Stop Hiring ”Development Officers” & Other Secrets to Scaling Altruism | Author Donald Summers

Guest Details

Donald Summers
Founder and CEO of Altruist Partners
Author of “Scaling Altruism”
Founder of Altruist Accelerator (

Conversation Summary

Altruist Partners’ Mission:
For 17 years, they’ve helped social enterprises and nonprofits worldwide to scale their revenue and impact. They established a nonprofit to maximize the dissemination of their methodology.

The Book “Scaling Altruism”:
Serves as a curriculum for the accelerator and open sources Donald’s comprehensive solution for running high-performing nonprofits.

Changing Nonprofit Landscape:
Donald emphasizes the ongoing need for improvement in nonprofit performance, focusing on translating entrepreneurial tools for nonprofits. He addresses barriers like knowledge gaps, cultural differences, and misconceptions about business methodologies in the social sector.

Impact and Growth Methodology:
The book and accelerator aim to translate business tools into nonprofit contexts, focusing on practical, low-cost strategies for small to midsize organizations.

Altruism in Business:
Donald discusses the need for altruism in our capitalist system, advocating for its integration to address societal and environmental challenges. He stresses the importance of evolving beyond tribal, self-interested behaviors for global sustainability.

Effective Altruism:
While supportive of the movement’s goals, Donald critiques its academic, theoretical approach. He advocates for a more practical application of altruistic principles in management and execution.

Case Study – Treehouse:
Discusses transitioning from event-based fundraising to more sustainable, relationship-focused strategies.

Advice for Nonprofits and Future Leaders:
Encourages adoption of business methodologies and skills like finance and marketing for social impact. He advises future leaders to gain private sector experience before entering the social sector.

Key Takeaways

  1. Blending Business and Altruism: Effective nonprofit management involves incorporating business principles without losing the essence of altruism.
  2. Methodology for Nonprofits: Donald’s methodology focuses on practical, executable strategies tailored for nonprofits, moving beyond theoretical models.
  3. Cultural Integration: Emphasizes the importance of understanding and integrating different cultural perspectives within the nonprofit and for-profit sectors.
  4. Empowerment through Knowledge: Advocates for equipping future social sector leaders with business acumen and practical skills.
  5. Scaling Impact: Aims to broaden the reach and effectiveness of altruistic initiatives by leveraging proven business strategies and tools.

Resources Mentioned

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[00:00:00] How do we scale altruism? Well, there’s a book for that. And we found none other than Donald Summers, the founder and CEO of Altruist Partners, and of course, author of Scaling Altruism. His work also extends to a nonprofit that is at altruistaccelerator. org. Donald, I’m really excited to jump into this.

[00:00:47] First off, have I covered What it is that you’re doing at Altruist Partners or can you cover it for our audience? Well, first of all, thanks for having me on your podcast George. I’m delighted to talk about it. For 17 years we’ve been working with social enterprises and nonprofits around the world to scale up their revenue and their impact.

[00:01:10] And about 18 months ago after building a methodology and, and coming up with a comprehensive solution for organizations, we founded a nonprofit to help really maximize the dissemination of the methodology. And the book is the curriculum for the accelerator. It’s also basically open sources.

[00:01:30] Everything that we know about running a high performing nonprofit.

[00:01:34] Yeah. I feel like high performing nonprofit. Every decade, there’s a whole new playbook. Like how is this decade different? Or am I completely wrong? You’re like, no, no, no. Being altruistic and making that a business is what it is. Well, there’s always opportunity to improve, right? This isn’t a fad.

[00:01:56] What, what we’re trying to do is deliver the practices and the, the principles that we know drive growth and impact. But when you, you look at the difference between the two sectors, there’s a, there’s a knowledge barrier. There’s a culture barrier. I’m not saying anything new and, and people for many years.

[00:02:20] Have tried to help nonprofits improve their performance, but there’s suspicion in the social sector about business methodologies. Many things get lost in translation. There’s a lot of arrogance, I think, from people in the for profit space about the supposed ignorance of people in the nonprofit sector about how to run a railroad.

[00:02:42] And there’s a lot of conflict and what we see. Instead of conflict is opportunity. So what we’ve tried to do is translate all of those entrepreneurial tools, the things that they teach in business schools around the country, and put them in terms that nonprofits, even small and early stage nonprofits can follow.

[00:03:03] So we’re trying to close the gap. Get rid of the culture gap, get rid of the fear, the antagonism and try to say, hey, here’s what works. Don’t confuse your tax status with your business model just because your non profit means you should, yes, maximize profit and here’s the way to do that. So, we’re not the only ones to try this, but I think if we’ve added any new value, it’s in making it very clear.

[00:03:28] And very practical and very low cost for nonprofits to follow.

[00:03:32] I feel like that cost one always, always gets you at the door. You’re like, all right, I can afford it now. So we’re, you know, this has been a challenge for us, you know, when we started this work and I was a single practitioner, you know, I could only work with three or four nonprofits at a time. And. It’s, it’s expensive.

[00:03:51] It’s very, very difficult work. It’s exhausting. And the work’s necessarily expensive and, and making it efficient and making it affordable has been a goal of ours. I, it breaks my heart. I, I just sent a post on, on LinkedIn that every time. We have a smaller or budget constrained nonprofit that wants to hire us, but they can’t afford our fees.

[00:04:12] I’m like, we’ve got to fix this. And this is why I’ve written the book to open source the methodology. We’ve launched a new very, very low cost advisory service for nonprofits that want to learn and embed this. We’ve started an accelerator to teach cohorts of nonprofits, these principles and practices.

[00:04:30] We were trying to lean into our brand name and, and really put the good of the sector before monetary gain. And we’re, we’re trying to, again, whatever we can do to make this as accessible and as, as affordable for even the small to midsize nonprofits, that’s extremely important to us.

[00:04:45] So the altruistic, altruist impact and growth methodology, it seems like it’s like an accelerator, you know, before we press record, it’s like, All of these for profit accelerators that are out there, like the Y combinators and such that say, all right, you know, here’s how you go from zero to 60, move fast, break things and blitz scale and fill in the jargon here.

[00:05:10] What does this look like when you’re doing it with empathy, when you’re doing it for the sector? And frankly, this can be like heavy. Like this is a lot of pages that have been, a lot of pages of ink that have been spilled on nonprofit management. Right? Well, again, all the, the. The reason I added some ink to the nonprofit management space is that the current literature is either hard to follow or it stops at these abstractions.

[00:05:38] It’s, it’s doesn’t make it clear what you need to do and you don’t know where to start. So again, if we’ve done anything different, we’ve, we’ve, we’ve taken the entire literature and said, start here. First of all, do a performance. Do you have these assets and capabilities that drive scale? If you don’t, be aware of it.

[00:05:57] Don’t play whack a mole and try and fix it. But first of all, understand that a nonprofit is a business like any other type of organization. We’re trying to maximize our profits. We’re just not giving it to shareholders in the form of equity payouts. We’re putting it back into scale more good. And as long as we’re aligned with that, then you follow a progression.

[00:06:17] Let’s then make sure that we have a clear goal. That leadership and our board are lined up on not just the goal, but strategy and how we’re going to measure that strategy and how we’re going to pay for it. It’s incredible how many longstanding organizations have deep divisions among their leaders on what they’re doing and how they should do it.

[00:06:35] You’ve got to work together as a team. Then we have to make it clear. Transparent, concise plan for executing. So staff and your board have a road map. Then you have to know how to pay for it. And then most importantly, all you have to know how to execute and measure your results. So none of this is new.

[00:06:56] All the literature is out there. It’s just in all these different formats. Some of it’s good. Some of it’s not so good. It’s confusing. You don’t know where to start. So what we’ve done is, is years and years, we’ve spent thousands of hours of researching, reading the literature in both spaces, putting together what we describe.

[00:07:15] It’s a breadcrumb trail. It’s a step by step. So that’s hopefully what the value here. And we lean on, you know, good to great and four disciplines of execution. And Dan Pallotta gets, you know, a lot of credit for opening up, breaking some of the myths in the nonprofit sector. We’ve looked at all these thinkers.

[00:07:33] Nonprofit leaders don’t have a lot of time. They’re information overload victims. They’re very constrained in terms of their bandwidth and their finance. They need something practical and immediate that’s going to drive growth. So we’ve tried to make it everything you need and nothing more. So that’s the unique piece.

[00:07:50] And the accelerator model business accelerators, um, you know, they just want to go out and get funding from a VC, but there’s, there’s many of those principles and practices apply. Some don’t, but this is certainly a kinder, gentler version of that. And I’ll close by saying, you know, the, the, everyone knows the TV, right?

[00:08:10] Show Shark Tank where entrepreneurs get up and give their pitch and they give their value proposition. We need something like that in the social sector. For many years, we did something called a Panda Tank, kind of a, a kinder, gentler version of Shark Tank, but it’s a, an illustration how these principles and practices from a finance capitalism apply.

[00:08:31] Finance capitalism can be extractive. The, the, an MBA the principles and practices of an MBA can be used to hurt people or it can be used to help people. It’s not immoral, it’s amoral. And, and we try to show people how to repurpose those tools for good.

[00:08:48] Yeah. I like the, the practical approach to, you know, what comes next, because, you know, if you have limited time, you have to get pretty serious about execution. And it seems like that is what you’re. Trying to synthesize with the growth methodology and those step by step sequences you’re talking about.

[00:09:03] There’s some fun elements in this book where it seems like you’re doing some rebranding where, you know, I forget if it was like the financial officer or like the chief fundraiser, like, you’re just like, don’t do that instead. Stop doing that. You’re, you, you kind of have your own slant in here. I don’t wonder if you could tell me some of your favorite rebrandings of you don’t know, C suite or, or fundraising officers.

[00:09:27] Well, the, the funny thing is, first of all, we start with the premise that the Better Business Bureau runs these surveys and only one of five Americans, according to the Better Business Bureau, trust charities to use their money well. Charities have a brand problem. That people stereotypically think that, that charities aren’t run well.

[00:09:47] So there’s many incredibly high performing charities, and there’s brilliant leaders in the sectors. Our hospitals and universities lead, you know, our universities lead the world. There’s incredible charities like KIP and, and City Year, changing the landscape. But there’s a terrible impression out there.

[00:10:04] There’s a damaged nonprofit brand. So we try to work with that. For example, try to hire someone who’s a development officer, a fundraiser, a very difficult job. And so we’ve rebranded the job title of development officer. Instead, we say you’re an investment and partnership officer, not development, which is this kind of vague term, but you’re seeking investments and partnerships.

[00:10:31] So we make it really explicit what the job is. So instead of putting a dorsal fin on someone’s back and making it easily identifiable that they’re a fundraiser, we try to reframe these positions and say, Hey you’re looking for investment, charitable investment. You’re not going to give money back.

[00:10:48] You’re going to give social return on investment. You’re not, you’re not going to show, you’re going to show the impact in qualitative terms, and that’s part of your job. So we try to bake in effective practices with the job titles, even take this further. Take the concept of gift, which I’ve got a real heartburn with.

[00:11:06] We’re always seeking gifts. You don’t give a gift out expecting people to report back what they’ve done with the gift. I mean, do you, you go, do you follow up with people that you’ve given Christmas gifts to? Hey, what’d you do with that sweater I gave you? But when you know the answer, right. I’ve put it in a drawer or I spilled coffee on it.

[00:11:25] So seek charitable investments. And become a partner, not a subservient, not beg for money, but be a peer. You have a social, social solution. People want to help you fund that. So again, the book goes through a methodology that’s very empowering and it uses different language to try to really land, you know, seek investments, not gifts, it’s, it’s giving Tuesday.

[00:11:50] I wrote this article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, like 10 years ago, like don’t give big, invest thoughtfully. Why would you send out a mass email appeal at the same time, every other nonprofit sending one out, asking people for gifts, it’s not effective, right? Instead, seek people with. Capital to help you make a thoughtful change where you’re really clear about that.

[00:12:14] So I can go on and on about that, but that’s a couple of examples of reframing the jobs to differentiate the organization as, as transparent and accountable in new ways to get people to be curious. Why do you use investment? It’s this is a charitable gift, right? And what do you mean by social return on investment?

[00:12:36] We repurpose those business terms. They’re very powerful. People with money know what these terms already mean. So we’re, we’re also trying to close the culture gap between the two sectors. And these are some of the, the many ways that we do that. Yeah. I think it’s interesting talking about that idea of shifting from, you know.

[00:12:57] Giving to investment saying you are getting, you know, an opportunity to turn money into meaning by using our social engine to affect change to take a step back though, you know, I, I think it’s important to define altruism and maybe you can humor me here with the following a alien. Shows up on earth and they look around at our, you know, basically capitalist structured society.

[00:13:25] And then it tries to figure out how does altruism fit in here? Why are those humans both architecting entire system? We’re not, we’re talking about business practices around capitalism you know, those winner take all, and then where does altruism fit in? So with that lens, could you help me? Understand altruism from where you sit.

[00:13:48] Well, talking to an alien, you first have to describe, you know, human evolution. We we’ve evolved as, as we’re primates. So we’re tribal. We’re, we’re naturally selected for tribal self interest. We’re naturally greedy and self interested in our own tribe. And as we’ve evolved and, and created a mechanized industrialized society that has gotten very, very big, and there’s a lot of problems with it.

[00:14:16] So to, to, to, as our technology has grown, our ability to think past our own tribe hasn’t caught up, and so we have lots of problems that have come up. been created. People have, are extracting resources from the shared commons, from our ecosystem, from our, our social system, for themselves. Because it’s natural.

[00:14:41] They’re, they’re genetically selected. They’re not evil people. They’re, they’re that way because of Darwin. And we have to outgrow that. We have to evolve past that. We have to think of the commons first. We have to put others first if we are to survive. I would put altruism as Not a nice thing on the side.

[00:15:06] If we don’t become altruistic, we will be selected out of the ecosystem because our current technology if we continue the extraction we’re in trouble. And I think many people. will agree with me. Some people will call me a, a doomsayer. There’s a lot of people on, on who, who are, are, have their head in the sand or, or, or don’t want to look at climate change or poverty or injustice or homelessness or all the other externalities of finance capitalism, but altruism is.

[00:15:41] The solution if I believe we can fix finance capitalism, we can solve its externalities. If we become more altruistic, and we follow the teachings of of the leaders that have been around for thousands of years, telling us how to be better neighbors and how to be better people, whether you talk about Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, or, you know, Peter Singer, or John Wesley, we have a history of altruistic thinkers in in our culture.

[00:16:09] Our lineage who are, you know, trying to teach us to, to rise above our, our humble, our animal origins and, and be higher selves. So altruism for me is the best expression of. of being human. And it’s not just about, you know, you can be altruistic to animals. We have to be altruistic to the ecosystem. It’s a, it’s a, a way of living.

[00:16:29] And, but the challenge is to, to not reinvent how we, to, to do things. What, how can we repurpose the tools that we know work to this higher cause? To me, that’s what altruism is. It’s. It’s an advancement it’s the great advancement that we must make as a species to preserve our own species and all the species on the planet.

[00:16:52] Yeah, that work of service to each other certainly is, is far from done and is a good expenditure of of our resources and in many ways how we got here well before we had a measure of GDP for our countries. I’m curious. If we were a hunter gatherer society, we could be tribal as heck, right? We’re a very sustainable culture, you know, until we, you know, harness the, the assembly line, right?

[00:17:19] But, you know, with this powerful industrialized resource extractive technology we have, it’s, it’s, we don’t know how to use the tools yet. We’re getting better at it. There’s incredible advances made every day. We can, we’re very optimistic. You know, Steven Pinker does a great job saying actually you look at all the key performance indicators, life’s getting a lot better.

[00:17:39] And I agree with him. He’s very optimistic. hiS one exception is climate, which is deeply scary, but. You know, the long arc of history is bending towards justice. I believe that, that we can reform capitalism to be less extractive and more humane. And I, I believe it has great power, disciplined management and, and focused.

[00:18:02] Behavior, leadership behavior has incredible power to advance our social change efforts. And there’s many examples out there already. They’re just too few and too far between. And there’s too many people saying, oh, that stuff doesn’t apply. I’m a nonprofit. I call that the myth of uniqueness. And that’s really our, our mission is to break that down.

[00:18:20] Get, you know, you’re, you’re not different just because you’re a non profit, you have access to this entire toolkit that you should be using and, and help us build a more altruistic society using the tools that we know. Hope I’m not getting too repetitive here. Yeah. Maybe I’ll double click just to, I mean, you’re using myth of uniqueness.

[00:18:37] Is that a palata or not? But that’s my own invention. That’s a little I was on the phone with I had a client it was a president of a community college. Who said, oh, we’re a completely unique organization, you know, outsiders don’t understand what we do and, you know, our financial rules. There’s even the, the founder of the nonprofit finance fund wrote, you know, through the looking glass.

[00:19:03] It’s an article I address in my book, um, that says, you know, finances at a nonprofit or topsy turvy. JiM Collins says, well, you can’t pay nonprofit staff what you can, you know, in the for profit. So they’re, they’re coming just like Dan Pallotta says, there’s all these myths in these, these assumptions that because we have this tax status.

[00:19:28] We, things are different and, and those are largely not true. sO those are, are biases that are unfounded. They’re not legally or, or technically they’re, they’re culturally very real. But culture can change. So, that’s, I expect to get a lot of pushback from this point of view, but. I’m here to say I’ve been for the last 20 years, we’ve been taking struggling nonprofits and turning them into high performing ones that I’m kind of, it’s not easy, but I’ve got a very, very long track record filled with both success and failure about how to accelerate social impact.

[00:20:07] I, I came into this field very suspicious of business principles. I was ready to, you know, as a young person, I demonized corporate corporations for their extractive, uh, practices. So, I’ve come full circle. So I’m, I’m here to say this stuff works. When we start. Looking at altruism and the efficacy associated with it, you know, we’re talking about measurement, we’re talking about, you know, doing more good.

[00:20:34] When you look online, the word around altruism has been having a bit of a rebrand with the movement of effective altruism, right? What happens when I add that word effective in front of altruism for you? Well, you get a little pretentious. First off, can you give me a definition? Give me 30 seconds. What is effective altruism?

[00:20:58] Effective altruism is this academic movement. It’s, it’s Peter Singer, Will McCaskill, others, you know, who are, it’s a lovely impulse. I, I adore their, their They’re very well meaning people. Anyone who wants to talk about altruism is a friend to me, right? But what they’ve done is give it this dry, academic, theoretical perspective, and they’re very correct.

[00:21:25] You do want to think in terms of, how do we do the most good for the most amount of people in the time we have on this earth? But it’s not anything new. John Wesley came up with that in the 19th century, you know, Christ and the Buddha have been talking about this for millennia. And, you know, this is nothing new.

[00:21:44] All they’re really saying is let’s apply some, you know, clear, rational thinking, and it comes down to how do we measure social impact and create efficient, effective, scalable organizations? And I think what the effective altruism movement overlooks is that it’s The, the difficulty in making the world a better place is not in the ideas, it’s in the execution.

[00:22:09] It’s easy to have a plan and have a theory, it’s actually getting it done and, and, and running, creating the organizations that deliver the change. So what we need is effective altruistic practice and management, not some theory about where to send your money to, to do the most. You know, to add the most life years per dollar or some other raw metric, right?

[00:22:34] Ross Duthat, in his column in the New York Times, criticized the effect of altruists as a bunch of you know, isolated arrogant, you know, people sitting in a tower in San Francisco talking about where to send their money when the city’s rotting out beneath them, right? And I think that’s a valid critique.

[00:22:51] You know, charity begins at home. Altruists, you know, having this theoretical concept of where to send your money to do the most good, it’s useful, but most people want to help their own communities, their own neighborhoods. So there’s a lot of good things about the effective altruism movement. I think it’s an unnecessarily big rebrand.

[00:23:10] It’s a lot of, a lot of it’s not particularly practical. And I think the effective altruists overlook the fact that the biggest barrier to impact is, is not in. You know, the analytics, but it’s, it’s getting the organizations to be more effective on execution and deliver the work in a way that’s scalable and, and that’s not, you know, a cost per dollar measurement measurement.

[00:23:33] It’s, it’s learning how to run high high performing teams and, and how to get people to work together more effectively. And that’s what business can teach us. Yeah, there is, and you don’t really have to do that many mental gymnastics to, to figure out that a utilitarian argument for social impact can be run off the rails very, very quickly.

[00:23:52] You know, there are also examples of saying like, as you, you know, basically parachute in unrestricted dollars into ecosystems quite quickly. Even with the best intentions and you don’t have to do that searches to find that. I also, you know, does that all the time. No, you know, like take one walk down USAID’s, USAID’s historical investments in in Africa for just some of those examples.

[00:24:19] But personally, as I have spent quite a bit of time actually promoting arts and poetry, I would. Quickly point out that if this is taken to its logical extreme, if effective altruism is taken to its logical extreme you simply move every single dollar away from the arts, from poetry, from teaching our youth in our backyard.

[00:24:40] Because the smartest way for me to invest my next dollar is for malaria nets in a different ecosystem that I have no knowledge of by GiveWell. And that’s the only way if you logically do the cold hard math of it. And. That’s broken and I don’t need to show you numbers, right? It’s broken. Yeah, it’s, it’s this, it’s exactly.

[00:25:05] That’s the most accurate critique. It’s this technocratic and, you know, academic thinkers, they can have fun with this, but out there in the world on the ground there’s intense competition for resources. People are always looking to use their dollars where they can use the most goods. So again, I think it’s a lot of sound and fury.

[00:25:25] And it’s, it’s a, it’s a fancy rebrand of, of a challenge that’s been part of human history. So, can we borrow? Cause this, there’s an important piece here that, you know, effective altruism, EA, effective altruism captures the. Minds of intellectuals and people with large wallets. We’re about to roll through the largest wealth transfer in human history as boomers settle on, you know, look no further than, you know, effective altruism’s ability to capture Sam Bankman Fried pre prison when he had the money and direct a whole bunch of money toward those efforts.

[00:25:58] Right. There is a narrative that is attractive to people with means, how do. Your process, right? Because we’re talking about an accelerator. We’re talking about barrowing it. How do you take that and roll with it into. Other sectors. So let me be clear. I’m 100 percent of all. I’m all about effective altruism.

[00:26:16] I love the idea. And in my book is a manifesto for effective altruism, right? But it’s practical. It’s not theoretical. And instead of sending your money to Botswana or Bali, which is wonderful. If you want to do that, I’m, you know, we reduce social impact in developing countries is an excellent investment.

[00:26:35] If you can solve the last mile and deliver it in a way where it actually is. very much. Not this post colonial, but that’s another discussion. I’m getting off track. The book is very much a manifesto for effective altruism because it says very simply, be very clear and quantitative about your social return on investment.

[00:26:57] What does a dollar do in terms of its social impact? And how does it compare to other efforts? And do you have a strong value proposition? Are you partnering? With the other organizations in your space. Are you effective at what you’re doing? You should first have a business plan that describes the pathway of a dollar through your organization and what key performance indicators around social impact that you’re able to generate and how you’re going to do it.

[00:27:26] And that’s easy to describe. You know, intellectually, but it’s hard to build a document around that. And nonprofits are stuck with these wastes of time, these terrible models like theory of change and logic models that are incomplete, they’re confusing, they’re abstract, they’re impractical, they’re incomplete.

[00:27:46] But that’s the dominant planning paradigm. They have these strategic plans that, that don’t articulate, they don’t have financials, they don’t have metrics. They’re not concise. They’re not clear. The whole state of, of nonprofit plan planning is, is really needs a lot of work, so many organizations don’t make it clear what they’re doing or how they’re going to do it.

[00:28:10] And any capitalist. Any person with money, if you’re, if they’re going to invest a hundred bucks, they’ll just give you a hundred bucks. It’s like buying a jar of peanut butter, but if they’re going to give you a hundred thousand or a million, they’re going to put you through a process that the business world calls due diligence.

[00:28:29] Do you have the capabilities? to use this money? Well, is it clear? Do you have you manage the risks? Do you have the financials? Do you have the metrics? Do you have the performance analysis? There’s a whole ingredient list. It’s not super long, but they’re looking for a very specific set of things.

[00:28:47] Nonprofits aren’t taught how to pass due diligence. Their, their models, you put a theory of change document in front of a sophisticated investor and you’re going to have the half life of a fruit fly. You’re not going to pass due diligence. It’s, it’s not three days, a fruit fly. I think it’s about, it’s not going to work long, not very long.

[00:29:05] So this is why our, why we are so successful with our fundraising with our clients is we teach them how to pass due diligence, use the same tools that a startup. Or any size corporation will take into the capital markets for, for growth capital. There’s an interesting there’s an interesting case study that you put in here around tree house.

[00:29:27] And it really, it points out what happens with so many nonprofits that rely on event based fundraising because. It’s right there, right? It’s so easy to be like, all right, let’s do our charity dinner with chicken and rent out this thing. And suddenly we’re an events company instead of a social impact company, but it made just enough money.

[00:29:47] So now we’re in this business. Can you unpack maybe this as a, as a case? Study for us. Absolutely. So, and I’ve been, I’ve been shutting down galas and auctions, actually not shutting them down, but converting them. My entire career. You’re just like, got another one. No options are, you know, they’re like, they’re like crack.

[00:30:08] They’re highly addictive for organizations because they see the return on investment. The ROI on these events is basically two to one for every dollar invest. You get 2. If you, you still need the event. But if you repurpose it, not to just do this one-time transaction, but if you repurpose it as a, a, a stewardship and an acquisition event, I’m using some technical terms from the book, but if you reposition it as part of a one piece of a relationship building process, a, a chain of communications, a relationship with your investor, then the.

[00:30:49] Event can generate 10 for every dollar invested. The, so the math is very, very clear. So you do need events, but you also have to have a very, and the book takes extreme pain to say you do this. Here’s where an event is. Here’s what you do after the event. Here’s how you measure the activity. Here’s how you staff it.

[00:31:11] This is, we walk through it, a breadcrumb trail. On how to, we look at one of the sources of income, there’s, there’s earned, contributed, invested revenue, three types of money coming from five audiences, individuals, foundations, corporations, government agencies, and impact investors, very complex landscape. So what we do is we go through the book.

[00:31:32] First, you have to have a clear business plan, but then when you actually go and you got to test it in your environment, but then when you get to the funding. Don’t use these subsistence strategies. Don’t chase people. Don’t spam. Don’t write letters. Holiday gift letters are a waste of time. Right? Don’t do what everybody else does.

[00:31:51] Be different. Build relationships with people who have capacity and affinity. And be empathetic. It’s highly ethical. It’s highly moral. It’s, it’s And you ask for advice. It’s how hospitals and universities raise millions of dollars every day. So we’re, well, you know, already the highest performing nonprofits in the United States use very sophisticated, earned and generate and, and contributed and invested revenue strategies.

[00:32:19] They’re multi billion dollar businesses. I, I raise money for. A research one university for five years for the humanities. In fact, I’m an English major, and I raise money for poetry and for linguistics and for Persian studies. Right. And we, but we did that by being very clear about the importance of these incredibly beautiful disciplines and having a clear plan and showing that plan with investors and being quite clear about what we do with the outcomes of their investment.

[00:32:48] We took those departments from a couple of hundred thousand to millions of dollars by using, we got a bunch of, you know, humanities professors talking about their KPIs. It was lovely. That’s one of the early success stories that got us really encouraged on this track. So, you know, we know the stuff works, but again, the toughest part for is getting people over the fear and aversion and the distaste.

[00:33:15] And the bad branding, the damaged, we call it toxic and it tainted brand. And once they can get past that, they see these tools are incredibly effective. So you’re, you’re sort of talking about a tarnished brand or toxic relationship, maybe to like jargon business, like how to’s the like, Hey, you know, how it’s been presented, like, can you say a bit more about that?

[00:33:38] Oh, well take a look. So there’s also business people have come on boards and done incredible damage. Look at what Gail McGovern did to the Red Cross, right? There’s a whole series of articles in ProPublica, a bunch of AT& T executives swept in and dismantled this organization and lied about their impact.

[00:33:56] And I can’t believe they still haven’t been held accountable. That’s one of the things that’s incredible to me. So I’m not saying business methodology is the panacea. Right? But that you, you have to divorce the mercenary, the deceptive, so, so one of the, the, the early I’m forgetting the thinkers name right now, one of the early inventors of management theory in the early 19th century, pre Henry Ford, um, you know, came up with scientific, the principles of scientific management I write about in my book.

[00:34:30] And this is not long after emancipation. And all this guy did was create this really oppressive scientific environment in, in factory settings where business management took the place of the whip, you know, and we see stories about major corporations using this methodology, using business methodology to oppress their working population.

[00:34:55] Right. That’s right. We have you. I think you’re referring to Frederick Winslow Taylor. Thank you. Frederick Winslow Taylor. Very nice. Yes. So, when I talk about the toxic legacy and the tainted brand of business methodology, it’s very real, right? And I was talking with a staff person at a, you know, I, I’ve done work with multi billion dollar in, in, in NGOs in the space and, you know, that have solutions for the world.

[00:35:23] And, you know, they’re going about this business without the management toolkits necessary to bring their solutions into the, into the marketplace because they have incredible distaste because they’re quote unquote extractive. So we see this organizations, not just the small organizations, it’s large organizations that, that culture gap is so toxic.

[00:35:46] I think I’ve talked about that already, but that, that tainted brand, there’s also the racism. You know, and here I am, I’m often, I often work with nonprofits that work with marginalized populations, people of color, you know, and I’m this privileged white cis male coming in with all my business jargon. It’s very we have to be very conscious and very humble about.

[00:36:10] You know, just saying that this is a panacea it works, but the, the translation and the sensitivity and the empathy is, is so important in the, in the, in the social sector for it to take root with. With leaders and volunteers and staff and board members. The translation layer is incredibly important when you’re taking lessons from a sector designed to increase the value to the shareholder, to ones that are supposed to help the stakeholder.

[00:36:37] Those are two different groups. That’s it. But, you know, if we consider the, the, the, the beneficiary of a nonprofit program as the owner of the equity that you have to deliver. The results to them, right? Then there, then the translation, okay, how do we get, that’s why I call it scaling altruism, we’ve got to do more, so many incredibly effective nonprofits out there, but they’re only serving a small margin of their potential addressable audience.

[00:37:07] And they don’t have a clear pathway to serve them all. And it’s scary and yes, it’s risky, but that’s the pathway to a life well lived is go big or go home. When you’re talking about altruism, you know, why, why are we risk averse in the altruism space? If we wanna die happy, if we wanna to leave the best possible world for our children, let’s be really ambitious.

[00:37:32] Let, let’s use everything that we know that drives scale and and manage the risk. We’re not talking about being foolhardy, but you know, there’s incredible risk aversion. I go back to your, your Seth Godin interview. yOu know, i, I on your hundredth podcast, you know, Seth Godin says. I’m gonna quote him directly.

[00:37:52] He says, mostly I’m wrestling with how people are stuck in their status quo, afraid to move forward. There’s more teaching and learning available to everyone today than any time in HU human history. But we’re spending our time watching CAD videos, right? So this is what the book the accelerator attempts to do.

[00:38:10] Like, here’s the, here’s the recipe book, here’s the pathway. It works. It’s been tested, it’s validated. It’s not easy but try something different. Step outside your comfort zone because the people that you serve deserve you to get outside of your comfort zone. This isn’t about you. If you’re really an altruist, you’ll take the risk.

[00:38:33] You’ll make the jump. You’ll try something different. And the amount of people that are still stuck or have this visceral negative reaction to a different methodology that doesn’t use the typical social sector buzzwords you know, that’s, that’s disappointing, but we, we hope to convert them. You know, my, my dear friend and, and the chair of my nonprofits board, Akhtar Badshah, he’s a professor of social impact at the University of Washington, um, teaches and he’s a former global head of philanthropy for Microsoft.

[00:39:03] He’s a brilliant man. He says, don’t try to scale your programs, try to create a movement. And I think that’s just brilliant wisdom. Don’t seek scales, create a movement. If we could have a movement where the non profit space enjoyed the same resources at the for profit space, that students in social work, in education, in public policy actually learned finance and, and, and planning and sales and marketing.

[00:39:36] If capital wasn’t constrained by grants or, or all, all these hoops, if we had functional capital markets, if there were except there’s 350 business accelerators, there’s only 1 or 2 functioning nonprofit accelerators, just fast forward. And and why? Combinator if we had accelerators for nonprofits, if we had that, if we had MIT runs a venture mentor program in 120 countries with brilliant.

[00:40:03] Entrepreneurs that that that help nonprofit founders grow their company. We need something like that for the nonprofit space. There’s so much opportunity out there if we can capture it to accelerate social impact if we just look outside of our narrow lens of like, okay, it’s theory of change. And, you know, we got to write another grant.

[00:40:23] So that’s what the book intends to do is be not just a curriculum for growth, but it’s a little bit of a manifesto to say, Hey, you know, why don’t we, you know, try to collapse the difference between the four and the nonprofit sector and, and, and resolve these barriers, these inequalities that keep nonprofits from fulfilling their full potential.

[00:40:44] Oh, I think that’s a, a really great note to shift over into our rabid fire. As we move into this we try to keep our, our responses to like, Hey, I don’t know, call it 30 seconds ish and we’ll we’ll jump into it. What is one tech tool or website that you or your organization has started using in the last year?

[00:41:03] AI. Not surprising. I’ve enjoyed using Claude AI from Anthropic. I, I find that one quickly good. It was very helpful. It’s, it’s like a writing buddy. You don’t lean on it for content, but they’re, I love how Claude can summarize articles and, and, you know, make suggestions. So, I think there’s a lot of potential there.

[00:41:26] What are. Some of the tech issues you’re currently battling with. Well, personally, I can’t stand it when I call a company and I get a computer on the line. So I don’t like talking to computers other than Siri on my phone. You know, and, and I think there’s so many of the, taking that more broadly, so many of the solutions out there have, have taken efficiency to the point where they, they’re so dehumanized and.

[00:41:53] You know, companies have to remember that there’s people are, are still their customers. They’re not machines or widgets. So, that’s not anything specific, but by and large we, we’re delighted with the tech tools and the tech stack that we use and, you know, there’s, the problem is there’s too much power out there and it’s, it’s selecting, it’s keeping it simple So, you know, we, we have an embarrassment of riches for tech tools.

[00:42:17] Other than, as long as I don’t have to talk to a computer. What is coming in the next year that has you the most excited? Because we’ve spent a decade creating this clear sequential growth and impact framework with all the tools. Here’s the template. Here’s the process. Instead of helping one organization at a time, I want to help many organizations at a time.

[00:42:43] I want to scale our own impact. That’s what has me excited. That’s what I want to do before I die. Try to help as many organizations as possible. In the next year, we’re launching a very, very low cost advisory service for nonprofits. You can hire our team, follow our curriculum for less than the cost of a part time admin.

[00:43:06] Most nonprofits can’t afford a gifted fundraiser. The hospitals and the universities snap them all up. Nonprofits can access the best planning, funding, and execution methodology. For tiny fraction of its market value. And we’re really excited about that. We want to get the book out into the space. We want to launch this low cost service.

[00:43:27] We want to get organizations through our accelerator because we know when they do that not all of them will be able to follow the process. This is not easy. This is very, requires discipline and focus and grit and courage. It’s running and growing a business. Anybody tells you that’s easy.

[00:43:43] They’re, they’re crazy. But for organizations that can, that can push through, we’re, we’re tremendously excited with the potential social impact we can capture with these new, with the, with the book and these new initiatives. Can you talk about a mistake you made earlier in your career that shapes the way you do things now?

[00:44:02] Yes, I, I, I used to say it was easy. I had the arrogance when I was early in my career, I had too many wins and not enough failures. And I write about this in the preface of the book. When I was a fundraiser, I went like seven and O and I just raised millions of dollars using this business methodology. And then when I started working with clients, it’s like, Hey, all I got to do is follow this process.

[00:44:27] The process is actually quite rigorous and difficult, and I underestimated the difficulty of aligning and building consensus among boards and executives. And I also underestimated gravely, I didn’t even know what change management was when I started. And really working on the people side of change.

[00:44:45] I, I was very ignorant of that early in my career, but luckily I failed enough to then that, that eradicated any, you know, a sense of, of, of know it all ism and I had to get really smart on making sure, and that’s not the only methodological challenge that we, we encountered, but I’ve come to realize how difficult it is and how rare it is for organizations to really achieve this level of breakout success.

[00:45:13] And, and, you know, that’s why we’ve packaged everything that we’ve learned into this.

[00:45:17] Do you believe nonprofits can successfully go out of business? Oh, sure. Great examples Evan Marwell my new friend, he was the founder of Education Superhighway. He launched it. They closed the gap on internet access for low income children. He said, this is done. We’re, we’re done. We achieved our mission.

[00:45:35] Nonprofits can do almost anything a for profit can. It’s just a tax status and you can’t have equity, right? But, You know, the, again, don’t get caught in the myth. Uni uniqueness. You can do anything you want. You can merge you can, you can acquire you know, lawyers are the, the, the only people you should talk to.

[00:45:56] Very good non-pro people, lawyers that know the nonprofit space and accountants. Those are the people that know the, the real rules. And there’s a tremendous amount you can do with a nonprofit. What we’re also seeing is. Like we have a for profit and a non profit corporate structure. Look at OpenAI.

[00:46:12] It’s a, it’s a non profit that owns a capped, you know, earnings for profit subsidiary. You can nest these corporate structures. You have to be very careful about, you know, exchange of value. And again, can, I’m not an attorney, consult your lawyer. But, you know, there’s tremendous power with the nonprofit model.

[00:46:30] And, you know, as we’ve seen much of this power remains untapped for, for too many organizations. It’s a whole nother podcast dipping into the open AI drama, but yes, you can do many things with it. What is something you think you should stop doing?

[00:46:46] What we’re going to stop doing is trying to scale one on one services to clients. It’s intensive amount of heavy lifting. And it’s like rocket science. It’s very difficult to do what we do. And having taught this and worked with, with dozens of wonderful individuals in my career. The type of, of hands on acceleration doesn’t scale.

[00:47:11] It’s, it’s time intensive. So we have to stop focusing just on that because frankly, we’re only going to get to a very small set of nonprofits. So, I’ve said this already, we’re trying to, to amplify our impact by creating much higher bandwidth, excuse me, much more, taking the curriculum and broadcasting it so people can get started on it in their own.

[00:47:35] We’re trying to be more scalable. And so we have to, it’s incredibly humbling to think about how successful we are scaling other companies and how much difficulty we’ve had scaling our own services. You know, the old joke, you know, cobbler’s children have no shoes. I suffer from that every day. How do we scale this methodology?

[00:47:56] So what we’re, we’re, what we’re going to stop doing is we’re never going to stop innovating and continuing to try, but we’re really putting a new focus, we’ll continue to work one on one with nonprofits, but we’re going to really put a new focus on much. A broader reach in the, in the social sector, because that’s what the world needs.

[00:48:15] We think I guess following on with that, if you had a magic wand to wave across the sector, what would it do? I’d start by again, having people have earned respect for an MBA degree and hire them in your organization, hire people with private sector experience who have, who’ve had successful P and L responsibility.

[00:48:38] And approach what they know with humility. And the same thing goes for the, the people in the business world, enter the social space with humility. Talk about what you can learn from each other and don’t be arrogant or dismissive about the the stereotypes that you have from each other. So I would, if I had to wave a magic wand, I would give a cultural detente between the four and the nonprofit cultures, apart from that, I would.

[00:49:05] Demand that every university graduate program in education, social, social work and public policy teach its students basic business methodologies so they can actually read a balance sheet and, you know, interrogate a budget. And create an executive dashboard and understand things like change management and, you know, teach them the practical leadership tools that are so common in business school, but they’re so uncommon in the social space.

[00:49:37] So those two pieces, uh, would be my you asked for one, I gave you two. Got a very powerful wand. Yeah, well, there’s, there’s a lot of opportunity out there. How did you get started in the social impact sector? I was a dropout from society after college. I took nothing. I studied nothing but art, religion, and literature.

[00:50:01] I was disillusioned with the world, even from a very, I’ve been terrified of climate change since I’ve, you know, since adolescence. Just, I’m, I’m a Cold War kid. You know, I was born in 1968. We all grew up. Afraid of nuclear war. So we’re all terrified of getting bombed. And then when that went away, we had about two years of peace and then climate change was the next, next big specter.

[00:50:24] And like I said earlier, I was terrified of what businesses were doing to the planet and I didn’t know what to do with my life. So, I spent a lot of, I had the privilege and, and the ability to. To spend a lot of time thinking. I got into teaching. I discovered I love to teach, love to teach people. So I was a high school English teacher for a while.

[00:50:47] And then I got into graduate school to be a learn how to be a school principal. And they said, Oh, you’re going to run a school. So you better learn how to run a business. So here, go to the, go, go to the business school and, and be a take this class in finance and take this class in resource management, you know, go to the law school and take this law class.

[00:51:08] So I had the great. Good fortune of going to a graduate program that was multidisciplinary in, in educational leadership. And when I saw, I got in my first accounting class, I said, Oh my God, I love the stuff. It was amazing. It was so powerful. I said, this is how the world works. What if we could use these tools for good?

[00:51:28] Right? I immediately saw the power of finance extractive potential. And I got into fundraising and use those business tools in a space where there weren’t a lot of them and raise millions of dollars where it hadn’t happened before. And I, I’ve been repeating that ever since. What advice would you give college grads currently looking to enter the social impact sector?

[00:51:50] Get an MBA. Learn finance, learn marketing, learn sales work for a for profit, learn how high performing teams work and translate those skills with humility, with an understanding that there’s an incredible cultural gap. iNto the social sector. So I just had a call yesterday. I give guest lectures at my local university and one of the students says, I’m studying finance and I want to get into the social work.

[00:52:22] I had this phone call yesterday with this, with this very brilliant young woman who wants to have a career, but she was worried that her career in finance would lock her out of the social space. I’m like, no, no, just the opposite, double down on the finance. What you really need to do is learn marketing and sales because that’s what the nonprofit sector needs is more money.

[00:52:41] So learn how to manage financial resources and you know, get as smart as you can on that and then go to work for an organization that appreciates your skills. What advice did your parents give you that you either followed or didn’t follow? My dad taught me about a concept called being dead right. Right.

[00:52:59] You can be correct, but you can be practically incorrect. Right. And it’s one thing to be, you know, have the right ideas, but you also have to deliver them in a way where it’s practical. And, and, you know, you’re not shooting yourself in the foot. So I’m always wondering if I’m dead right. aNd I worry about that all the time.

[00:53:18] And I worry about my, the, the, what I project You know, we’ve been, we have this incredible value proposition at our firm. We’re able to transform nonprofits. It’s affordable. I thought when we scaled up tree house, we took them from 6 million to 20 million. We took foster child graduation rates from 40 percent to over 80%.

[00:53:40] It was a moonshot in the world of social services. We set a crazy BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Nobody thought we’d achieve it. We crushed it. That was in 2017. I thought the whole social sector would come running. Oh my God, you finally cracked the code on social impact. And it continues to be a struggle.

[00:54:03] I continue to wonder if I’m dead right. Why is this such a hard sell? And You know, it’s not a hard sell. I have to be fair to myself. We’re delighted with our growth and our clients and our impact, but I’m just surprised. The acceleration hasn’t happened faster. I’m surprised that I read in the Washington Post that our model that we created for foster children in Washington state is just now starting to get traction in other states.

[00:54:32] Like, oh, my God, it’s taken 10 years. This is the most vulnerable population. We know exactly how to help them. So, I’m, I’m frustrated by the slow pace of change, and I also worry that I’m dead right. But you know, so that’s what age brings. It’s, it’s humility and, and circumspection. And I’m, as I get older hopefully I, I just worry that I’m not being dead right.

[00:54:53] Good thing to have in the back of all of our minds. Donald, for sharing. Your wisdom, your book, how do people find you? How do people help you? First thing, Google the phrase scaling altruism. It’ll take you to a book store. Pick your pick your bookstore, Barnes and Noble, Penguin, you know, whatever. I’m thankful to my publisher Wiley for doing such a great job getting the book out there.

[00:55:17] The book’s in pre order right now. It’ll be out in March. So that’s the first way that is, that’s everything we’ve learned. We’ve open sourced our entire methodology and it’s for 28 bucks. You can have it. There’ll be a website scaling altruism. org with all the tools and the templates, so you can, they can go to, so organizations can access this information, use the toolkit.

[00:55:39] It’ll be ready to go in March. Apart from that, you know, Altruist Partners is the name of our consulting firm. Info at altruistpartners. org. If you Google Altruist Partners, you’ll come up with our, our website. We read all our emails and we’re still a very small firm. We hope not to be small one day.

[00:55:58] We want to scale up the delivery of this service to the sector. And I’m just grateful to you George for helping us get our message out. So, so thanks for having us on your, your, your great show. Well, appreciate the work you’re doing out there and thanks for, for sharing. Good luck. Thank you very much.

[00:56:16] And I want to end by saying thanks to all the changemakers out there. They’re already doing great work in the world. They’re altruists. Also, there’s a lot of good things happening. It’s we’re not here to be arrogant and say, you have to do better. We want to recognize all the great work that’s already being done.

[00:56:30] But, you know, there’s, we’re still very, very eager to capture, you know, the opportunities and the impact that we know we have to have if we’re going to have a just sustainable society. But thank you again.