What do you want to see different in the world?
This is a question Matt Zieger would ask prospective hires when he was leading the Team Pennsylvania Foundation, a private nonprofit organization that works closely with state government and business to improve the state's economy.
Zieger left the role as president and CEO at the end of January to start Harrisburg-based Percapita LLC, a for-profit consultancy that leverages his experience of bringing the government together with for-profit corporations and nonprofits.
The goal of the firm and his own answer to that question: To see leaders of organizations remember that they have a purpose of bettering the community.
"There is actually a larger mission," Zieger said. "It can be a shared mission."
Zieger sat down last week with the Business Journal to discuss his new business venture and the growing importance of cross-sector collaboration.
Q: Your LinkedIn page describes Percapita LLC as a "mission-driven consultancy focused on building strategic capacity in nonprofits, foundations and corporate philanthropies to help them achieve greater good." What does that mean?
A: I help nonprofits expand the scale of their impact, sustainably.
I really try to dive in and fully understand the missions and aspirations of my clients. I'm choosing a limited number to take on at any one time and then helping them tackle their challenges with innovation, cross-sector collaboration, iterative strategic planning and nontraditional financing, like social impact bonds or other nontraditional business models.
What is the geographic area you will serve, and what projects or partners are you working with to start out?
I love Pennsylvania, so that's my primary focus. Right now, I'm working with an incredible team of leaders at the Forbes Funds in Pittsburgh, helping to launch the nation's first large-scale, health-care-focused social impact bond, which will provide better and more cost-effective health care to more than 10,000 people living at or below the poverty line.
I'm also working with the Pennsylvania Economy League to rebuild a statewide research organization to provide policymakers access to truly nonpartisan and data-driven recommendations and analysis, a very sought-after commodity these days.
Other clients I'm just starting with are the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership, and a few others in the areas of impact investing, nonprofit technical assistance for advanced manufacturers and innovative corporate philanthropy.
What is the biggest reason you left the Team Pennsylvania Foundation? How is this small business an extension of that work?
After almost nine years of being at the foundation, I realized that I had accomplished what I set out to do for Team PA, which was to help build up the foundation into a truly sustainable public-private partnership.
During the time I was CEO, we brought in an amazing team of staff leaders, doubled the foundation's assets, built an endowment from less than $1 million to $7-plus million, doubled the investor base, greatly raised the profile of its work and, most importantly, expanded its capacity to advance its mission over the long term.
Percapita is based on what I saw during that time as a recurring opportunity among the many incredible partners I had the chance to work with at Team PA. Mainly, the continually strained capacity of so many nonprofits and governments, while, at the same time, a large and quickly growing group of private-sector leaders that measure their success in much more than just profit. (In other words), triple bottom line, benefit (corporations) or impact investing.
I have learned so much from so many great leaders.
The most valuable lesson I've learned (is) the most important work in this world gets done quietly and often behind the scenes by people and organizations that routinely and consistently learn to do two things well. (They) challenge the status quo and collaborate across sectors, across aisles and across borders.
What is the biggest challenge you face as an "on-demand executive," which is your description of your new role?
Quickly learning the nuances of the cultures of new organizations when you're not in their office every day. My goal is to be a consistent team member and resource to the leadership of the organizations I'm working within, and that is largely a business based on trust and day-to-day relationships within the office.
How are the business models of nonprofits, governments and for-profit corporations evolving, and what makes companies like yours vital to their success in the markets that they serve?
Over the last 15 years, every sector has gone through nothing short of a full-on disruption. Government capacity has been weakened at all levels by a perfect storm of swelling legacy costs, diminished tax revenue and short-sighted politics. The private sector who initially thought a globalized economy meant location had less value has now come full circle to realize that their location — their community — is hyper-valuable.
When margins shrink and markets become hyper-competitive and global, the employee-employer relationship and internal innovation capacity is where companies thrive or die. Meanwhile, the nonprofit sector, which has increasingly been called on to fill the void left by diminished social structures and governments, finds their business models of living on public grants or high-dollar philanthropy are no longer sustainable.
Like Winston Churchill said: 'Gentlemen, we have run out of money. Now we must think.'
We are going through a great deleveraging of all sectors that is forcing all leaders to rethink the very foundation of how they run their organizations and to rebuild them more sustainably, more transparently and more collaboratively.
My primary goal is to help those leaders that desire to lead their industry in making that transition.
More on Matt Zieger
Matt Zieger, 34, lives in Harrisburg with his wife, Lisa, and their two boys, Eliot and Andrew.
He graduated from Messiah College in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Before starting his own business, Zieger was the president and CEO of the Team Pennsylvania Foundation, the commonwealth’s nonprofit economic development arm. He began his career in 2001 as a site selection specialist at the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp.