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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

Meaning Before Details

One of the best books I’ve ever read on engagement is Brain Rules, by John Medina. Medina, a college professor, shares simplified neuroscience to keep your brain engaged in order to maximize learning and retention.

This is a worthwhile book for teachers, leaders, and SALESPEOPLE!

One big takeaway from Medina is that the brain processes meaning before details.

“Normally, if we don’t know the gist—the meaning—of information, we are unlikely to pay attention to its details. The brain selects meaning-laden information for further processing and leaves the rest alone.”

Medina, John. Brain Rules (Updated and Expanded): 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (pp. 114-115). Pear Press. Kindle Edition.

There are a couple of ways in which you can help someone else engage around content with this key idea in mind.

The first is — very simply — to start with the ‘why’. WHY are you undertaking this project? WHY did you found the organization? WHY does this matter? The WHY is the meaning… everything else is the detail. The Altitude Framework starts with WHY; it is organized to present meaning before detail.

And the second reminder is to start with the other person’s WHY. Focus on what is most meaningful to the other person. WHY is this important to them? WHY are they doing what they’re doing?

Types of Value Propositions

We’re pretty big on building a value proposition around the impact (of the program, of the investment — hence, our name: For Impact). It’s worth defining other common types of value propositions so that you can illustrate opportunities (to sell impact) within your organization, or so that your team can see how selling-impact compares with existing strategies.

Legacy/Sponsorship: Focused on recognition and/or exposure for an individual or corporation.

Many people don’t think of these as being similar but they both seek to name — or recognize — the funder, whether that’s a family’s name on the side of a building or a local bank displayed on a website banner.

Programs & Capital: Either selling a program, a class, or a school for underwriting. Or, one-time financial raise for capital projects. “Your funding will translate directly to xyz expense.”

Peer-to-Peer: Value proposition (why give) is largely a factor of social currency.Operational: Expressed in terms of an operational need and expresses how the (internal) operation will be improved. Eg. “Help us fund a new position.”

Impact: How the investment will help the organization change, save or impact lives.
These don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Example: Capital + Impact: “Help us with this bricks and mortar project so that we can impact 300 additional families each year, helping them to escape the lifecycle of poverty.”

Building Confidence.

This is a part 2 to yesterday’s nugget: On Confidence.

So how do we build confidence? Here are some ideas and observations based on our research and coaching: 

  • Be authentic. 

    It’s easier to be confident trying to figure out how to be you than to be someone else.

    If you are a junior fundraiser, this might mean learning how to develop your own voice, instead of trying to channel the CEO’s voice. 
  • Practice “self-talk anchored in something that’s real.”

    This is a profound insight offered from high-performance psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais. After helping Olympians and business MVP’s alike he summarizes the key to confidence and efficacy.

    He says that confidence is a psychological skill. It can be developed just like any other skill, through deliberate practice. In very simple terms, he says we need to write down the reasons why we should be confident about something and then practice reading and adopting those reasons so that they are strong enough to become part of our story. “Confidence comes from practicing self-talk anchored in something that’s real. You have to train to be confident!”
  • Do the preparation required to be confident.

    In our For Impact world this is about:
    • Building a strong funding rationale.
    • Doing the work and putting in the time to truly strategize what you’re going to say to prospects. 
    • Training around, or committing to, a sales process that you can trust again and again.
  • Take the focus off yourself. 

    This is a simple reminder to keep perspective. I don’t think this changes confidence levels, as much as it decreases the effects that can come from a lack of confidence. A few reminders in this regard.

    Psychologists estimate that 70% of us suffer from some form of imposter syndrome or another. (I have to imagine it’s more like 100% and 30% of those studied just aren’t honest.)

    Justice Sonia Sotomayor frequently talks about imposter syndrome in her memoir (but she is then quick to talk about how it fuels her to work hard and prove herself wrong.)

    Focus on the impact. You can transfer the focus on confidence (or lack thereof) to:
    • Confidence in solving the problem… 
    • Confidence in presenting the opportunity…  
    • Confidence in doing your best – today – to share the story and present the opportunity…

On Confidence

Confidence is something that’s not talked about enough in the world of fundraising. Thinking about the hundreds of leaders we’ve coached (and my own growth over 20 years), I would suppose half of the coaching focused on process. And, at least at the outset, half of the coaching focused on building confidence… in one’s self… in the process… in the pitch. 

Here is an important finding on the role of confidence in successful sales (and fundraising) from Alex (Sandy) Pentland at the MIT Human Dynamics Lab. In a study where participants were observed making pitches to potential investors Pentland observed that confidence (and commitment) to the idea by the leader were the greatest determining factor in the outcome of the pitch

“The executives [listening to the pitches] thought they were evaluating the plans based on rational measures, such as: How original is this idea? How does it fit the current market? How well developed is this plan?” Pentland wrote. “While listening to the pitches, though, another part of their brain was registering other crucial information, such as: How much does this person believe in this idea? How confident are they when speaking? How determined are they to make this work? And the second set of information—information that the business executives didn’t even know they were assessing—is what influenced their choice of business plans to the greatest degree.” 

Coyle, Daniel. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups (p. 14). Random House Publishing Group.

I would want an immediate takeaway to be that confidence is important! We need to talk about confidence. We need to coach our teams around their confidence. We need to create an environment where it’s okay for someone to say, “I need to work on my confidence.”

Rarely do I see a leader ask, “What is your confidence level?” Or a sales person say to a leader, “I need your help with confidence.”

Tomorrow I’m going to share three insights to further address finding confidence.

On team size, culture, and performance – Brook’s Law

The size of a team is one of our first considerations when trying to build a fundraising campaign team, or a sales team within an organization.

Complexity is non-linear in that 1+1 team members is not 2x as challenging as coaching one person; it’s at least 2.5x more challenging. You have to build the skills of two individuals, as well as consider the interpersonal linkages between the two individuals.

For this reason, we try to identify the smallest possible team for a project, or a function.

Here is an excerpt from Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal with a good explanation and an introduction to Brook’s Law, which we often cite when building, changing, or leading teams.

Thousands of fledgling businesses have sunk because of an inability to scale their teamwork. Joel Peterson, a professor at the Stanford School of Business, says the rigidity that sets in with scale is one of the main causes of start-up failure. And the late J. Richard Hackman, a Harvard sociology professor, found that teams are much trickier to build and maintain than we like to think. The issue is not that teams never work, but that team dynamics are powerful but delicate, and expansion is a surefire way to break them. “[It’s a] fallacy that bigger teams are better than smaller ones because they have more resources to draw on,” he explains. “As a team gets bigger, the number of links that need to be managed among members goes up at an accelerating, almost exponential rate.” In his handbook Leading Teams, Hackman reminds us of “Brook’s Law”: the adage that adding staff to speed up a behind-schedule project “has no better chance of working . . . than would a scheme to produce a baby quickly by assigning nine women to be pregnant for one month each . . . adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”

McChrystal, General Stanley. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (pp. 127-128). Penguin Publishing Group.

7 Lessons from Virtual Visits

We’ve spent the last three months helping clients pivot to virtual visits. 

I still don’t think there is any one-size-fits-all advice but here are some of the more frequent lessons, or observations, we’re making.

  1. The sales model continues.

    Clients that had previously installed a sales model (to professionalize philanthropy) have largely continued their fundraising uninterrupted. A lot of the observations below are tweaks, not seismic shifts in strategy.
  2. Predisposition is important, now more than ever!

    The fundamentals of ‘sales’ and ‘human engagement’ are even more important when we can’t visit in person. Another way of saying this is that as we’re all figuring out new norms, doing the basic things well is all the more important.

    The first fundamental element to highlight is predisposition.

    Predisposition is an important part of the sales process. It sets the context for the discussion. As coaches we’re spending a lot more time working through predisposition strategy with our clients, this way the phone call or virtual visit is productive and we don’t spend too much time trying to navigate shifting and ‘new norms’.
  3. We’re constantly tweaking our funding rationale for context.

    We’ve spent a lot of time/effort with our clients positioning the funding rationale. Messaging and funding priorities need to live in a very current context.

    Note, this does not necessarily mean that you need to change your funding priorities, but certainly, you need to be able to speak to them in the context of COVID, in the context of your community, and — if you weren’t already doing so — in the context of social justice broadly and racial justice/equity, specifically.
  4. We practice asking questions and managing the flow-of-the-call in call-prep.

    We spend a lot more time helping clients think through how they will manage the flow of the conversation, in particular, how they will transition from the opening, to the story, to the ask. This includes the language to get numbers-on-the-table.

    Sometimes this is simple as a phrase. Some examples:
    1. “Right now we’re really looking for a handful of people that can come together and help us get this project off the ground. It’s going to require $100,000 all-together. Is that something we could talk to you about helping with?”
    2. (A variant of the Clueless Close, used to accelerate the overall timeline of the funding conversation). When the prospect asks, “How can we help?”
      “We have a pretty good handle on our math. After factoring in some of our existing funding streams, we’re going to need to cover a gap of about $1000 per family. Can I ask you to think about how many families you could help?”
    3. See other ‘closes’.
  5. Champions are (more) eager to help.

    We’re observing an uptick in champion support. As one board member shared, “I feel called now more than ever to step up and helping this organization is my way to do good in the world right now.”

    Now is a great time to work with champions to make new connections and help as natural partners for more complex gift strategies.
  6. Virtual very often means phone.

    Whereas it seems most internal conversations have flipped to Zoom, we’re finding that a lot of the virtual visits are happening by phone.  This isn’t to say visits aren’t happening via video conference but we’re observing approximately 50% of prospects (of all ages and types: individuals/corporations/foundations) replacing ‘in-person visits’ with a preference for phone calls.
  7. Funders run the gamut right now.

    On the whole, we see funders stepping up in a very big way. On a case-by-case basis (especially with individuals and corporations) visit-propensity still can be widely scattered.

    Here is some incredibly generalized advice. Think about your next 10 prospects in a 3/4/3 pattern.  It’s likely three of them are going to tell you they can’t fund right now. Four of them are going to have a behavior pattern (such as being hard to get a hold of) – it may take a little longer to get a hold of them but don’t give up! Three of your prospects are going to say, “Oh, thank you! I’ve been trying to figure out how to do more. I’m so glad you reached out. I/we need to be doing MORE right now!”

    As I told one executive director last week, “I’m telling you about 3/4/3 because I don’t know the order in which you’re going to encounter these prospects… and I don’t want you to get discouraged if the first three say, ‘Now is not the time.’”

Ask Dexterity: Today, Tomorrow, Timeless Funding Needs

The three questions we’re asked the most are:

  • What are you hearing from funders?
  • Can I engage funders right now?
  • Are (insert category) of funders funding xyz?

In talking with many funders, and tapping into broader funding networks, I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to any of this. Instead of thinking about a broad-brush-approach, we’re advocating for dexterity. Instead of choosing one strategy, have three (ask) scenarios and then be able to maneuver toward the appropriate scenario(s) with any individual funder.

Here is the sorting framework (PDF download) we’ve been using.
COVID Fundraising

  1. Impact: Start with disruption and innovation.

    Impact drives Income. Before we talk about funding let’s get straight (strategically and then in terms of messaging) about how your impact, or the need for your impact, has changed. Your ability to raise funds successfully assumes that you have made hard decisions (if applicable), prepared scenarios, and generally optimized for impact in this environment.

    The scenarios here are too numerous to catalog but would include words you see flying around like: restructure, respond, pivot, pop-up, scale-up, or ‘getting lean’.

    At a minimum, every funder is asking (rightly), “How has COVID-19 impacted your work?”
  2. Income: Then sort and package your funding needs (asks) into one, two, or three buckets.

    What is required right now is dexterity. I can’t tell you when a category of funders will turn toward recovery, I can only say that you should be able to speak about your impact and opportunity TODAY (in a response time) and TOMORROW (in a recovery time). It’s also going to be helpful to put both of those in the context of TIMELESS needs.

    As you’re talking to funders, I think we need to be prepared to talk about what you’re seeing in all three of these lenses and then have funding opportunities — or the ability to contextualize your funding needs — around all three lenses.

Implications and reminders:

  • You don’t need a COVID program; you only need a COVID-context for your discussion. It could be as simple as, “This is what we’re seeing and where we need the most help, today.” Or, it could be more elaborate such as, “Our mission has always been about X, in this time we’ve reconfigured to do X in this way.”
  • Don’t make decisions for your prospects. Don’t predetermine their interest, affinity, or timing. Some funders are trying to double-down right now. Others are trying to think 4-5 moves ahead. And, I think we’re far enough along in this crisis that most are thinking about today AND tomorrow.
  • An organization focused on a recovery opportunity does not need to be hibernating right now. You can be leading around recovery. Eg. “When we’re ready to start thinking about recovery it’s going to be really important that we think about x and that’s why we’re having conversations today about y.”

This strategy will maximize funding when timing is right for everyone. I remain very optimistic that overall funding and philanthropy for the social sector — when all is said and accounted for — will be higher overall over the next 18 months. What that looks like to your organization is most likely going to be a reflection of your impact in the COVID-context and your preparedness to speak to that impact at the right time.

Changing Context for Impact and Income

Last week I wrote about the Five Mindsets To Help You Think in “These Crazy Times.” Building on that email, we started offering ‘Sorting Sessions’ – conference calls to help our past clients, Boot Camp alumni, and WOW readership sort out everything. We will continue offering sorting sessions to help social sector leaders on a no-cost, first-come, first-serve basis. To sign-up just email me directly

In this post, I’m sharing selected concepts and framing people have found helpful.

These nuggets can appear to be unrelated and disjointed. However, they all speak to CONTEXT. Context is what gives meaning to everything. One common thread to all the advice we’re giving is to examine everything in a new – and changing – context.

  • Disruption Innovation is the context for impact. Clayton Christensen introduced the notion of Disruptive Innovation. But right now we’re all seeing something different: Disruption Innovation. Entire business models (for-profit and not-for-profit) were disrupted overnight. Look at the disruption + innovation happening in food-service-delivery, online education, and late-night television – last week alone!

    I truly believe these next six months will be the most innovative of my lifetime.

    • Disruption + Innovation. Depending on what you’re doing and what day it is, this can be fear-filled, or hope-filled. It can be surrender or starting anew. I think all emotions and reactions are normal right now.
    • Disruption. Much of the world is not like it was two weeks ago. This doesn’t mean we should stop fundraising, for instance, it just means that everything lives in a new and still-changing context.
    • Innovation. There is enormous hope and opportunity for the work we do, for the populations we serve, for the problems we’re solving. New tools and new norms will emerge in the coming months. Be ready to test new ideas… move fast… inspire others and be inspired by others as humanity innovates together. 
  • COVID-19 *is* the context for funding.

    When you talk to funders, don’t wonder if COVID-19 is going to come up. It will.

    Generally, our advice around a fundraising approach has been falling into a few categories. (There is no one-size-fits-all. I was on a call this morning where I encouraged someone to use these as three different approaches for three different prospects!)
    • Urgent Impact: The ‘Now More than Ever Category.’

      If you’re in relief services, helping vulnerable families. Don’t be bashful. Engage. Ask. NOW MORE THAN EVER!
    • Timeless Impact (but not COVID urgent)

      Whereas our usual ForImpact mantra is JUST ASK, there are times this week when we’ve said, “JUST CONNECT! Don’t focus on the close, or trying to figure out how to secure that gift by April 20. Time is standing still right now in the world of the funding conversations you’re having. Funders will be there for you, just let them sort everything out.”

      We’re not saying you can’t close gifts. In fact, we have many examples of closed gifts from this week. What we’re saying is, right now – this week/month – let the close come to you. If you need help with a specific language around this, sign up for a sorting session. I’ll also try to write up several examples on our blog at

      Remember: “Sales is not a business transaction. It is first and foremost the forging of the human connection.” – Bob Burg
    • Recovery Opportunity Impact.

      I spoke with one entrepreneur who runs an ‘innovation lab’. He wanted to know how he should talk to funders about helping him to make his Q2 goals happen. My advice was blunt. “Don’t. Throw those goals out the window. Take a deep breath. We’re going to need you on the other side of this. Today, your quarterly numbers are just noise. Tomorrow, I can’t think of a sector, a city, or a company that won’t stand to benefit from the impact you can provide.”

      We put together strategy and messaging to connect with funders today in the coming weeks/months, but we’re focusing our conversations around the ‘recovery opportunity impact’, not urgent crisis. The strategy doesn’t stop fundraising activity; it’s just realistic and prudent.
  • Shared Humanity is the context for all-of-us.

    Impact Drives Income is our point of view. It’s also a great way to think about managing a conversation (with a funder) starting with the impact and then driving toward the income. During this time, we’ve been advising social sector leaders to envision a ‘shared humanity’ – transcendent to Impact and Income. Start with that. Then you can move into how your organization is having an impact IN this shared humanity and – in the COVID Context – talk about funding.

Five Mindsets To Help You Think “In These Crazy Times”

I’ve probably been on the phone with 30 different nonprofit leaders in the past 30 hours. It’s interesting that they say something like:

  • “It’s a really interesting time.”
  • “Wow, things are really crazy.”

Everyone is trying to pick the right words…. the right words so that they are not too fearful… and the right words so that they are not too cavalier.

Right now, I want to share some mindsets I’ve been using for myself and with nonprofit leaders. I think they’ve proven helpful as a way to sort out scenario planning and action… sanity and opportunity. 

Before I share the mindsets, I need to share a metaphor, which I quickly latched onto, offered by Sasha Dichter (THANK YOU, SASHA!) about information and experience waves.

Sasha writes, “One thing I’ve noticed over the past week is that we’re all on different Coronavirus waves. Each wave is separated by a few days or maybe weeks, and each brings with it a different experience of how real, and close, this pandemic is. I expect that what’s going on in Westchester County, where I live, is a lot like what happened in Northern Italy two or three weeks ago, and that what we’re experiencing will soon happen in other parts of the country.”

I’m fielding calls from all over the world and the first thing I try to understand is which ‘wave’ the other person is riding. 

Last week I was in Florida speaking to 150 people and many people were still shaking hands. This week I was with a smaller group closer to home (Ohio) and nobody even thought for a second about trying to explain the social awkwardness or uncertainty of shaking hands. It was full-on social distancing. Those realities are one to two waves apart. I also talk to people in parts of the country where the Coronavirus is just a news story; they’re two to three waves behind.

This wave framework has allowed me to start to build out five different mindsets. I’ve been working in this world by deliberately shifting between five minds:

  • Current Wave. In terms of sorting things out there are a lot of unknowns. So it’s been helpful to say to others, “The conversation we’re having at this moment is in the context of the current wave.”
  • Fourth Wave. The ‘fourth wave’ scenarios are tough to talk about because others can perceive them as fear-mongering, especially if they’re two waves behind or ONLY focused on the current wave. But we NEED to be preparing for the fourth wave, and then we need to hope that all those scenarios are not needed.

    For example, internal to our business at For Impact: We’ve been preparing virtual training scenarios for weeks. We’ve been expecting key conferences to get canceled, and we are prepared for how to help nonprofit leaders when everything goes virtual once an organization or a community is on some kind of lockdown.

    It has really helped to slip back and forth in thinking between waves. It’s been helpful to say, “Bear with me, but this is a fourth wave conversation we need to have.”
  • Today’s Work. Thinking (about waves and scenarios is essential!) but there is also work to be done TODAY. ‘Today’s work isn’t about a ‘wave’. It’s about what’s in front of us RIGHT NOW. There are hungry people who need fed at lunch – right now. Or more simply, there might be something like payroll which needs to be run (today’s work performed). Those actions need to happen. And so this is a third mindset: “I am working on what’s in front of me at this moment and I’m going to give it my/our all!”
  • The Other Side. I have no idea what’s going to happen. But I know this: at some point, the waves will stop coming. I have found myself coaching other leaders to stop thinking — in this mindset — about the waves, and jump to the end.
    • “What will be needed of your team?” 
    • “What will your community need?”
    • “How will we have the most impact, once we are on the other side?”

      On the other side of this, I know…

      Funders will actually step up more than ever. In 2008-09 I remember meeting with a private equity partner and asking him, “How are you doing in this economy?” He LAUGHED and said, “We’re gobbling up companies at pennies on the dollar.” That year, ‘charitable giving’ went from around $306Billion in the US to $303Billion. The stock market tanked 40% and in ‘Charitable Giving terms’ it was not even what the stock market would consider a correction.

      The big-time philanthropists will double- or triple-down on helping others and the human spirit will show up as it always does. We are already hearing stories from the field of philanthropists accelerating their gifts, and taking other actions to ensure the continuing health of the non-profits they support. For example, I spoke with a wonderful philanthropic leader and dear friend yesterday and she said, “While it’s socially responsible to be canceling these events, it is our (social) responsibility to help these organizations now more than ever. It’s just going to take us a few weeks to figure out what that looks like.”
  • Humanity (A more meta fifth mindset).

    The comparative mythologist, Joseph Campbell, observed that it is the ‘fight against something’ which is what brings cultures together. As we look around the past few years this has been used in a divisive way around the world — creating partisan politics and tribes. Strongly uniting small cultures. This crisis has the potential to unite more of us around common causes; it all depends on each of our responses.

    • People will begin to say, “Hey, science DOES matter!”’ 
    • We will rise above partisanship.
    • We will unite in a way that gives us a chance with even bigger challenges, like climate change.

Trying to sort everything coming at me was really getting to be a challenge. I needed to stop and have a way to THINK and WORK in the now. To THINK and PREPARE for the just-in-case. And then I have made a habit of jumping to the CERTAINTY of tomorrow… what we can control in terms of the IMPACT and OPPORTUNITY after these waves subside. 

Sorting Sessions

For Impact exists to help nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs overcome their greatest barriers to impact. For us, that principle means helping them FUND their impact, no matter what. It also means building the STORY for funding, and funding the PEOPLE to make that happen.

Today, I think the biggest thing the For Impact team can do is to be available as a sounding board for our clients, alumni and readers to help them sort and plan. Over the past 24 hours, we’ve put together something we’re calling SORTING SESSIONS. These are coaching sessions at no charge to help sector leaders sort out what’s happening today and to be ready for tomorrow. You are likely having these conversations in various settings already. If you would like our help facilitating via frameworks and with our perspective on what is going on in the sector, let us know. 

Examples of conversations we’re having:

  • “We are travel restricted and we’re supposed to be having funder conversations. What should we do?”
  • “We are canceling our annual meeting. How should we engage with our attendees?”
  • “I have a big ask scheduled with a funder next week. Should I offer to cancel? Keep it? Move to video? Do I ask like nothing is going on?”

To sign up for one of these, just email or one of our coaches.