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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

FACT: Change Organizations are Designed to Not Change

I’ve been very torn about nonprofit boards for several years.

You have a bunch of people that barely know each other. They get together once/month – take 60 minutes to review some info and then they’re asked to make decisions. Really no incentive to take risks… to leap for change. Adding to that, these board members – because they’re are disconnected the rest of the month – feel they need to inject a token voice for concern about the decision de jour. It’s easier to point out how something could go wrong than to try to grasp an idea enough to figure out how to make it work.

One board member voices a concern – the others don’t know him well. No one wants to be the one to say, “That’s ridiculous.” Instead, someone layers it on – this offers both some camaraderie/support for the first objector AND demonstrates active participation by the second board member… and so on and so on.

I mean for this to be less of a rant than it would sound, I’m sure. I’m on boards. I can vouch first hand for the dynamics above. I’m sure I’ve even been ‘guy 1’ or ‘guy 2’. The structure and perceived risk/rewards lend themselves to these dynamics.

This means CHANGE is often killed dead in the water.

Perception: No upside to taking a risk… to changing… only downside… what if it doesn’t work?

Different perspective: What if we don’t change? How many lives do we NOT impact? So what if we fail spectacularly? Isn’t that better than slowly dying?

There is a solution. Simple. Not easy. Be a LEADER. Tell the guy or gal that you respectfully disagree with the WHY NOT… stand for the WHY IT WILL. Be the CHAMPION for change. Be passionate about VISION and moving forward.

Note: I visited with a board about one year ago – at the time of the financial melt down. 14 voices in favor of hunkering down… doing less… changing none. One voice – the board chair – saying, “NOW is the time for CHANGE!”. One year later I was in the same board room – org doing great… changed… I heard one board member whisper, “This VISION thing actually works.”

Absent of strong leaders, nonprofit boards are designed to maintain the status quo – with minutes and reports to back it up. Leadership takes courage, conviction and the ability to take some criticism.

No new wisdom here… Leadership (Rah! Tah!) Vision (Rah! Rah!). That being said, let’s just call this a REALITY and a FACT for the third sector: Change organizations are designed to not change.

Ergo: FACT, need a LEADER!

Good News: Easier to CHANGE when we deal in facts.

To Be In A Campaign Or Not To Be In A Campaign – That Is NOT The Question

“When should we start the campaign?”

I spent Wednesday morning with the board and leadership from an 11-year old private school. They had asked me to help them facilitate the answer to this question. Some of the board members wanted to start months ago and others wanted to wait – for the economy, for planning, for a variety of reasons.

More than a ‘timing thing’ it was a ‘perspective thing’. Some leadership said, “We need to be having conversations NOW.” Other leaders didn’t want to budge until all the stars were aligned.

The debate is not unique. “When do we pull the trigger?”

I think this is the WRONG question and so it’s going to be hard getting consensus on an answer. So, for you and for this board, I want to RE-FRAME the issue.

Some more about this school:

    • K-12 Catholic – on East Coast.
    • About 200 students – enrollment steady.
    • Tuition @ $12,500 (just raised 10%).
    • Gifted 100 acres on which to build a new school. Currently have something of a duct-taped campus that spans the creative use of three church spaces.
    • A ‘phased-approach’ to the building would require about $6M to functionally move all students to the new location.


Quantum Leap Framework (updated)

I posted a first iteration of QLF in July. Have updated below…

Have a look below at our Quantum Leap Framework. We use this as a FRAMEWORK for conversation, services, training, solutions and more (just about everything, really, that involves taking some sort of a QUANTUM LEAP with your FOR IMPACT organization.)

Hopefully you will find this transcends funding issues and offers a framework for organizational IMPACT and INCOME. Moreover, this is applicable to any organization/business/movement looking to Take a Quantum Leap.,

FRAMEWORK: A framework can be adapted to situations and organizations. It’s not a one-size fits all process. It provides a pathway for thinking through a challenge or complex issues including but not limited to:

  • How to make a quantum leap with your organization
  • How to re-design
  • Facilitating training/coaching/strategy sessions
  • Launch a campaign
  • Start-up or re-start
  • Jumpstart funding
  • Engage board members or stakeholder groups at a higher level
  • Strategic planning
  • Designing a launching a start-up venture (any sector)

I think the applications are limitless.

Here are some example applications:

On Campaigns: A campaign is a strategic component of the framework. (The campaign ‘process’ is determined by the VISION/PEOPLE.)

Strategic Planning: Most strategic plans talk about the how-to without ever going up to the ‘vision level’ to get consensus about the ‘where to’ or ‘why’ which is needed for SIMPLICITY.

People/Process/Performance: A little bit of Jim Collins’ notion – get the right people on the bus first – then you can drive the bus anywhere (perhaps with a clear process and ways to measure performance).

Board Meetings: Use this framework to differentiate between Vision/Strategy/Execution. (Hint – stay at Visionary level with time to dip down / frame strategy.)

Decision-Making: Action/Execution starts by ‘drawing the line in the sand’

For me, this FRAMEWORK captures components of BIG CHANGE… BIG LEAPS!


“Engage, Then Plan.”


Thinking Bigger with your Vision, your Board and your Funding

We’ve been on the road doing a lot of training and speaking the last two weeks. While in Albany at NYCON’s Money for Mission I packaged some content in a new way to focus exclusively on the importance of THINKING BIG.

Conference Session Title: Thinking BIGGER – With your Vision, With your Board and With your Funding.

Some of the FRAMEWORKS used:

Here are few nuggets and remainders/reminders from the session.

Go back up to 30,000’.
Planes fly at 30,000’. It’s an altitude at which you can see ‘the big picture.’ Offers blue sky thinking, vision, etc. Making you aware of 30,000’ we can then also discuss 14,000’ and 3’. Think of these as VISION – STRATEGY and TACTICS respectively. Most of us communicate at the 14,000’ and 3’ level. The BIG sale, the BIG vision, the BIG conversations happen at 30,000’.

On Strategic Plans:
Really tough to talk about where you’re going to go at 14,000’ if we don’t have consensus and clarity at 30,000’.

We spend every day at 3’.
Your prospects don’t. We have a context for every detail [[in OUR heads]] but when we communicate in the details (without first having clarity/framing at the higher levels) it sounds a bit like the school teacher from Charlie Brown.

The Steve Jobs Close
I use this one a lot. Love it.
The story: 1984. Apple board looking for a new ‘seasoned and readied CEO’ (I guess they didn’t think Steve Jobs knew what he was doing.) They zeroed in on John Scully – VP of Pepsi. Spent some time with him talking about market segments, HR, product lines, business plan, etc — the 14,000′ and 3′ pieces. He eventually turned them down. Steve Jobs goes for a walk with Scully and asks one (30,000’) question, “Do you want to sell sugar water to kids all your life or do you want to change the world?” Scully signs up for Apple. Incidentally, that didn’t work out so well. It turned out Steve Jobs was a pretty good leader after all. But, that’s a different story.

Asking for $1M.
We need to actually be able to communicate what we would do with $1M. Simple concept.

Getting Buy-In at 30,000’.
If someone’s not buying in or on at 30,000’ then you can’t move on to the strategy and the tactics of how they can help (the ask). However, once they do, you can move to these levels.

People respond to the level at which you communicate
Going to talk about blue prints? Everyone will talk about the angle of the door. Or, you can talk about the VISION. Your choice.

Not saying don’t have 14,000’ and 3’.
Just need to know the flow. Remember – there is an order: CAST a VISION. STAFF a VISION. FUND a VISION. Can’t fund a vision you don’t have 🙂

Think BIG actually makes things EASIER

You Get What You Measure

With all of our Coaching Clients with Sales Teams, we use what we call a ‘GREEN SHEET’ (Monthly Feedback).

Attached is a genericized version in the hopes that it might help you with your own MEASUREMENT and MONTHLY FEEDBACK.

What I really wanted to share today was the SUCCESS QUOTIENT at the top.

    SUCCESS = # of times we SHARE THE STORY…


    SUCCESS = # of VISITS (with Qualified Prospects) & # of ASKS.


    (Return-on-Relationships & Return-on-Investment & Return-on-Energy)

P.S. All of this is geared towards High-End, Top of the Pyramid, Lead and Major Gift PRESENTATIONS! It’s where the money is.

Think Like an Entrepreneur

Deadly fact: You cannot ‘MANAGE’ your way out of these challenging times!!!

The following appears a little bit like a ‘ramble’… but it’s actually an amalgamation of field work, thought leaders I really respect and my own entrepreneurial background.

Here are 7 things that I believe can help you FLOURISH, not just SURVIVE, in times like this.

  1. THINK BIG. Now is the time to talk about your VISION and TRANSFORMATION and QUANTUM LEAP!!!

    *Yesterday I was in two separate sessions with College Presidents and their Vice Presidents for Development. In both cases, we spent all of our time talking about Vision, Thinking Big, Quantum Leaps, the Message, our Very, Very Best Prospects, etc.


    “In times like these, you get a chance to show your STRENGTH.”
    – Jim Collins

    Now is the time to get back to your core… focus on your strength… do what you do better than anybody in the world!

    ***Nick and I looked at each other yesterday (in one of our many fun-filled brainstorming sessions) and concluded that now is the time to stop doing anything that isn’t central to our core vision and mission.

  3. “CRAZY TIMES CALL FOR CRAZY PEOPLE.” This is an old line from Tom Peters that I love. I think it was from back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. If he thought things were “crazy” then, think about what’s going on now!

    The point of this is that ‘MANAGERS’ are, by definition, NOT CRAZY.

    These times call for mavericks, crazy people, thought leaders, innovators, creative destructers (to quote Joseph Schumpeter’s definition of an entrepreneur).

  4. WHAT BOX? This isn’t just about “thinking outside the box”. This is about challenging the fact that there is even a BOX to get outside of! In times like these… THERE ARE NO RULES!!! (Beyond the obvious moral, ethical, do what’s right stuff.)

  5. ACT NOW.

    True entrepreneurs thrive in times like these… because they see so many OPPORTUNITIES to CHANGE the GAME.

    Times like these require massive amounts of CREATIVITY and INNOVATION.

    REMEMBER: CREATIVITY is about ideas… INNOVATION is about turning ideas into action!!!

    ACT NOW!

  6. WORKING ON THE ‘NUMERATOR’… NOT THE ‘DENOMINATOR’. More budget cuts are not the answer!!! (However, this is a perfect time to reallocate resources, change the people on your bus, and change seats.)

    These are the times to focus on your NUMERATOR: SALES, THE TOP LINE, NEW REVENUE STREAMS, etc.

    This is what we do. We’re constantly trying to help people increase their TOP LINE, their NUMERATOR. (It’s so much more fun talking with LEADERS and ENTREPRENEURS who understand that they need to ‘SELL’ their way out of these challenges… vs. talking with MANAGERS who want to ‘CUT’ their way out of these trying times.)

  7. STOP LISTENING TO THE DOOMSAYERS! Trust me. True entrepreneurs are spending absolutely no time whatsoever reading the front page of the newspaper nor listening/watching the three major news networks.

    In our world, if you were to believe 90% of what you read and hear… NO ONE IS GIVING TO ANYTHING because of the “terrible economy”.

    That’s just bull honky. Last week, the Chairman of the Board of Habitat for Humanity made his move from SUCCESS TO SIGNIFICANCE by investing $100 Million in Habitat’s work. (I did not see anything in that announcement where he was complaining about the “state of the economy”.)

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? ‘Managing’, ‘tweaking’, ‘cutting more from a budget that’s already showing more bone than a well chewed chicken wing’ just isn’t going to get you where you know you need to be.


P.S. In Inc. Magazine’s 30th Anniversary Edition, there is a terrific article by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Built to Last. He was asked what we might expect in the next 30 years.

His answer: Uncertainty, chaos, turbulence and risk. As Inc. says, “In other words, it’s not a bad time to be an ENTREPRENEUR.”

Lions, Mice & Antelope

Originally posted July 24, 2003 – Re-posted.

We all know (intuitively or from real experience) that MAJOR GIFTS is the best way to raise the most money… at the least cost!!!

To help you understand Major Gifts… and to help understand why it’s so important to focus on your best and most QUALIFIED PROSPECTS… check out the following story/metaphor.


A lion can actually capture, kill and eat a field mouse.

However, it turns out that the energy to do that is greater than the caloric content of the mouse. So, if a lion spent his whole day hunting and eating field mice… it would slowly starve itself to death!

A lion cannot live on mice. Lions need antelopes. Antelopes are big. While they take more speed and strength to capture and kill, once killed, they provide a huge feast for a lion and its pride.

A lion can live a long and happy life on a diet of antelope.

The difference between mice and antelopes is really, really important relative to Major Gifts!

If you’re spending all of your time and energy going after ‘field mice’… your short-term rewards are a feeling of activity and maybe even accomplishment. However, in the long run, you’re going to die.

Do you spend your day chasing mice or hunting antelope???

Making Business Decisions about Relationships

A note: It’s okay to make business decisions about funding relationships.

The context for my note: I was working with one organization to put together a $6M project and revamp the development operation. This particular org had 1.5 development positions and received about 40 gifts annually from corporations and foundations in the ranging from $2500 – $10K. The problem was the development was spending too much time ($$) and energy to secure those gifts. Sometimes a $5K grant would take three meetings, two days of grant writing and as much time to complete reporting.

This is not a ‘not-for-profit issue’, it’s a business issue. Spending a lot of time for a little money—or to lose money—is not good business.

I told the team we needed to change and heard common objections:

  • “But these are relationships. Mr. XYZ loves us and he’s done this for several years. We can’t just change.”
  • “But we know we’ll get the grant. We can’t just not take the money.”
  • “We can’t just walk in and say, ‘we’ve made a business decision and now things have to change!’”

Yes you can. Make a business decision AND explain the business decision to your funders. Making business decisions and having strong relationships is not mutually exclusive – it’s responsible. You’re not here to be some charity… you’re here to make a difference by leveraging resources effectively. At the same time, you can decide where if and when you need to move the line to accommodate a relationship… so long as you have a line.

If Hoops Then > $30K Rule:
For this organization we created a new rule. If we have to jump through any hoops we need to set a $30K minimum (as a goal). Otherwise, the hoops aren’t worth the hassle.

Factor into the cost:

  • All the staff (sales) time needed to write request, have meetings and submit requests.
  • In many cases a controller’s or CFO’s time who needs to crunch a bunch of numbers to make data look pretty for a request.
  • Delivery of the CORE program time – you want to maximize money toward this. If you have to create a bunch of new programs for the money then consider whether or not it’s worthwhile.
  • Reporting time
  • And most of all the OPPORTUNITY COST of not finding and meeting with better prospects.

The Result: We went to each recurring funder and explained that we had made a business decision that we needed to set a minimum threshold for ‘partnership’ at $30K. We explained the rationale.

Sometimes we walked away (or were turned away).
Sometimes funders got rid of the hoops (in which case it made it ‘profitable’ for us to accept a smaller gift)
Sometimes we turned $10K commitments in to three year commitments
More often than not we were told in some way, “Sure. No problem. This makes sense.”
Bonus: The team is now thinking bigger about every opportunity. No longer chasing mice – because they can’t.

No More Feasibility Studies

This nugget is an excerpt from from Tom’s Campaign Book.

Image of Campaign Book

No More Feasibility Studies

Having watched hundreds (maybe even thousands) of ‘nonprofits’ do feasibility studies… I still don’t get it!

INTERNAL staff gets together. Agree they need more money. INTERNAL group decides to do a campaign to raise more money. INTERNAL leaders enlist EXTERNAL consultants to do a feasibility study… for justification, CYA and backup.

Think about this ‘feasibility’ scenario:

  • No Sharing of the Vision
  • No Engagement
  • No Dialogue
  • No Involvement
  • No Presentation of an Opportunity

From the ‘consultant’ to the ‘prospect’:

If ‘XYZ NONPROFIT ORG’ were to do a HYPOTHETICAL Campaign with a HYPOTHETICAL goal… how much HYPOTHETICAL money would you HYPOTHETICALLY give to this HYPOTHETICAL Campaign?

One alternative to consider is true LEADERSHIP CONSENSUS BUILDING

Get your top stakeholders INVOLVED in the building of the PLAN… for both IMPACT and INCOME!!!

This OWNERSHIP will translate into a huge return on the time, energy and resources you INVEST in the process.

I’ve chosen these three words carefully, and used this process effectively for the last 25 years.

  1. LEADERSHIP. It is what it is. It is what is says. Engage your best LEADERS in the process of message clarification, prioritization and the funding plan.

  2. CONSENSUS. CONSENSUS is about the RIGHT DECISION… Not (necessarily) about ‘unanimous’ agreement on a politically correct, watered down, something-for-everyone mission statement/plan. CONSENSUS (on Vision/Priorities/Goals) creates commitment… generates momentum… and forces engagement (vs. passive participation).

    Nota Bene: “PASSION IS CONTAGIOUS!” (Nick Fellers)

  3. BUILDING. This is the kicker. This is the ‘action word’ that makes this idea worth millions! You must provide a framework to let your stakeholders help build.

    *This approach also serves as the most powerful form of PREDISPOSITION.