The glimpse

The thing that gets people over the line isn’t how persuasive your argument is.  It’s certainly not because they see a big need in the world.

The thing that gets them over the line is passion.  Ultimately their passion, but before that happens they need to see your passion.  They need to glimpse something raw and unbridled and real.  A deep belief in what is possible.  Conviction.

In order for them to see that, they need to see you first, to understand who you are.  They need to be able to relate to your passion and have it mean something to them.  They need to appreciate that if you’re all fired up about something then it must be something worth getting fired up about.

The biggest mistake fundraisers typically make is to take themselves out of the story.  It’s a natural to try to step aside since what seems to be on offer is the story, or, worse, the need, and not the person telling the story.

Need is overwhelming and paralyzing to most people.  Need seems insurmountable.  We all are looking for real, grounded, plausible passion, possibility, potential and hope.  People begin to see that by seeing what you see, feeling what you feel.

If they don’t glimpse that in you, how are they ever going to feel it themselves?

In the know

There’s nothing better than turning your customers into insiders.  One way is to give them the sense that they’re in the know and they are sharing in a  special secret, even if it’s small and even if it’s only sort of secret.

For example, you can get some of the best brownies on the planet at Fatwitch bakery in Chelsea Market.  After 5PM they put up a tiny sign:

Unwrapped brownies sell for $1.50 after 5PM – that’s half price.  Everything else in the store – wrapped brownies, brownie mix, etc. – remains full price, and you have to pay close attention to notice the little sign.  Just the other day I was in there buying a couple of half priced brownies while three tourists bought 30 wrapped mini brownies for full price.

There’s no subterfuge going on here – anyone who orders a brownie at the counter gets charged $1.50 per scrumptious brownie.  Then again, the whole thing wouldn’t work on multiple levels if they had giant letters in storefront window saying “BROWNIES HALF OFF AFTER 5PM!!!”

Just a little something small, a tiny secret that keeps loyal customers coming back.



My friend Tom Fisburne’s great cartoon about TV remote controls reminded me of this.

Imagine how much you could accomplish if you decided up front all the things you absolutely won’t do – the compromises you refuse to make, no matter what.

It’s the “no matter what” that’s the tricky part.

Above and beyond

No one’s going to tell you that now’s the moment.


You, online

Guess which online information about you affects peoples’ opinion of you?


Every last photo that pops up (sure, on your Facebook page, but also your Twitter feed and even the picture of you on Skype).  Each snippet is a little piece of you.

Yes we’d love to hear from you every day through your blog, which you can set up in about three minutes.  And yes it’s a good thing to have some personality.

If that feels like too much, why not put up a homepage (like Frank’s or James’)?  You could spend one day (one day!) doing this and making it better than 99% of what’s out there.  If a properly hosted page seems like too much, how about an profile.  And yes, you should be on LinkedIn too.

And since you have at least one friend who has a nice camera and likes to take pictures, ask her to take headshots of you on a simple white background and buy her dinner to thank her.  Heck, invite some friends over.  Best $50 you’ve ever spent (OK maybe more if drinks are involved).

You don’t have forever to stand out from the crowd, but right now it’s still pretty easy to distinguish yourself online.  What are you waiting for?


More than a dollar

It’s a myth that money is fungible.

Ok, not really.  Money itself is, strictly speaking, fungible, but that doesn’t mean all money is equal.  Who it comes from speaks volumes about your organization, its worldview, and what you stand for.

Some of the pieces of the equation are obvious: money with a lot of strings attached is worth less than unrestricted money.  Money that will take you off mission is money you shouldn’t take in the first place.

But it goes deeper than that.  A few weeks ago I was in Ghana – we opened our Acumen West Africa office earlier this year.  One of our top priorities from the outset has been to raise significant philanthropic funding from West Africans, and by far the most humbling part of the trip was the chance to spend time with the three Ghanaian Acumen Partners who have already stepped up significantly to support our work.  Theirs is not just a vote of confidence from some of the most amazing business leaders in the country.  It also creates a completely different level of accountability, a completely different conversation what we mean when we talk about “our” work in West Africa.   It is truly ours, it is truly shared.

Recently, the UK government made headlines when it announced that it would stop giving aid to India after 2015.  In our lifetimes, the bright lines around which countries are rich and which are poor will fade.  By 2025 India could easily have 500 million people in its middle class and 500 million people in poverty.  Brazil’s GDP per capita could easily pass the $15,000 mark with 10 million or more people living in urban slums.

The time to start cultivating a truly global corps of philanthropists, philanthropists who support both local and global causes, is now.    There’s no doubt that today it is easier and cheaper for your organization to raise a dollar in New York or San Francisco or London than it is to raise it in Mumbai, Lagos or São Paulo.  But if you keep doing that, you’ll miss the boat.

Remember, all money isn’t equal.

Full and hopeful conviction

One of the great nuggets – that I’d otherwise have lost had it not been for the visual notes I took – from the Adaptive Leadership piece in HBR that I talked about yesterday is about how to run experiments in adaptive settings.

Since adaptive challenges have unknown solutions, by definition we must make adaptive leadership decisions with incomplete information.  Even better, often the biggest breakthroughs come from holding two seemingly opposable ideas, goals, even values at the same time and trying to meet two seemingly incompatible needs.

In these adaptive situations, our only choice is to run experiments – to make a decision based on the information we have, with a clear statement of our hypothesis and an articulation of what data we will use to determine if the experiment is working.  (Very Lean Startup-y, in a very different context, which is always nice to see).

The soft underbelly of these situations isn’t WHETHER to run experiments (we have no choice) it’s HOW we run these experiments.

It’s all too tempting to view these tough calls at 51-49 situations, to continue to see all sides of the argument even after you’ve started running the experiment.  This is even more tempting in situations in which you disagreed with a decision – it’s so alluring to talk about the path not taken, to keep on hedging your bets just in case this path doesn’t work out.  Think how smart you’ll look if you have an “I told you so” moment three months from now.

Here’s another way to look at it, from the Adaptive Leadership piece:

Holding incompatible ideas in your head at the same time is a little like deciding to get married. At the moment you decide that this is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, you have to fully embrace your choice; you have to believe wholeheartedly that it is the right decision. But your practical self also knows that you probably would have fallen in love with someone else under different circumstances. So how can your intended be the only “right” one for you? If you treated the decision to marry this particular person at this particular moment as a 51–49 question rather than a 90–10 question, you would never take the leap. The same paradox applies to adaptive leadership interventions. You have to run the experiment with full and hopeful conviction.

I’m much more of a romantic than that, so the analytical approach to the decision to get married just doesn’t sit right with me.  But that’s another conversation.

What I like is the memorable analogy and the great last sentence: “You have to run the experiment with full and hopeful conviction.”

Not doubt, not worry, not with side conversations about how this will never work or with hesitation or second guessing.

Full and hopeful conviction.