At Mission Capital, we have an incredible team of knowledgeable and talented consultants who work in partnership with our social sector to strengthen organizations and multiply impact. This summer, we’ve launched our Meet the Consultants Blog Series to introduce you to the hard-working individuals behind the curtain that invest so much of their time, both personally and professionally, in the well-being of our Central Texas community. Next up, Senior Consultant, Carla Denison-Bickett!
What did you do before joining Mission Capital?
I spent eight years at Cara, a workforce development organization in Chicago as CFO. In that role, I was part of a team that started three new social enterprises, and saw them through their phases of development. This was essentially where I got my introduction to earned revenue that laid the groundwork for what I do now at Mission Capital. Before that, I was in the financial services industry for 15 years, providing financial and administrative oversight for various investment management firms.
Why did you join Mission Capital?
I actually stalked Mission Capital (not kidding), and wanted to use my experience from previous social enterprises to empower nonprofits to grow their impact. I learned so much at Cara about the intersection of earned revenue and nonprofits, and strive to pass that knowledge along – especially knowledge of things that didn’t work (and trust me, I know a thing or two about unsuccessful social ventures!). Let’s make new mistakes together, and not repeat mistakes already made.
I was also excited about the opportunity to expand from serving just one organization, broadening the scope of who could benefit from my expertise. I came on as an affiliate to help Mission Capital leadership build out the earned revenue consulting line, and then was given the opportunity to join the organization. Happy day for me!
As you mentioned, your expertise is clearly in earned revenue and finance management. How did you cultivate your skills in those two areas?
Originally, I studied accounting in college and graduated with a degree in that area. After graduation, I found myself in a controller role at Lincoln Capital Management, a boutique investment management firm in Chicago, and was challenged to grow in other aspects of my role to support and strengthen the organization. During this time, I also pursued my MBA at the Booth School of Business to enhance my accounting and management skills. Eventually, through an acquisition, I landed at Lehman Brothers and when it went under, I reassessed what I wanted to do next and considered a move into the nonprofit sector. I took that leap and was lucky enough to land at Cara. My biggest takeaway from my professional experience has been that it’s fascinating to work with different organizations, understanding how behaviors and structure can truly make or break that organization.
What do find rewarding about your work with nonprofit organization?
There are so many things, but I think the most exciting is when you’re working with an organization on a project and a “lightbulb” moment happens. From what we’re working on, something bubbles up that can be a game-changer for the organization’s impact, and the individual is re-energized and excited about what this “lightbulb” moment means for their mission. Coming back to those lightbulb moments motivates me, keeping me grounded in why I do what I do.
What’s your favorite Mission Capital memory or accomplishment?
My favorite accomplishment by far was developing the Revenue Generator Intensive. It was a dream of mine to give organizations the opportunity to work on an earned revenue idea and define its strengths and weaknesses before cultivating it to launch. At Cara, one of the social enterprises didn’t make it. Throughout that process, I learned so many things that we should’ve done differently. That failure motivates me to help people learn from mistakes that have been made, so they can skip that step, so to speak, and take their earned revenue offering across the finish line. It was such a proud moment for me during the validation phase of the Revenue Generator to see my brainchild be so useful to other organizations, and knowing that all my hard work was not going to end up on a shelf – it was going to be used to transform the lives of Central Texans.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I enjoy traveling, nature and hanging with my husband, son and dog. I’m currently working on visiting all 50 states, and have 16 states to go. Right after my dad passed in 2012, I decided to take on this endeavor, and start with a clean slate, even if I had already visited a state. My goal was to do it in five years, but now I’m just set on doing it. I’ll go to a state for a day and spend a night, and go on a food tour or a local museum tour, something like that. Whatever it is, I set out to do something unique to the state. It’s been cool to discover new things across the country, and seek out new experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
What are you planning on bringing to the next Mission Capital pot luck?
My husband is a wonderful cook, and I always love sharing what he comes up with. So, keeping that in mind, I would probably bring something homemade by my husband, like his great-grandmother’s raisin bread.