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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

A Culture of Philanthropy – Visual Model

“We want to build a culture of philanthropy.” 

Nonprofit leaders often use this phrase as a way of saying that they want this ‘fundraising thing’ to work in some reliable, resilient, and aligned-way across all stakeholders. 

To get to this place let’s think about ‘culture’ and what it takes to build this desired culture.

We define culture as: how you work. It’s the system of behaviors that you define, encode, and reinforce. With this in mind, we often describe ‘culture’ as an operating system.

To build a culture, you need to:

  • Define the work (model);
  • Hire/train/align the right people for that way of working; and 
  • Support that way of working with the proper tools.
Culture as an operating system (visual)

These building blocks can be applied to various cultures (project management, engineering, outcomes/OKRs, community organizing, customer service). 

Let’s apply these to build a ‘culture of philanthropy’:

  • Model:
    • Commitment is the first step. The commitment points your team in the same direction.

      Through our training and coaching, you hear us say, “Commit to sales!” What we’re saying is, “Commit to a model that is focused on building and maximizing relationships.”
    • Define principles with your team. The sales process will be imperfect in the beginning. And, in truth, the process will always be imperfect, but the team can use principles as big trustworthy guideposts.
    • Start defining processes and routines. This can be as simple as, “Go engage! Share the story and present the opportunity!” It can also be more complex as you grow to include things like weekly sales team meetings and monthly prospecting workshops.
    • Define and determine roles. The Team Selling Framework creates a role for everyone in the sales model. This includes the funding role of the board in a high performing culture of philanthropy.
  • People:
    • Link talent to the model. Too often organizations try to ‘solve’ fundraising and culture through hiring alone. As the visual illustrates, that is critical, but it’s not sufficient. You have to hire talent into an explicit model OR make the key leader(s) responsible for defining the model.
    • Training and coaching (or at least ‘alignment’) of the model is ongoing and constant. This is true in any defined culture and model.
  • Tools:

    Tools support people — in the model. They can reinforce behaviors and/or they can just be functional things that someone needs to work in the model. Some of the important tools we highlight in the sales model:
    • The funding story and funding rationale. Think of these as the messaging and the product you’re selling (in the model). And we support this with an engagement tool.
    • Sales dashboard. This is a tool that highlights key behavior and drives accountability.

Finally, keep in mind that a culture is always a work in progress. I think of it like health, you need to put in work every day or the culture will slide away from your desired state. And, no matter how healthy you are, there is almost always room for improvement. As Ben Horowitz says, “Our aim with culture is to be better, not perfect.”

Team Selling Framework

The Team Selling Framework is a powerful visual that helps define roles and responsibilities within the Sales Process. In this framework, roles are color-coded: Blue, Red, and Green. Everyone on the team has a role to play, but not everyone is responsible for ‘asking’.


Important note: Think of these as ‘roles’; they are not necessarily ‘jobs’. If you’re a smaller operation you might wear ‘hats’. There are times when you wear a blue hat and times when you wear a green hat. As an entrepreneur, you start out wearing all three hats!

Green Team:

  • This is the Core Sales Team responsible for driving the sales process with prospects, including strategy, asking, closing, and follow-up. The Green Team needs to be out-of-the-office making visits.
  • Green Teamers are Relationships Managers (RMs) assigned to prospects. 
    • There can be only ONE Relationship Manager assigned to each prospect. 
    • The RM is accountable for that prospect’s strategy. 
    • The RM is always a member of your Green Team!

Red Team:

  • The Red Team supports the sales process. One simple way to think about this is to define the responsibilities of the Red Team around ensuring that the Green Team is out-of-the-office more.
  • The Red Team helps with setting up visits, especially with phone follow-up and callbacks.
  • Using this definition, a grant writer is often a member of the Red Team.

Blue Team:

  • Blue team members can be brought into the process as needed/directed by the Green Team. For example, a few years ago I worked on a gift that took 18 months to close. During the process, more than 20 Blue Team members were brought into the process at some point. However, ALL of that activity was coordinated through and by the singular Relationship Manager on the Green Team. 
  • The Blue Team is not accountable for ‘asking’. The implications here are big! It means the model does not default to board members asking their friends for money (see: no more peer-to-peer solicitation). 
  • That being said, the Red/Green Team NEED Blue Team members! They play a crucial role in TEAM selling. The Blue Team members provide context, connection, and credibility in a way that a Green Team Members often cannot. 
  • Blue Team Members can be engaged before, during, or after the visit. Example: Use your ‘Blue’ Team to help with a predisposition, opening doors, and even setting up or requesting the visit. 

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.

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.

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.

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.)

You haven’t taught it until they’ve learned it

“You haven’t taught it until they’ve learned it.” – John Wooden


Tied to this simple nugget, Bill Parcells (in his biography) describes a lesson from his early days of coaching. Parcells was an assistant coach under Dean Pryor. A player messed up in practice and Parcells recalls ‘unloading on the guy.’

Pryor, voice raised, cut Parcells off. “Well, you obviously didn’t go over it enough, because he didn’t get it.” The teachable moment was the first time that Pryor had ever scolded his assistant, and it happened in front of a bench full of players.

“That cut like a knife to the heart,” Parcells remembers. “But it was one of the best lessons I ever learned.” Regardless of the mistake made by a player, his coach shared responsibility for any lack of execution. The onus falls on the coach to foster an environment conducive to learning—and retaining—instruction. Over the decades, Parcells would convey this same lesson countless times to his coaches when they blamed a player for not following instructions.

Identifying How Decisions Are Made

Every organization is perfectly designed to get the results they are getting.

This is one of our refrains. Whereas many consulting companies do feasibility studies or manage capital campaigns, at The Suddes Group our aim is to help an organization *design* for the right results — and then help implement to get those results.

As is the case with design work and culture change, this is often messy, iterative, and complex. It requires that we identify leadership and the process by which to make necessary decisions (that will move the enterprise forward).

Drawing on several frameworks, here are the decision-making modes that we seek to identify, name, and direct.

1. Autocratic
2. Input
3. Democratic
4. Consensus
5. Unanimous

Autocratic: While this can have a negative application, there are times when a decision just needs to be made, in order to move forward quickly. Leaders of social impact organizations tend to default to building consensus, but during an organization’s infancy, or when there is no ‘right’ decision, it might require that someone ‘just make a decision.’

Input still has one (clearly defined) decision-maker, but that person gathers input from others first; this style places an emphasis on participation, listening, and openness.

Democratic and Consensus: These are similar in some ways — they both favor a majority (or highest vote tally). Stylistically, a democratic decision-making process can sometimes be polarizing (think: Congress). In contrast, consensus is about finding an option that tries to build the most bridges, and the most understanding of different points of view. Note: Practically speaking, you can see the difference in this way — a consensus-building process requires many more rounds of back-and-forth, revisions, etc.

Unanimous: This is the hardest and most time-consuming option, to get everyone involved to agree on the decision. It requires a deep commitment from the team to listen, to let go, and to move forward as one.

The power of these styles comes from being deliberate about DECLARING them and then COMMUNICATING them within a process or plan.

Integration before Growth

Ichak Adizes created the working theory and framework for organizational lifecycles. Many ‘gurus’ have duplicated, or built upon, his lifecycle framework.

Here is a nugget nestled in the introduction of the latest edition of his work. It’s a specific insight about the importance of INTEGRATION as a key factor in predicting organizational growth. Most leaders might grow organizations a few times in their careers. We’ve worked to transform hundreds of organizations… and scaled just as many ‘funding efforts’… built and developed teams… to help raise over $2Billion. To us, this little nugget is HUGE and not to be missed!!!!

“I have learned that although it remains true that entrepreneurship causes growth and a lack of entrepreneurship causes aging, Integration is the factor that precedes entrepreneurship in predicting organizational growth and aging. This factor enables the creation of the nurturing environment essential for entrepreneurship and, thus, for organizational growth. Integration also allows organizations to treat aging problems more proactively—that is, earlier. Because this factor is subtle, it is commonly ignored and neglected in the pursuit of growth. That neglect is what causes organizations to take the typical path—with all its pains—on the organizational lifecycle.”

Adizes observes that large organizations are often working on ‘integration’ of teams, functions, systems. But his wording is insightful: integration is the ‘factor that precedes… in predicting’ where organizations are going.

We use this insight in our coaching.

Let’s suppose we’re helping you START an effort to build more individual giving. The trick is to balance ‘entrepreneurship’ (i.e., moving fast / doing things) and integration. In practice, this might mean that we prototype an effort inside of a large enterprise. Then, after there is some funding success, we’ll focus FIRST on how to integrate that function with other elements of the enterprise. That integration (buy-in, alignment, role clarity… the ‘culture stuff’) is predictive of the organization’s ability to successfully scale the funding model in an enterprise.

To increase sales, spend more time selling.

The title of this post is supposed to be reductively simple: To increase sales, spend more time selling.

This morning I’m reading through old HBR articles on ‘selling.’ We do this to find the research, studies, and science, and then use that information to back our approach and/or innovate. Here’s a little ‘finding’ from a 2006 article: The New Science of Sales Force Productivity.

Another question that leading sales organizations ask themselves is, Are the field reps spending as much time as possible selling? When we measure salespeople’s “non-customer-facing time,” we find that it often amounts to more than half of their total hours. If sales executives uncover that kind of problem, they have a variety of tools at their disposal. They may be able to channel some of the reps’ administrative functions to support staff… They also may simplify the systems that the reps are expected to deal with. Several years ago, sales executives at Cisco set a goal of reducing reps’ nonselling time by a few hours a week and charged the IT department with making it happen. The improvement led to several hundred million dollars in additional revenue.

I’m sharing this because it looks so simple. And it IS that simple. The problem is that most social impact organizations hold – as a cultural point of pride – the ability for each person to wear many hats. I was on the phone last week with a director of development who said, “Our president expects EVERYONE in the organization to be on the front lines providing service at least three mornings per week.”

That’s a decision.

In addition, we often see front-line salespeople being tasked with other functions – like running events. Or, in health care, the ‘fundraising executives’ are often asked to be at every health care system executive meeting (often this takes the BEST sales person offline for 40% of the month!).

These organizations are all trying to find ‘new ways to raise money.’

Our advice is not ‘innovative.’ It’s simple: Free up more time for your SALES PEOPLE to FOCUS on SELLING.