Addition to the C-Suite: Chief Impact Officer

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek August 31, 2022
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chief impact officer

​When company co-founder Tiffany Kaminsky stepped into the newly created job of chief impact officer (CIO) at Symend in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in July, she took on a role that has become more common in recent years.

Scrolling through job postings shows organizations such as the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, iMentor in New York City,and national nonprofit agency Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) in Harrisburg, Pa., adding the position to their C-suite team.

Others include the Asian American Foundation in California City, Calif., and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, based in Bethesda, Md. TOMS, a Fortune 500 shoe retail company in Los Angeles, has a chief strategy and impact officer who oversees all aspects of the company's corporate strategy, consumer insights and social impact efforts.

Even high-profile celebrities such as Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, have been tapped as CIOs by mental health startups in San Francisco—Biles at Cerebral and Prince Harry at BetterUp.

What Is a Chief Impact Officer?

The role of the CIO and the impact of the position depend on the organization.

Symend, a software-as-a-service company that has a behavioral engagement platform, created its position to cement the strong social purpose on which the company is based, said Viv Farris, chief people officer, and "embed purpose-driven behavior throughout the organization and beyond."

"This role will oversee our corporate social responsibility and environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives" and more, she explained. While Kaminsky's duties will include partnering with the HR team, her job is not fully folded into that division, Farris said.

"The CIO has influence across our entire stakeholder ecosystem," she noted, including Symend's clients and customers as well as employees.

BetterUp, which provides mental health services and coaching to clients online, hired Prince Harry to provide "input into product strategy decisions and charitable contributions" and serve as a public advocate on mental health topics, CNN reported. 

The Jewish Federation job posting asked for candidates whose responsibilities would include strengthening the group's presence and impact and serving as a thought leader with local and national organizations.

iMentor's CIO duties will include leading the organization's national program; overseeing program design, implementation and evaluation; and coaching and supporting regional executive directors toward a high-quality program that supports the organization's mission.

YAP, which provides resources for marginalized youth and their families in 33 states and Washington, D.C., expects the CIO to work with national and program leadership, implement "impact projects" and change management initiatives, and make sure initiatives are aligned with YAP's values.

Businesses have a critical role to play in driving meaningful change, Symend said in a news release.

"Companies are feeling pressure from all sides to pursue impact in [their] work both internally and externally," Inc. reported in an April article, predicting the CIO will play "a crucial role in leadership teams around the country."

"To make this happen, leadership teams need someone to elevate impact from an isolated department to an essential lens for making decisions. The person who will make this happen is the chief impact officer," the article noted. 

The CIO is a relatively new role for organizations, Kaminsky pointed out: "You don't just pull it off the shelf."

Learning will be the largest aspect of her job, she said. This will involve meeting with industry experts, the company's board and employee groups, as well as "going through the discovery phase and finding where we have gaps, what are the trends we're seeing and building for the future," she explained. "Are we putting our actions to our words?

"We are purpose-driven, and now that we've grown, it's more important than ever to … make sure we're relentless [in] creating the best amount of impact possible. If we want to have a healthy culture and environment, we have to have someone who's dedicated to that."

Company Values

The New Cascade of Influence, a 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, found a company's values affect consumers' purchase choices: 57 percent of more than 20,400 respondents across 14 countries indicated companies should make it easier to see what their brand values and positions are on important issues.

The report is based on a survey conducted May 13-24 with more than 13,700 people ages 18 and older and more than 6,700 people ages 14 to 18. Other findings include the following:

  • 63 percent of respondents said they expect to see a brand's stand in what the company does—how its products are made and sold, how it treats employees, its supply chain, and where it does business.
  • 62 percent said they expect to see a brand's stand in its advertising and website.
  • 60 percent of all respondents said they were changing their buying behavior because of a brand's response to economic inequality.
  • 50 percent of U.S. respondents are boycotting brands still doing business in Russia.
"I hope companies are inspired to create similar positions and build successful businesses while doing good," Farris said. "It's important to find a leader who is passionate about your mission, understands the business, and has a proven track record of uncovering opportunities and driving impact in their roles."

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