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For Impact | The Suddes Group

Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

Defining Leadership

Amazon sells over 21,000 books on leadership, and we’ve read a lot of them. When it comes to effective leadership, the famous Supreme Court framing could apply: “We know it when we see it.”

A wonderful philanthropist, veteran business leader, and For Impact friend Bob Werner says it best: “Leaders Lead.”

Here are some themes and definitions we commonly use across all sectors, geographies, and types of organizations:

  • Leadership is about making decisions! This is a top challenge we encounter. One of the most important tasks of leaders is to MAKE DECISIONS. Teams can usually adjust and learn from a wrong decision, but they can’t adjust and learn from INDECISION.
  • Casting the Vision. It could be argued that this is a form of decision-making, but someone (read: ultimately ONE PERSON) needs to set the vision. Too often we see people in leadership positions waiting for the vision to emerge by magic, or by consensus (which–in this case–is also magic).
  • “Lead toward a brighter tomorrow.” I think I picked up this definition from Marcus Buckingham.  But so much of leadership is about setting the STORY and CONTEXT for the organization, team, or project. As humans, we want to feel a sense of progress in what we do. We need leaders to chart that path forward.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
– John Quincy Adams

Leadership User Manual

Abby Falik (Founder of Global Citizen year – also a For Impact alumna and friend!) penned a ‘Leadership User Manual’. It’s crisp and composed in a way that creates a human connection. I know this is proving to be an effective communication tool for Abby and highlight here here for others.

An Excerpt…

What I value

  • I value resourcefulness and proactivity. Be smart, move fast and pivot quickly. Ask forgiveness rather than permission.

  • I’m obsessed with efficiency: I touch each email only once (respond, delete, delegate, or delay), and live by the law of 80/20 – often prioritizing promptness (ie. 24-hour rule in following up on a meeting) over perfection. I start each day by “eating my frog” when my energy and attention are fresh.

  • I expect my teammates to value efficiency as well. Before doing something “the way it’s always been done,” scan for an easier, cheaper, simpler way to maximize your “return on effort”. Before starting something from scratch, ask if it’s already been tried.

  • I value scrappiness and feel an obligation to our staff, Fellows, partners and donors to focus our limited time and resources on the “real good” vs. the “feel good”.

  • I believe work-life alignment matters more than work-life balance, and that strategic self-care – whether sleeping enough, leaving work early to exercise, meditate, or spend time in nature – is the key ingredient to becoming our best, most productive and happy selves. I am religious about spending time unplugged – a day a week, and a few weeks a year.

To read the full Leadership Manual (all 770 words of it) read Abby’s original post on LinkedIn: Leaders need “User Manuals” – and what I learned by writing mine.

Culture Change takes 18 Minutes and 18 Months

Every organization is perfectly designed to get the results it’s getting.

We redesign organizations and teams for results. Redesign is about CHANGE.

  • Change to the ORG: Vision, Mission, Message or Priorities
  • Change to the TEAM: Roles, Seats-on-Bus, Skills, Team
  • Change to the FUNDING APPROACH: Sales Process, Funding Model, etc

It’s become a handy ‘coaching nugget’ to share with leaders that the change they are seeking or leading will take 18 Minutes and 18 Months…

There are things that teams will latch onto immediately (think: 18 minutes). In the For Impact world, these would be the Point of View, Vocabulary or some Nuggets. Teams will start to implement them ad hoc. But it will take a while (think: 18 months) for the team DNA to be the generative force for these actions.

We’ve observed the 18 month phenomenon again and again. It’s a point at which a client says, “I think we finally had some real breakthroughs with our board. It’s like they are coming to the place where we started 18 months ago!” Or, “I no longer feel like I’m trying to correct everything the team does. They get this. I’m just providing strategy and inspiration… they’re taking this (culture change) in directions we never dreamed of!

Of course, there is nothing precise about 18 minutes or 18 months. It’s the idea that this can be immediate AND it’s a journey.

At the start of a campaign we’ll often facilitate an exercise to have a team declare the new culture. This exercise effects immediate change: we get to name the things that will be different! It also creates a vision and it’s important that teams give themselves time to change. Too often we see leaders become frustrated because they think of this ‘change’ as a check mark that wasn’t completed successfully in three or four months.

Nota bene: this is just a ‘helpful frame’. In truth, change is constant and so is the work of leading (change). General Stanley McChrystal says “An organization is no more enduring than the physical conditioning that keeps a soldier fit. An organization must be constantly led, or, if necessary, pushed uphill toward what it must be. Stop pushing and it doesn’t continue, or even rest in place; it rolls backward.

Chief Spirit Officer

About ten years ago our founder, Tom Suddes, started to step away from the business. He wanted to focus on writing and speaking, not on running the business. He would step away and invariably – whether through passion or some other gravity-like force – get sucked back into the business. If you’ve ever observed this phenomenon, you’ve also experienced the challenges it creates.

From a leadership perspective, the founder is a ‘perma-leader.’ Even if you construct operational roles, preserving the operational structure is like working against gravity. The founder walks in with an idea and everyone can’t help but direct energy toward that idea.

This was challenging – for our founder, and for me, as President. We were either blowing up each other’s plans (unintentionally), or investing energy to ‘tread lightly’.

We ended up creating a role (and STORY) to break the tension and embrace strengths + role clarity. Tom became our Chief Spirit Officer. It was only natural for him to be the defining force and inspiration for our team. The CSO defined our… SPIRIT.. and by naming this, we were able to separate SPIRIT from VISION… INSPIRATION from DIRECTION.

I am lucky. We are lucky. It worked really well for us!

I find myself sharing this story and ‘frame’ more and more. Especially when larger-than-life founders try to ‘step back’. In some cases – not all cases – I think the founder can step aside from operations AND have a continued imprint. It requires that that Chief Spirit Officer and the CEO / President are in lock step, of course.

The Development Officer Churn

The turnover rate of nonprofit development professionals is beyond alarmingly high. A study published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy put the average stay of a development officer at 16 months!!!

Turnover is so common that it’s a running joke at most conferences. “The first year they’re getting settled, the second year they’re updating their resume, the third year they’ve moved on.”

Why is this?

The right ‘fit’ is only part of the challenge.

There are three things an organization needs in order to make the hire successful. The first is a team commitment to a clear (defined) funding model. The second is a funding rationale. The third is the right person.

Making a development hire successful is a three-legged stool. It requires:

  1. Team commitment to a funding model.

    Most organizations don’t have a funding model. This is the wedge that’s driving a whole series of conversations about revenue and earned-income in the social sector. For now, let’s focus on a philanthropic funding model.

    Most organizations have a series of fundraising activities. This includes a gala, and a direct mail program.

    A clearly defined model should be standardized and measured around inputs, outputs and ROI (cost of fundraising / cost of revenue generation). At The Suddes Group we’re partial to a sales model (and this is what a commitment to sales looks like). But the commitment to a model supersedes a commitment to sales.

    Note: If you approach this conversation from from the ‘social impact / social enterprise’ space, the conversation has largely abandoned fundraising because it doesn’t see that there is a sustainable model. There is.

  2. A funding rationale!

    It’s not enough to say, “Look, we’re really committed to major gifts. Our program team ‘gets it’, our CEO will be there, our board will open doors. Go raise $3M!”

    Work must be done to translate the the funding need into a funding rationale. What’s the impact? What’s the message? And then translating that into a story around funding programs, priorities or initiatives. This work can be led by the development professional, or by other senior team members. But if it’s not completed, eventually the development professional will move on out of frustration.

    Imagine a salesperson in another sector that is simply told to ‘generate revenue’. He or she has no defined products or services. There is no rationale-for-the-sale. Just a general story about the company, its impact in the world, and a need for revenue.

  3. The right talent.


    In the hiring process, experience with fundraising is often over-valued. “Oh, you have five years of experience and your resume says $10M was raised? Fantastic! We need you!”

    Culture and context are undervalued.

    On Culture: Is this a fit with the culture? This includes the passion, interests and values. It also includes HOW the team works.

    On Context: Is this person coming from a 100-year-old school? In that case, the job is much more about stewardship and maximizing relationships (i.e., a different model). It’s not about building new leads and new networks.

    Note: Context is equally important to experienced development professionals. There are PHENOMENAL development professionals at 100 year old schools! My point is about context. Context can explain why that experience does or does not translate to a next organization.

    If you’re just starting a sales model – you might be better off bringing in someone with sales experience from the for-profit sector! Specifically someone with start-up sales experience.

    This speaks to aptitude!

    In the area of aptitude think about skill sets in these terms: marketing, sales, communications, event management. And THEN ‘management’. What base skills sets do you need for your model? Hire for those skills and then for the management of those skills.

A really important note in closing: Specific conversations about model and funding rationale are lacking in our sector. Our hope is that this article – and other stuff we publish – helps to provide awareness, concepts and vocabulary so that you and your team can address these challenges. Most organizations have parts and pieces — they’ve just never established a common language and definition around the model (or lack thereof).

Talent: Investing in Employees Pays Off

This is a little nugget from the July-August 2017 HBR p. 26.

The blurb (TALENT: INVESTING IN EMPLOYEES PAYS OFF) summarizes a research finding: companies that invest in employee EXPERIENCE outperformed others in terms of revenue and profit. What I found especially intriguing was the specificity around EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE. It defined these three categories: technology, physical surroundings, and culture.

Diving further into ‘culture’, the research defines this as ‘helping workers understand how their tasks contributed to the organization’. We’ve worked with HUNDREDS of organizations (for profit and not-for-profit) and I’ve never heard anyone talk about investing in culture — in this way.

How can we INVEST in helping talent understand how their (specific) work contributes to the organization?

Connecting the HOW to the WHY.

We can ‘cross-pollinate’ this question with philanthropy: How can we INVEST (time / story / resources) in helping team members understand how their tasks contributed to the organization (in terms of IMPACT and INCOME)?

Administrative Types and Entrepreneurial Types

A friend and leader introduced me to the work and thinking of Ichak Adizes, Ph. D.

Through extensive and credible work with corporate leaders, Dr. Adizes has developed an incredible framework to diagnose and manage the lifecycle of an organization. I’m reading Managing Corporate Lifecycles and have to stop to make about six notes on each page. The insights are profound, practical, and clear!!! I dare say his thinking is… Drucker-like!

Here’s just one little nugget – distinguishing ‘Administrative Types’ and ‘Entrepreneurial Types’.

The entrepreneurial type asks, “What else can we do?”

The administrative type asks, “What less can we do?”

A Dashboard to Measure and Manage Fundraising (Sales)

We’re often asked about ways to MEASURE and MANAGE the fundraising (read: sales) function of organizations. Here is the simple sales dashboard we use: The For Impact Green Sheet.

It measures ACTIVITY and PRODUCTIVITY – Visits. Asks. Results.

“Spend more time with better prospects.” – Brian Tracy

Here are three instances in which we use the For Impact Green Sheet with clients:

  • When we’re building a Sales Model/Team – to create alignment and a culture of philanthropy.The Green Sheet becomes a clear illustration of what matters. People start asking questions like, “How do we get more visits?” Or, “Why are we doing another mail appeal? Will it help us identify more leads?”
  • For Campaign Management.In addition to broad campaign goals, the sales dashboard is a view into all elements of a comprehensive campaign. See Today/Tomorrow/Forever Funding Model.
  • To coach and develop talent!This is an important note for ‘sales managers’ and ‘sales leaders.’ We need this dashboard (or something similar) not only for accountability, but to effectively COACH and DEVELOP talent. In fact, you really need these three things:
    • A Master Prospect List /Action Plan: You need to know the priority prospects.
    • The For Impact Green Sheet.
    • Call Memos. It’s challenging to coach someone without knowing what actually happened on a visit.

Links to definitions:

There Are Many Paths to Leadership, Not One Right Path

Here is a story about LEADERSHIP (as shared in the Encore Effect).

From Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines.
“My best lesson in leadership came during my early days as a trial lawyer. Wanting to learn from the best, I went to see two of the most renowned litigators in San Antonio try cases. One sat there and never objected to anything, was very gentle with witnesses, and established a rapport with the jury. The other was an aggressive, thundering hell-raiser. And both seemed to win every case. That’s when I realized there are many different paths, not one right path. That’s true of leadership as well. People with different personalities, different approaches, or different values succeed not because one set of values or practices is superior, but because their values and practices are genuine. And when you and your organization are true to yourselves–when you deliver results and a singular experience–customers can spot that from thirty thousand feet.”

Shortly after Apple returned to greatness (mid to late 2000’s) I started to come across CEO’s and executive directors that seemed to be modeling Steve Jobs. In fact, several said that they were. These ‘leaders’ were mercurial and churning through staff. Now, some 5-10 years later, all these Steve-Jobs-models have been fired, or they’ve burned out.

I could make a dozen points but the one I want to emphasize ties to Herb’s story. Choose a path whereby your values and practices are genuine. There are many paths – not one RIGHT path.

Staff or Staph

A special thanks to one of our Senior Partners, Steve Geuther…

Are your people STAFF or STAPH??? Are they INFECTIOUS… or an INFECTION???

While this whole ‘economy, recession, implosion‘ thing is just really a sorry excuse for not being out with our best prospects… it does provide a GREAT OPPORTUNITY to RE-THINK and RE-DESIGN and RE-ALLOCATE our personnel, people, team.

STAFF or STAPH is not just about TALENT, but about ATTITUDE!!!

If I were you, I’d use this time to seriously execute on Jim Collin’s ‘BUS’ strategy.

Right people on the bus. Wrong people off the bus. Right people in the right seats.