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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

Engagement Has a 12-Hour Half-Life

I’m constantly trying to get people to think about what it means TO ENGAGE! I think we’re taught how to present, but we’re not always taught how to engage.

I define engagement as a dynamic within a relationship that holds attention, heightens interest and motivates action.

Think about a movie or a performance you’ve attended where you were engaged and left with that feeling of being present and excited. Think about how that engagement consumed your mind! Now think about how you felt the next day.

I believe engagement has a 12-hour half-life. That is, if we could measure engagement in some way, it seems to dissipate by half every 12 hours.

This means that within 24 hours of your visit the prospect has an engagement level at 25% of what it was after your visit.


As salespeople, we need to be making engaging presentations and asks. And, more importantly, we need to pounce on timely follow-up. It’s better to follow-up immediately, even if it’s 60% of your best effort, than it is to wait three days. At three or more days you’re just working to recapture engagement.

(Read more on the 24-Hour Follow Up Rule here.)

Action Plans

“Without an action plan, the executive becomes a prisoner of events.”
– Peter Drucker in What Makes an Effective Executive

Drucker goes on to write, “The action pan has to become the basis for the executive’s time management. Time is an executive’s scarcest and most precious resource. And organizations — whether government agencies, businesses, or nonprofits — are inherently time wasters.”

Synapse: Think about Drucker’s quote in connection with ‘How to Structure Your Time: A Sample Visit Schedule’. Part of taking time for strategy is taking time to decide goals, approach, and action plan for each prospect.

I Have a Dream: The Speech and Story

Today we reflect on the life and message of Martin Luther King Jr. Here are some nuggets about the I Have a Dream speech. Appropriately, it comes up again and again, in studies of metaphor, engagement and story.

  • Dr. King finished writing his speech at 4am, just hours before his address. It was originally entitled, “Normalcy, Never Again.”
  • King used over FIFTY metaphors in his speech! Contained therein was was an extended and powerful frame of the biblical struggle for freedom and the American struggle for freedom.

    From Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas – John Pollack
  • “I Have a Dream” represents a CHANGE of story to INSPIRE and LEAD! In The Story Factor, Annette Simmons writes that Dr. King’s refrain offers a positive vision that, “inspires generations to change their story from “I have been oppressed” to “I have a dream.”
  • The original and prepared speech did not contain the phrase, “I Have a Dream!” 11 mins into the speech gospel singer Mahalia Jackson — sitting behind Dr. King — shouted “Tell ’em about the ‘dream,’ Martin, tell ’em about the ‘dream’!”

    Dr. King recalled that he ‘just decided’ to go with it! In front of millions, he started RIFFING!

    There is no substitute for authenticity. When I listen to Dr. King’s speech I believe I can FEEL his heart kick it up a notch with each riff. (Dr. King’s final speech ended up being DOUBLE the length of his prepared remarks.)

    – Story recounted in Originals by Adam Grant, and Shortcut.

(This nugget first published January 16, 2017)

People buy on emotion and justify on logic.

The late great sales trainer, Zig Ziglar, used to say, “People buy on emotion and justify on logic.”

This is true whether you’re fundraising for a capital campaign or completing a Series-A-funding-round for a start-up venture.

People buy on emotion and justify on logic.

Adding to this insight, in recent years, advances in neuroscience have helped us to understand that the brain processes meaning before detail

  • Start with the WHY (in everything). Why is your organization important? Why does the funder care? What’s important (meaningful to them)?
  • We (as salespeople) need logic and details BUT those details are maximally effective only when they flow from an emotional connection.
    Note: This is even true when selling to CFO’s!
  • Connect. ENGAGE! Around meaning.
    Then, through the power of engagement (e.g. asking questions and listening to the answers) you can provide the right logic and detail, tailored to each prospect.

Funding Rationale (For Impact)

A Funding Rationale is — simply — why you need the funds and what they will do for your impact. More completely, the arrival at a compelling funding rationale is part messaging and part cost-accounting. A funding rationale describes the funding-need, or ‘ask’, in terms of a compelling project, program, or priority-initiative. 

Another way to explain funding rationales is in the context of a sales operation. If you’re committed to sales — as a system for fundraising — then the funding rationales are your ‘products’ and ‘services’ – they’re the compelling things you have to sell — around your IMPACT! A funding goal without a strong funding rationale is like having a quarterly sales goal without any specific products to sell.

Examples of funding rationales:

  • A Program: Programs are elements of your ongoing impact. Often, you have line-items in your budget for programs — or you have a regular practice of cost-accounting your personnel across programs. How you package and frame the program (for funding) is the funding rationale. This could be:
    • In terms of ongoing support/subsidy.
    • Funding a unit of impact. (Eg. It requires $1000 to underwrite the gap for each school.)
    • Around a time-based goal/outcome. This describes where you are taking the program over the next 3-5-10 years, for example.
  • A ‘Project’: While ‘project’ can have many applications, we commonly refer to incremental and time-based expenditures as ‘projects’. Examples:
    • Prototyping a new program.
    • A building project.
    • Start-up investment.

    The focus should be on framing the project in a compelling way so that it supports the vision, or offers a compelling vision in-and-of-itself.

    Note: Most organizations are familiar with ‘projects’ since the grantmaking world favors project-related-funding.
  • A Priority Initiative: Priority Initiatives are like mini-campaigns within the context of your total vision. They enable you to package (or bucket) a number of projects and/or programs and build a narrative (typically self-evident from the way the priority initiatives are named/framed — and goals are described).
  • A Vision (a ‘campaign’ as a project): You can package a total funding need in terms of the vision and the outcome. The vision-as-a-project works best when the project and vision are one-and-the-same, like a new hospital. For more complex plans, the vision is more likely to serve as a container for multiple funding rationales.

Bonus: The examples above speak to the cost-accounting/budgeting approach. There are select times when a funding rationale can be effective when built around the role of the funder’s involvement (eg. leadership, legacy and transformation).

Present vs. ENGAGE

Many of us are taught to PRESENT, but almost nobody is taught to ENGAGE.

When we are taught to PRESENT we are instructed to stand up straight… speak slowly… project your voice… perhaps even with passion! PRESENTING focuses on the commanding actions of the presenter.

ENGAGEMENT focuses on the desired outcome of the other party, or audience. At For Impact we’ve developed this definition for ENGAGE(MENT):

A dynamic within a relationship that holds attention, heightens interest, and motivates toward action.

Without trying to teach the art of engagement in 500-words-or-less, I simply want to raise this awareness. The next time you’re preparing for a conversation, sale, or ‘presentation,’ think less about what you want to say and think more about ways to hold attention, heighten interest, and motivate toward action.

Here are a few nuggets to help you think about ENGAGE(MENT):

  • Think about questions to ask to get the other person’s brain engaged.
  • Use visuals, even and especially in one-on-one conversations.
  • Listen! Don’t interrupt! When someone’s talking it forces them to be present — when they’re talking they are ENGAGED.

If you’re really interested in ENGAGE(MENT) one of the best books I share is Brain Rules by John Medina — specifically Rule (Chapter) #4 on Attention. Medina goes deep into ways to keep the brain engaged.

The Rule of 3

The Rule of 3 is the ultimate simplification and framing device. It’s powerful because it simplifies anything AND offers an arrangement that is digestible… even attractive to the human mind. 

We are wired to receive things in threes. When you have two of something it creates conflict – it’s an either/or.  The three-act play uses this – typically the second act creates the tension and the third act resolves.  

When you have more than three, studies show the brain is more inclined to ‘give up’ than to internalize all the points. 

Going back the Roman age, Cicero became a famed orator using the cadence of three’s in his speaking.  Today, politicians, advertising agencies, and media people use this device — the second you look for it, it’s EVERYWHERE. 

Think about the resonance and stickiness of three’s…

  • Small. Medium. Large / Tall. Grande. Venti.
  • Faith, Hope, and Love.
  • Goldilocks. Mama Bear, Baby Bear, Papa Bear.
  • Blood, sweat, and tears.
    Note: This one comes from a Churchill speech, “Blood, toil, tears and sweat.”  The fact that no one remembers toil underscores the point of THREE.

We use the Rule of 3 in a lot of our For Impact framing.

  • Think Big. Build Simple. Act Now.
  • The Altitude Framework: Why / What / How
  • Cast a Vision. Staff a Vision. Fund a Vision.

Some applications:

  • Speaking.  The next time you give a speech, focus on making just three points (or even better yet, three short stories – supporting three simple points).  I’ve coached Fortune 500 CEO’s that have said, “I’ve had a lot of communications coaching.  That’s one of the best tips I’ve ever received.  It’s simple and works every time!”
  • Simplifying Your Funding Message! Instead of trying to explain ALL of your programs and projects, simply say, “We do these THREE things.” 
  • Productivity.  Try to accomplish ONLY THREE things in one day… and become more productive than you ever imagined.

Culture is HOW you work.

I just finished reading What You Do is Who You Are, by Ben Horowitz. I was a HUGE fan of Ben’s first book, The Hard Thing About the Hard Things. And, I’m just as eager to recommend his second book!

With his first book, really shaped some of my thinking about culture. He defines culture building as HOW YOU WORK. He distinguishes this from values and perks. A good cultural design lets values persist, but values are not in-and-of-themselves the behaviors you’re programming into your work, team or company.*

Ben builds on culture in this second book, going deeper:

Culture isn’t a magical set of rules that makes everyone behave the way you’d like. It’s a system of behaviors that you hope most people will follow, most of the time. Critics love to attack companies for having a “broken culture” or being “morally corrupt,” but it’s actually a minor miracle if a culture isn’t dysfunctional. No large organization ever gets anywhere near 100 percent compliance on every value, but some do much better than others. Our aim here is to be better, not perfect.

Horowitz, Ben. What You Do Is Who You Are (p. 17). Harper Business.

When I think about the most successful sales (fundraising) cultures we’ve seen, they all emerged from well-defined and then focused behaviors — sales team meetings, defined sales process, goals/metrics. This focus is a really simple insight for something as complex as ‘culture’!!!!

The behaviors are easier to identify, integrating the behaviors + people is always the trickier part which is why the last sentence is so important: Our aim here is to be better, not perfect.

*In the Hard Thing about Hard Things Ben says, “Yoga is a perk, not a culture.” <– For those who know us it’s worth sharing… years ago we started a fringe benefit program at For Impact | The Suddes Group to fund gym memberships, YOGA!, and other things that would help our team achieve optimal health. We named the program ‘Culture of Health‘. We still have the program and name ‘Culture of Health‘, but when we really geek out on ‘culture’, I will be the first to admit: the program is a perk which reinforces a value: it does not much inform a system of behaviors for how we work.)

Message is not what you say, it’s what people hear.

Message is not what you say, it’s what people hear.

This nugget is adapted from the book title: Words that Work. It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear, by Frank Luntz.

There are a lot of ways to process this nugget. However, we use it most when we’re trying to create a funding message. Typically, a team starts by assembling words into flowery prose. They’re too focused on arranging their own words. It’s often helpful to throw all that out… start with a blank sheet of paper and ask, “What do you want the prospect to HEAR?”

Often, we’re looking for the prospect to HEAR that we SAVE, CHANGE, or IMPACT lives.

No More Cultivation Visits

I cringe when a development professional starts a visit preparation discussion with the declaration, “This is just going to be a cultivation visit.”
There should be no such thing as ‘a cultivation visit’!!! And, certainly not ‘JUST a cultivation visit’! It suggests the visit is limited only to the realm of relationship BUILDING.
This framing is not consistent with the thinking and vocabulary in a Sales Culture For Impact.

Are there times when it might be premature to ‘ask’? Absolutely! But the intent… the mindset… the goal… should never be to ‘just cultivate.’ 

In these situations, we should make it our goal to communicate and inspire so that more prospects ask, “How can I help?” Then, we need to be ready to answer that question — even on a first visit!

See also: Stop Cultivating and Start Communicating