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The Puzzle is the Vision. The Piece is the Ask.

This is a metaphor that came out of some work we’re doing with a large community health center.

The center sees over 100,000 patients each year. It also provides comprehensive wrap around programs, including Mental Health, Wellness and Education. To my eyes, it does so in a way that illustrates that healthcare doesn’t have to be broken. Furthermore, each of clinical environments is outstanding. Considering the demographics (poor/marginalized) that are served and impacted, one is struck immediately by how the place feels more like a “Googleplex with creative health specialists” than a “Greyhound Station with doctors”.

It’s a WOW!

The Suddes Group was called upon to help the organization devise a strategy to raise $2 Million a clinic construction project. One could quickly see that this one clinic (in the context of 17 existing clinics) was just a project – a piece of an entire health ecosystem (which, in total, had some $60 Million in projects on the horizon).

With the team, we re-framed the story around the bigger picture: the innovation ecosystem that was successfully challenging the healthcare paradigm. Talking about the entire scope and vision made the clinic much easier to talk about. It gave it context, which is what a story should do.

I asked the team how things were changing at the organization through our engagement. One of the grant writers had a great line. She said, “I used to always get hung up on how to position the piece. Now it’s a lot easier to talk about the puzzle than just zero in on one piece of the puzzle for the ask.”

I love this. It’s a great metaphor. The puzzle is the vision. The piece is the ask.


To What End?

What’s with superwoman (literally) on Friday? She is running a very fast growing ‘marketing’ company. Running a household with two teenagers. Engaged in a community. And serving on the Board of a local college.

As we were reviewing the draft of the Engagement Tool for the college… she asked a very simple question (re: the Blue Box Message and the 3 Storylines).


Her point was easy to get and easy to accept. ‘WHY’ were we talking about that particular topic of those particular words? “TO WHAT END?”

A really great reminder that we can spend a lot of time with these Engagement Tools and worrying about our words and themes and our stories… and forgetting to ask that very simple question:



Would You Consider A Leadership Gift?

We’re working with a wonderful Executive Director with a hospital that’s in a $93 Million ‘Campaign’.

She is using this great ‘line‘ with just about everyone she visits with:


*And, shows them a ‘Funding Pyramid‘… with $1 Million as the minimum level leadership investment.

Talk about a great way to get the ‘ASK’ on the ‘TABLE’.

Here’s the best part of this idea/nugget:



Philanthropy is ‘Sustainable’

Today I want to share a thought posted three years ago. From 2005-2008 I saw a lot of debates about the term ‘social entrepreneur’. At times it took on (and still takes on) a discussion about the role of philanthropy. In particular, I wrote this after being with an organization that was hell bent on ‘not needing philanthropy’… so that it could be sustainable.

Thoughts and facts on the matter haven’t changed much…


Lately, I’ve been having something of identity crisis with respect to ‘social entrepreneurs’ and ‘for impact leaders’. A consensus definition is forming that a social entrepreneur includes using some sort of earned-income model. Moreover, I see a general attitude from those consensus circles that fundraising/philanthropy is somehow ineffective or even, in some cases, undesirable because (as I was told by someone last week) ‘it’s not sustainable’.

The traditional nonprofit paradigm needs to change (and is changing). Tom and For Impact have been sounding that horn for a long time along with many others – I don’t think we’re the first and we certainly are not the only.

I have a slightly different take on what a social entrepreneur is–the definition. To me, it’s someone that thinks like an entrepreneur and puts his or her efforts into changing the world. It’s not about the business model, it’s about the attitude. It’s not about earned-income, it’s about ‘changing the performance capacity of society’ (Drucker’s definition).

Social Entrepreneur v. (For) Impact
I was working with an org that’s actively implementing a ‘hybrid model’ including a revenue stream and some private funding support. This organization is tackling poverty and has a pretty kick ass approach (making a HUGE impact). The leaders of this organization run in the social-entrepreneur-world there was a huge romance with finding sustainability through earned income. So much so that that became their message and focus. My question: Do you want to be best in the world at building a hybrid or do you want to be best in the world at ENDING POVERTY?

This is a VERY IMPORTANT question.

On Philanthropy.
It’s sustainable. That is, there is plenty of money and I think many are wrong (fools?) to shun this as a readily available resource to be leveraged. What’s not sustainable is working with that capital and not being able to communicate the impact, the ROI.

  • Last year the US gave away $306 Billion. According to the Giving USA this number has gone up every year since 1987. Even this year it was going up (just not at the same rate as previous years).

    We’ve also done work in Europe and while I’m not as familiar with the climate I can offer a field-level view that philanthropy is exploding. In Ireland, for example, they’ve changed laws to make giving tax-deductible. While this isn’t the REASON people give it does elevate awareness and the culture of philanthropy.

  • Last January Businessweek interviewed the worlds top philanthropists who said their number one challenge was giving away money effectively, not making money. Think about that… plenty of money… challenge is to do good.

  • I’ve attended Social Enterprise gatherings and am always struck by this point (made by a speaker – I forget the attribution), “It’s hard enough to start a business with people that have their lives together than to try to pull that off with those that are struggling.” More

So what is the answer?
Philanthropy is VERY sustainable for those that show ROI in terms of IMPACT. To offer one example, it can come in the form of long-term strategic partnerships (think City Year and Timberland).

And, to be clear, I am an entrepreneur. I LOVE creative revenue streams. I just want to raise the point about focus, return-on-energy and the trend I’m seeing.

We need to show communicate impact – always.

I’ve been with the foundations and funders that say things like, “We only like to start programs because we don’t want the organization to be dependent on us for operating.” I’ve asked these same funders: “WHAT IF we could show you how that money saves lives every year?” They look at me with a loss for words… as if no one has ever presented this challenge and quickly assure they would more than happily look at such an investment.

Rockefeller… Gates…*. It ain’t going anywhere. I think a real entrepreneur would always leverage these resources. It’s quite sustainable so long as we’re having an impact.

Note for the 2011 edition: isn’t sure what it’s doing these days. My point, however, is that there will be NEW players coming to the table again and again.


Think Big: Transformational Funding

We’re doing some work with a college access program. Founded about six years ago, it’s now looking to raise $4M over the next 1000 days (in effect, doubling the operating budget). Insofar as every organization is perfectly designed to get the results its getting, these next 1000 days are about DESIGNING our intents, our team, our programs to move from helping 500 seniors get to college (and graduate with success) to 2000 students (note, this is simply a number based on serving the total need at several schools.

We have a funding plan that calls for a $500K lead gift (over 1000 days).

L. emails “I’m not sure we have someone that can do a $500K lead gift… maybe we need to lower our leadership levels.”

My email back:

Isn’t this next chapter about CHANGE/INNOVATION/AWESOMENESS? Isn’t it about TRANSFORMATION? Can we be thinking bigger? Is there not someone in [our city] that could give $150K++ to this (x3)??? Shouldn’t we provide the space for that possibility?

I really truly believe that top number… at this stage of the game… within our team is about the visceral connection to the vision. Is this about a MOVEMENT? CHANGING LIVES? SHAKING others in [our city] by their necks saying, “Come on people, wake up, this is a BIG DEAL?” If that’s the tone, the belief, the pitch, then $150K+ per year is about TRANSFORMING THE WORK THAT WE’RE DOING!

I completely accept that we don’t know that gift will be at this point. I also acknowledge that we don’t have a LEADER for that level. For you, at this point, I don’t think this is about the ‘old school definition’ of LEADER but it is all about the other word ‘TRANSFORMATION’.

I would keep a higher level… if someone asked me, “Do we think we can get that?” My answer would be, “We must! I don’t know who it will be but I’ll be damned if we don’t bring some urgency and audacity that can bring someone on at that level… if we can’t then I think it’s more a statement about our vision and plan than funding capacity.”

[incidentally, L. was asked this on a visit yesterday and she gave her version of this response!]

Can we say for sure that you’ll find that person? Hell no. Worse case scenario, we alter the funding plan at a later date to reflect the gifts you’re collecting. We go with a wider base – more visits – more gifts – but setting as an intention to play it safe is not how we create the kind of change we need in the community.

I think a ‘Leadership Commitment’ can be limiting in terms of thinking. I’ve sat with funders who have said, “I don’t want to take the lead.” (eg. $1M+). I’ve had conversations with these same funders who have then committed $1M to TRANSFORM the organization. While the $1M (in this instance) is a ‘lead gift’ its purpose is different, in a profound way.

Just something to think about.

I think we’ll continue to see more and more opportunities for TRANSFORMATIONAL FUNDING. As the decade long trend of more wealth ending up in the hands of fewer people there will be less leadership and more transformation. Think: Gates. The Gates Foundation can’t LEAD everything. Yet, I can think of several projects we’re working on in which Gates has made gifts to organizations at transformational levels.


Build. Measure. Learn.*

*On my recent visit to Ireland, I shared a book by Eric Ries called THE LEAN START-UP.

In October 2011 issue of Inc. Magazine (one of my favorites), there is a terrific cover article about Eric and his methodical approach to launching companies (organizations).

It’s best summarized by a BUILD (SIMPLE), MEASURE (TEST) and LEARN (FAST).

Then, do it over and over and over again.

Please, please, please take a moment and read this article! Just a couple of ‘text bites’ to capture your attention.

  • “Bit by bit, customers tore apart our seemingly brilliant initial strategy.”
  • “If the goal was to learn important insights about our customers, why did it take so long?”
  • “Is it possible that we could have discovered how flawed our assumptions were without building anything?”
  • “In other words, which of our efforts were creating value, and which were wasteful?”
  • And finally, “If learning is the essential unit of progress for startups, any effort that is not absolutely necessary for learning what customers want should be eliminated.”



Steve Jobs: Rest In Peace. You Deserve It.

One of my real entrepreneurial ‘heroes’ passed away yesterday. Steve Jobs certainly had some faults (as we all do), but he represented just about everything I admire in an ‘entrepreneur‘. Visionary. Focused. Customer Experience Centered. All about Design and Aesthetics. Changed the World.

This morning I was trying to figure out how best to capture Steve Jobs in a way that would be beneficial to all of you. Then I realized it was pretty simple. My words are worthless. Listen and read his words at the 2005 Stanford Commencement Address.

Even if you’ve already read or seen his “3 Stories“… it’s well worth a review. He talks more about failure than success. More about challenges than accomplishments. And he talks about death.

One of his most ubiquitous quotes graces many of our For Impact publications.


Steve, you accomplished that as well as anyone.

Rest in peace. You deserve it.


Think Like An Entrepreneur

You might have read recently of my week with Social Entrepreneurs of Ireland. An amazing group with a simple tagline: THINK BIG. ACT NOW. CHANGE IRELAND.

On the plane back from Ireland (7 hours of almost non-stop writing), I realized that everyone I have worked with in the last 10 years that I truly admire shared a kind of ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT and ENTREPRENEURIAL ATTITUDE.

For all For Impact Leaders, Board Members, Board Members, Development Teams and random users/viewers… you are ALL Entrepreneurs!

I challenge you, today, to THINK LIKE AN ENTREPRENEUR!

  • Entrepreneurs look for opportunity in every crisis.
  • Entrepreneurs look for a solution to every problem.
  • Entrepreneurs look for talent in a much larger available pool.

I worked with 7 terrific social enterprises for 3 hours one afternoon. Here are the Entrepreneurial Quotes I shared with them.

Read and enjoy.

*You are one of Drucker’s ‘people’ who are “CHANGING THE PERFORMANCE CAPACITY OF SOCIETY“.


Ask… Listen… Ask… Listen

In our trainings, we do a ‘card trick’ to demonstrate the greatest sales tip ever.

ASK a questionLISTEN to the answerASK another question (based on the previous response)… LISTEN to answer.

Asking questions is the best way to do DISCOVERY… the best way to create ENGAGEMENT… and an absolutely marvelous way to be able to PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY!

Here are 3 quick tips on how to be a great listener, followed by an article from Selling Power (September/October 2011) titled ARE YOU LISTENING? (8 Steps to Positive Listening Skills That Can Improve Your Sales) by the editors of Selling Power.

    1. Total focus. Actually sit up, engage with your eyes and ears as you focus on exactly what the prospect is saying.
    2. Get people to tell their story. Most people love to talk about themselves and share their stories with you. This is a perfect fit with out IMPACT –> INCOME | SHARE THE STORY –> PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY. (It’s not just you that should share the story… but they should share their story with you.)
    3. Take notes. In my mind, this is a great way to show respect, show that you’re listening and show that you care. The best thing about notes for me is that it helps me focus on listening, and then when the prospect is finished I can refer back to the notes and quotes.
    *It’s also a great way to capture as much of the visit as you can for the Memo for the Record, which, of course, you are going to complete as soon after the call as possible.

Read the article for 8 More Steps to Positive Listening Skills!



“If it is important, do it every day.”

“If it’s important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it all.”

This quote from Dan Gable, perhaps the world’s best and certainly most famous wrestler, is from an article titled The Gable Method by Dan John.

While the article addresses this in the context of coaching and warm-ups and training… its application to all of us is pretty powerful.

On the Personal Development front: family, children, friends, health, growth, etc. (“If it’s important…”)

On the Funding/Income side, it means that everyone in the For Impact World is very interested in generating more income, revenue and philanthropic support… yet (almost) everyone in this sector says, in effect, “I know I need to do more Major Gifts, make more Asks, whatever… but I don’t have time to do that after meetings, budgets, events, meetings, committees, meetings (you get the point).

If it is important, do it every day. If you made one personal contact every day to better maximize a relationship, what would happen? If just one person in your organization Presented an Opportunity (made an ASK) every day.… what would happen?


“If it is important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all.”


For Love & Money

Interesting article in latest Fast Company on Philippe Cousteau Jr. He and his sister have started a foundation called EarthEcho International.

Article starts with Cousteau wondering, in the wake of the recession, if the “not-for-profit system itself was flawed”. (Duh?)

Article is primarily about starting socially responsible exchange-traded fund (ETF). I’m not espousing this as a great idea. I am, however, happy anytime somebody looks at creative ways to have a greater impact.

Interesting quote,

“When I apply for one and get it, that means someone else doesn’t. I didn’t want to be a part of that anymore.”