Four of the Most Important Questions to Ask Your Sponsors

I work with education nonprofits who have great partnerships with their sponsors because of the relationships. These sponsors are very important for funding their student programs. These sponsors are bombarded with people asking for donations, but they’ve chosen specific education nonprofits whose missions they value. To add value to their sponsorships, or investments in the community, we’ve asked these questions and acted upon the information.

These are open-ended and best asked face-to-face or at least over the phone. When I conduct interviews I record our conversations, with their permission, and have listened several times over.

Interview Questions


·      What are the top 2 or 3 challenges you/your organization is facing?

·      What happens if those are left unchecked?

·      What are the top 2 or 3 goals/results you want [for your organization]?

·      What happens if you don’t get those results?


Three Major Benefits to Asking These Questions

1. Hearing their answers in their own words helps us gain empathy for their pain. As an education nonprofit, you might, for example, learn that one of your sponsors spends an inordinate amount of time recruiting qualified employees. Future workforce is a major concern and your STEM programs are providing a valuable service to their organization in educating the future workforce. A potential outcome would be to provide more transparency of your programs to help the sponsor see their donation as an investment.

2. Empathy for our sponsors helps improve programs or design new ones, the first step in design thinking. Here’s a great introductory design thinking article from Stanford’s  

3. We have a common language. In continuing the STEM program example, we might ask a sponsor if or how the program or idea will help with their future workforce. It also helps everyone remember the ultimate goal.


For Board Members Who Don't Like To Fundraise: Here’s How to Ask

During this time of year, many deserving nonprofit organizations ask for donations. It’s important for board members to ask people one-on-one, because that personal plea can make a difference. Still, for many people, including me, this isn’t easy.


There are ways to ask that won’t make your friends avoid you in the future. I recently had a friend ask me to donate to an organization. He wasn’t sales-y or pushy, and I was happy to help. I’m not unusual: when I do something nice for someone, it makes me feel good.

Directors, you’re serving on a board because its mission matters to you. When asking a friend or family member to donate, it’s allowing someone to do something nice for your organization and  for you—which will help them feel good about themselves.

So, how do you ask? Here are some ideas.

A Short Email

This is the email I received from my friend. I know how that he puts a lot of time and money into the cause himself, but he didn’t talk about that in his short email. This is all it said:

Please help me support The Dinner Party by making a donation through my fundraising page for #RaiseOurGlass: Celebrating the People who Give us Courage in Life After Loss with The Dinner Party. Even a small donation will help me achieve my goal! The process is fast, easy, and secure. Thanks so much for your support. 

The email closed with his name and a link to Donate Now.

Notice how he didn’t make me feel guilty or waste my time. Plus, the process was fast and easy, just like he said.

Add a Quick Story

There’s also adding a very short story for those not familiar with the organization:

Please help me support Education Foundation of the Summit by making a donation on Colorado Gives Day, December 5, 2017. One reason I'm involved with EFS is that we fund teacher's ideas like coding experiences, which is not only fun, but also gives kids problem-solving skills and stimulates critical thinking. The process is easy to donate.

Email Signature

Another thought is adding this signature to your emails:

Please help me support Education Foundation of the Summit by making a donation on Colorado Gives Day, December 5, 2017. Even a small donation will help! The process is fast, easy, and secure. Thanks so much for your support. 

The Fly By

If you’re not comfortable with emailing your friends and family, briefly mention it to them in conversation:

“When you’re making donations on Colorado Gives Day, please think of Education Foundation of the Summit.”


I hope this helps. Good luck!



It’s said that we don’t know what jobs will exist by the time our kids graduate. With technological evolution and globalization changing things so quickly, what is the most important attribute students should possess?

Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, who has evaluated executives for 30 years, says potential is the most important predictor of success. He defines potential as: “the ability to adapt to and grow into increasingly complex roles and environments.”   One of the traits he identifies in someone who has potential is curiosity, “a penchant for seeking out new experiences, knowledge, and candid feedback and an openness to learning and change.”

Creativity plays an important role in being adaptive. Successful people, when faced with failure, don’t give up. They try something different.

Creative people are “constantly open to spotting and engaging in new ideas and experiences, without the expectation that these experiences will lead to inspiration or immediate creative outcome.”

How do we foster these characteristics in our kids? Schools offer, or are a magnet for, things like STEM, design thinking, and teaching the entrepreneurial mindset. I’ve started a twitter list called K12 Entrepreneur to follow what’s up in teaching K12 students entrepreneurial thinking. There are some really interesting organizations like EdCorps, EcoRise, and Think Like a Genius. If you like, please follow it and make suggestions on who/what to follow.

Of course us parents can help provide environments and opportunities for our kids to be creative. This doesn’t mean we have to bring them to an art studio, even though that’s a good idea. It just means having experiences with them. It means doing something different. 

Less Promoting, More Connecting with Social Media

Social media is an inexpensive and effective way to connect with a community. Content promoting your brand is important, yet other interesting content should be the majority of a social media plan. Organizations do a disservice to themselves and their community when they repeat the same old product and service benefits on social media. Other interesting, non-promotional content contributes to the conversation about an organization’s purpose and helps build relationships with others who have the same goals.

Engaging with the Community

A community is more than clients. It’s also influencers, advocates, peers, and partners with a common interest or goal. It’s a group that has interaction and communication. A community provides value and connection to its members by helping each other learn and gain expertise in their field. It’s an inexpensive and targeted way to network with people.

Engaging with your community means sharing content that interests them. Sofie De Beule, content marketer, says “if a brand focuses too much on itself within social media as a means for boosting sales, its audience will immediately see through it and tune it out. Only by discovering what your audience is really interested in and responding to those needs, will your brand be able to maintain a consistent, sustainable, and engaging online social media presence.”

Build Your Brand

It’s important to provide thought-provoking, stimulating content that relates to your brand. It’s easy to be too broad, for example, if I share education topics ranging from how it’s important to be a proficient reader by the third grade to digital badge stories from high school students, I’ll miss targeting my audience and people will lose interest.

To become focused, remember why you started or joined your organization.  You may want to get others involved to ask these questions:

Why do you get up and go to work every day?

What are your values?

What ultimate benefits do your products/services offer?

Example: Let’s start with an organization that provides high school students with entrepreneurial programs. People in the organization believe that when education is personalized students become more engaged. They are fired up to come to work because they’re helping students who are bored in school become more innovative, self-confident problem-solvers. To start, they probably have stories about these kids benefitting from their programs, and these stories could be told without self-promotion as long as they focus on the students.

Read, Research, Learn

For more content, organizations can look to their communities to see what they find interesting and important on this topic. Marko Saric, blogger, has inspirational ideas in creating content:

·      Read a lot and learn constantly

·      Take concepts from books and write about own perspective and experiences

·      Attend meetups and conferences—topics discussed are people’s problems, questions, and how to solve them

Writer’s Block is Avoidable

Using a marketing calendar and filling it with topics for the year helps you hit the ground running. Don’t worry that there will be many blank slots at first. Use the calendar as a working document, so people can add ideas any time. Saric says to write every day—write like you talk and edit later.


Making a commitment to creating interesting content daily or at least twice a week is worth it. It helps build relationships, provide more value to the community, and strengthen your brand. It’ll help you become more of an expert in your field, and you’ll help others gain expertise, too.


Design Thinking Helps these Youth Entrepreneurs Thrive

The elementary students in rural Frisco, Colorado thought running a school store sounded great. It didn’t matter to them that their teachers planned to use design thinking to help the students be creative and innovative, teach them 21st century skills in authentic situations, and empower students by giving them ownership of their learning.

Peder Hansen, STEM Coordinator and Library & Media Specialist at Frisco Elementary, helped students create a store. Using the design thinking process—empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test—students learned concepts like product cost and sales price. This turned out to be a good motivator for a student who was struggling in math. “He was so jazzed about doing math in this context, we decided to offer it to more kids,” said Peder.

That’s how the Entrepreneur Club was born with co-founder Brett Meyers, 5th grade teacher.  Fifty students applied for sixteen spots. It’s a deliberate mix of 3rd-5th grade boys and girls who aren’t getting high test scores or grades but have alternative school talents, or soft skills, such as abilities to be flexible, think critically, and collaborate. Selected students also have a growth mindset—various approaches to learning and they understand that effort makes them stronger.

Entrepreneur Club members learn advanced subjects such as marketing, net and gross, and supply and demand. They practice “instant pitches” where they pick a product name out of a hat and discuss its merits on the fly. The pitches are essentially mini-persuasive writings.

It wasn’t all fun for the students at first. They wanted to sell products right away, but Peder and Brett had them conduct empathy interviews first. This didn’t come comfortably to many students—sitting face-to-face with another student, asking questions, and writing the answers—but the lesson was invaluable.

The students created The Wall of Woe, posting the problems they heard, including: “I’m bored in school,” “I hate math,” “I have dog poop at my house,” and “I don’t have time to do my homework.” They determined which existing products might solve the problems their peers were experiencing. Students wanted to sell gum, and Peder posed the problem that the teachers wouldn’t like gum chewing during class. “We never tell them, ‘you can’t do that,’” said Peder. The students created a contract that went with the gum promising they wouldn’t chew it during school.

Other students wanted to sell fidget cubes to help reduce stress and improve focus. They ordered four cubes, which took 2-1/2 weeks to arrive. They sold out within minutes. One student’s immediate reaction was “wow, I need to buy more!”  He evaluated lead-time and how many he should buy on the second order. The other issue was that all four cubes were purchased by one customer. Would the others sell so fast, or sell at all? He went back to the Wall of Woe to redefine and ideate a solution.

The students designed the school store, and then Peder and Brett built a prototype. They’re testing their concept before and after school 2-3 times per week.

Some kids have gone on to create solutions in school. The school janitor was injured and had trouble keeping up with his work. Two of the Entrepreneur Club members started Kid Janitors.  They created a signup sheet and are managing the workers.

The students are on track to earn two digital badges—apprentice and master level. The next big step, the master process, is to use the design thinking process to develop their own products. Back to The Wall of Woe.

The greatest success so far, Peder says, is “the accountability, pride and confidence these kids have in the process. They have buy-in at every level. They see themselves as a team.

Youth Drive Their Learning with GripTape

 GripTape Youth Leadership,  courtesy of

GripTape Youth Leadership, courtesy of

Imagine telling students:

1. You’ll have full decision-making authority over your learning

2. You’ll have financial resources

3. We know you can do it

Mark Murphy, CEO of GripTape, not only imagines it, but he says it out loud. His notion is to put young people in charge of their own learning. Mark was the Secretary of Education in Delaware, among many other accomplishments, but you won’t learn about Mark on Instead there's information about the Youth Leadership Board and Challengers, the young people in charge. When GripTape says they want young people in the driver’s seat, they really mean it.

The GripTape Learning Challenge gives young people the opportunity and support to pursue their passion. They’ll receive a grant of up to $500 to pursue their passion over the summer. They won't get help from GripTape, but they get plenty of encouragement and are told "I know you can do it."

"If we want young people to be successful in the world, then you let them do things in the world,” said Nigeria, one of the first GripTape Challengers and a Youth Leadership Board member.

GripTape empowers young people to explore their curiosity—to question, to seek. Being curious makes for an active mind and is a trait that lifelong learners share. “As an employer, curiosity is the number one thing I look for in a person,” said Josh Scott, Craftsy co-founder, who employs about 200 people in Denver.

Murphy hopes for a youth-to-youth recruitment strategy, where each young person tells five of their friends about GripTape. That way, they can help reach more kids that the traditional system might miss.

Applications open April 25, 2017 for this summer.

Thanks to the wonderful folks at Donnell-Kay who provided the opportunity to hear Mark Murphy and Nigeria from GripTape speak during April’s Hot Lunch.