Is your organization sustainable after you’re gone?

I am writing this article with one organization in mind. However, I am hopeful that the thoughts, questions and challenges will apply and benefit many organizations, both non-profit and for profit.

The organization that I speak of was founded by a married couple twelve years ago, and it still thrives today. It was funded, in the beginning, with personal finances, the proceeds from the sale of their home and personal donations of friends and family. The female partner of this marriage was the original catalyst although today this is very much a WE project. She had years of professional experience serving a population of kids who were not receiving the advice and attention needed and deserved. She was so passionate about helping these kids who were having unsuccessful interventions from the traditional medical practices that she risked career and family to start a non-profit organization designed to make a difference.

These children served are overweight. They have low self-esteem. They are frequently ridiculed and bullied. They typically perform poorly in school. They have trouble making friends. They have occasional considerations of suicide. She knew what she had in mind would save children’s lives and would have successful outcomes.

Fast forward through twelve years of trial and tribulations, we find this organization has many documented successful interventions with more than 5,000 children and their families. They reach hundreds of thousands of people and offer expert advice about healthy eating habits, nutrition recommendations, emotional coping mechanisms, and physical activity via radio interviews, articles in publications, speaking engagements and public television documentaries. They have surrounded themselves with health and wellness expertise designing their curriculum with the help of doctors, physical therapist, registered dietitians, registered nurses, exercise physiologist, and personal fitness trainers. They have been recognized by the Cooper Institute and won awards from the National Institute of Health.

Today this organization operates a highly successful summer camp with all amenities located on 200+ acres of land that was recently donated to them. They have annual revenues from camp fees and donations near one million dollars per year. They are proud of all that they have accomplished, all of the people they have helped, all of the children who are now adults living successful healthy lives. But, with all of their success, is this organization sustainable? Can they survive twenty-five or more years after the original married couple have retired or passed on?

Let me offer this criteria for what it means to be “sustainable.”

Mission and Vision: Is the passion still alive?

All non-profit organizations have a Mission Statement and a Vision Statement. Only the best non-profit organizations are inspired by the Mission and Vision. Is your Mission and Vision powerful, dynamic, distinctive and inspirational? Is your Vision compelling and delivered in an effective way? Does your Board, staff, and financial supporters buy-in via the actions you desire and need? Are you thriving or drifting? Is the passion still alive?

Board of Directors and Volunteers: Do you have the right people on the bus? Are they motivated by the Mission and moving you forward toward accomplishing the vision?

Borrowing a question from Jim Collins book “Good to Great”, do you have the right people on the bus? Often, non-profit leadership in key staff positions or at the Board level can keep an organization from just achieving a few good things to really being all that they could be.

Are your Board of Directors members effective Ambassadors for the organization? Do they willingly offer financial support? Are they willing and able to influence other gifts?

Are your Board members Advocates for the enterprise? Do they recruit others to help out? Do they advance your story? Establish meaningful connections? Provide good oversight?

Do you have volunteers knocking on your door? Are they treated with the TLC they deserve?

Leadership and Staff: Do you have the right people on the bus? Are they motivated by the Mission? Are they serving clients with compassion? Are they reaching high expectations and getting desired results?

There is nothing more disabling to an organization than disgruntled employees. The time spent trying to retain and motivate a non-cooperative employee can destroy an organization’s effectiveness. One poor performer with a poor attitude can influence everyone in a bad way.

On the other hand, if you have a talented staff of capable people who have completely bought into the mission you have an opportunity to do great things. Talented positive people who have had an opportunity to join you in establishing worthwhile goals will invariably work beyond normal expectations to help you achieve near impossible objectives.

Brand Equity Can you take your brand to the bank?

As we know from old cowboy movies, a brand is a way of identifying ownership and an assortment of responsibilities and privileges that go with it. The rancher who put his brand on a calf was not only claiming it for his own, he was also accepting the burden of its care and feeding. The real brand was not the symbol burned into the animal’s hide… but, the persona behind it…the identity of both the ranch and the rancher.

A brand name represents a promise to all constituents and all stakeholders. What kind of “brand awareness”” does your brand enjoy today? How does the brand distinguish itself from competitors? Does the brand clearly communicate its benefits and attributes effectively?

Is there creative continuity and clearly understood language in all internal and external communications? Is your brand reputation “trusted?” How do you validate this trust?

Testimonials from Clients, Parents, and Donors:  Let their feedback inspire you.

Can you go to your website or to some printed materials to find many “testimonials” from customers, clients, parents, donors, strategic partners, colleagues and more who willing tell a convincing, truthful, inspiring story about who you are what you do?

If the answer is “YES,” great! If it is “NO,” do something, make it a priority.

Donor Loyalty: Are your donors still donating or are they making investments?

How well do you know your donors? Do you keep score? How many donors do you have? How often do they give? What motivates them to give? What is the average size of gift? Are your gift categories growing from year to year? What percentage of donors renew year after year? Are you growing gifts over $100, over $1,000, over $10,000, year after year?

Are you testing different tactics to grow revenue? Do you know what works? Are you investing more resources into development? Is your stewardship of donor resources excellent? Do you say “thank you” with sincerity and in a timely way?

One way for a non-profit organization who has been operational for ten years or more to determine if donors are willing to make an “investment” in this organization is to count their Planned Gifts, especially estate gifts.

Estate gifts usually provide larger amounts of money often set aside in reserves or in an endowment. Healthy non-profit organizations typically have 20% or more of their annual budget held in reserve.

And, by the way, a donor who gives you an estate gift is making an investment in your future. They believe what you do is important, and they believe you will be around for a long time.

Financials: Do you consistently hit your revenue goals and maintain adequate reserves?

What is your track record? For the past five-ten years do you consistently reach your fundraising goals? Do you occasionally receive a surprise large gift that inspires the organization? Have you ever received a transformational gift? Is your cash flow good? Do you maintain adequate reserves?

 

Have you created a “Culture of Philanthropy?”

The word “culture” is a refined understanding and appreciation for the attitudes and behavior characteristics of philanthropy. The word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek language. It means, “Love of humankind.” Philanthropy manifest itself on many levels: gifts of time, gifts of wisdom, and gifts of personal resources and giving by influencing community resources.

Has your organization established criteria and certain indicators to determine if you are creating a “culture of Philanthropy?”

When a donor calls your organization are they treated as if they have interrupted your work or as if they are the reason that you are able to do this work?

Is your organization consistently meeting and exceeding expectations? Are you considered a high functioning organization at all levels and by all accounts? Are you identifying weaknesses and taking action to improve? Have you created a desirable place to work?

And most important of all, are you good stewards of donor’s money? Have you invested wisely? Are you doing important meaningful work? Are you making a positive measurable impact? How do you know?

Now, I ask again, is your organization sustainable?

 

 

Dan Shasserre

President, CEO

SilverbackSTL Consulting

314-724-9527

dan.shasserre@gmail.com

 

 

 

    

 

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My Grand Plan- God is Still Laughing

“Commit your works to the Lord and your plan will be established” Proverbs 16:3

January 6, 2001 I attended a White House Retreat and wrote this my in notebook. “please help me design, plan and take action to benefit poor and vulnerable people served by Catholic Charities.”

January 2001 was a long time ago. January 2016 I just returned from my 30th White House Retreat. I didn’t know that I had attended 30 retreats until I returned home and was contacted by my friend Gerry Hempstead who stayed there through the fried chicken lunch to learn of this recognition. I left Sunday following the noon mass. I’ve had enough fried chicken to last a lifetime.  If I knew that I was going to receive this recognition I would have left, but with some guilt.

My first White House Retreat was in October 1978. Since then, the rooms have been upgraded significantly, the meals vary but not much, the Chapel and the grounds have remained nearly the same over time but the retreat experience has varied on every occasion. I should acknowledge that the White House grounds have been improved a lot through the years, but the magic of the place is the consistency–the same comforting format each year, the same insistence on silence throughout the day, the same high expectancy placed on a talented Jesuit priest placed there to guide the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.

This particular retreat experience was the best in recent memory. Perhaps, this is because I have missed the past two years, January 2013 was my last retreat. I felt the need to go, not because I am holy but because I’m not. In fact, I felt the need to go to a retreat this year, not because of my faith but because of my lack of faith.

When preparing to leave for White House I found an old crucifix given to me long ago. I think it may have belonged to my deceased Uncle Jack. He was such a good Catholic man. The crucifix discovery helped me to realize how long it’s been since I’ve had a good conversation with Jesus. I’ve lost touch.

The purpose of a White House Retreat in my case, in the past, has been to help me  to clarify my thoughts, to cleanse my soul, and to energize my mind and body. This is the one place and the one time of the year when I would slow down from work long enough to hear God whisper in my ear. At times, His words of clarity strengthened my belief. In the dead of silence I felt greater conviction. There is a God and He cares.

This year I have no urgent work needs. I have retired from full time employment seeking only a few consulting projects of interest to me. So, I went to the retreat dedicating it to the needs of other family members. As I focused on their needs, not mine, clear images and thoughts inspired me. I decided to walk with Jesus all weekend. And, therefore, to let Him lead me wherever He wanted to go.

Jesus was born in sometime between 7BC-29AD. He lived to age 36 but was in ministry for little more than 2 years (three Passover’s). Imagine a person, whose father was a common carpenter, who lives in obscurity for 34 years, surfaces to create such an impact on his followers that 2000 years later in central message has survived. And, from twelve initial Disciples, His followers have grown to 2 billion people throughout the world. I am one who has chosen to believe.

A White House Retreat is where you have time to think about life’s most challenging questions. Why did God choose such ordinary people for his first Disciples? Did God create men in his image and likeness or did man create God in his? Is God the Creator or the Observer? If the world is billions of years old why did God wait so long before creating men and women? If God can create a perfectly designed universe why did He create so many imperfect human beings? What is your purpose in life? What does God want of me?

I have frequently pondered this last question. At times, it  has seemed obvious when God was actually involved in my life. Good things that came my way I attributed to Him.  He had answered my  prayer. I choose to believe it happens. At other times I felt disconnected. I was trying to accomplish all of my goals all by myself. I left Him on the sidelines. Things didn’t work out too well.

I enter this day with gratitude and with confidence that God will answer my prayers. My sons and daughters will seek and find what they are looking for…my wife will continue to be amazing. I will continue the journey with Jesus at my side.

 

 

Mark is one of a kind, so are You

1776 Declaration of Independence
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal – Thomas Jefferson

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only purpose in life” Robert Lewis Stevenson

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“To thy own self be true” Shakespeare

My son in law, Mark, is a carpenter, electrician, plumber, painter, fence builder, ocean faring boat Captain, salmon and crab fisherman, professional photographer, film developer, frame maker, gardener, landscaper, farmer, outdoorsman, land owner, developer, forester, hiker, environmentalist, political activist, swimmer, deep sea diver, sailor, travel enthusiast, travel advisor, tree expert, truck driver, bike rider, electronics wiz, avid reader, excellent cook, candlestick maker, soap maker, movie critic, stock investor, philanthropist, and most importantly, he is a good father and husband.

I admire Mark for his diversity, his curiosity, his commitment to be good at what he does to the point of excellence in many things. I appreciate his enthusiasm and interest in so many things and his zest for life that allows him to embrace many occupations, hobbies and personal activities. Mark is indeed a unique individual. And, so are you.

Read the quotes of Jefferson, Stevenson, Emerson and Shakespeare above. Do not attempt to be Mark or anyone else for that matter. Admire the characteristics and traits of others that you like because you may be able to learn many things from that observation. But, do not try to copy the life of another–not your father, not your mother, not your brother, not your sister, not that of your closet friend.

Your life is uniquely yours too live. And, its not where you have been in the past, but rather, where you are going that counts most. Decide for yourself the measuring stick that will be used to evaluate your life. Decide the criteria that you admire most in others that you will use to judge yourself. Its your words and actions today and tomorrow that will define your future.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank among those timid souls who neither enjoyed not suffered much, because they lived in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt

 

15 States, 3 Provinces, 4750 miles in 23 days

Last year we traveled for 8 weeks, 56 straight days, more than 7,500 miles by car, and more miles by train, plane, bus and van. I documented the trip day by day. I didn’t think I would ever do that again. But, here I am. This time it’s a shorter trip, 23 days, all by car, but so interesting and wonderful that we have to record it for our memories. If I don’t, I will forget it all, or least significant parts, by next Monday. That’s the way the minds works these days.

August 7- 9am, we are on the road anxious to arrive at our Indiannapolis destination. I invited ourselves to visit our  friends Ted and Julie Bates. They were gracious hosts allowing us to spend the night on their beautiful new downsized home, 5000+ square feet,  located on a man-made lake. Julie prepared a scrumptious meal, salmon, asparagus  and mashed potatoes. Yummy!  In the evening we attended a Beatles consert at a local park. There must of been 10,000 people on the hillside in lawn chairs, blankets, carting baskets of wine and food. We had all the best, prepared by Julie, of course. The look like and sound like Beatles band provided nostalgic entertainment . Great night with good friends. Thanks Ted and Julie. Hey, Ted, how are you doing in our weight loss challenge?

August 8- this was an adventurous day with a slight mis-hap. We were traveling at 70 miles per hour following a semi-trailer truck when all of sudden a huge truck tire shows up in the middle of the road. We drive straight over it, shredding the tire to pieces and the car didn’t flinch. My Subaru Legacy was so steady that I kept driving despite Sandy’s suggestion that we pull over to check for damage. A few miles more, 40 minutes later, I stop for gas and then make a car damage assessment. More damage than expected. I call my insurance company to file a claim. I also call my nephew, Mark Politte. He owns Stanley Subaru in Ellsworth Maine. This is where I bought the car. I tell Mark I’m coming up to Ellsworth needing more than a free oil change.

August 9- we ended our day yesterday, in Grantsville, Maryland. This is a small mountainside village community. Nice clean lodging accommodations and a buffet dinner at some Mennonite/German restuarant. Our destination today is Willmington, Delaware. We have a picnic style lunch at a neat little park outside of the main town square. Delaware was on my buckit list. This is my 50th State visited! Mission accomplished. Without much fanfare we spend the next few hours driving on to the Jersey Shore. We visit Long Beach, Ship Bottom and Beach Haven before deciding we can’t afford to stay on the beach. $279 per night is beyond our comfort level. The Holiday Inn – few miles from shore is just fine.

August 10- we show up at the door steps of the Sobecki’s new home at Little Egg Harbor. John and Ginny have retired in this very nice community. The home is a perfect size for two people who will occasionally get a daughter with grandchild for a visit. After John shows us around town we end up at Panini Bay for a delightful meal and a great view. John and Ginny seem to be super satisfied in retirement. We are so happy that we stopped to see them. It was definitely worth doing. Good people , good friends.

By 1:30pm we were on the highway battling traffic through NJ, NY and then Connecticutt. Finally, we arrive at our destination, Sturbridge, Massachusetts. We get lucky, as we often do by exiting randomly and locating a Public House. What a great place to stay. The quaint restuarant had a marvelous setting and the food was sensational. Best of all Sandy discovered she was caring a discount coupon book with a $59.99 offer from Public House. Sandy was as happy as a kid in a candy store. I didn’t care about the discount but I was more than happy with the great meal and ambiance.

August 11-16 we arrived in Blue Hill, Maine by 3pm to do some grocery shopping before showing up at Mary’s house in time for Evan’s birthday party. Evan is a 5’11” fifteen year old grandchild. His sister’s Olivia and Ella and my son and daughter-in-law, Craig and Nicole are visitng the Politte family for a one week vacation. We show up, as a surprise to Evan, but I dont think he was surprised at all.

On Wednesday my car goes to Stanley Subaru for evaluation. The underbelly looks like I drove over a huge truck tire. Black marks everywhere! The accident cracked the catalytic converter (whatever that is) and tore up the front and back fender gards. Fortunately, Mark was able to get me on the priority list at the local body shop. They had everthing fixed up by Saturday morning so we could continue the trip.

We had a great time with Craig’s family and Mark, Samantha, Madison, Ben and Chloe. Too many great dinners and laughs to document here. Sandy’s sister Mary owns a beautiful home in Blue Hill on the ocean bay. We shared the home with Craig, Niclole and the kids, making this the most affordable part of our trip. Thanks to Mary.

Saturday we had a day trip to Acadia National Park with lunch in Bar Harbor. We’ve been there before but these places are defintely worth a second visit. With better plannng and more time we could have done a few hikes in Acadia.

August 16- we leave Maine with Canada on our minds. We were driving through a small town of Amherst when Sandy spots a B&B. It so happens, this place has been open for two weeks! We find it. It was fantastic. If you’re ever in Amherst, Nova Sotia look up the Apothic Inn. We recommend it.

August 17- we are headed to Halifax to spend the day and night. We ended up spending two hours on the waterfront and changed our minds, pushed on to Lunenberg. But first, we stop at Malone Bay for a brief walk and lunch at Mug Anchor pub, 17 beers on tap, and great seafood chowder. That night we discover the Boscawin Inn B&B. This was another great place to stay. Originally the place was a private home built by the govenor in 1875. Today it is a fantastic B&B over-seeing this quintessential little town of Lunenberg. If you are headed to Nova Scotia we recommend the Boscawin Inn and Salt Shaker Deli for lunch or dinner.

August 18- another random act, we decide to go to Prince Edward Island. Its only a few hours away. We cross an enormous bridge and then tour the central part of PEI before finding our B&B. This place was off the beaten track, in the middle of farm land with a distant view of the ocean. We were two-hundred yards away from the ocean but we did take a short walk to enjoy the sight, the smell and the gentle breeze of the ocean. By the way, breakfast was scruptious!

August 19- after paying $45.50 bridge fee to get off the Island we have a long drive day through New Brunswick to River DuLoop, just outside Quebec.

August 20 After an uneventful day we end up in Quebec City for brunch at an outside resturant. Then, we walked this beautiful french speaking European-like city. In the afternoon we drive on toard Montreal. Our plan was to have dinner at Saint Gabriel, my favorite resturant, discovered when I was marketing director for the St. Louis Blues.The NHL held annual meeting there following each season. So, I was in Montreal every June from 1978-83. This plan never materialized because we ended up in a huge traffic jam caused by a burning car stuck in the tunnel leading to downtown Montreal. We got off the highway spendng the night in Bouschville, Quebec, Province.

August 21- beautiful weather for a walk up and down the cobble stone steeets in Old Montreal. We found Saint Gabriel’s despite the resturant change of names. It;s now called Bergi on Saint Gabriel street. The ambiance looks the same. The restuarant wasn’t open at 10am when we were there but the owner allowed us in for a nostaligic visit. We went to a French speaking 12:30pm mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral before lunch and more sight seeing.

August 22 – we are approaching the United States border and we have $32 Canadian and $1.50 American money in our pockets. We spend most of the Canadian money on gas at the last city in Canada before crossing. I figure I can get cash at an ATM in Port Huron. As we are getting our Passports ready for the crossing we notice that first we have to pay a $3.50 toll. As we are approaching the toll gate we frantically search for change. This so funny but I can’t capture it properly. Just imagine Sandy and I holding up traffic trying to explain that we have NO MONEY. We dont have $3.50 even if we combine all left over change Canadian and American. Finally, the frustrated gate keeper takes what we have and waves us through to the United States. We keep re-telling that very funny story. i showed the guy my empty wallet. Sandy says, “I found two pennies, will that help?” The gate keepers expression on his face was priceless.

August 23- after spending the night in a very forgettable,Travelodge, we decided to drive to our location in Douglas, Michigan. The plan was to meet some of Sandy”s family at a rental house from the 24th-31st. We arrive Sunday night in a rain storm and found the keys to the house. The accomodations are good. We have rented a 4 bedroom house with a great view of Lake Michigan.

August 24-30 – we had a great time hanging out with Tom and Sallee, Nancy, Mary, Jack and CeCe, Katie and Mimi-Mimi. I think we saw all you can see in Saugatuck, Douglas, South Haven and Holland, Michigan. Sunsets were cool or non-existent because of clouds. Good restuarants all over. Tom and I had our favorite, M&M’s. We had three breakfasts and one dinner at a place most people would drive by. The outside looks like a place to avoid. The food and the service was outstanding.

August 30 – on we go to Springfield, Illinois to have dinner with Craig and Nicole and visit with our grankids. These are the same family members that we just saw in Blue Hill, Maine. This time we are in thier comfortable home and dinner at a wonderful Italian restuarant….best bartender and hostess/waitress I have ever seen at any restuarant.

August 31- we are back  home, watching a Cardinal game. Enjoying our15th floor view- over-looking Forest Park. Back to the routine we enjoy and the friends that we look forward to seeing soon. Safely home and very grateful.

Carpe Diem!

 

 

 

 

Take Your Own Good Advice

I have been blessed in life to be one of those people who is frequently called upon to provide mentorship for another person who happens to be unemployed, underemployed, or in struggling through a difficult time in their life. I call this a “blessing” because I consider it an honor that someone who knows me would refer a friend or acquaintance to me knowing there is high likelihood that I would be happy to meet a stranger under the assumption that my advice or my suggestions may be of value.

When asked, I always say yes. Often, my advice or my referral leads to nothing more than another step in a necessary process. Seldom does my connection lead to a meaningful job offer. But, I meet with these new contacts nonetheless with the hope and belief that my gesture of friendship, being respectful, by showing that I care, offering some suggestion may be worthwhile even in a small way.

Former head football coach and now NFL commentator makes this point very distinctly. “I follow three rules- Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people that you care.” Lou Holtz

My advice to others usually follows the same advice I give to my children. Don’t let other people tell you what success looks like. Get in touch with your own values. Spend time to identify your talents and skills. More importantly, identify what’s in your heart. When you are all by yourself, what advice do you give yourself?

Making money is a good thing. Making lots of money is better. But, making lots of money is a shallow motivator for many people like me. Human Resource research says money is seldom the number one motivator for most people. Doing work that matters is more important. Doing work that benefits others is far more important.

Martin Luther King Jr. is credited with this quote, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Today, I challenge myself to listen to my heart, make a decision that’s best for myself and for my family. Trust, with confidence, that whatever decision I make it will be the right decision because my good attitude about this decision will make it right.

I am so fortunate to have this opportunity before me. I am blessed with the freedom to choose, the right to make a choice, and the courage to know in advance that good things will come from this choice, based upon past experiences. Of all blessings to pass on to others this may be of the greatest value. Thank you God for the faith to pursue challenges and to expect positive outcomes.

Do Something that Matters

“Be the change that you want to see in the world. ” Mahatma Gandhi

Stop! Don’t read another word. I recommend that you spend the rest of your day, or the remainder of this week, or this entire month, or longer if you wish, reading and re-reading the Mahatma Gandhi quote and then determining exactly what that means for you.

Can you internalize the significance of “being the change”. Can you explain, without falter, how the world would change? How would people living in your newly created world live, act, and interact? Start today….live with the commitment that you will change the world in some small way. Do something that matters.

I’ve just finished a book written by Blake Mycoskie. titled “Start Something That Matters.” Blake calls himself the Chief Shoe Giver at TOMS. I’m not going into his whole story but if you would like to know more you can buy the book or go on the internet to learn all about Blake Mycoskie and TOMS shoes. His story is fascinating and inspirational.

I have been in a reflective mood of late. As I approach my 69th birthday I contemplate life changing decisions, alternative scenario’s that are in my control and anticipated scenario’s that are out of my control. For instance, my mental, physical and spiritual health and well-being is only partially in my control. Poor health for myself, my spouse, or a family member can dramatically alter life’s direction. Today, we are all healthy. I’m grateful. And, I try to express my gratefulness by being a positive person, full of energy, willing to be helpful to others as much as I can be within reason.

I feel blessed to have a great part-time consulting role with Nine Network along with a few other smaller projects that keep me mentally engaged in meaningful work. Hopefully, the results of this work will benefit others.

As an example, a few years ago, when I was working full time, we partnered with a women who led the Children’s Service Fund. Together, we created video programming all about heroin addiction. We ran a heavy schedule of messages addressing a severe problem faced by high-school students and their families. One of these productions included a televised Town-Hall meeting. During the one-hour show a 13-year old girl, on the brink of suicide, called the help-line phone number to get an emergency intervention. Looking back, I now judge the success of our three-year initiative with the Children’s Service Fund by this one incident. What impact did this initiative have over three years? I believe, at least one life was saved. Much more was accomplished, but nothing more important than that one girl.

Three years ago Nine Network started working with a group of environmentalist. These are interesting committed people who represent leading organizations in our region, i.e. The Nature Conservancy, The Missouri Botanical Gardens, Open Space Council, Magnificent Missouri, the Missouri State Conservation group and many others. I was partially responsible for finding the necessary financial resources in order to create an on-air, online and on the ground initiative called “Water Matters.” This past week I learned that this group will plant 10,000 trees along the Meramec River this fall. There were many other positive outcomes from all of our work together, but years from now I will bet few people will care about how many viewers we had, or how much money we raised or if we covered our expenses or not. I’ll remember that I played a small role in getting those 10,000 trees planted.

In Blake Mycoskie’s book, “Start Something that Matters” he asks his readers three questions. If you didn’t have to work for money, what would you do? What kind of work would you want to do? What cause would you serve?

So, will leave you contemplating Mycoskie’s questions. And, I leave you with these quotes for inspiration.

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” Norman Vincent Peale

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas Edison

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

And my favorite….

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi

Have I learned anything about selling in the past 50 years?

My first sales job was as a Christmas holiday part-time temporary employee at Stix Baer & Fuller, selling men’s furnishings. I was 17 years old. Stix sales training class was scheduled for one day. The curriculum was covered in less than two hours. Most of that time, as I remember it, had to do with how to ring up a sale, how to open the cash drawer, and how to run the manual credit card machine, how to complete a transaction. There was no product training. Bad credit cards were listed on a hard copy piece of b/w paper at the register. VIP that I check the list. I sold a lot of ugly ties and Haines underwear that December without knowing anything at all about sales. I just said, “may I help you” and customer after customer bought one lame present after the next. I would say “thank you very much, Merry Christmas.” And, then the next customer was standing waiting for my expert help.
My next sales job was at the outdoor Lawn and Garden Center at Famous Barr. I was the #1 seller of Lawn Boy and Toro lawnmowers that year, even though, most of my “training” came from reading the manufacture’s literature. This little bit of product information presented with confidence and a smile was all that was needed in those days. Perhaps, I achieved #1 because every other member of the department was a women. They were a lot more comfortable selling flowers and garden tools so they gave the lawnmower customers to me, as long as I shared the commission with them.
My first real sales training came when I was age 21 and I accepted a straight commission job selling pots and pans, china, crystal, silverware, stereo’s and sewing machines door to door. In four years, interrupted by six months in the US Army, I went from salesman, to sales manager, to Regional Sales Manager, to member of the Board of Directors. By age twenty-six I had offices in Boston, Beverly, Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut. I would guess that over those few years I had hired and trained more than 1000 salesman. And, despite the high turn-over, I had a sales team of at least thirty full time people making 200 or more in home calls per week producing 50 sales and over $500,000 annually. I made a commission override on all of that business. I was earning very good money for a young guy and I was working hard to get it. My work day started at 9:00 am and frequently ended at 10:00 pm or later, six days per week.
When I look back on my fifty-year sales career the training received from the now defunct, Cordon Bleu, was some of the best training I could have received. They taught me how to prospect, how to ask qualifying questions, how to cover objections before they came up, how ask for the sale, how to take seven “no’s “ before giving up, how persistence and hard work pays off. Most of all they inspired me to be enthusiastic, to set goals, to achieve them, and to encourage others to do the same.
As years progressed I have sold life insurance and health insurance, I have sold tickets to sporting events and sales promotion ideas to corporations. I’ve sold training solutions for small companies and facilitated training classes for international companies.
In the non-profit arena I have requested donations and bequests to serve the poor. I’ve asked for significant gifts from companies, foundations and individuals to support public television. All with pretty good results. I have been directly or indirectly involved in more than $75 million in donations.
So, after fifty years of successfully selling something to somebody you would think that I have mastered the art of selling. And, you might think that I could teach someone else some of the secrets that I have learned through many years of “yes” answers and the discouragement of “no” answers.
This past week, I was given a consulting assignment to help create a streamlined sales process that would lead to improved results and greater revenue for a non-profit media organization. The organization is the Nine Network of Public Media. I know the organization well. I have just spent the last five years there as Vice President of Development. I know the President of the organization well. He, too, has spent his lifetime as very successful “salesman.” So, how is it that despite his success that he is asking for help from me or from anyone? He knows there is no magic bullet. He also knows that his success has come from his relentless effort to research, learn new things, and try new ideas, trial and error achievement one day at a time.

I’ll begin this assignment by getting some ideas down on paper. Then, I will collaborate with the most successful salesman that I know. I think I’ll start with my son, Craig, and my brother, Tim. Perhaps, I’ll write again on this topic to let you know what I learned.