It is no exaggeration to say that Eli Graettinger Cole, co-founder of Aim & Arrow, first became interested in social impact when she was just a child.
Growing up in Atlanta, Cole accompanied her mother when she volunteered at a place called The Fellowship Mission, “which was a little preschool for kids who couldn’t afford paid preschool,” Cole says. While her mom was helping, Cole played with her friends there.
She can still vividly recall her confusion when the teachers brought the students inside to help them brush their teeth and feed them breakfast. “My mom explained that the teachers made sure they had a full breakfast and brushed their teeth because they weren’t sure that was something they could do at home. That was the first time my eyes were opened that opportunities were not universal and all kids did not necessarily have access to all of the things I had at my house,” explains Cole.
She has been trying to right that inequality ever since.
Cole has spent her whole career in nonprofit and philanthropy. Two years ago, she and Kate Attea founded Aim & Arrow, a consulting firm specializing in social impact. With graduate degrees in English literature and poetry, Cole jokingly refers to herself as “the accidental social worker.”
At Aim & Arrow, Cole, Attea, and their team build the capabilities of leaders, organizations, and systems, working with multiple organizations and working across sectors. When a government wants to work with a nonprofit or private organization, Aim & Arrow builds connections and makes that happen. One recent example is facilitating financial literacy programs for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), matching experts within corporations with various schools around the city. They also helped launch the Chicago Musical Pathways initiative, an orchestral diversity project with Mellon as the philanthropic partner. Here they identified promising young musicians in CPS orchestras and helped match them with mentors, financial aid, and high-quality instruments.
“My role tends to be bringing all of the organizations together and then doing a lot of the design of what the initiative is going to look like,” Cole explains. “Now, the social impact sector faces its greatest question yet—how do we address deep inequities, help people recover from crisis, and do so with fewer resources than we’ve ever had before? This is the time for bold ideas that can transform how we heal a post-pandemic world.”
It’s no surprise that Cole has shared her passion with her two young daughters, Teddy Mae, age 10 and Charlotte, age 8. They recently accompanied her on a 4-day business trip. “They were helpers for one of my planning sessions. Their job was to story map what they were hearing. And they were doing a great job for at least 30 minutes. They were drawing and writing things like quality services and child development.”
One of Cole’s proudest moments came during Teddy Mae’s Girl Scout troop meeting when the girls picked their special cause for the year. Typical causes tend to be animals and the environment. “My daughter chose prison justice.” Obviously, the message is getting through.
Somehow, Cole also finds time to teach two university courses. One is a course in nonprofit management at Northwestern University and the other is a leadership effectiveness cohort at the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University.
About five years ago, Cole purchased the house in Wilmette where she spent her teenage years. “I love our community,” she says. “It’s a great place to raise kids because our education system is phenomenal. The opportunities our children have are truly limitless. We are a community that cares about each other’s children,” Cole continues. “I’ve made an amazing network of friends who are just a lifeline.”
She also never takes the natural beauty of the North Shore for granted. “My running path is along the lake and it’s like my daily church. It’s just a wonderful place to live. It really is.”
Her ideal day on the North Shore? “I would make it a weekend day. Probably a walk with the dog and the kids, down to the dog beach for sure,” Cole says. She’d make sure they pop into some of their favorite restaurants like Fuel or Depot Nuevo. “I love the long summer days here, just walking around, meeting friends at Maple Park.”
Cole and her family moved to Wilmette from Atlanta when she was 16. But it wasn’t until she moved back here for graduate school, after attending Wellesley College on the East Coast, that she truly “fell in love with Chicago and the North Shore—that made it more my home than Atlanta. This place has my heart.”
Three Prongs of Aim & Arrow’s Promise
CLARITY OF VISION
Identify your goals, strengths, and values so you have a clear vision of where you are and where you want to go.
Guided research and experimentation to pressure test your target and develop a plan to hit it.
Instill the confidence and courage required to embrace change and take decisive action.