THE BRIDGESPAN GROUP INTERVIEWS & CULTURE
Today we continue our firm profile series with an in-depth review of The Bridgespan Group. Founded in Boston, MA, and containing the heart and DNA of consulting industry giant Bain & Company, Bridgespan is the key non-profit consulting firm in today’s consulting industry.
THE BRIDGESPAN GROUP KEY STATS
Bridgespan Website: www.bridgespan.org
Bridgespan Headquarters: Boston, MA
Bridgespan Employees: 150+ Consultants
Bridgespan Locations: 4 offices (3 in U.S., 1 in India)
Bridgespan Chief Executive: Jeffery L. Bradach
Bridgespan Revenue: $37M
Bridgespan Engagement Cost: $350K
THE BRIDGESPAN GROUP HISTORY
Bridgespan is the offspring of none other than consulting industry giant Bain & Company. The firm was birthed out of Bain’s desire to expand its support of nonprofits.
The founding story goes like this: Bain consultant Thomas Tierney had an active involvement in non-profit work since the early 1980s and because of this, when he became worldwide director of Bain, he started focusing his personal attention on consulting for charities which led to the completion of 3 Bain studies between 1995 and 1998 about the market for nonprofit consulting.
As a result of the studies that the small team conducted, the proposition was put forth that Bain establish a non-profit practice area which was considered but ultimately rejected. After the rejection, Tierney pitched the idea of creating an alliance with Bain that would be independent. Bain accepted and blessed the creation of Bridgespan with a $1M grant for the first 3 years in addition to administrative support and several loaned Bain employees.
Former Bain Consultant and business professor Jeff Bradach became a co-founder in 1996 and another former Bain Consultant Paul Cartar jumped on board as an original member in 1998. Tierney came on board as the third co-founder in 1999 and stepped aside as Bain’s CEO in 2000 to focus on Bridgespan.
- In 2000, the group launched its first website, www.bridgespan.org, and started operations from a Boston-based office. By the fall of that year, the organization had 27 employees and had already opened an additional office in San Francisco. Their services emphasized analytical consulting.
- In 2003, Bridgespan created the “Bridgestar” initiative to focus on leadership development and to help professionals transition into nonprofit careers. The Bridgestar.org site merged with Bridgespan.org in 2012.
- In 2005, it received 1,700 applications for 18 positions and turned down 90% of client approaches.
- In 2008, the firm redesigned its website in an attempt to provide better knowledge transfer.
THE BRIDGESPAN GROUP ORGANIZATION
Bridgespan has a board of 11 distinguished trustees whose backgrounds include both the for-profit and non-profit sectors, two of them being Thomas Tierney, Cofounder & Chairman, and Bob Bechek, Worldwide Managing Director of Bain & Company.
Additionally, Bridgespan also has a Knowledge Advisory Board from which it draws insight and experience to ensure that its research and publishing efforts are guided by a clear understanding of the nonprofit sector. The Bridgespan advisors are a group of recognized leaders from nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, and academic institutions, all whom share the firm’s passion for accelerating impact in the social sector.
Bridgespan is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that primarily serves the nonprofit and philanthropic sector.
Bridgespan has 4 key capabilities. Most are directed towards assisting and aiding non-profits and key capability areas that aid mission-driven organizations, many of which are full of heart but unfortunately not very well-run.
1. Consulting for Nonprofits
The Bridgespan Group collaborates with social change leaders in the United States and globally, seeking solutions to some of the toughest issues communities face. They focus on improving the results of social sector organizations by helping them to scale their impact, designing organizations for effectiveness, and building strong leadership capabilities.
Bridgespan helps nonprofits create strategies for scaling impact. The firm works closely with nonprofit and NGO leaders seeking guidance on critical decisions about the future of their organizations. Their highly collaborative process takes on complex problems and identifies practical solutions that can help organizations understand and overcome their biggest barriers to scaling impact.
They help nonprofits design for effectiveness. Bridgespan clients include the social change leaders of large US and global networks (like the YMCA, The Boys & Girls Club, and The Salvation Army), multiservice providers, nonprofits and NGOs, and social entrepreneurs. Leaders of these diverse organizations seek Bridgespan’s help to shape their strategies to maximize their impact. Bridgespan’s nonprofit consulting services include change management, performance measurement, leadership development, cost analysis, and network effectiveness.
They help nonprofits, NGOs, and fields develop strong leaders. Without strong leaders and teams, nonprofits and NGOs struggle to succeed. That struggle becomes widespread when leadership shortfalls affect entire social sector fields. Bridgespan consulting services, management tools, and practical insights help individual organizations and fields to develop strong recruitment, training, and retention strategies.
Many that serve clients with strategy come from organizations (like Bain or McKinsey) that offer excellent toolkit and skills training pre-Bridgespan; the training at Bridgespan is there, but not as thorough.
2. Consulting for Philanthropy
The Bridgespan Group collaborates with foundations and philanthropists to increase the clarity and aggressiveness of their giving as well as the impact of their grantees’ programs and services. They focus on four practice areas: education; children, youth, and families; public health; and global development. Within each of these areas, Bridgespan pursues its work with a passion for bringing about equality of opportunity.
Bridgespan helps donors invest big bets for social change. A big bet is a multimillion dollar philanthropic commitment to an organization or a defined initiative aimed at achieving major social change. Bridgespan helps donors design the strategy, implementation plans, and performance measures for big bets as well as help with sourcing and due diligence for the most promising grantees that are aligned with their ambitions.
They help donors improve grantee performance. Many donors turn to Bridgespan to help grantees get better results. We collaborate with these organizations to advance their strategies and strengthen their leadership and operations.
Bridgespan works with donors who want to expand or reorient their philanthropy. Donors aiming to increase their giving or looking to make their philanthropy more effective tap Bridgespan’s deep experience in these areas. We tailor our work to meet the specific needs of individual philanthropists and foundations.
3. Leadership Program: Leading for Impact®
Bridgespan’s Leading for Impact®, a two-year consulting program, helps executive teams of ambitious nonprofits pursue strategic opportunities and build capacity to improve their performance. Teams work on customized projects and receive coaching support and training in strategic management concepts and tools. This is an amazing opportunity to dive into content and tools used by Bridgespan in their work advising nonprofit clients, to apply those tools in meeting organizational priorities, and to do so in partnership with a select group of nonprofit leaders.
4. Nonprofit Job Board
Bridgespan is committed to helping nonprofits find the right people that they need, and as such have set up a nonprofit job board that contains both full and part-time jobs positions which include specialized leadership positions as well as board of director positions.
If you are interested in nonprofit jobs in general, or manage a nonprofit that wants to expand its reach, check out the Bridgespan Job Board.
Bridgespan is passionate about helping to find solutions to the damaging effects of poverty and ensuring equal opportunity and justice. They have chosen to concentrate in four fields that are crucial for achieving these objectives:
- Children, Youth, and Families
- Public Health
- Global Development
Bridgespan Office Locations
Bridgespan has just 3 offices located in the USA, and 1 in India. Most of its clients are also based in North America as well. Here are a list of the 4 Bridgespan locations:
- Boston, MA
- New York, NY
- San Francisco, CA
- Mumbai, India
The career path at Bridgespan is pretty industry standard, but is a little more condensed than at a standard consulting firm (ACs and SACs and Consultants and CTLs have similar roles):
Associate Consultant – Senior Associate Consultant – Consultant – Case Team Leader – Manager – Partner
Most undergrads join Bridgespan at the Associate Consultant level, but only after at least 2 years in either a consulting (or other heavily-analytical) role or 2-4 years in a major international name-brand non-profit. MBAs are the same; only after 2+ years of relevant work experience after their MBA are they considered for Bridgespan employment.
At Bridgespan, employees have access to training and mentorship opportunities to help push them forward – but Bridgespan skimps on this a bit, because they expect employees to come in already highly-trained, and motivated by the mission of the work more than the culture of the workplace.
At this time Bridgespan does not currently offer internships – the firm does, however, offer select 6-month rotations to Bain employees that want to extern as a part of their 3-year Associate Consultant training.
At the Consultant level, Bridgespan offers the Social Sector Emerging Leaders Forum each summer. The SSEL Forum is a highly selective program focused on giving top students with career aspirations in the social sector the opportunity to strengthen their business and leadership skill set while gaining exposure to The Bridgespan Group. The Forum is offered to graduate students entering their final year of the MBA, MPP or MPA programs. The application for the SSEL Forum is due in early April, interviews for the program are conducted in late April.
Because the Bridgespan experience is 1 part strategy and 1 part mission, the exit opportunities are into blended non-profit leadership and for-profit roles.
Bridgespan employees stay for longer than standard MBB employees; it’s a place to go either to live out the happiest and more relaxed days of your illustrious consulting career, or a place to prepare for on-the-ground non-profit leadership.
Non-profit leadership takes 2 forms – many employees exit into senior roles (mostly CEOs) at major global non-profits. In addition, others use the tools and strategy they gain to fulfill a bucket list item: starting their own non-profit.
A small number of Bridgespan alums move back upstream to MBB firms or into industry after discovering that the slower pace – and increased bureaucracy – of the non-profit world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
- Don Howard – President and CEO – The Irvine Foundation
- Daniel Stid – Director, The Madison Initiative – The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
- Tara Abrahams – Executive Director – The Girl Project, Glamour Magazine
- Amy Saxton – CEO – Summer Search
- Jennifer Koss – Founder – Brika
- Naiyya Saggi – Founder – BabyChakra
- Matt Forti – Managing Director – One Acre Fund USA
- Jacob Harold – President and CEO – GuideStar
THE BRIDGESPAN GROUP CULTURE
A defining trait of the Bridgespan culture is collaboration, both with clients and with each other. When going to work for Bridgespan, you will be working in close-knit teams – no divas allowed. Bridgespan actually believes that you have something valuable to contribute to everything that you do, and is even more diplomatic about the voice that everyone shares than is required at Bain or BCG.
One of the greatest things about of working at Bridgespan is the people that you will work with. The firm is very passionate about changing the social sector and righting the wrongs of the world, but they are also incredibly selective: they hire only the smartest, and most talented people. These are incredibly intelligent, passionate, intentional, and inspiring individuals who have chosen to work in the non-profit sector when they could be working anywhere and making a whole lot more money.
Bridgespan is known for offering world class training – for those that haven’t worked for a consulting firm before, you get trained internally by Bridgespan but also by one of the top three consulting firms, Bain & Company, via Bridgespan’s connection with them.
In addition, each Bridgespan office features communal spaces. In Boston, and coming to the San Francisco office in the Fall of 2017, they have even adopted an open-plan workplace to encourage interaction. Bridgespan also offers a number of opportunities for staff to socialize including happy hours, holiday parties, an annual charity auction and summer cookouts. Staff are encouraged to join an “extra 10%” committee to help bring opportunities to socialize and learn into each office including Esprit, Charitable Fund, Green and Healthy, and a Way We Work team. In short – Bridgespan brings the best and the brightest that are also motivated toward social impact together in a Bain-like environment with lots of cool points; its focus, people, and tools have earned it the reputation as the premier non-profit consulting firm in the world.
Bridgespan has these 5 core values:
Impact – The company values performance and results. It sets and holds itself accountable for high standards.
Respect – Bridgespan places high value on listening and learning from clients, funders, and one another. They value diverse perspectives and strive to incorporate them in their work. Bridgespan believes in acting with humility, certain they have as much to learn as to contribute.
Candor – Bridgespan believes that the best of choices are grounded in good information and, unlike the emotionally-driven industry it often serves, highly values facts and feedback. They believe in speaking openly and honestly and realize that sometimes hard decisions have to be made.
Collaboration – The company believes in working well together and with their clients. They openly share what they know and make every effort to work together with those who are passionate and dedicated to achieve social impact.
Passion – The firm wants to make a difference in the work that they do and seeks to create what can be, instead of what is.
From reports of former employees and our personal experience with the organization, Bridgespan seems to consistently uphold their core values. However, one key trait often touted in business is innovation – the firm has attempted to innovate over its 15+-year history, but many of its innovations have been re-packaged or closed down. In short – it’s a place where they found what worked early, and they stick to it.
- The Human Right Campaign Corporate Equality Index has given Bridgespan a 100-percent score for the best places to work for LGBT individuals every year since 2014.
- Ranked #9 on Vault’s 50 Best Consulting Firms to work for in 2017
THE BRIDGESPAN GROUP INTERVIEWS AND RECRUITING
Bridgespan’s interview process is fairly straightforward and is pretty much the industry norm when it comes to interviewing with a consulting firm. However, there are 2 exceptions: a focus on social impact in the fit interview, and the need to submit an essay with your application and cover letter.
Bridgespan’s interview process involves a combination of case interviews and behavioral interviews. In first rounds, Bridgespan schedules 1-2 case interviews via telephone. Final round interviews are conducted in person. Final rounds consist of 2-3 additional case interviews and one behavioral interview.
The first round typically consists of basic fit questions like “Tell me about yourself” or “Why Bridgespan?” – on top the 1-2 cases. The key is to show that you are personable, thoughtful, a clear communicator and that you have a passion for non-profit work (and experience in the sector).
The final round interviews are conducted in the office with more senior level consultants. The final rounds typically consist of 2-3 additional case interviews, a fit interview and lunch or coffee with a potential peer. Depending on region and your background (especially for senior levels), Bridgespan may have you go through a 3rd and even a 4th round as well. Bridgespan is fundamentally an image-oriented and risk-averse organization without the same funding for global training that creates armies of McKinsey or Bain consultants, so they protect their core assets – their people – extremely diligently.
The whole interview process usually contains a significant portion of fit and behavioral questions and a few situational case or brainteaser questions. Although there aren’t usually many curveballs in the application process, it doesn’t mean it is easy to get an offer. On average, only the top 5% of applicants receive an offer, so be sure to brush up on your case skills and especially your fit skills, as you will be asked a lot of those. The candidates who prepare thoroughly come off with more confidence and ease than those who don’t.
Recruiting Schedule and Qualifications
The most common positions Bridgespan hires for each year are Associate Consultant, Consultant, Experienced Consultant, and Manager.
Associate Consultant Each fall, the firm recruits Associate Consultant candidates from campus as well as directly from other organizations. To be eligible for an Associate Consultant position you must have an undergraduate degree and 0-3 years of work experience. You should also apply for an Associate Consultant position if you have a non-MBA Master’s degree and less than 3 years of work experience.
Consultant Each fall, Bridgespan recruits Consultant candidates from campus as well as directly from other organizations. To be eligible for a Consultant position you must have an MBA and 2 years of pre-graduate school work experience OR an MPP or MPA and 3+ years of professional work experience.
While nonprofit experience is not a requirement for the Associate Consultant and the Consultant positions Bridgespan looks for applicants who have a demonstrated commitment to the nonprofit sector.
Experienced Consultant Throughout the year, Bridgespan recruits Experienced Consultant candidates directly from other strategy consulting firms. To be eligible for an Experienced Consultant position you must have an MBA, MPP, MPA and at least one year of post-graduate school strategy consulting experience.
Manager Throughout the year, Bridgespan seeks to hire Managers. To be eligible for a Manager position, you must have 4 years of post-graduate school strategy consulting experience AND at least 2 years in a supervisory role.
Though Bridgespan has been known to recruit only from elite universities, they are very secretive when it comes to their recruiting process, from which schools they recruit, and to the extent that they do it.
Like at Bain, diversity at Bridgespan is big deal. They believe that any organization that mirrors the diversity of their clients and their beneficiaries will be able to better serve them and that diversity creates better solutions. Bridgespan employees do a couple of things to make diversity happen at their firm which include:
- Affinity groups for Latino/Hispanic staff, LGBT staff, and Black/African American staff
- An advisory group of senior leaders at the firm as well as Black and Latino staff to ensure that what they do fosters diversity and inclusion
- A completely voluntary 10-week Diversity Dialogue group in each office, which includes staff from all units and seniority who wish talk about diversity and its impact on their personal and professional lives.
Networking inside diversity groups at Bridgespan is a huge bonus – diversity groups serve both Bain and Bridgespan, but each of the groups have their own email addresses. They provide an avenue for people with a shared interest or background that are interested in joining the firm because each of the groups helps with the recruiting for its individual demographic.
Here is a list of the staff groups offered at Bridgespan:
- API: Asian/Asian-American Pacific Islander Affinity Group
- BABs: Blacks at Bridgespan and Bain
- LATBA: Latinos at Bridgespan and Bain
- BGLAD, the Bain and Bridgespan Gay and Lesbian Association for Diversity
The Human Right Campaign Corporate Equality Index has given Bridgespan a 100-percent score for the best places to work for LGBT individuals every year since 2014. That’s amazing, right?
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