all high schools
  • One advised the State’s Attorney’s Office, developing a strategy to help divert cases from prosecution to treatment and assistance programs

Describe the path you have taken to end up in your current role at CCA.

My path to CCA has been a bit of a winding journey, but always with the consistent thread of social impact underlying my work.

Stephanie and her husband Will Foss (U-M BA ’07, MBA ’12) at the Big House

Out of undergrad, I worked at Morgan Stanley in a research analyst role; during my time there, I learned valuable financial analysis skills but missed the work I had done in college related to international development and human rights. As I completed my second year at the firm, I began to look for jobs that let me combine my financial experience with my desire to have a social mission underlying my work – and was lucky enough to land at ACCION International, a microfinance nonprofit firm in Boston.

During my time at ACCION, I worked closely with impact investors assessing opportunities to provide financial support to microfinance institutions in developing countries – the perfect melding of the skills I had learned from Morgan Stanley and my desire to make a difference in underserved communities. While I loved the work that I did at ACCION, I wanted to return to business school to round out my professional skillset and make the leap into consulting, with the end goal of returning to the social sector after building up my consulting “chops”.

During my nearly four years in private sector consulting, I have learned an incredible amount – from problem-solving to presentation-building, to managing teams and projects. That said, I checked in with myself frequently to determine whether it was the right time to return to the social sector.  By early 2017, I felt like I had learned enough to be confident in the skills that I could bring back to nonprofits. Through a fellow Rosser, I learned about the opportunity at CCA, and the rest is history – working at a nonprofit consulting firm leverages both my for-profit experience at Morgan Stanley, EY, and Deloitte, and my inherent desire to make positive change.

How have you leveraged your Ross experience in your career?

The Ross network has proven invaluable throughout the past four years: at every firm, I have had an important tie to Ross that has enhanced my experience. Most immediately, a Rosser connected me with CCA, leading to my current job. At Deloitte, I leveraged the Ross network – from Partners to fellow senior consultants – to build my network, identify projects, and get informal feedback and support. At EY, a Senior Manager from Ross took me under her wing and acted as a trusted mentor and coach.

From an academic perspective, I’ve leveraged a number of my classes – most notably, my MO classes. I find myself frequently thinking back to discussions about leadership and management in my intro MO classes as I manage consulting teams; recalling the “personality types” questionnaires that we took in MAP coaching as I mentor my new analysts; and leveraging concepts from my Negotiations class like “anchoring” and “BATNA” as I propose options to our clients.

How does working for CCA compare to your previous consulting roles? What is a typical day like for someone working at CCA?

My favorite thing about CCA is that I can apply the consulting frameworks, approaches and skills that I honed at EY and Deloitte to projects focused on community impact in the city I live in – CCA’s vision is to make Chicago a better place to live, work, and do business.

As a result, my day to day work will sound very similar to the types of things I would have done at Deloitte or EY, but with a distinct nonprofit or civic sector lens. A typical day may have me leading a series of stakeholder interviews for my project, then running to a meeting at the Mayor’s Office to scope out a potential new project.  I’ll spend the afternoon working with my analysts to develop a financial model assessing impact in underserved communities, then I’ll update my Partner on the work plan for a new project we’re starting.  Finally, I’ll spend time reconnecting with my old Deloitte colleagues to identify opportunities to bring them in as a “pro bono” team to support one of our projects.

Stephanie with Ross alumni in Minneapolis. The Ross alumni network has been a big part of her career trajectory.

I love what I do at CCA because it leverages the skills and expertise I honed in the private sector to make a difference in the social sector.

Do you have any advice for students aiming to make a career in the social sector? 

For students aiming to make a career in the social sector, I have a few pieces of advice:

  • Take advantage of social impact opportunities at Ross – there is nothing like hands-on experience in this space, whether it’s through MAP, Community Consulting Club or the Detroit Revitalization and Business Initiative, the Social Venture Fund, or a Center for Social Impact summer internship!
  • Network, network, network! People are in the social impact field because they are passionate about making a positive change. They are happy (and eager!) to talk to people about the work they do, and their path to this role.
  • Be patient – A lot of social sector recruiting happens on a “just in time” basis – which means you may be looking for summer internships and/or full-time jobs in April / May.
  • Stay engaged – Even if you don’t go into the social sector right after Ross (I’m a prime example!), stay involved in your community through junior boards, volunteer work, and coffee chats with individuals who work in the space. It’ll help keep you current on the challenges facing your community and will keep you motivated to make a difference.

Civic Consulting Alliance will be accepting applications for their Summer Associate position in early winter term. In the meantime, students interested in learning more about this opportunity should contact the Center for Social Impact at socialimpact@umich.edu to be connected with Stephanie.

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