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How many visits should we make? It depends. Focus on your top 10.

Recently a board member with an organization asked:

“Based on your experience in working with hundreds of organizations, how many visits should we make? How many requests should we shoot for? Then, how many yes’s and no’s should we plan to receive?”

I gave that great ‘outside expert answer’: It depends.

I then shared some thoughts that I hoped would offer more guidance.

I’ve never seen an organization commit itself to visiting with its top ten prospects… doing whatever it takes to make these relationships a top priority… maximizing each relationship… in a given year… and not be totally transformed financially.

A lot of clauses in that but the big point is: most organizations don’t focus on their top 10 prospects.

    First, most organizations don’t take the time to really determine what their top 10 prospect list looks like.

    If they do, they typically decide (without cause) that 3-4 prospects will be impossible to visit with. They put energy into other areas (like events) because its easier (not simpler) to do so.

    They make decisions for other top prospects. For example, I heard someone say last week, “She made a three-year pledge two years ago so we can’t go talk to her.” Huh?

    They drop-the-ball on follow-up when they do visit. It’s as if the organization puts so much energy into securing visits that it completely forgets about follow-up and closing. Often we will see organizations trying to go out and find/develop new relationships instead of following up with best prospects that have already been asked.

    Finally there is a tendency to AVOID visiting with the prospect for fear of messing things up. You don’t visit… you don’t ask… you can’t maximize.


9 Big Board Questions (republished)

Today wanted to re-share a popular post from a few years ago: 9 Big Board Questions


I’ve been a part of dozens of board retreats (leader/observer/participant), meetings and planning sessions in the lasts few years. A traditional strategic planning session lays out goals and actions but often fails to ask some really big driving questions.

What if we asked these questions?

  1. What is our purpose or raison d’etre? This is different from mission – which should be the same thing but usually ends up being more about ‘place in the world’ vs. purpose. Raison d’etre literally means REASON FOR EXISTENCE. It’s the WHY question. If you can’t answer WHY then WHAT and HOW are irrelevant.

  2. How can we (intentionally) go out of business? As this for the short term (1000 days) or long term (50+ years). You exist to change lives, save lives or transform lives. How often do we re-examine our activities and ask, “Can we find a SOLUTION?” I started to qualify this question — to say that it might not apply to some organizations such as schools. Then, I withdrew my qualification. Ask it anyway; see where the conversation takes you. Education is changing.

  3. What would you do with $100M? Or pick a number that is a factor of 10x higher than anything you’re thinking about now. I attended a board retreat last weekend as a board member for Road of Life Cancer Prevention for Kids. With $100M one board member said she would get laws changed to make health education mandatory at an earlier age and another said we should invest in longitudinal studies to understand how health prevention impacts kids. Those are two VERY DIFFERENT priorities and we aren’t doing either right now. Ultimately, the question helped to build consensus around focusing on EDUCATION.Until the question was asked, every debate was about incremental tactics, not vision or even, I would argue, strategy.

  4. What strategic partnerships can we pursue? You have finance committees, development committees, marketing committees, campaign committees. If anything, I would like to see a partnership committee. Better yet, just a commitment to partnerships as a core priority (DNA) of the organization. I haven’t seen the numbers in a while but we’re somewhere in excess of 2million nonprofits and many more socially focused businesses (all For Impact). Current structures and strategic planning questions focus on bloat, not partnerships. We’re all trying to make a difference so let’s make a commitment (financial resources) to exploring this full time.

  5. How can we maximize our impact? Simple and open-ended… but not asked enough.

  6. What are we best in the world at? Jim Collins has made this conversation prevalent in the last few years (revisiting the Hedgehog Concept). It’s ultimately a question of priorities and focus. Consider finding the one thing you do very well and FOCUS on that. I can’t tell you how important this discussion is for your staff. It helps them make decisions about grants, programs, staffing, etc. Equally important is identifying those things that you’re not good at. Side note: I am a big Marcus Buckingham disciple. He tells you to focus on your strengths.

  7. Should we grow ‘wider’ or ‘deeper’? It’s a scope of services question. Ultimately a lot of ‘strategic planning’ comes down to this question. Do we add more depth to our current programs (make them longer, more available, etc)? Or, do we expand our scope of services (diverse offerings, expanded continuum, etc.)? Refer back to question six to help you frame this debate.

  8. How much money do we need to achieve our vision? What usually happens: we spend time tweaking funding goals based on last year’s results. It would be of huge value [to everyone] if we knew how much money we really needed to accomplish our vision (annually or over time via a campaign initiative). Reflecting on this, I would say that this question is often asked in preparation for a campaign but it is not asked in relation to our operation (annual). Why not? Instead, we set a number and then allocate it (budget)… every year.

  9. What is our business model? Or, what business are we in?

    I think this goes along with several other questions and relates to strengths, focus and priorities. It also adds clarity and could even become part of your message.

I think these questions would also SOLVE a lot of the problems I hear about every day:

  1. Board engagement / Staff communication: It works both ways.

  2. Board meetings: If we’re on board about the big stuff it raises the level of the conversation. I think a lot of the comments I hear about board members being too detail focused or staff members seeming unfocused is resolved when we can communicate about and focus on the big picture.

  3. The proverbial rat race: Incremental thinking gets incremental results (some times).


Don’t Make Decisions for your Prospects

We held our annual For Impact Funding Boot Camp last week here at Eagle Creek. This is our capstone training where we spend two days covering the practical nuts and bolts of sales and the sales process.

We’re constantly asking the group for feedback / takeaways. This is often a good reminder to us about important points (to reinforce here). Malik, from a college advancement team, called out an important lesson: DON’T MAKE DECISIONS FOR YOUR PROSPECTS.

How often do WE decide???

  • It’s not the right time to ask… or the prospect isn’t ready
  • We can’t ask for THAT much
  • The prospect probably isn’t interested in that program

You don’t know until you ASK.

  • “Could we talk about ways for you to support a program?”
  • “Would it be possible for you to help underwrite this program?”
  • “I know this is the first time we’re together and talking about this but… with your permission… I would love to show you where we’re going and ask for your help.”

So many ways to ask. Just ASK. Let the prospect make the decision.


Success Demands Failure (Rory)

I’m on the way to Ireland for 4 days of intense training. I’ve been ‘prepping’ all week. Excited to be with 180 people on Monday’s initial session.

Ireland triggered the gest of this SUCCESS TO MAN’S FAILURE! Even if you hate golf, you had to notice that Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlory’s amazing accomplishments during the US Open Championship.

There was a great article in USA Today by Steve Dimeglio that talked about this young man and what he accomplished. There were a number of things that I thought were very applicable to all SUCCESS TO MAN’S FAILURE. Rory McIlory has led 3 of the last 4 major golf championships. In the Master’s in Augusta, he had a 4 shot, 54 hole lead and then imploded with a final round of 80.

There was a huge media attack after this. McIlroy shared with his agent this comment: “Honestly, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. At the end of the day, it’s just a golf tournament and I’m 21.” What a great attitude.

More importantly, all of the commentators in this article basically agreed that without that ‘failure at the end of the Master’s’ he would have not gone on to win the US Open and set 6 or 7 different records! (Lowest score in an Open, only player to be at 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 under par, etc.!)

Note: “Tapping into this failure (at Augusta), McIlroy came to the Open with a chip on his shoulder and a new found attitude. More aggressive. Never thinking about playing defensively. Played each hole without thinking ahead.”

“I had a CLEAR PICTURE in mind of what I needed to do and where my FOCUS needed to be when I got myself in that position again.”

Finally, he said, “To be able to finish it off the way I did just tells me that I learned from it (my experience at Augusta) and I’ve moved on. Now I’ve got this and I can go ahead and concentrate on getting some more.”

The change in attitude produced amazing results.

Special Note: What I really love about this young man from Northern Ireland is his willingness to listen and seek counsel from the major champions of the game.

We can all learn from that.


The Individual Skills of Your Board Members!

I was in Colorado Friday at a Board Retreat for an amazing hospital focused on traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.

*Last year we laid out the Plan and Strategy for a $100 Million Initiative. This year we reported the progress that was fueled by the hospital’s Senior Staff, the Foundation Team and the Board.

I wanted to share with all of you a truly astounding activity and result.

We really brainstorming ideas on specific ways that Board Members could help with our 3 Priorities of People, Programs and Place and especially with our $75 Million Vibrant Family Campus.

I had written up on the flip chart a simple note about utilizing the individual skills possessed by each Board Member.

A brilliant young Board Member, who also happened to be an alum (former patient), picked up on that and asked if it would be okay if we went around the room and had every Board Member share their particular skill/strength, as well as what they were going to specifically do on this effort.

WOW! Totally screwed up our time schedule, etc. However, results were beyond belief.

Board Members talked about their strengths and skill set (in business, sales, construction, etc.) They each said the one thing that they thought they could do which would provide the most help to the staff and on the campaign.

Examples included:

    • Go On Visits… to Ask or to Share their Story.
    • Open Doors.
    • Help with Branding and Marketing.
    • Help with the Construction Project. And on and on.

I’ve done an awful lot of work at Board Retreats. This was one of the most powerful activities I’ve ever seen.

The Executive Director of the Foundation and I took a lot of notes. Now we have to follow-up. We will.


Shaping the Message. Telling the Story.

In another blurb that came out from Notre Dame News, the current president, Father John Jenkins, was talking about his vice president of university relations, Lou Nanni.

In a very complimentary way, Father Jenkins indicated that, in the time that he has served, Lou has been involved in “shaping Notre Dame’s messaging and helping tell our story to various constituencies”.

I’ve got a lot of comments over the years about how ‘easy’ it would be to raise money for Notre Dame, how you don’t have to worry about doing ‘this stuff’ at Notre Dame, etc.

Father Jenkins quote seems like a gentle reminder that, even at Notre Dame, it is very important to shape the message and tell the story.


Doing Something Meaningful & Important

Morris Pollard, professor emeritus of biological sciences and director of the University of Notre Dame’s Lobund Laboratory, died Saturday at 95 years old. I had a chance, first hand, to see the work that Dr. Pollard did that had an impact on Notre Dame, the community and the world.

As one of the first Jewish scholars and faculty members, Pollard was convinced by Father Hesburgh (president) to join the faculty in 1961 and expand the ecumenical presence.

In the news release from Notre Dame, here’s the paragraph and the quote I found most telling.

Pollard worked at all of these things until his very last days. “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he said recently. “I think if you are doing something meaningful and important and you stop doing it, you’ll always look back with regret.”

As another old (but not that old) guy, I would add that if you are doing something meaningful and important, there’s no reason to stop doing it. That’s what many/most of you are doing in this wonderful For Impact world.


“The Only Purpose of Business is to Have a Customer”

One of management guru Peter Drucker’s great lines.

What does it mean in the FOR IMPACT world?

If we aren’t significantly IMPACTING our ‘CUSTOMER’ — those people who we deliver our service/solution to their problem — then we don’t have a ‘business/organization‘ worthy of anyone’s investment (gift)!

***In the ENTREPRENEURIAL world, this “purpose of business” is often lost.

A ‘customer’ also means someone who is willing to pay for your service/solution!!!

This could include an investor, partner of philanthropist helping to underwrite your service/solution.


Be Unreasonable

At For Impact | The Suddes Group each team member is or has been an entrepreneur. Collectively, we’ve started over 30 companies… failed at some… succeeded at others. Much of what you read at is really entrepreneurial thinking – applied to the For Impact world.

Our fire and passion for the entrepreneurial spirit has led to some great relationships with young social entrepreneurs who are changing the world through StartingBloc, Sparkseed, Ashoka Youth Ventures and The Unreasonable Institute.

Teju and Nikil, two Unreasonable Institute founders, first joined us at one of our boot camps two years ago. Since then, we’ve been active mentors to the UI team and UI fellows. While we’re supposed to be guiding and leading based on our experience I think we probably get more out of the relationship from the fellows and from the ‘unreasonable vibe’ in Boulder. It’s completely invigorating to be a part of accelerator community.

Kerry was in Boulder yesterday. She led a kickoff session for 27 fellows from 11 countries… sharing with them the Impact drives Income message and challenging them to Think Big, Build Simple, Act Now. Tom will be out there in a few weeks helping the young entrepreneurs seek clarity around their business models and source start-up capital.

These young entrepreneurs… most of whom already have a viable product… will spend the next 10 weeks together in Boulder working with seasoned entrepreneurs… cranking up the audacity of their visions and hopefully leaving with networks, skills and financing they need to help them change the world.

Follow along this summer by watching Unreasonable.TV. Be inspired with us at For Impact while we watch these bold young entrepreneurs grow, learn and change the world.


Steve Jobs and a Simple Message: It Just Works

“It Just Works.”

This is what Steve Jobs kept saying last week when he introduced iCloud – a part of the Mac Operating system that will allow you to access all of your files, all the time, from any of your devices.

Jobs is the master at simple messaging. He could’ve talked about syncing, storage methods, how-it-works, etc. That ‘stuff’ wasn’t important to his message: IT JUST WORKS.

(At one point he talks about Apple’s new data center… he simply says its full of ‘all sorts of expensive stuff’.)

At the highest level Jobs was speaking to anyone that’s ever had a frustration with new technology… whether it be the tech dummy OR the geek that always has to support the tech dummy.

It’s worth noting that Steve was speaking primarily to a room full of geeks when he gave this address.

A fun exercise: Watch Steve Jobs (you will have to scroll to about 1:19:00 in the keynote). Now imagine he’s talking about your organization. What would he say? Can you imagine him up there in jeans and a black shirt saying, “Here it is… WE SAVE LIVES!” Can you imagine him weaving that into his address about 20 times in 20 minutes?

A little hat tip to MG Siegler at who pointed out ‘It Just Works‘.


Meaning Before Detail

This morning I’m re-reading Brain Rules. It’s become one of my favorite books because it provides so much science and explanation for how the brain actually works… how we learn… how we understand… how we engage.

One line really leaps out today:

The brain processes meaning before detail. Providing the gist, the core concept, first [is] like giving a thirsty person a tall glass of water. And the brain likes hierarchy. Starting with the general concepts naturally leads to explaining information in a hierarchical fashion. You have to do the general idea first. And then you will see a 40% increase in understanding.”

This really reinforces the Altitude framework for presentations… starting with the core concept most often around the WHY/Purpose.

You can actually say – at the start of the visit – “I would love to just start off by really summing up what we’re trying to do at the highest level…” Share your message. Then have a quick conversation around that MESSAGE.


Have a Funding Rationale: Something to Ask For

It’s important to have a great story and then you need something to ask for — a funding rationale.

If the story is the emotion then the funding rationale is the logic behind the ask.

  • $1,200 to cover the gap in one student impacted.
  • $36,000 over three years to underwrite a family counseling program.
  • $1M to be one of three seed funders that will take your program to scale.

Having a strong funding rationale converts the emotion (of the story) to something concrete. It frames the ask. (See How to Create a Funding Rationale Tied to Impact.)

Without a funding rationale a few things usually happen:

  • There is no real ask… because we’re not sure what to ask for.
  • The ask is so general that you receive a sliver of what you really needed.
  • The funder will restrict the giving… only because he or she doesn’t really understand from you what the money will be used for so it was decided for you.