Marta Ferro: President, Starfish Impact, Inc.

My NativeAdVice:

Bio:

With a background that includes Goldman Sachs and multiple entrepreneurial ventures, Marta combines business experience with robust philanthropic leadership including as an SVP Los Angeles partner, Liberty Hill Foundation Board Member and Southern California Grantmakers Member. She founded Starfish Impact in 2005 to connect resources in the philanthropic and non-profit community in a strategic and effective way, and recently joined the Angeles Wealth Management team as a Senior Managing Director--Philanthropy Services. Marta and her team specialize in family philanthropic advisory services, corporate social responsibility and nonprofit management consulting. Starfish Impact makes a difference in the greater community by providing strategic investment consulting services to grantmaking private and corporate foundations, strategic planning and development consulting services to nonprofits, and social impact advisory services to corporations and individuals who strive to achieve a stronger double bottom line vision.

Marta earned her MBA from the Anderson School of Management at UCLA with a Dean’s Fellowship Scholarship and a Kauffman Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Leadership. She graduated Cum Laude from Vassar College with a Bachelor's degree and was co-captain of the varsity women's soccer team and still holds several records.  She co-founded www.GoodAdviseHers.com and launched #SupportingOurSector in 2016, a CSR campaign that supports the social sector with cash and pro-bono consulting prizes. Her most recent philanthropic initiative is Angeles Art Fund (link to www.angelesartfund.org), a social justice arts giving circle.

How did you get into the industry?

I have always been in the social sector but for many years it was primarily in a volunteer capacity, starting when I was a teenager. After some time working in business, I realized there was an opportunity to bring my business acumen to bear on the social sector and I decided to start my own consultancy firm, Starfish Impact.

Any emerging industry trends

Despite a very devisive political climate in the States, individuals and companies are embracing initiatives that bring together communities. Whether that’s a community focused on ethnicity, geography, socio economic status, or immigration status, for example, uplifting and bringing together communities has been a focus, and will continue to be one.

Similarly, we’re seeing more and more businesses taking public stances on issues and also doing more than just making statements. From the executives of Trump’s Manufacturing Council stepping back to businesses disassociating with fallen figures like Bruce Weber, businesses and their executives seem to be acting more aggressively in standing for their values than ever before.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

Despite instability, our economy is doing extremely well and this wealth is creating a confidence that we haven’t seen in a while. Businesses are ready to make big investments and that includes taking risks. Tech advancements are also becoming increasingly normal. We’ve even started seeing some social sector organizations utilize AI in their programming!

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

Starfish Impact’s name and inspiration story describes our concept really well. It goes like this:

There’s a famous story of a woman walking on a beach where many starfish had washed up on the shore. As she walked she picked up one starfish at a time and threw it back into the ocean.

A man saw what she was doing and told her it was pointless; it was futile; it was a fool’s errand: There were too many starfish to save. She would never make a difference. The woman stopped. She examined the starfish in her hand and responded, “It makes a difference to this one.”

This story is often told as an example of how we can individually make a difference. It also shows the challenges in making that difference. What philanthropist hasn’t felt that they could do more if only they had more time, more money, or more help?  What non-profit hasn’t felt the pressure of making a difference when there are so many people in need? Starfish Impact is here for the starfish throwers of the world; those wonderful people that have identified the starfish they want to help. Our job is to multiply that impact: To bring more people to the beach to help throw those starfish; To figure out a strategy for getting the man that didn’t believe to pick up a starfish; To maximize the amount of starfish returning to the ocean; To bring the woman’s skills and best practices to other beaches where the starfish are waiting; And to figure out the root cause and prevention strategies for those starfish washing ashore in the first place.

The future of Starfish Impact is really all about collaboration right now.  We are joining forces more than ever with the funding community as well as the organizations doing the social impact work on the ground.  And we are working closely with many peers and similar firms to tackle larger issues and projects together.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

I recently became the Senior Managing Director of Angeles Wealth Management, which provides extraordinary private clients with the comprehensive wealth advice they require and the investment solutions they deserve. We offer our clients the same investment research and opportunities as Angeles Investment Advisors institutional clients (nonprofits and foundations) tailored for individuals. AWM and Starfish Impact have a natural synergy in our practices and clients and I look forward to being able to service individuals of wealth with additional resources.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

Reinvesting into the business (i.e. the team, marketing, technology) as well as into the community is what drives our success.  We launched #SupportingOurSector in 2016 and it grew significantly in 2017.  By investing in the nonprofit and business community, we are even more engaged with the social sector and other companies and influencers who are making real change.  We also sit on boards, are members of Social Venture Partners, and give back to all of our clients.  And we partner with other firms and colleagues on a regular basis outside of #SupportingOurSector as well.  One of my favorite events that I like to host is an appreciation party for all of our friends and colleagues who have referred us business and trust us to work with their clients, organizations, families, etc.  You can never say thank you enough.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

When I first had my son it was a challenge to adjust to a new, time consuming “Mom” role all while working at the same pace and level. I quickly learned that I couldn’t do it all at the same time in the same way. I realized that I could not take a maternity leave and barely sleep, but still spend a significant amount of time with my child and be productive in my working hours.

I learned to be okay with saying ‘no’. I learned it's okay to delegate , volunteer less and surrounded myself with the right teams of people both professionally and personally. I’m lucky to have a partner who is very reliable and has the flexibility to also focus on our family life. I became more efficient and at the same time humbled and strengthened. My relationships with peers and colleagues deepened over the shared experience of parenting and this seemed to open new doors and paths.  I also gave myself a lot of grace as well—to not do more than I could handle in 24 hours, and to not drive forward with the same high level of energy for a period of time as I adjusted to this next version of my life.  

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

When our clients come back for a new project or extend their current engagement to encompass a larger scope, I know they not only see the value of our work but also trust our expertise. Fortunately this happens often and I think it’s because we really listen to and understand what our clients need and continuously shape the engagement to meet their needs until we have satisfied their goals, issues, pain points, etc.

Our clients most appreciate that we act as a fiduciary and advise them based on what most benefits them, and is based in reality, even when it isn’t always what they want to hear.  We are consistent communicators, honest, direct and diplomatic and our clients appreciate that we bring our industry expertise, analytical and research skills, and thoughtful opinion to their engagement.

Other elements of our work that our clients benefit from include our team-oriented approach to engagements and our instinct to connect our clients to resources whenever appropriate—and not only when in scope.  I love that our corporate relationships lead to donations for children and families in need as one example. 

How do you motivate others?

I’d like to think of myself as a supportive problem solver, resource and coach for our team.  I believe people are motivated when they feel safe, empowered, respected and that they are allowed and inspired to do their best work with a support system and quality brand behind them. I also think it is motivating when leadership is as transparent as possible and has a reputation for clear, direct, authentic communication.  Listening to others is also a key communication tool;  And observing body language, tone, and actions.  Not making assumptions or snap judgments but rather clarifying through a conversation is also often helpful.  If something isn’t going well, I like to have an open conversation and ask how I or others can support someone in achieving their goals or solving a problem. This helps others feel heard and has the secondary benefit of naturally motivating.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Seek mentorship or an advisory group. Have a passion for what you’re trying to do. Surround yourself with individuals who have skill sets you lack, like financial acumen or analysis, for example. Leverage your network. Hone your relationship building skills and always follow up. Communicate professionally at all times. Be genuinely confident in yourself. Know what you are good at and not good at. In sum, go on the journey with other strong people.

My NativeAdVantage:

What do I do best?

Create opportunities for others and make the connection.

What makes me the best version of myself?

My family and friends.

What are my aspirations?

A. I want to continue to travel and exercise more and find ways to build that time into an increasingly busy career.

B. I want to continue to grow my corporate giving circle, #SupportingOurSector, so that we can make larger, more impactful grants to nonprofits.

My Biggest Success?

My son.

My Most Challenging Moment?

Deciding to go out on my own. I launched Starfish and a wellness spa within a month of each other and it felt exciting and liberating. I worked hard to build a stable income stream for myself and shortly after, my team members, as I grew the firm. Financial stability has always been important to me and I recognized that I was jumping off the cliff of “employment” and didn’t have a guaranteed paycheck or consistent income stream. I achieved this by focusing on long-term clients and building a solid reputation in the industry through strong work with clients and other advisors.

My Motto?

Treat others as you would like to be treated.  Everyone.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

·        When I was a child it was Pele.

·        My mother is my biggest role model on how to be an authentic, compassionate, trustworthy human being.

·        Many women who have worked tirelessly to advance gender equality, human rights and social justice either purposefully or simply as strong female role models in their industries.  And the men who support and advocate for their female partners at work and home.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

(Tell us your favorite travel destination(s) or other place(s) that you enjoy)

My second home in Ojai. I’ve turned it into an oasis retreat that is beautiful and grounding. It’s been a fabulous place to go with my family and friends for the weekend and also a functional retreat to center our team or offer to clients.  Martha’s Vineyard is my other special place in the world.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

Art, books, candles, tea, and chocolate.  And my Laptop and iPhone are my work requirements.

My Current Passions?

I love interior design as well as architecture, furniture, and other design formats. I had the opportunity to get into it again a couple years ago with our home in Ojai and it’s been a rewarding creative outlet. I also love bringing people together over a great meal and conversation.  I am currently planning a social justice dinner party.  Art is another interest and I have combined it with most of the above by co-founding a social justice arts giving circle that also involves food, wine and great conversations on a monthly basis while we visit and learn about nonprofit arts organizations, and utilize a grantmaking approach to our funding.  My work and personal lives are truly intertwined.