Lindsey Kneuven is the head of social impact at Pluralsight, a fast-growing enterprise technology learning platform. In her role, Lindsey leads all global philanthropic initiatives, implementing strategies that align Pluralsight’s product, culture, community, people, and brand to make a meaningful impact on the way the world learns.
Prior to Pluralsight, Lindsey served as chief impact officer at Cotopaxi. She also held senior positions at several notable nonprofit and private organizations, including Salesforce.com Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation—the largest community foundation—and Nuru International.
Lindsey is an active member of the philanthropy community and serves as a member and advisor on several boards. She has been acknowledged for her outstanding work on several occasions, receiving the Leigh Stillwell Award for Excellence, a 2017 Women Tech Award, recognition by Utah Business as one of 30 Women to Watch and election by the Community Foundation of Utah as an Enlightened 50.
Q: It’s unique that Pluralsight decided from the outset that they wanted to be a mission-driven company. Why did they make that decision?
Lindsey: “Our CEO, Aaron Skonnard, and his cofounders built the company to realize their vision around democratizing technology. They set out to build an technology training platform that would equip people to keep pace with the rapid evolution of tech and empower them to be lifelong learners, equipped with the skills needed to create their own futures and build solutions for a better world. Pluralsight’s mission has always been at the core and we believe the company, product, team, and our collective social impact will all be stronger because of that.
Q: Some say that social impact doesn’t achieve core business objectives and sometimes even runs counter to or detracts from them. What is your opinion?
Lindsey: Studies have shown that effectively designed and integrated social impact models improve core business performance, enable companies to attract and retain top talent, build brand equity and loyalty, all while accelerating the social impact outcomes. Integrating social and environmental goals alongside profit shifts the narrative and empowers teams to ideate, fuse passions with skills, and develop products and services that are more deeply connected to the community needs. Creating a blended model means that a company’s success on the traditional business front enables them to drive depth and breadth on the social and environmental sides and vice versa.
Q: A common perception of corporate philanthropy is that it’s only for big companies with large profit margins to devote to social good. Is that true or is social impact also available to small companies and start-ups?
Lindsey: “I believe that integrated models are the future of business, and in order for us to achieve social change through the private sector we need to encourage more and more companies to apply their resources to the complex challenges we collectively face. You don’t have to be a large company to get involved in this work. Pledge 1% is a great community of likeminded companies that offers organizations of any size the toolkits and resources needed to get started and align with best practices. I truly believe that no matter the size of the business there are benefits to society that can be achieved.”
Q: If a company is interested in getting involved in social impact, but is clueless as to where to start, what advice would you give them?
Lindsey: “Commit to learning about effective giving practices and the needs you’re setting out to address. Define your goals and outcomes. The humanitarian sector is global and complex. There are a wide range of pressing needs both domestically and abroad as well as a broad landscape of organizations addressing those needs. Clarifying your scope, staying connected to the needs, selecting high performing nonprofit partners, and maintaining your focus will help to drive outcomes. Establish processes and systems that enable you to track and evaluate the impact of your investments. Your grantees are your partners – give in ways that empowers them to be nimble, effective and strategic. Be open to continuous learning, innovation and problem-solving as it will help you refine and strengthen your impact.”
Q: How do you evaluate partners and determine which will be effective?
Lindsey: “We seek high-impact organizations with strong leadership whose work is well aligned with our goals. They must have clear measurement systems that inform their work as well as an organizational culture that supports learning and iteration. Tools like theories of change, logic models, monitoring and evaluation systems, third party evaluations, impact reports and more provide donors with clear insight into partners’ strategies, programmatic models and the change that has been achieved as a result of their work.
Q: What is the most important thing to keep in mind in the implementation phase?
Lindsey: “Designing and implementing social impact models is a complex and involved process. Often, you are essentially layering in a new business unit that must complement and parallel existing company priorities while serving a new demographic within the social sector. Know that as you introduce your goals, they will require longevity, focus and persistence. You will be faced with many competing priorities along with myriad opportunities to give that are presented by both the community and your team. Communicate your priorities along with the strategy and purpose behind them so your leadership and broader team can support the focus and understand the path to deeper impact.”
Q: Are there internal barriers within a company that can make it hard to accomplish that level of strategic focus and alignment?
Lindsey: “The nonprofit and for-profit sectors have been working quite separately for many years. Now that the two are colliding to achieve shared social and environmental goals, there’s a lot that both sides need to learn about what constitutes success for the other. As we’re shaping this new evolution in social good, it can be challenging to maintain the emotional connection for employees while implementing best practices, giving mechanisms and systems. Never underestimate the value of creating a culture of giving and empowering your team members to contribute their own passion and skills to accelerate that work.
Q: Pluralsight is a leader in the tech sector in Utah and globally. What role do you think the tech sector has to play now and on into the future?
Lindsey: “The world is experiencing some of the most complex challenges mankind has ever faced. At the same time, technology is enabling innovation and creation at an unprecedented pace. There is growing consensus that the private sector must be more deeply engaged in shaping an abundant future. Tech companies have emerged as leaders in the global movement to redefine the purpose of business – endeavoring to balance social, environmental and economic value. With technology, we are better able to see, evaluate and evolve our work. We have real potential to eradicate global challenges during our lifetimes if we can effectively apply tech for public benefit.
Q: What do you think the next five to ten years looks like in terms of corporate involvement in the social sector in Utah and across the country?
Lindsey: “I expect to see the growth of more evidence-based philanthropy and systems thinking due to the accessibility of data. The line between for profit and nonprofit will continue to disintegrate which will lead to an increase in collaboration across sectors. We will see more and more organizations crossing that barrier to maximize impact. Investment vehicles like PRIs, MRIs, and impact investing along with hybrid models like Benefit Corporations are really advancing the way we can deploy capital and build solutions. These opportunities will continue to grow and sharpen as the demand for joint social and financial returns intensifies. I expect ethics to become a more prevalent part of the conversation as we think through the implications for emergent technologies on vulnerable and under-resourced communities. The definition of community will become more global in nature which will, in turn, affect where and how many corporate philanthropists give. We will see more companies developing philanthropic strategies for the emerging market and focusing on inclusion as a solution to the technology skills gap. Utah possesses a unique combination of tech innovation and a deeply ingrained culture of giving. It is well positioned to move beyond the boundaries of traditional charitable giving models and toward effective social impact at scale.”