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?
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.’