I'm Leaving Silicon Valley to Work for a Very Silicon Valley Firm

I’m elated to announce that mid-June I will join the Geneva Global team HQ on Philadelphia’s Main Line to help grow the customer-centered service approach as well as deepen existing and forge new relationships.

Here's an infographic on the trajectory of my career, how it hits Geneva Global, and a bit about this one-of-a-kind company:

I’ll continue to connect with the amazing network of leaders I’ve met in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as in Seattle, Boston, New York, and Washington D.C.I’m very interested in connecting with individuals, families, foundations, and corporations who want to see their philanthropic investments applied and leveraged in the smartest way possible.

Want to know more about Geneva Global’s innovative approach? Contact me to arrange for a chat and a free copy of Doing Good Great, by CEO Doug Balfour.

Please note, given this new beginning and a focus on my growing family, I will be incredibly selective with personal consulting engagements.

Earned Income

How to Unlock Corporate Revenue for Your Charity

Non-profits often underestimate the value of their work beyond the social services context. As a result, many 501(c)(3) organizations don't capitalize on the fact that the for-profit business sector will pay big bucks to hang out with them.

I've experienced this from both the corporate side, having worked as the sole designated event planner for Penske, a $5B transportation and logistics provider, as well as from the charity side via the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program & Cityteam. 

A simple formula to illustrate how this works = Charities require manpower and engage in interesting work + Corporations look for ways to stimulate employees and have an orientation toward community service.

Maybe you're wondering what kinds of experiences within the charity appeal to a corporation. Here are two recent examples from my portfolio:

The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program invites thousands of volunteers to paint public art each year for free as part of its social change model. To elevate this function to attract corporate revenue, I provided access to high profile projects, matched companies with projects that fit their philanthropic themes, arranged for participants to meet artists and key community stakeholders, often added a separate speaking engagement by the high-profile Executive Director, and provided thought-provoking questions throughout the experience with time to debrief. The product was called an Experiential Mural Tour and quickly grew in demand, had the highest profit margin, and continues to be a revenue generator. Corporate clients would not only pay $10,000 or more for these experiences, they'd sometimes follow-up with equally sizable donations.

Cityteam runs kitchens that serve thousands of people around the country. Like finely tuned machines, these cooking facilities also require many volunteers to operate. To create an executive experience for which a fee could be charged a group might be led by the notable head chef rather than a kitchen lead, time set aside to discuss the impact of feeding the community using language that corporations understand, prepare a menu that participants would want to make for guests at home, all capped off by service to people in the program, a thought-provoking end to the experience. 

If it was as easy as promoting your existing volunteer opportunities to corporations at a steep cost, everyone would be doing it. In order to elevate the value proposition, the charity has to do the following:

(1) Put a high-touch salesperson in charge of the relationships and execution. Very simply, if you want to work with corporations you have to speak their language and do the small things that make them happy such as use polished packaging to describe the offering, use well-crafted communications in the sales process, and return phone calls within 24 hours. Sadly, many charities don't get past this important point.

(2) Refine the experience details to justify the expense. Corporate event planners and decision makers are used to being "customer focused" and to having a seamless experience. The charity-provided activity has to feel high-quality so provide add-on's such as transportation to/from the corporate campus, food and beverage options, and keepsake merchandise.

(3) Very importantly, be sure to charge enough! A $2,000 activity may seem too far out of line with the usual spend of $5,000-$10,000, for example, and will be assumed to be sub-par based on cost alone. Many charities have trouble believing that their work can command this type of spend, but don't realize that it's not uncommon in corporate team building circles. Research similar activities in your area or consult with a corporate event planner to help with pricing.

(4) Understand who and how to talk with companies. For these kinds of outings, the charity will target the Corporate Event Planner or Executive Administrative Staff rather than Community Relations. Use language centered on how the experiences help drive corporate goals such as team building, innovation, and community building. Be open to adjust your language and the activity schedule a bit, especially early on as you determine what works best. 

The payoff to engage corporations in the charity functions can be huge. In addition to the earned income revenue, there are often subsequent donations from the corporate entity and from individual participants as well. The experience can become a routine part of the corporate training program providing repeat business and cultivation opportunities such as follow-up grants. In the case of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program example outlined above, it even led to a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania to provide a regular half day training program for executives of multinational corporations. These kinds of experiences demonstrate a savvy in building awareness, revenue generation and diversification, and donor cultivation that I see far too seldom among non-profits. Begin to consider what's happening in your organization that could be an on-ramp for corporations. 

Article originally published at


5 Way to Delight Customers By Showing Your Casual Side

This is the age of authenticity. People, and especially millennials, don't like it when you look too good too much of the time. Now that just about everyone has a camera in their pocket and a platform to go public, it's expected that if you're a big deal you'll be caught with your hair down once in awhile--I suggest as an organization you do so intentionally.

Let me give you business rationale to back up this assertion that you should use content marketers of yesteryear would have shunned, along with a five practical applications.

From Global Charity to Celebrity The Principle Applies

A 20+ year employee and leader within World Vision shared with me one of the secrets of the organization's success over the past few decades. Very simply, their development team showed supporters pictures of themselves in the everyday work of the business. This tactic lifted an entire group of donors from the "middle" to the "major" contribution level and catapulted them to a $ Billion dollar organization.

Next, far from the world of charity, Taylor Swift has, according to Time Magazine (subscription wall), conquered the music business. How has she amassed such a huge, loyal, profitable following? By sharing her heartbreaks in her songs, sure, but even more than that she shares intimate photos and videos of her life and creative process. Taylor sitting on the couch with her cat eating bon bon's, friends out skiing, random thoughts from the journey even. 

Your supporters mostly cannot come see you and the work in person (you should offer quality site tours -- more on that in a later post), so you need to take them along the journey with you. 

Here's What To Show 'Em

It's time to become a tour guide to your own brand/company/cause, but what do you show? Here are a few pointers:

  1. Show yourself in the midst of the work, literally holding the artifacts that tell the tales of the business. Consider providing a peak into the training tools, legacy stories, characters, everyday objects, even funny mementos around the office. For example, a colleague of mine has an office full of spears from his work with tribes around the world, I've included photos of them with a short description in donor letters and on social media. 
  2. Consider what goes into your production and share the steps along the supply chain. How do resources get from point A to B? Lift the veil. For example, a friend owns a wholesale floral distribution business and he flies around the world to pick out products for holidays a year in advance. He knows what next year's Valentines Day will look like now so I told him to give his customers a sneak peek into that world (it borrows from the fashion industry). It's fascinating, educational, and helps his business stand out.
  3. Make yourself available for regular knowledge sharing and Q&A. Many org.'s have incredible experts tucked into their offices, known among industry circles but not elsewhere. Don't discount that some of your customers would LOVE to hear what s/he has to say. Set-up a quarterly conference call or webcast to enable them to share their latest and greatest observations. Take advantage of the many platforms, panels, podcasts, etc. that already exist to showcase your heroes. Give attendees a chance to pick their brain too--a great way to show your openness and value
  4. Let your current supporters write materials for you. Companies usually want to formalize user-generated content by turning it into a process. Yet you don't need to be hampered by that formality, start by simply asking volunteers or customers to write an email about their experience. Millennials love to do this I've found, and the content they send is often stellar! Once you receive and format it post to your social media or newsletter. 
  5. Skip the not-that-funny employee holiday group shot in favor of a richer profile. Lots of organizations throw up funny staff photos to appear unpolished and fun, but few give any valuable insight or garner much of a response. Instead, small companies should highlight each staff member on your website with latitude given for employees to add a personal touch. Larger companies should produce periodic employee profiles spotlighting the various players on your deep bench.

Maybe this doesn't seem like tough stuff to do, yet few organizations do it at all let alone well. Open the door to your business "back room" with these suggestions and don't always feel a need to use high-end production for your content. Go ahead and take a selfie during your staff retreat or use your phone to make a telling video once in awhile. Loosen your privacy settings to let your fans tag you--this day and age there's no hiding the real you and millennials crave authenticity. 

Customer Experience

7 Revealing Steps to See if You Are Growing Millennial Leaders

Many charities are not raising up millennial leaders internally. This is a disturbing trend that will affect the livelihood of organizations, first leading to a loss of relevancy as the organization fails to speak the language of younger generations, then a loss of bright young talent who don't relate to the company, and finally a loss of donors who see a lack of a succession plan. It's ugly folks--heed this advice!

In this piece, I will highlight ways to determine if millennial leaders are being raised up if you're working with a charity in a leadership role. If you are a valued volunteer, committee member, part of a board of directors, or an executive in a charity, you would do well to assess your organization.

First, consider that if venture capitalist investment in start-ups that will change the world trend heavily toward investment in millennial leaders, there must be a reason. The reason is that they have the energy for massive production, a lack of institutional legacy thinking that can hamper innovation, are wonderfully agile in their technical abilities, and have many years ahead of them to lead into the future. 

Next, check out McKinsey's latest report on the social sector. This rare treat spotlights one massive concern for charities--the lack of leadership development. So, with both smart money and research, not to mention organizational growth fundamentals not withstanding, I think we can all agree, investment in millennials in the charity is essential.

Most charities will tell you they are doing this and can even point to a success case or two. However, what appears to be millennial empowerment can be a facade for a culture that does not allow for the kinds of investment, risk, mistakes, and growth that real leadership development requires. 

Here are the questions you should be asking charity leaders:

  1. How many millennials are in management, director, and executive positions? You want to see a minimum of 30% in each category for a healthy balance between young and old (too young has its pitfalls too, a subject for another article). 
  2. Are there millennials on the Board of Directors? Sound far fetched? It's not--consider that nearly every 501(c)(3) education institution of higher learning includes recent graduates on their Board. 
  3. How are millennials being trained and invested in? Ask for real examples of training events, coaching arrangements, and dollars spent. 
  4. What major strategic projects are millennials leading? Ask tough questions to discern if they are really able to guide the project direction versus taking orders from higher ups. 
  5. How many staff are under millennial management? It's vital that millennials are given experience with hiring/firing and evaluations with guidance from Human Resources.
  6. What tools are in place to let "share happy" millennials extend the reach of the brand? How effective are those channels in terms of shares and interactions?
  7. Finally, ask the leaders how they are creating space to routinely listen to their youngest, freshest employees. You want to see channels that deliver their input at least quarterly, if not on an ongoing basis. This can be done through round table discussions, advisory teams, or even virtual collaboration. 

Personally, I have benefitted from incredible leaders who exemplify millennial investment. For example, the CEO of Penske Logistics, Vince Hartnett, once tapped me to develop an ambitious new leadership development event, leaving many of the details including format, location, selecting a keynote speaker, not to mention small details, up to me to plan and execute. At the same time, his executive team made time to meet with and coach me. They sent me to relevant conferences for training to build up my skill set in planning large international events. In conclusion, the event series ended up being a huge success that pushed the envelop on event return on investment data collection and results, and continued on for many years. 

My time at Penske, among others, helps me to have a lens through which to look at charities, and sadly the same kind of development is rare to see. Charities believe they are running too fast or too lean to develop millennial leaders properly, or they are blind to their inability to empower others. However, this kind of thinking is a self-satisfying myth and a mistake that must be decisively addressed and reversed for the charity to thrive in the future. 



It's True--Millennials Really Can Do Anything

Millennials can do anything.

Not outright, but they can figure it out. It's an advantage of growing up with Google and so many other readily available tools. This is the day of the free Ivy League education, YouTube video's showing how to do millions of tasks, a near endless supply of helpful technologies, sites dedicated to hacking life's problems, and professionals angling to show their capabilities to the world by giving it away on a blog. 

This attitude of heightened ability is a mentality more than a qualification. Millennials are not MacGyver's walking around (and that reference will be lost on most of them). They don't necessarily know the skills, they just know they can figure out how to do it, and quickly. It's partly why some tech CEO's publicly state that they hire young people because they're smarter. 

Case in point, in 2009 I realized I needed a simple mobile app, so I asked an intern if he had ever made one. He had not, but I assured him that he could and asked him to look into it. A week later he came back having found a free service that allowed him to do so. With a bit more instruction on what I wanted he had a working prototype a few days later. 

Nowadays, even your mildly-motivated millennial can do a host of tasks that a decade ago required years of training and technical skills. Here's a sample list of things I have done recently with links to the tools I used to do it:

This is seriously just a taste--I know I'll think of 10 more things I can do in the next day. Anything I couldn't do, I'd just Google, "how to free NAME OF TASK" and start digging.

I've realized that this list of competencies, while not extraordinary to any millennial, makes some from older generations swoon a bit. Not that they're lacking these skills--many can do some or all of them too--it's just not as common as with millennials. I've trained dozens of older colleagues how to do many of these tasks; what matters most is one's mindset--a belief that they can do it because the info you need is most likely "out there". So, my encouragement is to understand that, yes, millennials are quite skilled at doing lots of business relevant tasks, and that with a mindset stripped of limits and a teachable spirit you can too.

Back to millennials.

Just because they can do these things doesn't mean they can do them in a way to help your business as an employee or volunteer. It's vital that you guide their productivity prowess by providing a vision for an end goal and identify clear success metrics. You also need to show them samples of other work (either your own or stuff you like) to help them capture the desired voice. Also, be prepared to go through many rounds of editing and proofreading.

Once you've begun to "dance" with millennials allowing them to create for you, it get's easier and you'll find that your investment to set them loose is well worth it in the long run and that they, in fact, just might accomplish anything they set their mind to.

Customer Experience, Storytelling, Events

Easy Recipe to Cook Up Millennial Brand Ambassadors

WARNING----this is low hanging fruit that I'm shocked every organization isn't doing already.

Here is a simple recipe for building a BASIC ambassador program for your brand (if you want one with bells and whistles contact me). 

(1) Set-up an organization page on LinkedIn. Why LinkedIn? More of your major donors are on LinkedIn than any other social network, and its an appropriate place to communicate with them (more than FaceBook IMHO).  Get a tone sensitive millennial in your company to do this for you, it will take them less than one day. LinkedIn has a guide here for you.

(2) Assign one person in the company to be an administrator. Find the person who has a pulse on "what's up" and has an eye for interesting content, probably in marketing or sales, someone who already LOVES LinkedIn. Good posts are business relevant (skip the fluff and inspirational quotes) such as:

  • Press releases about new launches and partnerships                
  • Job postings (just link to your website ad if you can't afford to post on LinkedIn)
  • Pictures and video that show your culture 
  • Event, info session, thought leadership invitations
  • Content generated by people outside your staff....more on that.....

(3) Next, recruit ten LinkedIn ambassadors by comparing your volunteer/donor/customer database with a social ranking service like Klout (or manually search LinkedIn to see who has an influential following and/or already references you in their profile). 

(4) Develop an easy guide for being an ambassador, one-page, no frills, to include stuff like:

  • volunteer once per quarter
  • come to an info event/gala/etc.
  • bring a friend or two 
  • and most importantly, send relevant content to your moderator to post 
  • host an “ambassadors dinner” where these folks get insider treatment to your plans, access to research, meet your president, and a branded hoodie (millennials love nice hoodies).
  • have them list your company on their page in their volunteer section, like this....

It's that easy folks! Why am I using so many caps and exclamation points?!? 


By doing this, you get 3rd party endorsements by influential folks and extend your reach to their networks--building you credibility among tech savvy millennial professionals (and just about everyone else too)!

This is what smart brands (charity or for-profit) are doing. I suggest you get on the bandwagon to reach millennials.