Monthly Archives: November 2009

Leading Together

I recently read a powerful article by Marshall Goldsmith titled “Leadership Isn’t About You” discussing the importance of appreciating one’s team, the value they bring, and how crucial their contributions are to the success of your organization. This inspired some thoughts for me that I shared with Marshall, and that I’d like to share with you.


Dear Marshall,

Thank you for such an enriching post. Certainly, the best leaders are inspiring, coaching and impelling their team to higher levels of accomplishment and growth. They provide opportunities, and unleash the beautiful, unique capabilities of each team member. Then, too, your team members are inspired to contribute — and lead — impacting your business in so many, many fruitful ways.

I do see it as a partnership. People do appreciate firmness in direction from the leader. It’s what I would call the ‘humble confidence’ of defining a new, more positive future, and driving the team to help accomplish this vision. It isn’t forceful. But it is compelling, and includes everyone in that drive. People deserve and need to be inspired.

At the same time, it amazes me that entrepreneurs are seen as such solo beacons of light in starting an organization. Absolutely untrue. The amount of people who have helped; the right timing of your venture; the hardwork and diligence of so many, many team members is what got you to where you are today. We have to be cognizant of this. We built together.

We need leaders. And leaders exist at every level, and regardless of age. I do tell our team that everyone is a leader here at UniversalGiving. I think we need to expand our definition of concept of who is a leader….

Thank you again for a most enriching and needed dialogue!

Sincerely, Pamela

Ask Pamela: Do I Need Big Success to Garner Big Funding?

“Ask Pamela” is a collection of real life conversations between Pamela Hawley, an established social entrepreneur, and Mike Del Ponte, an up-and-coming social entrepreneur. Pamela was a co-founder of VolunteerMatch and is the founder and CEO of UniversalGiving. Mike Del Ponte is founder and CEO of Sparkseed.

It seems like most nonprofits struggle to fundraise in the early days, and then when they have a big success – in terms of publicity or a large grant or donation – the funds seem to flow. What advice would you give to new organizations that have not yet had one of these big successes? <1:30 pm November 24, 2009>

Mike, this is an interesting question that refers to both nonprofit and for profit start-ups. Some organizations get significant funding early on, while others bootstrap for years. A lot of this will depend on your leadership and focus, as well as how you want to fund your efforts.  Some of it is as you describe — that support comes in after you are successful.  You’re right to say that this is common.

People like to jump on the bandwagon after they see success.  Being the first person to say “yes” is challenging for most people. Being the 1,000th person to say “yes” is much easier! As entrepreneurs, it is our job to have that “yes!” mentality, otherwise our organizations won’t get off the ground.

Entrepreneurship is riveting, stimulating, inspiring, and invigorating. It’s also hard. Those who choose this road know they don’t want to give up.  It’s not an option in their heads (even though sometimes they have to due to market timing, personal reasons, etc.)  So I’d make sure you stay very streamlined in the beginning, be judicious with your finances, and get as many pro-bono services as you can.  Keep it simple. Start by asking yourself, “What do I really need?”

Regarding funding, you may need to go to friends and family.  You may need to use some of your savings.  You should go to current funders and ask if they have a reference. And you should cast a wide net to attract new funders. Go to the Foundation Center and identify some very likely fits – donors who will understand their involvement with your organization as beneficial to them and you.

Once you have identified these donors, ask for a warm reference to other potential funders. The point is, in all your relationships, try to find commonalities that help the donor connect with you. The more you do this, the more likely you will get funding and increase your base of committed donors.

Then, of course, focus on revenue.  Focus on that model as soon as you can. I certainly find it easier to work with a company and demonstrate value, than to ask funders for money.  But some people prefer the fundraising.   This is a leadership style choice.

It’s not that working with companies to generate revenue is easier than traditional fundraising.  You still have a long outreach/sales process, and have to work very hard. But I like it because when you close a company, you are delivering value through a practical service.  Funding usually occurs because the donor supports your idea in general.  For me personally, I am more comfortable when clients are buying a socially conscious service.  It confirms that UniversalGiving’s services provide value.

One note about your question above. You say, “When they have a big success… the funds seem to flow.”   I don’t think we can ever rest on our laurels. Every day is a new day. I don’t know of any organization that consistently feels the funds just flow. We always have to work at it, cultivate relationships, hold to our standards, improve our products and services, and consistently focus on the long-term.

I will say that after five to eight years of doing the above, you can see ‘the flywheel effect’ that Jim Collins and Jim Porras talk about in Good To Great. After ‘pushing up the water’ on the water wheel, eventually, all the hard effort of pushing that water up begins to flow down the other side and gather momentum. Partnerships, press, and funding do come in abundance.  That can certainly happen. Even still, we should maintain quality, a hard work ethic, and consistent devotion to excellence while the water is flowing!

Ask Pamela: Holiday Fundraising

“Ask Pamela” is a collection of real life conversations between Pamela Hawley, an established social entrepreneur, and Mike Del Ponte, an up-and-coming social entrepreneur. Pamela was a co-founder of VolunteerMatch and is the founder and CEO of UniversalGiving. Mike Del Ponte is founder and CEO of Sparkseed.

With the holidays and the end of the year approaching, I want to make sure I’m putting my best foot forward with fundraising. Can you tell me what you are doing at this time of year to fundraise for Universal Giving? What are your top tips for a young fundraiser? <3:15 pm November 1, 2009>

Dear Mike, since we’re in the world of philanthropy, we often get a lot of pressure at the end of the year.  It’s when most fundraising seems to take place, so we double, and triple our efforts to make sure that we don’t miss out.

However, the same principles apply. It’s all about creating long-term relationships. We don’t want to fundraise from a sense of urgency. We want to fundraise, as most we can, from building a long-term relationship. You might make an ask this year that does not come to fruition this December, but does realize itself over the long-term. So just make sure that any ask you make is in line with your values, makes you feel comfortable, and makes the donor feel comfortable.

With that basis in mind, I would send customized letters to significant donors, and follow up with a personal phone call or personalized email.  When you outreach to them personally, they will already be inspired by the great work you are doing at Sparkseed.  At that time they are more likely to fund you; at minimum, they will most likely congratulate you on your work and you should accept that as a positive step forward in building your long-term relationship with them.

The Social Entrepreneurship Standard

I recently had the opportunity to do a guest post on the Social Entrepreneurship blog on, discussing trends in social entrepreneurship and describing UniversalGiving’s model as an example.  I wanted to share these thoughts with you here as well.


Social Entrepreneurship is at an exciting stage. We’re seeing social entrepreneurship classes and soon departments — at almost every major university.  So what are some of the ways we can examine this concept of social entrepreneurship, so it lives up to our standards in providing socially conscious services, and financial sustainability?

When we look at social entrepreneurship, it’s a balance between nonprofit/forprofit structures, services and principles. For example, your structure could be a forprofit or nonprofit organization.  Your services need to have some element of public service or a socially conscious product.   If you believe your service is of value (and as a social entrepreneur, you do), strive to find a way to monetize it. Some part of your services needs to generate revenue.  Finally, whatever the structure, lead and manage with forprofit principles of watching your bottom line, having fine-tuned operations and business units. Equally important, demonstrate the heart and care to take care of your team.  No matter how efficient you get as a social entrepreneur, don’t forget this important investment in people.

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The Immediate Philanthropist

That beautiful time of the year is coming again: The time of giving. It seems to start with the gratitude and time spent with family during Thanksgiving, following through to the December Holiday season.

However, for some reason our society has distilled the meaning of philanthropy into “money.” It now seems to mean that in order to give, we need to write a check. Being from Silicon Valley, sometimes I’ve even heard people say, “I can’t wait to make it big from my next venture. Then I’ll start giving back to our communities in a major way.”

Donating money is certainly not the only, or most important, way of giving. And we don’t have to wait on money in order to be able to give right now. In fact, the true root of the word philanthropy means “love of people,” or “love of humankind.” That means philanthropy can be a full-time calling, for each one of us, right now.

I lead a website that helps people give of themselves, both their money and volunteer time, so I am acutely aware of these issues. But one of the thoughts that has come to me is that my “job in philanthropy,” most certainly doesn’t start at 9 am and end at 5 pm. If we follow the definition of philanthropy above, that means our every moment can be an opportunity to care for, love and cherish another fellow human being.

One day I had a pivotal experience that helped me be a better ‘daily philanthropist.’ Each day I make a thoughtful ‘to do’ list with which I hope to carry out my purpose. The list might range from cultivating a large corporate partnership, to an errand at the drycleaners. There was a nice sense of satisfaction in checking off these items.

During this day, I found myself particularly busy. I rushed into the drycleaners. I swooped in to pick up my clothes and leave a bundled pile of clothes to be processed. There, I had fit it in before a meeting. I had gotten one more item off my list! Accomplishment, I thought; and yet I didn’t feel it.

What I realized is that the dry cleaners wasn’t an errand. It was an opportunity to love. We aren’t programmed to just get through life and get things done. Instead, each activity, each to-do, each task, is actually an experience of loving. That is the true spirit of philanthropy.

As one great thinker wrote, a person “…is a marvel, a miracle in the universe….With selfless love, he inscribes on the heart of humanity and transcribes on the page of reality the living, palpable presence – the might and majesty! – of all goodness. He lives for all mankind.”  Rushing in and out of the dry cleaners, I had missed a valuable opportunity. What I needed to do was connect with my dry cleaners, know them by name, greet them warmly, and sincerely ask how they are doing. Now I know how Hao is doing, and we have a great relationship of warmth and kindness. 🙂 I look forward to our visits. I’ve now found philanthropy exists at the drycleaners.

With the Holiday season of philanthropy upon us, we can each strive to care more sincerely for each person we meet.  By our simple interaction and communication with each person, every moment, we can all be ‘immediate’ philanthropists. Love – philanthropy – simply doesn’t wait.