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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

Simplify Your Message

When we design Engagement Tools we include a ‘trimming process’ inspired by words of The Little Prince author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

“In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”

When a person designs ‘message’ (think: case statements, selling tools, etc) the brain starts by trying to dump and then sort everything. The result is an ‘arrangement of everything,’ rather than a ‘representation of everything.’ (See: Any mission statement!!!)

Cut. Trim. Group. Perfection is finally attained not where there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.

Unreasonable Institute is now: Uncharted

The Suddes Group / For Impact invests profits back into the social sector with a focus on to developing talent and leadership for the (social) impact. We’re really proud of Unreasonable Institute, which has been a great partner through which to focus this investment. In addition to supporting the Unreasonable Institute through strategy and fundraising, we provide a curriculum, coaching and training for entrepreneurs that go through the Institute programs (now in 30+ countries)!

The Unreasonable Institute

We’re beaming with pride yet again as Teju, Banks, and the entire Unreasonable Team have made a strategic leap to have more impact. Through this leap, they’ve also rebranded. The Unreasonable Institute is now UNCHARTED: Charting the Course from Impossible to Possible.

Here is a little from the Uncharted team about their evolving course and story.

Changing: To address ‘Persistent problems at scale’

  1. We want to find the best way to solve problems

    With an entrepreneur-centric model (Unreasonable Institute), we worked with a wide diversity of entrepreneurs who were creating impact in different sectors. In one cohort, we had entrepreneurs working in healthcare, education, and renewable energy. There was valuable impact with this model, but we want more than that. We want to accelerate the people and organizations that are uniquely positioned to tackle the same issue and put a big dent in it. So we’re moving from an entrepreneur-centric model to a problem-centric model where we put the problem at the center—like how to get low-income students into college. With that as our organizing principle, we identify the best people and organizations to put a dent in it and accelerate them so we can see measurable change.

  2. Entrepreneurs are only one catalyst to put a dent in big problems.

    The entrepreneurs we have worked with over the last seven years have created extraordinary impact, but to move the needle on a problem requires engaging a larger audience of entrepreneurs, corporations, policy-makers and governments.

  3. We asked: What if we could build a collective movement around a problem?

    Through a collective approach, we can address multiple drivers of one single problem. We’re going to take on specific problems, and build an army of entrepreneurs and give them access to what they need—mentors, funders, and partners— to attack it from all sides. That way, when we attempt to solve a problem, the odds of solving that problem go up dramatically.


There is no single way to solve the problems our globe faces. This learning marked the beginning of an arduous, important journey to not only a new look, but also a redesigned approach for how to solve the world’s greatest problems.

Uncharted represents that our world, and how we improve it, is not fixed. There is no single way to solve the problems our globe faces, so we must head into the uncharted and learn what it takes to put big dents in big challenges our world encounters.

Problems are complex and dynamic. Our approach to solving is multi-colored, multi-changing, and multi-shaped. Uncharted will adapt and become best suited to solve.

The Difference Between Design Problems and Engineering Problems

The difference between design problems and engineering problems.

I’m reading Designing your Life and this nugget is powerful + applicable in so many ways.

“There’s a difference between design problems and engineering problems… engineering is a good approach to solving a problem when you can get a great deal of data and you’re sure there is one best solution…

[For design problems] there is no precedent to design toward, there is no fixed or predetermined outcome; there are plenty of ideas floating around…

When you have a desired outcome (a truly portable laptop computer, a sexy-looking sports car, or a well-designed life) but no clear solution in sight, that’s when you brainstorm, try crazy stuff, improvise, and keep “building your way forward” until you come up with something that works. You know it when you see it…”

Designing your STORY, MESSAGING, TEAM!!!! These are all DESIGN problems, not engineering problems. As such, they require that we try things to see what works.

There’s more to it, though… it means we also need to be communicating that these are design problems and not engineering problems. This language helps other participants in the process understand there is no clear solution in sight… that we’ll be ‘trying crazy stuff’… and we’ll keep ‘building our way forward’ until we come up with something that works!

Designing Context

For the past few years I’ve been on big kick around CONTEXT.

Strategy, sales, leadership, communication or coaching is VERY responsive to CONTEXT. Most people nod in agreement when I make this point… but think about the last time you were in a strategy session (of any kind!!!) where you took a deliberate time-out to examine CONTEXT.

I just received the latest issue of Rotman Management from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. This magazine is – hands down – my favorite for ‘design-thinking’.

This issues is dedicated to changing behavior! Karen Christensen, the editor writes, “At it’s core, every organization is in the same business: changing behavior. For-profit companies try to saw consumers to buy their products; governments try to convince citizens to pay their taxes on time; and an NGO might want to encourage families to sign up for tuition support for their children.”

Buried in the first article is this little nugget about DESIGNING CONTEXT! “We know from Psychology that context influences choice, it should be possible to design contexts to steer choices to a desired outcome.”

Great sales designs the CONTEXT through PREDISPOSITION, the FLOW of the VISIT, and TEAM SELLING (that is, determining the context of the team that will engage with the prospect.)


Most people (not ‘nonprofit people,’ just people in general) don’t know HOW to engage… how to create engagement… how to be deliberate in communication so that the other person is engaged. And yet, we always hear that you want more engaged customers, staff, funders, relationships and board members!

First, let’s define ENGAGEMENT: a dynamic within a relationship which holds attention, heightens interest and motivates action.

Attention! Interest! Action!

How do we maximize Attention, Interest and Action? How do we MAXIMIZE ENGAGEMENT?

  1. Ask Questions. Then Listen. Or, Just Listen. No better way to engage than to listen. Also, when a person speaks it engages his or her brain fully.
  2. Be 1:1. It’s tough to listen to a room of 200. Heck, it’s hard to listen to 12 board members at a meeting!
  3. Use Visuals! They are several studies, but all conclude that visual learners make up more than half of our population!
  4. Better than Visuals, Create a Memorable Experience. If a picture is worth a 1000 words than a tour or an experience with your impact is worth many more.
  5. DRAW! Create a visual experience with the prospect. We love using 2’x3′ ENGAGEMENT TOOLS – these make the case for support visual and they offer plenty of white space in which to draw while you’re visiting with someone. Picture two people standing over a blue-print – Pointing, Talking, Moving – giving your case meaning. This is Engagement.
  6. Predispose. Predisposing someone to your visit or your conversation provides clarity ahead of the visit – making it easier to hold attention and create interest.
  7. Be Simple. We need order. We need simplicity. If things are complex, you’ve lost my attention because I’m trying to figure out what you’re saying.
  8. Be Specific with an Ask. If the stated goal is to create action then you need to let the other person know what the action looks like. Being specific in an ask directs attention and let’s me know what action to contemplate. In the funding sense, you must ASK in order for me do something.

If we focused on ENGAGING in this way:

  • We would worry much less about ‘what to say’ and instead think about what questions to ask.
  • We would probably burn Powerpoints in effigy and stand around flip charts with markers instead.
  • We would ditch ‘special events’ in favor of one-on-one, engaging visits.

The Most Focusing WHY Question for Leaders and Visionaries

Start with Why is a best selling book and one of the most viewed Ted Talks of all time. Simon Sinek introduces the concept in the context of marketing but the importance of ‘starting with WHY’ applies to all dimensions of communications, management, and leadership.

The WHY question is one of incredible utility.

This nugget is about moving from utility to power (i.e. GREATEST IMPACT and FOCUS) through more nuanced WHY questions.

There are dozens of ‘WHY’ questions. To name a handful…

  • Why (are we doing this)?
  • What is our purpose?Note: Do not be fooled. ‘What is our purpose’ is a WHY QUESTION.
  • What’s our mission?
  • What’s our reason for existence? Raison d’etre?
  • What’s our cause? Or, for WHAT do we stand?

The reason we use the Altitude Framework is because it represents ALL of these questions (at 30,000′). The mental picture here is that of a kaleidoscope; depending on which way you turn the WHY question you’re going to get a slightly different picture at 30,000′.

In the WHY kaleidoscope, one question consistently has the greatest power to focus and guide:


This question sharpens the WHY. It takes it somewhere.

Toward what end does your organization exist?
We want to start a new program. Toward what end?

Communication is an art. To land on the right clarity and communication, leaders should play around with the entire ‘WHY-kaleidoscope’. If one WHY question isn’t teasing out enough power, or focus, shift to another question.

Start with: Toward what end?

STORY is About More Than a Mission Statement, Strategy and Goals

Your organization’s story is about MORE than a mission statement, strategy, and clear goals – it’s about the CONTEXT that creates meaning.

In all my reading I’ve not been able to find (or compile) anything as strong and complete as what is expressed by Ben Horowitz, the cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm with investments in Facebook, Twitter and Airbnb. I’m sharing a full excerpt from his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things.

Bold emphasis is mine. Translate all of this to our ‘Impact world’.

The CEO must set the context within which every employee operates. The context gives meaning to the specific work that people do, aligns interests, enables decision making, and provides motivation. Well-structured goals and objectives contribute to the context, but they do not provide the whole story. More to the point, they are not the story. The story of the company goes beyond quarterly or annual goals and gets to the hard-core question of why. Why should I join this company? Why should I be excited to work here? Why should I buy its product? Why should I invest in the company? Why is the world better off as a result of this company’s existence? When a company clearly articulates its story, the context for everyone— employees, partners, customers, investors, and the press— becomes clear. When a company fails to tell its story, you hear phrases like

  • These reporters don’t get it.
  • Who is responsible for the strategy in this company?
  • We have great technology, but need marketing help.

The CEO doesn’t have to be the creator of the vision. Nor does she have to be the creator of the story. But she must be the keeper of the vision and the story. As such, the CEO ensures that the company story is clear and compelling.

The story is not the mission statement; the story does not have to be succinct. It is the story. Companies can take as long as they need to tell it, but they must tell it and it must be compelling. A company without a story is usually a company without a strategy.

Want to see a great company story? Read Jeff Bezos’s three-page letter he wrote to shareholders in 1997. In telling Amazon’s story in this extended form— not as a mission statement, not as a tagline— Jeff got all the people who mattered on the same page as to what Amazon was about.

Horowitz, Ben (2014-03-04). The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (p. 237). HarperCollins.

I LOVE this framing. And, I can’t post without a coaching point for sales people (fundraisers). We, as fundraisers, must do everything we can to help CREATE, SUPPORT and OWN the story. It’s too easy to say, “Leadership doesn’t get it.” In my estimation 90% of companies and nonprofits don’t really understand the power of STORY as something that SHAPES meaning, strategy and impact.

What Business Are You In?

What business are you in?

Every MBA student hears about the story of the railroad industry. As the need for transportation grew and grew, the railroad industry failed to capture growth. It thought it was in the railroad business and failed to realize it was in the transportation business.

More recently, Blockbuster video hired big box retail executives to help grow its footprint. They thought they were in the big-box retail business and failed to realize they were in the content delivery business. Blockbuster declined to purchase Netflix in 2000 for $50M. Blockbuster – as a store – is long deceased and Netflix now has a $56Billion market cap.

Those are two examples of failure. Here are two examples of enduring success:

  • “We are in the business of democratizing the skies.” – Herb Kelleher. Founder, Southwest Airlines.
  • “We are in the reliability business.” FedEx

Asking, “What business are we in?” is a clarifying question.

Increasingly, we’re asking organizations to answer this in TWO ways.

What business are you in? (What is your promise?)
What business are you in? (What is your model focus?)

One is aspirational — around a customer promise and one is operational.

I think it could be argued that I’m really asking for mission + strategy. And… I am okay with that. In the real world there are many different ways to ask questions to arrive at clarity. The ‘What business are you in’ is a FOCUS question, we’re just coloring it with mission and strategy.

ALL of the examples above illustrate a statement of (customer) PROMISE. I don’t think an organization can really be strategic if it doesn’t focus on its core operation. As the examples illustrate, they can’t endure in IMPACT if they don’t know their promise.

I Have a Dream: The Speech and Story

Today we reflect on the life and message of Martin Luther King Jr. Here are some nuggets about the I Have a Dream speech. Appropriately, it comes up again and again, in studies of metaphor, engagement and story.

  • Dr. King finished writing his speech at 4am, just hours before his address. It was originally entitled, “Normalcy, Never Again.”
  • King used over FIFTY metaphors in his speech! Contained therein was was an extended and powerful frame of the biblical struggle for freedom and the American struggle for freedom.

    From Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas – John Pollack

  • “I Have a Dream” represents a CHANGE of story to INSPIRE and LEAD! In The Story Factor, Annette Simmons writes that Dr. King’s refrain offers a positive vision that, “inspires generations to change their story from “I have been oppressed” to “I have a dream.”

  • The original and prepared speech did not contain the phrase, “I Have a Dream!” 11 mins into the speech gospel singer Mahalia Jackson — sitting behind Dr. King — shouted “Tell ’em about the ‘dream,’ Martin, tell ’em about the ‘dream’!”

    Dr. King recalled that he ‘just decided’ to go with it! In front of millions, he started RIFFING!

    There is no substitute for authenticity. When I listen to Dr. King’s speech I believe I can FEEL his heart kick it up a notch with each riff. (Dr. King’s final speech ended up being DOUBLE the length of his prepared remarks.)

    Story recounted in Originals by Adam Grant, and Shortcut.

The Rule of 3

The Rule of 3 is the ultimate simplification and framing device. It’s powerful because it simplifies anything AND offers an arrangement that is digestible… even attractive to the human mind.

We are wired to receive things in threes! When you have two of something it creates conflict – it’s an either / or. In a traditional three-act story, the second act creates the tension, and the third act resolves.

When you have more than three, studies show the brain is more inclined to ‘give up’ than to internalize all the points.

Going back age of the Roman ages, Cicero became a famed orator using the cadence of three’s in his speaking. Today, politicians, advertising agencies, and media people use this device — the second you look for it, it’s EVERYWHERE.

Think about the resonance and stickiness of three’s…

  • Father, Son, Holy Ghost.
  • Small. Medium. Large / Tall. Grande. Venti.
  • Faith, Hope, and Love.
  • Goldilocks. Mama Bear, Baby Bear, Papa Bear.
  • Blood, sweat, and tears.
    Note: This one comes from a Churchill speech, “Blood, toil, tears and sweat.” The fact that no one remembers ‘toil’ underscores the point of THREE.

We use the Rule of 3 in a lot of our For Impact framing.

Some applications:

  • Speaking. The next time you give a speech, focus on making just three points (or even better yet, three short stories – supporting three simple points). I’ve coached Fortune 500 CEO’s that have said, “I’ve had a lot of communications coaching. That’s one of the best tips I’ve ever received. It’s simple and works every time!”


  • Simplifying Your Funding Message! Instead of trying to explain ALL of your programs and projects, simply say, “We do these THREE things…” (Notice how we do that in our presentation framework.)

  • Productivity. Try to accomplish ONLY THREE things in one day… and become more productive than you ever imagined.