Archive for Uncategorized

Drowning in mail solicitations

At my talk yesterday at First Congregational Church of Palo Alto, people were really bothered by all of the non-profit solicitations they receive by mail and phone.

As a fund raiser, I know the common wisdom is that the most likely giver is one who has given recently.  I also know that the major non-profits are very sophisticated about measuring the ROI (Return on Investment) for each mailing.  Yet I share the feeling of those in the audience that too much money and paper is used on multiple solicitations for organizations that I will be making at most one gift to during the course of a year (Are you listening Doctors without Borders?)  While it’s unlikely to stem the flow much, I do suggest writing back (even just on the “gift card”, returning it in the post-paid envelope) saying “I will give annually, making my gift in _______.   Please don’t send me appeals at other times.”  To be honest, only a few of the organizations with the best systems will be able to honor your request, but it doesn’t hurt to try.  If they continue to send too much, you can opt-out of their mailing list.  Most organizations are better about policing a full opt-out than a “just send one mailing per year.”

If you’d like to cut down on the mail you receive from organizations that you’ve never given to, and are not going to, sending back the response card with a “Please remove me from your list, and don’t share my name with other organizations.” may help.  Alternatively, you can sign up with Direct Mail Action, which lets you opt-out from all of the organizations which are a member.  (If you are already a donor to the organization, you will continue to receive mailings, but if you haven’t given to them before, you should not receive future mailings.)

DMA also provides pointers to other sites that let you opt out of credit card offers, and handles magazine offers as well.  They say it takes 30-90 days for your signup to percolate through to the mailers.  I signed up last night, we’ll see what impact it has…

Start signing up here:

A closing tip for fund raisers:

Yes, it’s  a tough world out there.  Amid rising competition and easier mass-mailings, your appeal is less likely to get a response.  It’s up to you to:

  1.  Build strong relationships with your donors;
  2.  Personalize your interactions with them as much as possible;
  3.  Reach them when and where they want to hear from you;
  4.  Be selective in reaching people who are most likely to be interested in your organization.

I heard a piece on NPR recently about offering donors the “Once in a lifetime gift,” which is essentially a “Remove me from your list,” but with the blow softened by a good-bye check.  When the option was offered, very few people took it, and the money raised both with that mailing and the following one was higher.  The ability to cut-off that mail stream is one that people value, even if they don’t use it.

Stanford PACS forum “The Art of Doing Good” and Social Entrepreneurship


Stanford PACS Center (Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society) has had some really good speakers and panels this quarter.  Last night’s was a strong finish to the year, with a discussion on social entrepreneurship.  In the spirit of sharing the knowledge, here are my notes, a rough transcript of the event.  Time permitting (it never seems to…) I’ll clean it up a little bit more, but if abbreviations don’t make sense, or you were there and I got it wrong, please leave a comment.


Jeffrey Solomon, Author of “Art of Doing Good:  Where Passion meets Action“ Roadmap for social entrepreneurship, profiling 18 of today’s top social entrepreneurs.  President of Bronfman Foundation.  Author of 80 articles, co-author of Art of Giving.  Council of Foundations.

Jenny Shilling Stein:  2002 co-founder of Draper Richards Kaplan (DRK) Foundation.  Director of Business Development at RealNames (managing Microsoft account) .  Boards of Food Corps and Global Health Corps.  Startup funding, management assistance, and network of entrepreneurs.  DRK grants $300K over 3 years to social entrepreneurs.

Alexa Culwell (moderator) is the Founder of Philanthropy Futures for creating impact for good of world. Former CEO of Charles & Helen Schwab Foundation and Stupski Foundation.

Rough Transcript

Alexa started off with some favorite quotes from Art of Doing Good:

Social entrepreneurs are “Inspired to do good on grand scale.”

“The for profit entrepreneur stops at the border of her soul.  Not so the social entrepreneur, she crashes through.”

Jeffrey Solomon:  The Bronfman Foundation is a spend down foundation, set to close in 2016.  Use experience to build a body of knowledge.  See this as a growing trend, and can help with sharing their lessons through website  Plan to use their final four years to create intellectual property.  Leverage is a great opportunity for foundations.  Try to measure each year.  First book, Art of Giving where your soul meets a business plan.  Criticism:  Book for those who can afford to give $50-100K+/year .  Incubated 9 organizations that will continue after close of foundation.  Joy of meeting incredible people and seeing and supporting their vision.  Take principles of Art of Giving, and created very accessible (not academic treatise) for social entrepreneurs.  Looked at 200 from CNN Heroes, NBC stories of week, plus Bronfman foundation, took 18 of best (management and governance lessons) that would be subject.

Jenny Shilling Stein:  DRK foundation selecting and funding social entrepreneurs over 11 years (45 people so far).  Understands how they approach the work.  “This is their life’s work.  It’s their passion.  It isn’t a job.”  The ideas, the good ones that go somewhere are a chain reaction leading to more good in the world, and magnetic to bring more people to them, people feel honored to work for the person and the model.  Can’t imagine themselves working anywhere else.

Alexa Culwell:  Peer supported mentorship:  What is the role for social entrepreneur?  How have you incorporated it?

Jeffrey Solomon:  Overlap in book and DRK Foundation (7 out of 18 or 45).  Talk about what they’ve learned from the network and how powerful it is for them.  So supportive of one another.  Reflects DRK strategy and the loneliness of social entrepreneurs.  Need to have peers support.

Jenny Shilling Stein:  Evolved to be important part of strategy over the years.  Office space not needed:  growing too fast and can’t agree on what’s needed.  First class included: John Wood (Room to Read), Janie Leu (Upwardly Global).  Once they had twelve fellows in a room together, tipping point, they became more powerful force than we were, monitor themselves outside of conference (3 day private conference).  Drive, ambition, impatience, risk-taking, even if not background and experience.  Wide range of leader types, and this is cream of crop.  Really driven, no-nonsense.  Create environment?  Not a touchy-feely group, but founders create a family.  Social entrepreneurs feel incredibly inspired sense of belonging that Bill Draper is famous for.

Jeffrey Solomon:  Ability to take “No” as first step to “yes”.  Resilience is amazing.  Ability to be infectious about what they do.  Sense of energy that really attracts donors, potential board members.  People want to be with these people.  Most successful is ability to be self-reflective.  E.g. Harlem Children’s Zone.  Looked at evaluative results of his work and said “I’m failing”.  We have to re-engineer everything we’re doing.  Unusual, esp. when so successful in raising money.


Sense of belonging?

Jenny Shilling Stein: John Wood of Room to Read one our first.  Andrew Yoon of One Acre Fund went to John Wood for mentorship.  John joined Andrew’s BoD.




Jeffrey Solomon:  can’t delegate chief development officer task.  Nonprofit economy makes no sense.  Economy :  I give you money, and you give me goods or services.  In the non profit economy, I give you money and you give someone else goods and services.  Makes no sense.  What do I get out of it?  Increasingly an expectation of ROI.  Usually CEO  Best Social Entrepreneurs think they’re not fundraisers, but become so infected by own energy that they will break through any barrier.  Resources  is the biggest barrier.  SE is out there doing it all even if they said they’re not a fund raiser.  Any CEO who plans to delegate is not someone I’d recommend.


Jenny Shilling Stein:  Fundraising, Strategic Planning, Management, Governance, each topics that get covered in their 3 year cycle.  Kaye Sprinkel Grace  As more and more young people are interested in doing good in the world,.  Fund raising at Kiva is democratized.


Alexa Culwell:  Even if SE think they have business model, they still have to raise money.  Will need capital for innovation.  If you’re not up for that, you have no business doing the work.


Jenny Shilling Stein:  Misconception in funding in for-profit segment is so easy.  Have to be fabulous sales person, constantly going after more money.  Giving away pieces of your company.  Salesman needs to be subtitle of CEO of any venture.


Jeffrey Solomon:  So much emphasis on earned revenue today, one almost has a sense of guilt that might be great disruptive tech that significantly improves social venture may be run, but without stream of revenue earned, people will say “No, I don’t think so.”.  Need sense of responsibility to the sector.


Other common mistakes?


Jeffrey Solomon:  Friends and family are important for (early) funding and governance.  Too often entrepreneur stays with F&F too long, rather than finding true partner or someone who will keep him honest.


Jenny Shilling Stein:  Transition from early stage:  Common mistakes:  Board model that you jerry-rigged?

Give money, but a staff person joins the board.  Best practices.  If goal is to bring innovative model to sale to serve wide # of beneficiaries and affect industry and how they do their work beyond you, then there is set of best practices.  Kitchen table friends are not risk takers.  A fresh board is great, often F&F, this is what we need the board to look like, sketching it out, where do you fit in?  Biggest mistake is not focusing on it.  No shame in that, since you have no time.  Constantly asking about the board.  Do you have a chair in mind?

Kiva board was great, but no-one had taught them how to act in board member.  Bring your business skills, knowledge and intuition, and when you hear something that doesn’t sound right, call it out.  Both arrogance and saying less than they should are.  Critical friends.  Not getting into minutia.  As you build staff, get that (budget) out of the board, move it to the staff.


Jeffrey Solomon:  Another mistake made by funders (i.  “NIFO”  Noses in, fingers out.  Conspiracy between funders and Social Entrepreneur  suck them into becoming operational partners, gives social entrepreneur an out of saying “My funder made me do it.”  Gets funder involved in things that they have no experience in doing.


Jenny Shilling Stein:  Trying to do too much in the model.  Hard enough to do one thing well.  Encourage people to be very simple, get good at one thing.  Iterate, experience in real world, add thing as you need.


Alexa Culwell:  “Never ask for advice you’re not willing to consider”.   Sees many cases where people who have asked her for advice never do anything with it.  She was won over by one CEO who, initially resistant to what she had to say, later started sending her monthly updates of what he was doing toward her recommendations.


Jenny Shilling Stein:  Hiring correctly, not just resume, but cultural fit.  Working style, risk tolerance.  Small staffs.  First fund raising hiring never works out, because you should be doing the fundraising.


Alexa Culwell:  What makes a good BoD meeting that really engage and draw people excited:

A: Center for Effective Philanthropy board meetings had great people, didn’t repeat what was sent in advance (assumed the directors had read it).  Asked for advice,  Fun, intellectual engaging, and captured the advice well.


Jenny Shilling Stein:  Balance between reporting out to the group to share great things you’ve done, nitty gritty of “let’s review audit/budget”. Balanced with generative thinking “Top 3 things keeping you up at night”.  Don’t have a clear answer, not a voting issue, been going on for a few months.  Have the expert speak last.  Or get everyone’s quick thoughts, have them write them first. Separate meeting parts


Jeffrey Solomon:  Board member responsible for board development (governance structure) or building it into each meeting as well.  Most important decision is budget review.   99% of make it rubber stamp.  Need to take a step back.  Nothing mechanical about passing a budget.  It’s a statement of policy.  If BoD doesn’t treat it that way, there’s something missing.  Very helpful to have job descriptions for board members.  A clear contract so everyone knows what’s expected within context wealth, wisdom, wit,.


Scott Silverman’s BoD terminated him.  He knew the confrontation was coming, but wasn’t able to settle it.


Alexa Culwell:  Founders?  At what point do founders become professional long-term executive or turn it over?  What models do you see in portfolio?


Jenny Shilling Stein:  Mostly staying on and becoming managers.  Need a #2 who is really running operations (since founders are out raising money). Hard transition.  At each stage when things change, “Do you want this new job?”  Are you fully into it.  Clinging to what you were doing in years 1&2 won’t work.  Find people really dynamic, also have managerial skills.  Keep half entrepreneur, half manger for 5-10 years.  Hard.


Alexa Culwell:  Self-reflective.  Able to think of limitations, and whether they can re-up and re-commit.  A16z blog on betting on founders.  Premise to bet on and develop founders into long-term leaders.  Passion trumps anything else.


Jenny Shilling Stein:  Good startup funders deeply believe in and love entrepreneurs.  Founders aren’t easy people, deeply understand where they’re coming form their genius.  If you don’t, you’ll make big mistakes.


Jeffrey Solomon:  Deep personal connection to issue they’ve been working on.  Spiritual calling that you can’t replicate, hire for or replace.   Work of DRK that provides support, skills, network is so important.  Can’t say great idea, we’re going to replace you with


Q&A from Audience:

Shelly from Stanford Hillel Board Chair:  Can social entrepreneurship principles be brought to existing organizations?

Jeffrey Solomon:  Yes, though extraordinarily difficult.  “Nothing more doubtful than creating sense of change.  Only have support of those who can envision the future and resistance of everyone who is worried what change will mean to them.”  Approx quote from Machiavelli.  Have to reinvent themselves.  What worked in the past won’t work in the future.  Prerequisites:  a board that understand real need for change, and executive staff that can be partner for that change.  Disruptive tech example:  “Birthright Israel” by changing all rules:  Market to only young adult, rather than parent & child, reduced from 6 weeks to 10 days, made it a gift not a paid trip.   Willingness for 2 major funders to support, and now a model with 11 countries having similar programs.


Longer organization has been around, the more risk-averse it becomes.  Do you have people willing to push through?  Requires all the courage in the room.


Ariel Mendez PACS PhD student:  Generating sense of belonging among fellows or board:  Is there a competitive dynamic among the group?  Helps to have founders in the room?  How do you overcome it, and create willingness to share competitive advantage?


Jenny Shilling Stein:  DRK doesn’t pick a specific issue to fund.  So less competition, not going after same funders.  Can share contacts.  Proactively share funders that are funding them.  Great respect for one another.  Other org is doing high, high quality work, using dollars effectively.  One gift you can give a funder is to send them great grantee.


Marina Oser:  PhD in biosciences:  Funding from foundations vs. individuals   Is there conflict where funder wants very specific things, and then funding is pulled?


Jenny Shilling Stein:  Both foundations and people can do that to you.

Alexa Culwell:  “Foundations are people, with all same idiosyncrasies and complications”

Put it in writing, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Don’t take too much money up front, shift model.  Develop a strong board.  (So you and board can go back to funder and say “This is not OK.”)


Jeffrey Solomon:  SSIR  least reliable funders were foundations.  Too many want 3 years and out.   (not true of VC firms).   Forces you to play games to create “new projects” that are really your core service.  2)  Of the 65K foundations over 50K are checkbooks: no staff, no guidelines.  $300B in private philanthropy, 85-90% of philanthropy is from individuals (when you include bequests and foundations which are really individuals).  Really hard to generalize across foundations.  Create one page of what you’re funding and get people to buy into that one page.  Might be amended, but one-page.  Very clear term sheet with every  And spirit of re-visiting and revising the one-page if needed.


Kim Meredith (director of PACS):  10 models of nonprofit funding available off SSIR home page (by Bridgespan)


Juluis Parras:  Echoing Green Fellow:  Filipino and philanthropy:  Tonight’s discussion has been VC-based.  How about folks rooted in social justice perspective who want to expand work but view capital/business with distrust?


Jeffrey Solomon:  Great complicated question.  ”Bad money for good purpose is good money”  Environmental movement “greenwashing” is a terrible thing.  What makes it terrible is being honored for what they are doing to support the environment while they are destroying it.  Separate the financial support for doing social justice projects with those honoring it.  Less loaded.


Jenny Shilling Stein:   People who are funding are more in the middle.

Alexa Culwell:  Public education reform work.  Philanthropists are interested in helping education system.  What motivates them are deep social justice and racial justice .  Frame they’re coming from is more simplistic.  Get into it and find they’re funding some activist work.  Frame doesn’t resonate but common goal of achieve student success.  Agree what we’re trying to do, be open about how we get there.   Trying to figure out what everyone ‘s common objective is.  If not common objective.  Probably be in different rooms working on different projects.


Impact Investing and mission drift?

Make sure early funders are on board with social mission.  B Corp can help, but isn’t protected.  If your product is inherently good in market, then growth is good.  If the product can be restricted to helping only the rich, then you risk losing social purpose


Alexa Culwell:  Start as for-profit and convert to non-profit, as did the Opportunity Fund, foremost CA microcredit lender.

How can social entrepreneurs rise above the noise?


Jeffrey Solomon:  1)  “Just do it” you can spend too much time thinking about it, kill your own passion when passion is the most important asset you have.  2)  concentrate on leverage in everything you do.  Whether it is introducing funders to one another or bringing on to your board people who have expertise you don’t.  More you can work at multiple levels that


Jenny Shilling Stein: Know thyself.  Understand your capacity to follow your passion.  Be very honest if you are ready to make this leap.  But there is a time and place for it.


Alexa Culwell:  Simplify your complex aspirations.  Systems thinking.  Surround yourself with people who have half a chance who can replace you one day.

Online Fund Raising Tips

Steve presenting at Foster City Library

The talk at Foster City Library on Saturday went well.  There were a couple of questions from the audience that I didn’t have detailed answers for, so I figured I’d look them up, and provide them here.

    1. How do you set up a “Text to Give” number?

Fund raising responses for natural disasters like Red Cross’s campaign for the Haiti earthquake were very effective.  Text “GIVE” to this number to make a $10 contribution for the cause.  Millions of dollars were raised.  How can our non-profit get in on that?

A:  The pros are that these programs can be set up quickly, are convenient for donors, and you don’t have to be a major non-profit in order to set this up.  There are several web articles on how to do it.  See for example:

The downside of these programs is they are pretty expensive (setup fee up to $500, monthly fees in the $100 range, plus 4-7% of amounts donated).  Plus, you don’t get the donor information unless the giver specifically responds to your receipt text.
    1. How do you set up an Amazon associate link?

A non-profit can get a percentage of their supporters’ Amazon purchases if the buyers navigate to Amazon through their organization’s associate link. The percentage is rather generous (4% and rising as you sell more items). Plus, it’s not that hard. I set one up for myself in about 15 minutes, and then surfers that access Amazon through my tagged links will yield a commission (some disclaimers apply–you can’t get commissions on things you buy for yourself, or things that will be re-sold, and the like.)

Amazon does have a decent set of tools and reporting features for the program.

Start to sign up for Amazon’s Associate program.

Opportunity International Microfinance Summit

Camelback view from Montelucia, Scottsdale, AZ

I’ve been in Scottsdale, AZ for the last two days at a summit on microfinance with Opportunity International.  Although I was very involved in microcredit a number of years ago (see my blog for my time with the Reuters Digital Vision Program, the Grameen Foundation Technology Center and the Mifos project), and have been supporting organizations like Unitus  and Namaste-Direct, I haven’t been hearing the stories recently or having as much contact with direct practitioners.

I learned about Opportunity International back in August, and a new friend who is working there invited me to come to the Summit.  It’s been really enjoyable to re-connect with microfinance, hear more of the stories of how these small loans impact peoples’ lives, and chat with others who share that interest.

The program was a packed day plus a little on either side of it.  A few of the highlights:

Learning about Product Innovations

Many MFI’s (Microfinance Institutions) offer a limited range of products:  mostly just loans, varying in amount and duration, and whether they are granted to a group or individual, but loans are their bread, butter, meat and potatoes.  One of the key reasons is that the level of government regulation goes up significantly when you start taking deposits (they don’t want you going out of business and losing depositor funds).  Opportunity International has gone through the work to get the necessary licenses to take deposits (they have a combined gross loan portfolio of $515M, with $108M in depositor funds).  Opportunity International has also added insurance products (primarily life insurance, that pays out to cover outstanding loan balances if the borrower dies).

I got a chance to talk with Nathan Byrd, the key person behind their Educational Finance projects, and heard more about their plans there.  In addition to more traditional ideas, like making loans to schools for capital improvements, or loans to students to cover tuition, they’re pioneering a savings/insurance product that does a great job of meeting customer needs.  It’s a  savings account with some fringe benefits:  assuming you meet certain balance minimums (very modest by US standards, something like $50), you are automatically eligible for a linked insurance policy that, in the event of your death (except for suicide) while a child is still in school, pays 5x the balance for school fees to ensure your child(ren) can continue their education.

One of the other talks was by John Magney, the head of their agriculture finance group.  He gave some nice background about the (financial) ecosystem needed to support farmers, citing groups like market information systems, input providers (like seeds & fertilizer), output markets (to sell produce), finance, and external services (training and certification).  One of the interesting stats that he provided was that small scale farmers might pay up to half of their income for money when they needed it (“income smoothing”).  School fees are due in January, but crop sales don’t start until May, so farmers may end up going to a money lender or selling their crop futures at a cut-rate.

Impressive Women Leaders

Opportunity International hired a new CEO, Vicki Escarra, less than two months ago.  She has an impressive background in both the non-profit sector (most recently, CEO of Feeding America, doubling their number served, and raising their budget to nearly $100M) and in corporate America, (raising through the ranks of Delta from flight attendant to managing all operations to CMO).  She did a wonderful job talking about her personal commitment to the cause and talking up the achievements of the organization.

The keynote speaker was Carly Fiorina.  While she didn’t (and wouldn’t) get my vote for Senator, she did give a masterful talk about the importance of women leaders, and her personal challenges since leaving HP (death of a daughter, fight against cancer).

Mother-daughter co-authors Bonnie St. John and Darcy Deane spoke about their book How Great Women Lead.  Darcy, at 13 years old, was impressively poised, being interviewed before a group of more than 200 people.  I was even more impressed when I heard afterwards she’d gotten 3 hours of sleep the night before.

A Powerful Poverty Simulation

The OI crew had put together a series of personas of typical borrowers and the dilemmas they face.  Each table had about 6 of them, and we paired up to read the bio, the choice they faced, their options (that ranged from bad to horrendous) and choose which we would do.  We discussed them briefly around the table and then with the whole assembly, and moved on to phase 2, where we envisioned the case where all of the people were part of the same borrowing group, and one of the borrowers was unable to make her weekly repayment.  Given the joint liability for the loans, a default by any member implies all of the group members would be unable to get a future loan.  Realistically, the other members will cover the delinquent member’s payment, but apply some social pressure to make sure it doesn’t happen again (and maybe make some interventions to help guarantee that…)

For a sample, consider the 29-year-old making for $1.50/day selling sodas who had her savings stolen, and faced the choice of marrying her 12-year-old daughter off to a 50-year-old man for the dowry he offered, or ending the schooling of all 4 of her children when the next round of fees is due (and potentially not having enough to eat).

I’ve tended to operate at the “products and numbers” level of microcredit:  interest and repayment rates, technology solutions for managing mobile payments, and the like.  This simulation was a reminder that each of those loans does make a difference in a real person’s life, but even so, things can still be pretty dire.

Meeting Interesting People

The main reason to go to a conference is nearly always the people that you meet, and this one was no exception.  From a couple that owns a dairy farm in California’s Central Valley, to the retired president of an advertising agency, to the college senior interested in pursuing a career in microfinance or social entrepreneurship, it was a group that was concerned with other people and using their resources to make a difference in the lives of the poorest.

Thanks, Jennifer, for the invitation and encouragement to come!

Soulful Citizenship, a talk by Rev. Jim Burklo


Rev. Jim Burklo is a friend, blogger, and former minister at both Stanford and my church in Palo Alto.  He’s now the Associate Dean for Religious Life at USC.  He visited and gave a talk last weekend entitled “Soulful Citizenship”.

Since he’s included a lengthy excerpt in his blog and you can get the audio for the talk, I’ll just add a few of my reflections.

Jim did a really nice job balancing the talk between the personal, the religious, and the political.  He was great at handling questions, letting people feel as though they’d been heard, but not get too derailed with tangents.  He had some really nice, quotable lines in the talk, too, and he didn’t even include all of them in the excerpt.  One of my favorites was in his description of the “Drop-in” center that served the unhoused of Palo Alto.  He said that by accepting people where they were, and demonstrating the center had “no agenda but love,” it could become a trusted support partner when the person decided he or she wanted to change.

Another one was “If you don’t vote, you vote Republican.” (followed up with a light-weight analysis that Republicans do better when turnout is low.)  “Make politics depressing, make voting more difficult, make people believe it’s all hopeless, and Republicans will have a better chance of winning.”

The story of talking to a 34-year-old who asserted “I won’t get social security” also hit home.  I’ve said that myself.  (Although I suspect some form of social security will exist 30 years from now, I believe it will be means-tested and, I hope I’ll have enough assets that put me above the cut-off…) Jim’s thought-provoking point was that “If you say that.  It’s true.  They’ve already won.”  In other words, of course the program will fail if the people who bear the brunt of the costs don’t expect to benefit from it in the future.  They’ll have no incentive to stand up for it, and the program will fail.  Self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jim closed his talk with a plea for greater voter engagement, encouraging us to step into the void left by our political parties, and create a vision for the future, a motivating vision, and then “take it viral” discussing it with our friends, sharing it electronically.  I’m taking the first step here–at least dipping my toe in the water.  I’ve thought a bit about how I’d craft my vision, some of the elements with freedoms and protections for individuals, the systems of law, regulation, and taxation to provide those freedoms, the common investments that we want to make to support us all, and the way that we act on the international stage to provide an example without needing to have an arsenal that can only be maintained by spending more than the rest of the world combined.


Bill Drayton at Stanford Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society (October 3, 2012)

October 3, 2012, Stanford Center of Philanthropy and Civil Society

In a World Where “Everyone’s a Change Maker”

  • Bill Drayton, CEO & Founder of Ashoka, Harvard College, Yale Law.  McKinsey in NY 1970’s.  EPA.  MacArthur Fellow.
  • Greg Dees, Professor of Practice of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke Business School, High Impact Philanthropy

Opening Remarks from Bill Drayton (an approximate transcript)

The rate of change is escalating exponentially, as is the number of people causing change, and the combinations of people getting together to make change.  The old system is collapsing, with the death of old habits and institutions.  The death rate of large corporations is increasing (as measured by the half life of the companies in the Fortune 500).  Today, we need a different set of skills and societal organization.  To be successful, we are able (and must) deal with larger groups of people.  In yesterday’s world, efficiency and repetition were the organizing principles (a few people organize everyone else, with walls).  This stasis was a steady state.

But change is also a steady state, the one we’re in now.  Education as mastery of body of knowledge is no longer sufficient.  But large numbers of children are being given just that.  We need a different set of skills.  The half life of skills is getting shorter.  We need a sophisticated set of human social skills.  Following rules is not sufficient.  Empathy is required instead to be a good person.  To understand the impact of your actions, you need to observe everyone else, out into the future, in all different contexts.  Main cause of marginalization is failure of empathy (old paradigm of “don’t be a victim, respond with aggression” doesn’t work).  Many parents don’t realize importance of teaching empathy or know how to do it.

Teens need leadership.  Not telling them what to do.  Everyone needs to help make that change.  Every organization needs to be a fluid, open “team of teams,” serving a fluid, interconnected process of changes.  Each moment determine right combination of people to affect the change processes.  Many organizations aren’t able to make that leap and are dying.  Business school needs to ensure graduates are prepared.

Ashoka has 3,000 of best world’s social entrepreneurs.  They change the framework of thinking.  Everyone is a changemaker.  That’s the only way to have a world that’s fair and equal, with everyone able to contribute.  Much more powerful, with anyone in the world able to connect with anyone else, and start something.  Network effect is infinitely powerful and better than the world we have.  What better contribution can you have than helping people make a huge change?

Questions from Prof. Greg Dees and the audience

What’s the role of Social Entrepreneurs in “Everyone’s a changemaker”?

We need people who can see how to change the system and make that change happen.  See the new pattern, how to make it practical (simple and empowering people to be an advocate)

What is a Social Entrepreneur? 

The heart of it is a value system.  Social Entrepreneurs have given themselves “Permission to care”.  80% of Ashoka Fellows started something in their early teens.  With that early experience, you know you have the power to change the world.  For profit business isn’t sufficient:  It’s hard to make a business out of women’s rights.  Some entrepreneurs choose not to be subject to constraints of business model (short term focus on profitability).

Ashoka’s 5-part test for evaluating a Social Entrepreneur and the idea:

  1. Is it a new idea that can change the field?
  2. Is this person a creative problem solver?
  3. Does this person have entrepreneurial qualities?  They need to be committed—there for life, an 8-10 year commitment. They are building a movement.  There is probably an 80% overlap with business entrepreneurs.  Social entrepreneurs are good Listeners.  Traditional concepts of scaling are irrelevant here.  You need a Vision for a better way of the world being organized.
  4. Social impact of the idea.  Once idea is demonstrated, will others try it?  How many will be impacted?
  5. Ethical fiber—people are not convinced by the words you say, but “Do I trust this person?”  If they don’t trust you, they’re not going to change something fundamental in their life.  “Are you married to this idea?”

Ashoka works primarily as a community.  Collaborative entrepreneurship of 100’s of fellows working together.  Different from solo entrepreneurship.

System-wide change requires both Social Entrepreneurs and Changemakers.

People are getting rid of repetition as fast as we can (e.g., self-driving cars).  People are excited by change.  How much time do we waste and how many people do we kill by driving?  Trust people to make choices to change.

What are the Limits of empathy?

We have a hard time being empathetic to people who are unlike us or those who are far in the future, those who are “not innocents”.  He is describing a world that can’t be run by rules anymore.  All of us to be successful in life have to be empathetic.  We don’t have that now.  We are going through a transition period.  Most top-down institutions are dying.  When we can trust others to have this empathetic skills and act on them, we will be in a much safer and happier place.   [Blogger’s Note:  See Jerry Michalski’s TEDxCopenhagen talk “What if we trusted you?”]

If parents see their children need empathy to succeed, they will be motivated to provide that.  And they’ll apply it in their professional life as well.  You can’t run a fluid, open team of teams unless you trust everyone.

Ashoka and companies can help you with your children.  They’ll have to live in this world of change.  So parents will help their kids master empathy.  But they can’t teach it without mastering it themselves.  Companies control the messages we see day-in and day-out.  Capture the marketing budget of these companies.  If a company can help its clients help their children, it’s empowering them.  Makes them feel big, not small.   It’s the opposite of Fear; it’s the approach of John Kennedy, not Richard Nixon.

What can Stanford do?

Ashoka U.  was founded by 2 Stanford undergrads immediately after graduation.  Want every student, faculty, alumni to move into world of fluid open team of teams, as much as possible.

Bring the change to the Stanford alumni.

The Ed school should break out of the old model, instead, teach changemaking.  There should be better measures of empathetic performance.  To what extent can 3rd graders tell when someone is angry?  Ed school, dept. of psych, d-school all have a role to play.  Where is the GSB in charging “Are you transforming your company?”  P&G and IBM recognize the need to be open and global to research.

The “Process of change” tends to follow a script:  2-3 groups start pushing for a change, then islands of people start living in a different way.  The first article is published, then the first book; islands connect, confidence builds, people become aware of tipping zone, and follow through of actually getting change to happen. At the mid-point of awareness of tipping curve, it gets a lot easier, very few people who don’t want to hear about the change.  Prophets had to develop a new ethical model for 1-2% that were living in new way.  Gandhi understood that as people moved in this direction, the whole discourse must change.  Ask people respectfully to compare their behavior to what is ethically required. The result is people will change.  As long as it’s our choice (non-violence is key) people will do it.  Think we’re describing here the ultimate stage of that.  Everyone is liberated.  Until they see it, they’ll be uncomfortable.  How dysfunctional is what is currently going on?  We are still stuck with 1930’s rules (for finance, e.g.).  How can we get people to see where we are going and what we can do to get there?

What would Bill Drayton put on the research agenda for Stanford?

The legal system has not been transformed, we need a different legal structure.  We need institutions that not just “allow you” to take into account community and larger world (B-Corp.), it should be the institutional norm.  Right now that’s really difficult.  Common law developed 800 years ago, pretends not to be changing while constantly adjusting (new circumstances) subject to careful review with non-political process.  That may have worked in the past, but can we adjust to the current rate of change much less that of 15 years from now?

This process that’s been going on for 50,000 years is coming to culmination.  We have far more neurons, and capacity for managing complexity.

We need research on how to create, sustain, and evaluate social impact.  How can people in organization can be confident that their actions are having intended impact?  There is a longer time frame to determine whether you are having the impact or something else is causing it.

What is the role of innovation, and how can small organizations foster it?  Some organizations will atrophy because their culture and norms won’t let them change fast enough.  Outside entrepreneurs will be more nimble and able to bring about change.

We need greater understanding of what is required to be a social entrepreneur and the toolkit required.  How do we equip people so they can make those choices intelligently?

Ultimately, it’s about identifying and empowering social change leaders.

The Power of a Fourth Grade Teacher

Nope, this is not a post about DonorsChoose, or any of the other great non-profits supporting teachers.  This is about my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Gilmore.  For me, fourth grade pretty much marks the earliest things I can remember from my school days:  reading The Hobbit and Sherlock Holmes stories, my first real book reports, watching the first Space Shuttle landing and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.  Mrs. Gilmore was one of my favorite teachers.  The twinkle in her eye, the friendly smile, the words of praise and encouragement, they made me want to do better.

It turns out that power of encouragement: knowing each of your students and keeping them motivated, is not something that ends with retirement.  I’ve been lucky enough to stay in touch with Mrs. Gilmore over the years.  She and her husband (Mr. Gilmore, of course!) are members of the church in which I grew up, in Simsbury, CT.  They recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary (congratulations!).  When Giving Back was published, my mom suggested that Mrs. Gilmore would enjoy seeing a copy.  I did send her a copy, and received a nice thank you card.  And even 30 years later, her kind words, the memory of her twinkling eye and friendly smile make me want to do better.

 Thank you, Mrs. Gilmore.


When I was looking for a picture of my old elementary school, I ran across this video of a CT TV station’s news segment on Building Character at Tootin’ Hills School, their outreach project of making PB&J sandwiches for the homeless and toiletry kits for people staying at a shelter.  The principal (who’s served 19 years at the school there) said that it had started 25 years ago.  It’s a bit frightening to realize that was still several years after I was there.


Fire at Beechwood School

Beechwood School serves K-8 students in East Menlo Park and East Palo Alto.  It was originally founded by 3 families who were involved in the Scouting program, and recognized that the boys entering their troop from East Menlo Park were behind in their reading skills.  They set up the school, and have built it into an amazing place that provides excellent support for their students.

Very early Thursday morning (4 AM, well before anyone was on campus), a pinched cord on an oven in the administrative building shorted out, causing a fire that destroyed the building.  Since the campus is a series of modular buildings, fortunately damage was contained to the one building (which also housed the Third Grade classroom).


Beechwood has been supported by both the Outreach Board of First Congregational Church and the Palo Alto Congregational Foundation.  Members of the church serve on the Board of Directors, and we’ve volunteered twice as a church to help with work days on campus.

So, while it wasn’t exactly as if there were a fire at the school where I went to Third Grade, it still hurts, much more so for the staff and students who do find a home at Beechwood.  The school is insured, and I hope the ~$400,000 in losses will be covered, but the time spent dealing with the damage and recovery, the losses from the school days without instruction, the  lesson plans and other “sentimental” items won’t be covered.  Beechwood could use you any support you can provide, financial or moral.


My Kind of Store: Reach and Teach

Craig Wiesner, co-founder of Reach and Teach, stopped by my blog the other day to offer congratulations on finishing the book, and commenting that Giving Back was the sort of book that fit in well at their store. This was a nice symmetry, since Craig had offered encouragement on the project just as I was starting to get serious about it, when I met him at a party in March 2011.

I interpreted Craig’s comment as an invitation to drop by the store, and I’m glad I did!  I’d been meaning to go before–they make their space available for community events, and some Collaborate For Africa (C4A) meetings have happened there, though somehow, I’d missed going.

While they were flipping through Giving Back, I was looking around at all the great stuff.  I’m mostly drawn to books, so flipped through (and bought) one on community organizing: Beautiful Trouble a how-to, with page-long descriptions of key principles and examples of implementing them.  Turning your old Palm Pilot into one of those “Hairy Dan” palettes with a magnetic stylus that lets you deposit iron filings was one of “62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer”.  They also had a great selection of kids’ books, and toys and games.  I bought a couple of those, too, though don’t want to spoil the surprise of potential recipients by listing them here…  I decided I would leave a couple of things to purchase with my royalties from their sales, plus I had to rush off for dinner, but it was one of my favorite store visits in years!

Steven Ketchpel

Giving back is using your time and money to make the world a better place.

Along the way, you’ll discover a new wealth:

  • Friends who share your vision
  • Skills you develop while volunteering
  • Opportunities to work together with your family
  • Gratitude for what you have
  • Insight about what is important to you and how you can impact the world
  • Seeing your children grow in compassion, leadership,and kindness

The Book

Giving Back is a “how-to” book that supports you and your family in your journey.

For those just getting startedGiving Back walks you through finding your first volunteer project or donation.

For those looking to get deeper involved, Giving Back helps you think through your strategy:  unique talents you can bring, your ability to assume a leadership role, or even start your own non-profit.  Donating strategically means maximizing your gift’s impact by finding an efficient organization and taking all available tax benefits.

For families, giving back can be something you do together to strengthen family bonds, build a legacy, and help your children grow into their own.  The book offers lists of volunteering ideas appropriate for different age groups, tools for thinking about kids’ relationship to money, and discussion guides for sharing family values and collaboratively choosing ways to become involved.

Giving Back also includes lists of web resources and books to make the most of your journey.  Quotes from inspiring leaders and stories from real people witness to the transformative power of giving back.

The Site

This website is designed to:

  1. Promote the book to prospective buyers
  2. Supplement the printed copy with content that does better electronically
  3. Enable discussion with the community interested in giving back
  4. Share my latest thoughts (via blog posts)

The Blog

I write about volunteering and donating, primarily, but not exclusively.  I’m also concerned about our environment, and justice as displayed in our economic, political, judicial, and education systems.  Occasionally I rant, but more often I try to synthesize a response to something I’ve read or heard, or share personal experiences.  I welcome suggestions for topics, and feedback on what I’ve written.

Steve Ketchpel