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Act or Ask

Act or Ask

Make this a big part of your TEAM CULTURE. A BIG, BIG part of the culture.

Everyone on the team needs to either ACT or ASK!

If they know what to do, DO IT.

If they think they know what to do, DO IT.

If they aren’t clear, then ASK … and then DO IT.

Everything’s a Project

Everything’s a Project

Here’s a very simple way to get stuff done: Make EVERYTHING A PROJECT!

This simple concept, guiding principle if you will, is for anybody who is trying to achieve a goal, make a quantum leap or change the world.

This idea has been developed over the last 15 to 20 years within our company and with our clients. It drives everything we do.

Here are the 8 steps of every PROJECT.

  • Team Leader
  • Project Team
  • Goals
  • Resources
  • Barriers/Constraints
  • Time Table
  • Measurement
  • Action Plan


Shorthand takeaways:

  • Team Leader: Obviously, critical decision. This pick needs to underscore the idea of ‘WHO’ not ‘HOW!’ The right Team Leader will do whatever it takes to reach the project’s goals. They will be collaborative coaches … but also be able to make decisions. Paraphrasing Bill Gates, the strategy for a given project must be in one person’s head.
  • Project Team: This is all about TALENT. Diverse. Eclectic. Focused on strengths. Clear roles. (Steve Elder, an incredible leader on our For Impact Team, says, “If your Project Team can’t fit in a mini-van, it’s too big.”)
  • Goals: Clear. Concise. Compelling. Must define ‘success.’ Believable. Achievable. Always better if big, hairy and audacious. (Goal should translate into a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.)
  • Resources: People. Money. Tools. Support. Internal and External. Need vs. want.
  • Barriers/Constraints: Direct tie to resources. Scope. Budget. Size. Simplicity. ‘White Space.’ Rule of 3. ANYBODY can do just about ANYTHING with an UNLIMITED BUDGET and NO TIME LIMIT! Constraints are what makes this a project.
  • Time Table: Not just a CONSTRAINT, but a way to set benchmarks, control flow, create AFE’s (Action Forcing Events).
  • Measurement: Again, Benchmarks. Sub-Goals. Critical Path. Accountability. Evaluation. Opportunities. And more. (Ancient cliché, but still rings true: “You GET what you MEASURE.”)
  • Action Plan: Use these first 7 steps to create a simple, understandable, measurable ACTION PLAN that allows for constant FEEDBACK (adjustments, pivots, reallocation, etc.) and FEED FORWARD (Focus on the goals, etc.).

Some things we’ve learned:

  • Think like Hollywood Talent Agencies. They hire for the role and the project. Every movie is a project. You bring together the most talented people you can, without regard to the department or org chart. Everyone comes together, does what they’re best at, and takes the project from concept to finished film. Then they disband and start again.
  • ‘The Ticket Is Printed.’ One of my favorite Disney ideas. When they put together a project and project team for a new ride/experience … the project team is given a date (deadline)… and then told that “The ticket is printed!” In other words, there’s going to be a line of kids (and their parents) waiting on that given day to get on the ride. (Therefore, it better be done.)
  • Scope of a PROJECT. Can range from a $300 Million Campaign to a 1-Night Signature Event … and everything in between.
    • Every level of the Today | Tomorrow | Forever Model is a project.
      (Leadership Societies, President Circles, Project Initiatives, Legacy Goals, etc.)
    • The 3 Circles/3 Buckets are PROJECTS, as well as the Programs and Priorities within each.
    • Every one of our TOP INVESTORS is a PROJECT … demanding a strategy, action plan, etc.
  • No Team ‘Meetings.’
    • Rather, gather team together whenever needed for brainstorming, mind mapping, engagement, whatever.
    • Disseminate information before the gathering.
    • Quick review of goals and status.
    • Make everything actionable. (“We can actually do something when we leave.”)
    • Always consider/challenge WHO attends the gathering and WHY.
    • As James Carville says, “Winners do. Losers meet.” (He goes on to say, “Absent a major peace negotiation, a complicated merger or a complex legal settlement, there is no reason on earth to have a meeting last more than 30 minutes.”)
  • Every team is made up of ‘I’ndividuals. The saying, “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM” is an absolute crock. Every team is made up of ‘I’ndividuals; and the SUCCESS of the team is a function of how well these ‘I’ndividuals mesh and perform.
  • 3 Parts to a Project.
    Here’s a great thought from Steven Pressfield’s terrific e-book, Do the Work. He says that “Every project can be divided into 3 parts: beginning, middle, end.”
    Then he simply says, “Decide what comprises the beginning, the middle and the end … and then fill in the gaps!
    He also says to constantly ask this question, “What is this damn thing (PROJECT) about? (What’s the goal? What’s the theme? What does success look like?)”
  • 3 P’s – Practice … Process … Performance. Each one needed for each individual and the team as a whole.
  • CELEBRATE … early and often. CELEBRATE small wins, benchmarks achieved, sub-goals reached … and, of course, every FAILURE! (If you’re not FAILING somewhere within your project … you’re not pushing hard enough.)
Elite Teams: Practice

Elite Teams: Practice

We must hear this comment three to ten times a day: “We love your stuff. We need your help (with our Board, with Training, with Coaching). BUT WE DON’T HAVE ANY MONEY IN THE BUDGET.”

The following thoughts on Elite Teams will help you re-think the whole idea of training, budgets, team dynamics, priorities and more.


  • What is the one common element inherent in every Elite Team?
  • What common thread creates Elite Teams in the military (Navy Seals, Delta Force), professional sports (LA Kings, Miami Heat, St. Louis Cardinals), professional musicians (symphony, orchestra), medical teams (surgical teams, trauma units), etc.?
  • What does every one of these elite teams … and the individuals involved with the team … DO better than everyone else in the world?

Think about it.

Military teams constantly practice, practice, practice in boot camp, training camps, simulations, etc. Up until 10 years ago, the idea was to practice … in the hope that you’d never have to play. The U.S. has now been engaged in the real stuff for over 10 years … which makes the whole idea of practice here in the States even more important.

Professional sports teams probably spend 3 to 10 times more of their time practicing than they do actually playing the game. Think spring training, training camps and exhibition seasons … training, practices and workouts during the season.

Same with professional musicians. Symphonies and orchestras spend tons of time in practice … as well as practicing individually on their respective instruments. (Same is true of all artists and actors in theaters, opera, movies, etc.)

In medicine, doctors and nurses spend a huge amount of time in practice, beginning with their medical schools and nursing schools through residency and internships, etc. Then, they practice and rehearse how to handle surgery or major trauma.

What is the ONE THING that we DO NOT DO in the not-for-profit/For Impact world?

That’s right. PRACTICE.

We don’t take any time to get together as a team. We hate role-playing. We ‘wing it’ every time we do go out and make visits (which is not very often).

Bottom Line: If you really want to have an Elite Team at your For Impact organization … you need to commit to PRACTICE! Call it training, continuing education, whatever.

I also firmly believe that this applies to your Blue Team (your IMPACT Team) as well as your Green Team (your INCOME Team).

I’ve been doing this kind of practice training with teams for over 30 years. I absolutely guarantee you that the ROI is a ridiculous 10 to 100 times! I can actually give you cases where it’s been a 1,000 times ROI within 24 to 48 hours!! (No kidding. Multiple cases!)

Just 3 Sentences

Just 3 Sentences

I received this blog in 2010 from an amazing young, talented Social Entrepreneur. In her own words, it describes how SIMPLICITY can make a HUGE difference in a presentation.

Upon hearing your presentation at StartingBloc, I prepared a document that describes my start-up in 3 sentences. A simple, concise message explaining the how, what, and why.

Today I had a meeting with a nonprofit lawyer who tore gaping wounds into my business model, revealing all the ways that my start-up is a legal nightmare. I sat in quiet horror, listening to his criticism.

After he finished his diatribe, there was a pause. And I slipped him the paper. Just 3 sentences. He read them. He re-read them. Then he took a deep breath, and agreed to take me on pro-bono!!! This is the top nonprofit lawyer in XXX! Not only is he going to help me incorporate and will develop the documents I need to be legally protected after we launch, but he is also going to use his contacts to expedite the process so that I have 501(c)3 status within 4 weeks!!! And he is going to put me in touch with his friends who run foundations!!! And he will help us get media coverage when we launch!!!

It’s a life-changing development, because otherwise, I’m certain that my organization would go down in legal flames. But now I’m taken care of! Thank you thank you thank you. I know it was the simple message that sold him. :-)

Just re-read the last sentence.

Kudos/accolades/applause to M. for doing something with an idea for the presentation.

6-Word Message

6-Word Message

Don’t short-change the power of a CLEAR, CONCISE and COMPELLING MESSAGE.

Think of this 6-WORD MESSAGE as the 6 Sigma of the For Impact World!

Special Note: ‘6 WORDS’ can break down into 6 BIG WORDS …

Here is some ‘YEAST’ for your ORGANIZATION’S 6-WORD MESSAGE:

One of the best MESSAGES ever:


This is the American Cancer Society’s WHY.

Here’s their 6-Word WHAT and HOW:


*It doesn’t get any better than this. You can have a conversation/dialogue for hours around the 6-Word WHY and 3-Word WHAT plus the 3-Word HOW.

Ohio Wesleyan University




Colorado College

What follows is 9 words but, still, 3 groups of 3 Words to capture an entire mapping process and agenda for a $300 Million Fundraising Initiative is pretty concise.



The Funding Priorities are then built around:


A Senior Community Center




*Even our FOR IMPACT Point OF VIEW can be summarized in 6 Words:




*This works for every For Impact Organization, Social Entrepreneur and For Impact Leader.


OG’s Note: HAIKU.As I was writing out these examples, I was thinking about the similarity of these 6 Words to practicing the Japanese art of Haiku. Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry consisting of 3 lines, made up 5, 7 and 5 syllables each.

I remember back in 2007, Nick and I were in the Grand Canyon rafting the Colorado River… and practicing our Haiku. Here is one of mine that captured the entire day’s activities for 14 straight days.


Two great blogs also explore the realm of simple poetry. Katya’s Non-profit Marketing Blog held a competition to see who had the best nonprofit marketing haiku. You can see the winning entry here. Nonprofit Quarterly wrote this article on the topic, and more examples are here.

Nick’s Note: If Effective, Then Plenty of Money Available

Nick’s Note: If Effective, Then Plenty of Money Available

“Most philanthropists, even experienced ones, say that it’s harder to give money away effectively than it is to make it.”
– Beth Cohen, Director of the Global Philanthropists Circle (GPG)
(An organization created by David Rockefeller’s great granddaughter.)


A few thoughts on that point:

  • You should be asking whether or not your organization is an effective use of funds.The answer is either yes or no.
    • If NO – then you don’t deserve the money (pretty simple).
    • If YES – then the issue is that you’re not able to communicate your effectiveness.

    This goes back to one of our principle message points: Impact drives Income.

    I think this is encouraging.

  • Think much bigger about your Impact and Income.Tom always shares a great line from his sales mentor, who came from the life insurance business: “It’s easier to sell a million dollar policy to a qualified prospect than it is to sell a $10,000 policy to a family member.” Thing big about your qualified prospects.

    The greater the capacity and philanthropic interest, the more difficult it is for that person to be effective (evidenced by the quote from Cohen).

    This means there is an entire network of investors out there looking for you (if you are an effective investment).

    This is also encouraging.

  • Trust me, most organizations are not out communicating their impact.While we know there are plenty of people who have ‘short arms and deep pockets,’ I have a tough time accepting that judgment about somebody before going to see them.
    • Most people don’t go visit with the prospect: they send a letter, don’t hear back, call it a rejection, and chalk it up to the idea that he prospect is “getting hit up by everybody.” Or, “It’s a competitive environment.”
    • When they do visit, they ‘ask for money’ (instead of ‘presenting the opportunity’). They don’t communicate the impact. What the prospect hears is, “We want your money,” instead of, “This is how the investment will change lives, save lives or impact lives.”
    • Or, worse yet, they visit, talk about the NEED for money, share no impact and make no real ask.

    So don’t base your assumptions about prospects (people, foundations or corporations) on what you’ve heard on the street.

    Try this.

    • Get a visit with a qualified prospect.
    • Share the story around your impact (communicating your effectiveness).
    • Present the opportunity to make an investment that will change lives, save lives or transform lives.

    It makes all the difference in the world. You will be successful and the word on the street will be that you walk on water.

You Need Funds “For What?”

You Need Funds “For What?”

We were brainstorming about a coaching client. Talked about trying to get them to stop begging for money … and start answering the question:


We can’t figure out why this ends up being so powerful, but it just is. In the start-up/entrepreneurial world, we call this USE OF FUNDS. It answers the question: “Where does the money go?”

It’s tied directly to packaging your Priorities and Projects and Programs (obviously around your IMPACT) vs. ASKING FOR MONEY!

Stop begging for money. Start talking about the WHAT and the USE OF FUNDS!

Nick’s Note: Stop Cultivating and Start Communicating

Nick’s Note: Stop Cultivating and Start Communicating

“Why do we cultivate people?” As Tom always reminds me, “Cultivation is that thing you do with plants and manure.”

I really, truly don’t understand ‘cultivation.’ We are in the business of saving, changing, and impacting lives. If you can help people understand your impact then it’s really not about cultivation; it’s about asking whether or not they want to help you with your cause.

I use a simple story to emphasize my point. Imagine that you and your prospect were walking around a lake and came upon a drowning child. What would that prospect do? It’s likely she would jump in, fully committed to save the life of the child (so would you). I can’t imagine a scenario where you would first try to spend years getting this person interested in saving children (read: cultivation).

So … if you’re saving or changing lives then you can’t really argue that we need more cultivation. I would propose that the issue at hand is really much more about communication. That is, how you communicate your impact in such a way that is clear, concise and compelling. So clear, in fact, the prospect jumps on board (read: into the lake) to make a major investment in your vision.

If you can communicate the impact, the income will follow. If you can communicate the impact, you can ask for any amount of money on the first (sometimes second) visit. The challenge, again, is that we struggle with our message. Or, we might even have the message, but we’re not out visiting with people, one-on-one, to share the message and present the opportunity for them to help (save the child – as it were).

Your job is to communicate the impact, not spread manure. I know that’s blunt but I want to motivate you to action with this idea. You’re doing great things … so present the opportunity for someone to help … now.

People come from all over the world to the For Impact Boot Camp because they need more money. In order to address that, we spend almost half of the Camp talking about HOW to COMMUNICATE the IMPACT. It’s all about communication, and it’s why attendees have success when leaving. They have the ability to communicate their impact in such a way that it is as clear as saving a drowning child.

P.S. If you think my example is too simplistic or unrealistic, please know that this same example is what set into motion the greatest philanthropist of our era – I’ve altered the lake example somewhat but borrowed it from noted philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer who wrote an amazing article in the New York Times, “What Should a Billionaire Give – and What Should You?” In that article he also explains Bill Gates’ moment of clarity around impact that moved him to action.

Get Those Who Get Your CAUSE, Then Sell Your CASE.

Get Those Who Get Your CAUSE, Then Sell Your CASE.

Cause: Your reason for existence. The big problem you’re trying to solve or change.

Case: Your approach. Your model. The way in which you impact the CAUSE.

Think about the difference between CAUSE and CASE.

The goal is to be with people who already understand the CAUSE. Then you can spend time engaging them with the CASE.

Granted, some of you have a very niche cause … or a ‘not-pretty cause.’ There are people out there who get it. THESE are your prospects.

We watch a lot of organizations try to build case statements and the bulk of the message is about the CAUSE. If someone already gets the CAUSE, then you’re wasting your message. If someone doesn’t get the CAUSE, then you’re wasting your focus.

Drucker: 5 Most Important Questions

Drucker: 5 Most Important Questions

Peter Drucker was certainly the management guru of all gurus and master of simplicity. (Although his book MANAGEMENT is 568 pages!)

Drucker talks about THE 5 MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS YOU WILL EVER ASK ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION. Jim Collins, Philip Kotler and Francis Hesselbein all contributed here.

Here are Drucker’s 5 self-assessment questions:


We love Peter Drucker’s thinking and his ‘stuff.’ Although he has positioned these 5 questions for any ‘ORGANIZATION,’ we think they could be slightly re-worded or re-positioned for all FOR IMPACT ORGANIZATIONS.


    Vision. Impact. Mission. Reason for our Existence. Highest Level of Engagement.


    Directly. Indirectly. Ripple Effect. Individuals, Families, Community, Diaspora, the World.


    Goals. 3 Circles. 3 Buckets. Focus.


    Action Plan. Funding Plan. Math.


    Impact Drives Income. Ideal Profile. Master Prospect List.

We’re always amazed that some incredible organizations we’ve worked with have trouble with ANY of these 5 questions. The fact is, almost no organization we’ve ever worked with has simple answers (that are clear, concise, and compelling) to these questions.

Once you’ve thought about these ‘answers’… you can turn them into a wonderful PRESENTATON TOOL around PURPOSE, PRIORITIES and PLAN.



FRAMING a message … FRAMING a story … FRAMING an issue.

FRAMING is about CHOOSING THE LANGUAGE to define the subject.

FRAMING is about FITTING priorities/issues INTO broader story lines.

This is huge. You need to THINK ABOUT the way you:

  • FRAME … Your MESSAGE (With a great story, Grand Metaphors, Visuals, etc.)
  • FRAME … Your priorities, projects and programs
  • FRAME … both your CAUSE and your CASE

WHY do I think this is IMPORTANT???

Because the bottom line is you’re FRAMING your IMPACT … the IMPACT which drives your INCOME!


Make Your Vision a Reality

Make Your Vision a Reality

It all begins with VISION. Having a great VISION, a great idea that can impact the world, help people, save lives.

To make that vision a reality, you must be able to clearly articulate it. You need a CLEAR, SIMPLE MESSAGE.

Then you’ll build on that message … with the storylines, the math, and last of all, the presentation tools that put it all together to COMMUNICATE your VISION to prospective investors … volunteer leadership … your team … anyone who will help make your vision a reality.

You need to:

  • Have a clear, compelling VISION/PICTURE of the future … and your impact.
  • Be able to articulate that vision as a powerful MESSAGE … with 3 great STORYLINES.
  • Have the accompanying MATH and PLAN on how to get there.