The Best Gig Out There: Social Entrepreneur and Non-Profit Director Simone N. Sneed

Simone N Sneed
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What appeals to most people about working for a non-profit? Generally, it’s passion, dedication to the organization’s mission, and a driving desire to make a difference. Simone N. Sneed, a graduate from University at Albany with a B.A. Sociology/Africana Studies, has no shortage of passion, and that’s evidenced by her amazing ability to simultaneously manage two careers. By day, she’s Director of Development and External Affairs for Inwood House, a non-profit working to create pathways out of poverty for vulnerable teens in New York City. She’s also the CEO of Catching Brilliance, a start-up social enterprise that is working to create a world where women and girls can thrive.

We catch up with Simone to learn more about how she juggles it all, what it takes to succeed in the world of non-profits, and how you can apply to concept of “intrapreneurship” to whatever you’re doing currently.

What is your role with Inwood House? How much of your time do you devote to your duties there and how much do you spend on your own company, Catching Brilliance?

At Inwood House, I’m the Director of Development and External Affairs. I devote myself to the work 40 hours a week and often a few extra as my role is focused on relationship-building, which includes a fair amount of one-on-one meetings outside of traditional work hours. In my role at Inwood House, I manage a three-person team and we collectively manage all institutional relationships, branding, and storytelling in an effort to raise the private funding we need to support and expand our impact.

Like most people who run a start-up social enterprise, I work on Catching Brilliance in any and—for the most part—every minute of free time I have. I write articles for various websites very early in the morning and after work spend my time working with the Catching Brilliance team to complete all the tasks for a new initiative that launches in January 2014.

What is a typical day like on the job for you?

I’ve worked very hard to create a life that is intentional and efficient. My daily schedule looks something like this:

5:15 a.m. Wake up

5:45 a.m. Train to gym

6:45–9 a.m. Work out and write/edit articles for Levo League/Huffington Post/ShimmerTeen/etc.

9:30 a.m. Arrive at work

10 a.m. Daily morning 15-minute team meeting

10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Emails to board members, event performance analysis, foundation proposal review, executive team meeting, phone calls with individuals looking to make in-kind donations or volunteer

12:30–1:30 p.m. Lunch. Can be food from home or networking lunch for CB or IH

1:45–5:30 p.m. One-on-one team meetings, more and more emails, catching up on news, reviewing Google alerts for Inwood House, etc.

5:30–6:30 p.m. Travel

6:30–8:30 p.m. After work, networking or Catching Brilliance work in my home office, drawing out strategy on my chalkboard wall, writing articles, pitching new media sources, reading a management book, etc.

9:00–10:00 p.m. Winding down time, Netflix, journaling, talking on the phone with family and friends

10:30 p.m. Five-minute meditation, sleep

What are your favorite aspects of your job? What are the things you would change if you could?

In my role at Inwood House, I love supporting my Executive Team colleagues in helping them to think through strategies and solutions for the challenges that come up in our work. Like most folks who work at a non-profit, I think that the non-profit complex needs to evolve and rapidly.

Our processes as a sector are antiquated and inefficient and often lead to reduced outcomes for our clients and unhealthy work environments for our staff. I’m fortunate in that my Executive Director is supportive of innovation and I have the space I need to try new things, different management techniques, and really come to my work whole and authentic.

In my role as a social entrepreneur, hands down, it’s the best gig out there. I’m having a great time with the work that I get to do through Catching Brilliance and as we prepare to launch a multi-platform Gen Y women’s empowerment initiative. I’ve never been more proud or fulfilled.

What did you study in college? How does your major relate to your current position?

When I was 16, I was accepted to Cornell for a degree in Biology. I had dreams of becoming an orthopedic surgeon; however that wasn’t the path that I took. I ended up enrolling at the University at Albany and after my first semester, switched from Biology to Sociology with a focus on race, class, and gender. Sociology is the study of people. That knowledge base, along with the graduate courses I’ve taken in public policy and administration, provided me with a unique and valuable knowledge base for the work I do in my life now.

How would you describe working in a non-profit? If you have experience working in other types of organizations, what are some differences you’ve observed?

I’ve worked in the non-profit sector for my entire career. When I launched my company, Catching Brilliance, in November 2011, I saw it as an opportunity to build something different, a social impact organization that wouldn’t be reliant in part or in whole on charitable donations. The challenge about working in the non-profit sector, and mind you I’ve worked in advocacy organizations, foundations, government, and direct service institutions, is that you rarely have a moment to pause and look around, analyze what the best course of action is, and have access to the resources to do what you believe to be best.

The frustration of the sector isn’t something I’ve experienced independently; collectively everyone I know in the sector is looking to build something different and that makes me hopeful. That said, it’s going to take those of us in the sector and those looking to work in the sector being bold, courageous, and taking real positions of leadership to shift the way our social impact work is getting done. I do believe that social entrepreneurship along with intrapeneurship (working as a catalyst inside an existing institution) are the path towards our evolution as a sector.

What advice would you give to college students who are interested in working in your field?

I’d give college students looking to get into the sector one piece of advice: Take the time to understand the impact you’re looking to have and then figure out what your best asset is. Often times, people come into the sector because they are passionate. That’s great, however passion won’t be enough when you’re trying to run a program that is under-funded, in a community that really needs you, with a board of directors who cares but can’t be there every day. In those instances, you need skill.

So, take the time to get a finance degree, an MBA, learn to fundraise, become an excellent human resources director, etc. Non-profit administration, evaluation, program development, direct service expertise, etc. are critically needed skills. Get them, and then come on in and help us change the world.

You’re a frequent blog contributor and public speaker. Which issues are most important to you and why?

I believe in my heart of hearts that a world where women and girls can thrive is possible. However, I also believe that to get there, women and girls need practical strategies to access and leverage their full potential. I apply that belief to individuals and also to institutions.

Simone N. Sneed is a social entrepreneur and advocate for women and girls. She is dedicated to increasing the capacity of individual women and girls and the institutions that support them. She is the Director of Development & External Affairs at Inwood House and the Founder & CEO of Catching Brilliance.

You can follow her on Twitter @catchbrilliance or visit her at www.simonensneed.com.

Photo courtesy of Simone N. Sneed

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