Are you recruiting for consulting jobs and wondering how to incorporate a focus on social impact into your career? Social impact consulting is an excellent way to be involved in a social mission while also developing a highly respected consulting skillset.
There are specialized firms, as well as practices at some larger generalist firms, that specifically work on social impact projects and provide great career opportunities for those who want to make a positive difference in this world.
In this article, we will talk about:
- An overview of social impact consulting: definition, key characteristics, and how it differs from traditional consulting
- Examples of social impact consulting firms
- Tips on how to pursue this career, including how to apply and ace the case interview
- Potential exit opportunities for social impact consultants
Let’s get started!
An Overview of Social Impact Consulting
What Is Social Impact Consulting?
Social impact consulting firms help mission-driven organizations increase their positive impact on the world.
These consultants prioritize creating measurable impact above traditional success metrics, such as profit, but also recognize the importance of financial sustainability for long-term impact. For example, a social impact consultant would solve for how a new product can improve a low-income consumer’s quality of life, considering a reasonable return on investment, rather than optimizing for the product with the highest profit margins.
Social impact clients are in the public, private, or philanthropic sectors and seek strategic advice that helps them achieve their mission-driven goals. Examples of clients are non-profits, family foundations, governments, investment funds, and even some corporations.
Social impact consulting projects can cover a wide range of topics, including economic development, global health, food systems, climate risk, sustainable investing and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). Some examples of projects include:
- Developing a strategy for a government to improve the quality of education for millions of students in a developing country
- Advising a private equity firm on how to deploy capital for their new social impact investing fund
- Helping a non-profit with transformation and change management projects aimed at increasing access to healthcare and improving patient equity
Now that we have a better understanding of social impact consulting, let’s examine how it differs from traditional consulting.
Similarities and Differences Between Social Impact Consulting and Traditional Consulting
If you’re interested in learning more about social impact consulting, you may already have a good understanding of management or strategy consulting. If you want more information on traditional consulting, read our deep dive on What is Consulting?
Let’s outline the key similarities and differences between social impact consulting and traditional consulting:
For more information on salaries and career trajectories, see our article on Management Consulting Salaries.
Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 89.6% of our clients pass the case interview.
Key Social Impact Consulting Firms
When exploring a career in social impact consulting, it is important to understand the types of firms that offer this practice and their areas of specialization.
There are 3 types of firms:
- Broad social impact consulting firms are usually global and have expertise in a range of social impact topics.
- Specialist social impact consulting firms focus on a particular subtopic within social impact, such as international development consulting, or a specific strategic function, such as fundraising strategy.
- Generalist firms with social impact practices are traditional management or strategy consulting firms with a dedicated social impact division.
Examples of Broad Social Impact Consulting Firms
FSG is a global social impact consulting firm that helps non-profits, non-governmental organizations, and foundations develop and evaluate strategies to advance their missions. It also helps public and private corporations to design social impact strategies that strengthen their business.
FSG was founded in 2000 by Mark Kramer and a Harvard Business School Professor, Michael E. Porter.
The Bridgespan Group
The Bridgespan Group is another global social impact consulting firm that works on a variety of social impact topics. Bridegspan offers strategy consulting, diligence on potential grantees, and leadership team advisory to its clients, who include non-profits, philanthropists, governments, and corporations.
The company is a non-profit firm that was founded by two former Bain & Company senior consultants in 2000. As a result of this founding relationship, Bain management consultants who are interested in social impact consulting can apply for a six-month externship at Bridgespan.
Examples of Specialist Social Impact Consulting Firms
Dalberg is a global firm that specializes in international development consulting, and works with governments, foundations, and businesses. It provides advisory services, design thinking, data insights, and policy analysis on topics such as economic growth, education, and health.
Dalberg was founded in 2000 and operates from 30 locations around the world.
Social Impact is a management consulting firm that specializes in global development and aims to advance development effectiveness through consulting, technical assistance and training services for aid agencies, non-government organizations, and governments. The company’s mission is to reduce poverty, improve health, foster economic growth, and protect the environment.
Based in New York, the Whelan Group is a firm that exclusively serves non-profit organizations in education, community development, arts & culture, and social services. Since 1980, the company has helped its clients fundraise over $1 billion through strategic projects, such as launching new programs and cultivating new audiences.
Examples of Generalist Firms with Social Impact Practices
Working for a generalist consulting firm that has a practice focused on social impact has some pros and cons. You may have more opportunities to transition to other types of consulting within the firm or internal roles, and you will benefit from the high investment these firms make in their employees’ professional development. You also will likely be compensated more in your role than similar work at specialized firms.
However, it is important to note the downsides. Although you will work less than those in the traditional consulting arm, the hours are still longer than the average “9 to 5” job. You will likely work up to 50 hours, depending on the project. You will receive less compensation than comparable levels in traditional consulting at the same company.
Let’s look at examples of these generalist firms.
McKinsey Public and Social Sector Consulting
At McKinsey, social impact consultants work with the social sector and government organizations to improve economic progress and wellbeing. McKinsey focuses on projects that can impact the lives and livelihoods of millions worldwide. The company has completed over 5400 social impact projects to date, helped over 105 countries, and served over 375 government agencies.
BCG Social Impact and Sustainability
BCG’s social impact arm helps its clients make positive economic, environmental, and societal impact through ways that are also profitable in the long term. Their approach involves strategic partnerships that align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. In 2021, BCG completed ~1300 social impact cases globally, including pro-bono work and volunteer projects, with $320 million invested in social impact initiatives.
Accenture Development Partners
Accenture has a social impact practice that includes its Social Innovators Accelerator program. Like accelerators for venture capital startups, Accenture’s accelerator tubrocharges teams working to design, create, and launch social impact solutions. The practice’s work includes projects with the Red Cross, the Cerebal Palsy Alliance, and efforts to keep kids from dropping out of school before graduation.
Deloitte Global Social Impact Consulting
Deloitte’s practice focuses on issues related to health and wellbeing, energy and the environment, opportunity and accessibility, and societal resilience. They work with clients in public, private, and social sectors globally.
Now that you’re familiar with the general types of social impact consulting firms, you may want to check out our comprehensive list of social impact consulting companies, which includes links to their job boards and Glassdoor employee reviews. This database can be a useful resource for searching and discovering social impact firms that may interest you.
How to Recruit into Social Impact Consulting
What to Consider when Applying
To increase your chances of landing your dream social impact consulting job, make your application stand out by highlighting your analytical, problem-solving, strategic thinking, and communication skills, as well as your specific passion for social impact.
Here’s what to think about:
- Relevant experience: Firms look for relevant work, internships, or volunteering experience. While you don’t need to have a background in consulting, experience that shows you can work effectively on a team solving a tough problem will help you stand out.
- Demonstrated passion: Be prepared to talk about your passion for social impact. Firms want candidates who share similar values and are committed to making a difference. This could be a history of volunteering, a relevant thesis or independent project, or a personal story that brings you unique insight into a social issue.
- Education: Social impact consulting firms typically prefer a degree such as business, healthcare, or public policy, but as with any consulting firm, with the right preparation you can be competitive no matter your major.
- List of target firms: Consider what type of firm you want to apply to (specialist vs. generalist). Some candidates start their career in traditional consulting to gain broader experience before moving internally into the social impact practice. Some firms also have occasional pro bono opportunities.
However, if you have a weaker part of your application, highlight other strengths to balance it. For example, if you have a degree in Computer Science and limited work experience, demonstrate your passion for social impact through volunteering and explain how your analytical skills can be applied to this field.
By considering these factors and taking steps to improve your chances, you can increase the likelihood of landing an interview. We have resources on how to write a good consulting consulting cover letter and resume.
Passing the Social Impact Case Interview
To excel in social impact case interviews, you will use the same case-solving skills as traditional consulting. The main difference is that the ultimate objective of these cases is to maximize impact, which is evaluated using various metrics depending on the desired result. It’s important to ask your interviewer what metric the client is targeting in a social impact case, just as you would in a traditional consulting case.
To effectively prepare for these cases, seek mock interviews with people with expertise in impact-driven approaches.
Let’s look at a case example. Your client, a philanthropic foundation, wants your help on how to decide where to allocate their budget to address the most pressing and impactful public issues. To solve this, you’ll evaluate different opportunities based on criteria, such as the number of lives impacted, the geographic scope, and financial sustainability. You will perform quantitative analysis to assess program costs and to identify ways to reduce costs or to increase impact per dollar. Ultimately, you should recommend the opportunity with the highest potential for impact and include suggestions for the next steps to determine feasibility.
Other examples of case topics include:
- How can a non-profit organization increase the number of blood donors?
- How can an environmental group increase public education on sustainable vs. unsustainable food sources?
- How can a national non-profit improve student success at community colleges?
For more interview resources, we have Our Ultimate Guide to Case Interview Prep.
Exit Opportunities After Working at a Social Impact Consulting Firm
After you have spent a few years working at a social impact consulting firm, you have several options for where to take your career next. One option is to continue working at your current firm, striving to move up the ranks and eventually becoming a Partner. Another option is to explore various exit opportunities and pursue a different path that aligns with your skills, goals, and interests.
Some potential exit opportunities include:
- Moving to a different social impact consulting firm that focuses on the area of social impact you are most passionate about or that operates in a geography you prefer
- Working in leadership at a non-profit organization or social enterprise, strategizing and implementing social impact initiatives
- Joining the corporate social responsibility team at a for-profit company and working on initiatives to drive social and environmental impact
- Working at a foundation or impact investment fund to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact, potentially alongside a financial return
- Advising a public sector organization, such as a government agency or a multilateral organization, on policies and programs
- Pursuing a graduate degree in a relevant field to gain additional expertise and credentials, such as public policy, social justice, international development, or business
- Becoming an independent social impact consultant or advisor to companies, carving out a niche expertise or type of client
Overall, social impact consulting is a rewarding career that gives you the skills and knowledge to make the world a better place.
In this article, we’ve covered:
- An overview of social impact consulting: what is it and how it differs from traditional strategy consulting
- Examples of social impact consulting firms, both specialist firms and generalist firms
- How to recruit into social impact consulting, including what makes a successful application and interview
- Common exit opportunities after working at a social impact consulting firm
Still have questions?
If you have more questions about social impact consulting, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.
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