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Young execs and nonprofits connect at Engine for Social Innovation

Getting young professionals involved in philanthropy is crucial to the health of nonprofits, but often, there's little or no training for how to function on a board of directors, or contribute to a larger mission.
Engine for Social Innovation intends to change that situation.
The startup, founded by local entrepreneur Jim Delaney, draws on his experience working in the for-profit corporate world and participating in nonprofit organizations as a board member for groups like the YMCA. While serving, he began to see a gap between savvy professionals and organizations that could use their skills.
"I had smart friends who wanted to be helpful and make a difference, and at the same time, I saw nonprofits that needed that kind of talent," he says. "But for some reason, there wasn't a solid mechanism for bringing those two groups together." After a pilot project at the YMCA, followed by an Executive Director stint at Free Arts Minnesota, Delaney decided to create Engine in 2010 to fill the gap.
The program features an extensive training curriculum using a cohort model. Corporations send their top candidates to Engine, where they are put in a team of four to five people, with three teams running at a time. The teams work on the type of skills needed to thrive in environments of ambiguity, Delaney notes. At the same time, nonprofits participating in the program determine their strategic needs and benefit from the team-based approach to addressing them.
Companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Thrivent have sent participants through the program, and nonprofit clients have included GiveMN.org, Finnegan's Foundation, and Minnesota Jaycees. Currently, Delaney is developing a program for Engine alums to do a global exchange where they can work overseas for two weeks with a social enterprise.
With the expertise available at Engine for Social Innovation, it's likely that the gap between talented young professionals and nonprofits will close up quickly.
Source: Jim Delaney, Engine for Social Innovation
Writer: Elizabeth Millard
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