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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

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).

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.

Strategic Plan vs. Strategic Clarity

Note: I first posted this in 2011. I’m posting again because I’m still tired of reading lengthy strategic plans that don’t derive from, or result in, real strategic clarity.

  • In the past year, I have been with several foundations that have asked orgs for ‘strategic plans.’ Speaking to the foundations directly, I can say that what they’re really asking for is STRATEGIC CLARITY — not 40 pages of ‘stuff.’ It’s a vocab issue.
  • IMPACT drives INCOME. In order to get funding results we [The Suddes Group] always have to back our way into helping an organization get REAL strategic clarity, so that we have a clean strategy, message, and case for support for funders. Funding, at this point, then simply becomes about execution. We can coach and train people to execute.


Strategic Plan v. Strategic Clarity

Think about the difference in these two terms.

Every organization needs strategic clarity and a 1000-day action plan. They need to have everyone on the same page about:

  • The purpose (the WHY) and the vision (the ultimate goal) (at 30,000’).

    This should fit on a napkin.

  • No more than THREE* simple strategic priorities (at 14,000’) that advance the organization toward the goal, aligning with purpose.

    These should fit on the back of that napkin.

    *Drucker was even simpler. He said every organization should have at most TWO priorities… WOW!

  • A 100-day (near-term) plan of action tied to each priority and a 1000-day plan of action with benchmarks that run more fluid for quarterly review.

    This should fit on one sheet of paper (maybe two), if you stay at the strategic level.

Every day we speak with someone who needs or wants a ‘strategic plan.’ I can’t identify with that term anymore because it means so many different things. In each case though, they need clarity and simplicity. Only about half the time do they need to do a lot of consensus-building (think: visits, dialogue, and time) to bring everyone on the same page.

Over simplified? No.

Easy? No.

Common Case-for-Support Challenges

We can almost always diagnose a problem with a case for support (or funding story) by using the Altitude Framework. And, what’s interesting is that organizations tend to need help at a single level of messaging versus all or multiple levels.

We can organize messaging challenges into these three levels of clarity:

  • At 30,000′ – Toward what end? (This is a WHY question)
  • At 14,000′ – Where is the money going?
  • At 3′ – What’s the math?

Note: There are some supplemental questions based on circumstance and sector. For example, a social enterprise needs to be able to talk clearly about the business model (explicitly) but, I would argue that topic is covered (conceptually) under ‘knowing the math.’

Here is how we often see the lack of message clarity playing out:

At 30,000′ – Toward what end?

Organizations that struggle at 30,000’ tend to be doing sector-changing work (and often in a crowded space). They focus too much on how they’re different, or the nuances of their model, instead of being really clear about the simple, visceral reasons WHY someone should care: “This is the problem we’re solving!” Or, “This is how we want to change the world!”

Tell-tale sign: They often lead their narrative with a theory of change.


  • Health (care) Transformation.
  • Education (Transformation).
  • Community Development.

At 14,000′ – Where is the money going? (Or, what are the funding priorities?)

Organizations that struggle at the 14,000’ level tend to operate on an (established) funding model other than philanthropy. They’re not good at talking about how they’ll use funds to do X, Y, or Z. Culturally, they might start a fundraising campaign simply to augment a different business model.

Tell-tale sign: An organization with a multi-million-dollar operating budget wants to start a campaign for unrestricted funds.


  • Hospitals.
  • Research Institutions.
  • Global RFP-Grant-Based NGOs.
  • Large earned-income organizations.

At 3′ – What’s the (Case for Support) Math?

Organizations that struggle with the math tend to be those with built-in funding prospects. A great example here is a school. Alumni and parents will no doubt support the school, but the the questions then become about how all the math works out. Will it increase tuition? Will it be sustainable? What is the cost? How will this funding project impact the future business model (tuition/admission)?

Tell-tale sign: A mentality of “If we build it, they will fund.”


  • Schools
  • Museums

To be clear: every organization needs to address these three case questions. I am just outlining some general trends and questions that might be helpful in uncovering your challenge.

Long-term Vision and Near-term Vision

Vision is simply a clear picture of the future toward which you are striving.

Most organizations benefit from having a long-term vision, and a near-term vision.

Your long-term vision is often time-independent. Example: Ending Cancer.

Vision, in this sense, is more like a ‘higher cause worth pursuing.’ We call it vision, but we can’t always see exactly how to get there.

In these instances, we benefit from a near-term vision that will maximize the contribution and engagement of others. This is usually time-dependent and tied to an achievable goal.

Example: “By 2020 we want to make sure we have a national registry for xyz cancer trials. This will be an important milestone toward ending cancer.”

I’m sure we could simply reframe these visions as ’cause’ and ‘goal,’ but thinking of them as a long-term vision and a near-term vision helps to frame them in a way that is usually more visceral and engaging, because we’re focusing on the ‘clear picture.’

The Role and Context of the Engagement Tool (3min video)

This 3-minute video illustrates the context and role of the Engagement Tool.

Most organizations do not have true sales tools that can be used to engage with a prospect 1:1 and make an ask. They have other things… like a marketing brochure, pitch deck, or case-for-support.

Functionally, what will you USE to help you make an ask? (Answer: An Engagement Tool!)

A great engagement tool follows the WORK to get CLARITY around WHAT you’re doing and WHY.

Role and Context for The Engagement Tool from For Impact / The Suddes Group on Vimeo.

Download Illustration.
Download Sample Engagement Tool. Here is another Sample Engagement Tool: It’s about zombies.
See more on Engagement Tools.

Storytelling – The Basis for Human Progress.

I was turned on to Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind after reading a book review from Bill Gates. (I won’t try to ‘one-up’ a book summary by Bill Gates, so just read his.)

Harari walks through the rise of the homo sapien and argues that a ‘cognitive revolution’ is what allowed our species to really win out over other species.

Specifically, it was the ability to develop and transfer abstract concepts (Note: Harari calls these abstract concepts: fiction and story). Without an abstract concept, we would not have the concept of religion… or the rule of law. Without these abstract moral codes, our rival species did not assemble or cooperate in large groups. It required the idea of ‘something greater’ to develop cohesion and community in groups greater than about 150 individuals.

How did Homo sapiens manage to cross this critical threshold, eventually founding cities comprising tens of thousands of inhabitants and empires ruling hundreds of millions? The secret was probably the appearance of fiction. Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths.

Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination. Churches are rooted in common religious myths. Two Catholics who have never met can nevertheless go together on crusade or pool funds to build a hospital because they both believe that God was incarnated in human flesh and allowed Himself to be crucified to redeem our sins. States are rooted in common national myths. Two Serbs who have never met might risk their lives to save one another because both believe in the existence of the Serbian nation, the Serbian homeland and the Serbian flag. Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. Two lawyers who have never met can nevertheless combine efforts to defend a complete stranger because they both believe in the existence of laws, justice, human rights – and the money paid out in fees.

Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.

People easily understand that ‘primitives’ cement their social order by believing in ghosts and spirits, and gathering each full moon to dance together around the campfire. What we fail to appreciate is that our modern institutions function on exactly the same basis. Take for example the world of business corporations. Modern business-people and lawyers are, in fact, powerful sorcerers. The principal difference between them and tribal shamans is that modern lawyers tell far stranger tales.

Here is the very powerful insight that sticks with me. Harari writes:

Telling effective stories is not easy. The difficulty lies not in telling the story, but in convincing everyone else to believe it. Much of history revolves around this question: how does one convince millions of people to believe particular stories about gods, or nations, or limited liability companies? Yet when it succeeds, it gives Sapiens immense power, because it enables millions of strangers to cooperate and work towards common goals.

Innovators, leaders, and fundraisers are storytellers. We develop NEW stories. We’ve evolved to do this! And… “Telling effective stories is not easy. The difficulty lies not in telling the story, but in convincing everyone else to believe it.”

The task in front of us is not easy, yet — just as it always has — all progress of humanity depends upon it.

Audacious Philanthropy

Read the feature article in this month’s Harvard Business Review: Audacious Philanthropy. Lessons from 15 World-Changing Initiatives.

The Movements: The Anti-Apartheid Movement – Aravind Eye Hospital – Car Seats – CPR Training – The Fair Food Program – Hospice Care – Marriage Equality – Motorcycle Helmets in Vietnam – The National School Lunch Program – 911 Emergency Services – Oral Rehydration Solution – Polio Eradication – Public Libraries – Sesame Street – Tobacco Control.

It’s a ‘must read’ for social innovators, funders, and movement leaders!!!

Executive Summary:
Research revealed five elements that together constitute a framework for philanthropists pursuing large-scale, swing-for-the-fences change. Successful efforts:

  1. Build a shared understanding of the problem and its ecosystem
  2. Set “winnable milestones” and hone a compelling message
  3. Design approaches that will work at massive scale
  4. Drive (rather than assume) demand
  5. Embrace course corrections

The article walks through dozens of illustrations and case studies — and it’s in these individualized narratives that we find true gold. Here is one vignette about the power of reframing to advance the LGBTQ rights movement:

“Supportive philanthropists financed polling and focus groups to help movement leaders understand how to reframe the core message. The research revealed that many voters perceived the movement as driven primarily by same-sex couples’ desire for the government benefits and rights conferred by marriage—and they did not find that a gripping rationale. This insight was pivotal: The movement refocused its communications strategy on equality of love and commitment, arguing that “love is love”—a message that struck a chord. Victories piled up, culminating in the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States. And although limited in scope, the push for marriage equality advanced the broader LGBTQ rights agenda in ways that might not otherwise have been possible or that would have taken much longer.”