Joanne Sonenshine

I move fast. I act fast. I don’t like to waste time. I am often doing 10 things at one time. I love working this way, or else I get bored. This keeps me super productive and I can tackle many projects at once.”


Joanne Sonenshine is Founder + CEO of Connective Impact, an advisory firm aiding NGOs, corporations and government agencies in partnership strategy and fundraising diversification to address social, environmental and economic development challenges through collaboration. Joanne is a trained development economist and has been living and working in the Washington, D.C. area since 2004. Her professional experiences have included working at the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Association, as a registered lobbyist advocating for more comprehensive environmental sustainability regulations, and as a program director for a large international NGO working on climate change, land use, sustainable sourcing and agriculture investments. Joanne’s book, ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact, documents how to overcome fear, uncertainty and risk aversion to seek fulfillment in one’s life, and truly make a difference. It includes stories from corporate and NGO leaders who have made significant course corrections to find a sense of meaning and fulfillment. The book also documents Joanne’s journey from investment banking to owning her own development consultancy, and the lessons learned by veering in different career directions along the way. Joanne serves on the board of Emerging Leaders, an Oxford, UK based NGO training leaders in vulnerable communities throughout the world. Joanne lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband and two boys.

Where did the idea for Connective Impact come from?

I am an economist, and my background is pretty multifaceted. I have worked for the government, as a lobbyist, and for a large international nonprofit. All along I saw the power in collaboration and worked to promote effective partnerships in each position I held. When I was ready to leave a more structured work environment and go out on my own, I knew that helping make a difference, and solving some of our global challenges through partnerships would propel me to push ahead. I created a partnering methodology for companies and organizations of all sizes to use in addressing their biggest, most pressing programs. I have always wanted to promote those doing the best work to affect change, and connecting organizations and their innovative leaders is a way to do that

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Since we have two kids (ages 6 and 8) I start my day making them breakfast and getting them to school. I make a really good cup of hot coffee, sit down at my home office desk and work virtually nonstsop until 3pm when I pick my kids up from school. We then have various activities, dinner as a family, and then I often go back to my desk and work after kids are in bed. My day is usually a mix of phone calls, emails and virtual client meetings, where I am working to find the best partnership opportunities for my clients. I do partnership facilitation, as well, so once or twice a week I am in the city in my clients’ offices, or traveling to engage in partnership meetings or strategy sessions. Most of the work I do is around international development, so travel overseas several times a year. Tracking social media a big priority for me too, since it allows me to read up on development trends, find opportunities for my client, engage in business development, and stay up to date on the latest news. I am a serial multi-tasker, for better or worse.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Once I have a new idea I tend to act pretty quickly. I often test a new idea with a trusted colleague, or just put it out in the world and see what happens. I am more of a ‘do it now, apologize for it later’ kind of person. I like to move fast so if something doesn’t work, I want to know quickly so I can make any changes needed.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I am reading a lot about video as a mechanism for education, information share and marketing. I am trying to shift my services so they can be more nimble and available to anyone, utilizing videos and online course tools.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I move fast. I act fast. I don’t like to waste time. I am often doing 10 things at one time. I love working this way, or else I get bored. This keeps me super productive and I can tackle many projects at once.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I write about this in my book, ChangeSeekers, but I wish I had not been so hard on myself as I was seeking a fulfilling career, and kept changing job functions, and was never satisfied. I often thought there was something wrong with me, but I realized later on in life that I needed to be in my own function, working for myself, and doing things my way. There is nothing wrong with that, and I have been able to achieve much more by trusting my instincts and pushing ahead than waiting to find the ‘perfect’ job.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

It’s ok to work all the time. If it’s a passion, it’s not work people! People shake their heads when they learn how much I am on my computer, responding to emails, reading social media and learning new things. I LOVE what I do so for me, it’s really enjoyable to be working and building this company of mine. My friends and family think I work too much, in some cases, but I wish I could do more!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Devour social media. All of it. But especially Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn for my business.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

I am still growing my business (and hope that I always am, or else it won’t be nearly as fun or rewarding.) That said, I have encapsulated our methodology into 6-simple steps that helps me explain how I work with clients. I’ve recently condensed these into videos so we can reach more organizations. My hope is that there will be no more excuses for companies, NGOs, foundations and even governments to find effective partnerships and be more impactful!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I’m still working to overcome some failures, but pricing is a HUGE challenge for me. I’m told I don’t charge enough, but am fearful of over-charging, especially since I work with so many nonprofits. I’ve learned to create a set price for the work we do, and can negotiate if needed. Being an advisor working for myself makes me vulnerable in a lot of ways to financial uncertainty, so it’s stressful to figure out the right pricing model that works for everyone involved.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Because I work from home, I am the default greeter for all service companies (heating/cooling, plumbing, etc) so when something goes wrong, or if we are having work done to our house, I have to take time away from my work to manage that. I’d LOVE an easy way to have someone manage all of that for our household. I’d pay someone to get the paint quotes for us and make a decision, or talk to the roofer about our roofing options. There has to be a business somewhere there. If it exists, someone please tell me!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best money spent is on giving to others. I just spent $500 on a donation to a climate change cause I care about because without each of us doing our part, our planet may implode. Scary but not too far off.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

I use Wave for accounting and find it very user friendly. It helps me keep track of my finances and stay on top of any payments that haven’t come in, or expenses that are getting too out of control.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Is it fair to me to plug my own? ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact is for anyone looking for a quick, inspiring read as they think about their next steps in a career or personal life. I’ve been told it really does make you question where you are headed, in a good way!

What is your favorite quote?

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader…” by John Quincy Adams. I have it on the frontpage of my website.

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