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Different from the world.

Different from the world.

I'm writing after four days at the Fourth Estate Leadership Summit, the youth leadership conference of Invisible Children. It is hard to describe the amount of concentrated purity and light that filled the auditorium during the final session last night. Suffice it to say that I'm infused with so much residual passion and energy that I'm writing this from the ceiling of my hotel room, where I've been floating for the last 12 hours.

I've made no secret about my admiration and support for Invisible Children, not despite of but because of their willingness to embrace creative, nontraditional, and sometimes plain wacky methods to illustrate the radical idea that we each can make change in the world, and so we each should.

Occasionally when I talk to people about my relationship with Invisible Children there's a pause from the other person and then a veiled criticism: "Oh, yeah, wow they try some different things. That must be interesting." I push the bait aside and rush right into the breach. The fact is, I say, that innovation by definition looks different from the norm, and aren't we filled with gratitude for the innovators among us for showing us a better way? When this comment is lost on the other person I know I can move on in search of more inspired conversation. 

In any case, because of what I do I attend a lot of nonprofit events, and while there are better ones and weaker ones, many events feel like they were designed by someone who assumes the audience understands and cares. What I love about Invisible Children is that they turn this around – they show you why they themselves understand and care, and then they create something inspired and joyful and poignant that invites you into a deeper understanding. In other words, they don't assume you get it. They assume you don't  but also, importantly, assume you will if you are just shown why. 

Their conference had some speeches and break-out sessions like all conferences. In fact, their "traditional" content was some of the best I've ever seen, including the speech from Samantha Power, newly confirmed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, pictured above. But the Fourth Estate also had dance and musical performances and dozens of incredibly well-done movies and choreography and audience interaction. I felt engaged and part of the event: a participant, not an attendee. The Fourth Estate was inspiring and engaging and emotional, and more than anything, fun. When was the last time you went to a conference that you described as "fun"?

Reverend John Jenkins, the President of Notre Dame University, said in his inaugural address, "If we are afraid to be different from the world, how can we make a difference in the world?" 

The fact is that all of us are trying to create change, and change by definition means DIFFERENT. It is hard to cure cancer, create literacy, build schools, fight injustice, reclaim green space, or [insert your cause here] by doing the same things that everyone else does. 

The next time you are planning an event or program or initiative and you hear people around you telling you "That's not the way we're supposed to do it," keep pushing, because you might be on to something groundbreaking. Invisible Children is not afraid to be different, and that more than anything is the reason that they are moving the needle of change. More, please!

Will you click here to help Invisible Children in our efforts to end the LRA conflict and create a world free of injustice? 

Killed by cancer.

Killed by cancer.


Today would have been my friend Bridget's 30th birthday. Bridget was a team member of mine at Event 360. She died several months ago, and I was honored to deliver a eulogy at her funeral.

I have thought about Bridget a lot these last two months because I have been asked to speak about her often. At her funeral, at several conferences, and most recently at the Komen Leadership Conference a few weeks ago. I wanted to share a short experience.

During my presentation, I said something to the effect of “Like my mother, Bridget was killed by cancer.” Through the bright stage lights I could see the first few rows of the audience. Everyone stiffened when I said the word “killed.” I wasn’t going to make much of it but I saw that I had made everyone in the audience uncomfortable, so I paused for a moment.

I said, I use the word “killed” deliberately. I believe language is powerful; that language dictates our actions, and our actions shape the world. When we say someone “died of cancer” we are basically admitting that “dying of cancer” is an acceptable, normal state of affairs. We are saying, in essence, “people die for many reasons, and cancer is one of them.”

I disagree to the core of my soul. Cancer kills people. No one should die of it. If we harnessed enough of our money and technology and talent, we could make it preventable. I do not accept the worldview that it is a natural form of demise, and neither should you, because it isn’t true. 

Thank you Bridget, and thanks Mom, and thanks to my family friend Nick, and thanks to everyone out there who made the ultimate sacrifice to help the rest of us get our priorities in order. Bridget, more than anything, is a reminder to me of the work we have to do. And why it is worth doing.


The Way Out

This article was previously posted on Event 360's blog. Read more here.   

It has been a hectic year at Event 360. We’ve launched three new projects and a new training series – each with its own set of accomplishments and challenges. Further, we have seen this theme of challenge transcend our own company as we’ve partnered with one of our key clients to right-size a major project in response to their changing needs. And most importantly and closest to home, we’ve been tragically reminded of our mission through the loss of one of our team members to cancer.

All in all, it has been one of those quarters that seems to have stretched on for months. Our team is resolute but tired. We’re trying to keep our bearings in a changing landscape.  

Most of us have been through times like these at various points in our lives – times when what we think we know is rapidly replaced by a new order. Some of us are better at recalibrating than others. The ones who can adapt to a new deck of cards are crucial for the team, because they help lead the way for others. At the same time, during periods of intense change it is more important than ever to have people who are still holding onto the old deck; people who remember where we are and how we got there. In times of change we need equal parts respect for the past and willingness to innovate into the future. 

I am a huge fan of quotes and over the years I’ve collected thousands of them. Perhaps it is the poor person’s wisdom; maybe I’m too simple for philosophy and too distracted for genuine literature. Nevertheless, there’s something comforting and inspiring to me about advice that is distilled into a sentence.

One of my favorites is a line from Robert Frost’s A Servant of Servants: “The best way out is always through.” We can worry, and complain, and stress ourselves to pieces. Or we can stick out our chins and keep walking. The way out is just ahead.

It is tempting to think that life is like a video game, or perhaps a television show. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just change the channel? But there isn’t an “off” button for existence. We can all be grateful for that.

We’ve had a hectic quarter, but we’re walking on, and in so doing I’m reminded of why I started walking in the first place.

Over the next few months I look forward to sharing more about what we’ve learned. Some of the themes will be familiar, but I think others will be surprising – and helpful.

Until then, my best to you and yours for a wonderful summer event season.

Increasing share of heart.

Increasing share of heart.

I returned home yesterday from the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference in my usual state: Head and heart full, exhausted but invigorated.

Well, something's not right here.

This year's conference sparked a number of thoughts that I'll tackle in the coming weeks, but top of mind is the idea that I shared at my session yesterday: That despite all of our innovation, invention, energy, talent, and passion, the amount of charitable giving as a percentage of overall GDP has remained flat at 2% for the last forty years. I call this percentage our "share of heart."

On the face this data point seems rather mundane but it is quite striking -- and sobering -- when you stop and think about it. What this tells you is that charitable giving is essentially a function of economic growth. In good times, people give more; in bad times, people give less. This total overall giving is irrespective of the level of need, or the number of nonprofits, or the messages we send, or the hard work you do, or anything really. While certain nonprofits may surge ahead or fall behind, the most important factor to overall generosity does not seem to be generosity at all. It is the inscrutably complex black box called the economy.

The public has a heart, for certain, but only a small share of it goes to the nonprofit space. And over forty years we haven't increased our share of heart at all. As the number of nonprofits grows, the only thing that keeps nonprofits from directly stealing or losing share from one another is economic growth -- growth that, as we've seen over the last five years, might hard to predict, or worse yet, small, or worse still,  actually negative.

To truly realize transformative change we need to come to grips with this mathematical reality and have a hard conversation about why our share of heart has stayed constant. Perhaps we need better salaries, relaxed overhead restrictions, and more advocacy, and all of those might help. But my sense is there's something deeper going on here. Either the general public is hard-hearted and there isn't much share of heart to be had; or what we do isn't perceived as the most effective way to effect social change. Since I do not believe the public's sympathies are tapped out, for my part I've concluded that the impact we're making just isn't compelling enough to elicit more donations. 

And that conclusion led me to my other 2013 NTC sound bite: The fundraising silver bullet is impact. The best fundraising strategy is not to persuade people that we could make a difference. We have to actually show people that we are making a difference. A longer road, to be sure.

I have a fair idea I'll be talking about this more in the coming weeks, but for some background reading I'd direct you to a few previous posts from the last couple of years here and here and here.

More to come.



As you may know I’m thrilled to be on the Advisory Council of Invisible Children. Some great things are coming up next week — specifically their newest movie, MOVE.

The film premieres on Oct 7 at 7:00PM PDT at It takes a behind-the-scenes look into the eye of the KONY 2012 storm, its aftermath, and the great experiment of social change we all desperately need.

Prior to the film’s online release, Jason Russell will appear on Oprah’s Next Chapter in his first on-air interview since March. The interview will air at 9/8c on the Oprah Winfrey Network. 

Over the last year I’ve gotten to know this group personally and I will tell you — they are the real deal. The IC team is totally committed to creating a better world and totally certain that each one of us has something to offer in the process. If you’re already a supporter, I encourage you to join us online on the 7th. If you’re a skeptic, or a cynic, I encourage you to choose heart over havoc and get on board. 

There’s work to be done, and together we can do it. Proud to be a part.