Building and scaling a nonprofit at Kellogg

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By Joe Verde

It took just a few days in Evanston to realize my path to Kellogg was unique, and so were those of each of my 491 classmates. Everyone has a story, and at Kellogg, I’ve learned to embrace mine and welcome others.

My single mother always instilled the merits of discipline in me and my brother Ralph and routinely preached the importance of education as our “saving grace.” She never juggled fewer than three jobs at a time to support our home, which meant that whenever I needed guidance, I turned to Ralph, who ultimately became the father figure I never had.Joe_Verde

Tragedy struck my family when Ralph was diagnosed with, and later passed away from brain cancer while I was in college — all within the span of 10 months. He was only 23. An aspiring lawyer at Yale, my brother had a mission to serve the public’s interest. It was a dream that simply vanished. Inspired by Ralph’s unfulfilled aspirations and support from the community, I decided to turn negative thoughts into positive action by starting a nonprofit in Ralph’s honor. 

This past February marked the fourth annual scholarship for the Ralph Verde Foundation (RVF), which provides educational and financial resources to underprivileged high school students. The organization has grown to an operating budget of almost $100,000 and a team of seven board members and seven committee directors.

Initially, RVF’s mission wasn’t met with such success – I wasn’t familiar with the challenges associated with starting a sustainable and successful nonprofit. In order to succeed, I worked with numerous community organizations and executive directors to learn the essentials of developing a social mission.

Since coming to Kellogg, I have been able to apply classroom knowledge to help RVF succeed in a crowded philanthropic space where donations are hard to come by.

I have learned that an organization’s mission must be more than just inspirational, but also differentiated. (You’ll learn more about this in your Kellogg strategy courses.)

Currently, my board is recalibrating RVF’s marketing plan to better define who our target donors are because a well-defined segment leads to less costly and less time-consuming outreach efforts. (You’ll learn about this and a lot more if you take Kellogg marketing classes.) Before, we targeted local community members for small donations, but now, we have a well-rounded plan to solicit donations from patrons who have deeper connections to the organization’s vision.

I have also learned how to bundle items in order to increase the proceeds from our charity auction raffles (thanks to Kellogg economics courses).

Kellogg has refined my leadership, problem framing and critical thinking skills beyond just these three key learnings; what I’ve learned will enable me to solve the multifaceted challenges facing the social and private sectors.

I came to Kellogg to better understand the challenges surrounding the social sector, and Kellogg’s emerging social impact programming has provided me a plentitude of opportunities. Through the Kellogg Impact Consulting Club, I, alongside a team of five first-year students, worked with a Chicagoland Catholic school to develop a new marketing strategy to increase enrollment applications. Concurrently, I mentored a team of Northwestern University undergraduates who were tasked in diversifying the income stream of a local museum.

These projects, along with several others, have enabled me to apply my business acumen to mission-driven organizations.

Furthermore, serving on the Kellogg Net Impact Club’s board has connected me to peers who have similar social sector interests and valuable insights for growing my nonprofit. Our chapter has recently been nominated for Net Impact’s Chapter of the Year Award, which truly speaks to the leadership of our organization.

My brother’s passing opened my eyes to the nonprofit industry and not only changed the way I see the world, but also the way I want to shape it. I want to continue to impact organizations that further the dreams of students who, like me, come from broken homes and unconventional backgrounds. And Kellogg has given me the necessary tools to achieve these aspirations.

Giuseppe (Joe) Verde is a second-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year Program. This summer, he is working as an MBA Summer Associate at Delta Air Lines.

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