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Saving Kids From Higher Ed Hardship

Last week I covered the continuing scandals in higher education…or at least some of it. I noted that the recent admissions scandals represent just the tip of the iceberg. Bribes and donations are exchanged for admission, “scholars” distort data in exchange for grants, riots break out with little response, tuition and fees increase excessively, Christian students are ridiculed, pro-life students are attacked, and on and on and on.

With such elevated dysfunction on campus, I wondered what parents can do. I also promised to address that issue. As we begin it’s important to say first that solutions really depend on both students and parents. What works in one place may not be right or even possible in another. That said, I offer the following ideas:

Search out the reputation, environment and surrounding communities of your college possibilities

When our kids were checking out colleges, we actually traveled there. In fact, even when they were younger, when we visited a city we also visited local colleges and universities. We talked with people, visited the admissions office, checked retention rates, ate in cafeterias and looked for like-minded organizations that support the values and interests of our kids. I also visited with security to ask about campus crime (that’s supposed to be available) and met with local pastors and others in the community. Simply stated, we were fact finding and we wanted to know as much as we could about the ethos of each school we visited.

Arrange to visit with the Dean and department heads

This is a crucial part of your visit. Try to set it up in advance, and if they’re not available that tells you something as well. Ask them questions about educational philosophy, graduation rates, post college job placements, tolerance for diverse opinions and more. You want to know as much as possible about the people who may be teaching your child. Some call this helicopter parenting, but I call it checking out your investment. Think about it, before your child graduates you will have invested anywhere from $100,000 to as much as $300,000 in after tax money.

Realize there’s no perfect college, so find one that fits

Ask questions! Will they be able to make friends? Will they be respected? Can they pursue their interests without being hassled? Use your instincts here. Sometimes kids have life long dreams of attending a particular school. Yet, as you fact-find you realize the place is not a good match. That’s why you should visit several colleges before you make a final decision. Remember, you’re the consumer. Within reason, the college should offer what you want, and that includes safety and respect for your child.

We already discussed the riots at UC Berkeley, but consider the University of Missouri. Protests about the racial climate accelerated in the fall of 2015. An African American group, Concerned Student-1950, blocked the president’s car during homecoming and issued a list of demands including his removal. One student staged a hunger strike; the black football players threatened to stop playing until the university met their demands.

Volatility accelerated and eventually the president did resign. However, their momentary triumph proved shallow, as campus tensions rose. University administrators failed to lead and enrollment growth reversed quickly. In fact, freshman enrollment fell 35% over the next two years. What’s more interesting is that black student enrollment dropped by 42%. This caused a $49 million shortfall and the university wound up eliminating 185 positions and 30 staff members.

The point here is that parents chose not to send their children to that university because the leadership allowed it to become unsafe, and you have the right to do the same. Transition to college is hard enough. Do what you can to make it easier.


Scandals from the Ivory Tower

As a former administrator at two universities, I find the recent admissions scandals interesting but not surprising. Once again, the esteemed academy has been tarnished and not only by this incident. For example, the University of Louisville fired its basketball coach for allegedly hiring prostitutes and paying recruits. Shortly after that its President resigned. He was sued for allegedly misusing funds and making unusually high payments to himself from the school’s foundation.

A Leadership Deficit

If leaders create culture, then problems like these connote leadership deficits. In fact, scandals at universities abound, so fixing them starts at the top. Consider that USC fired its medical dean, an alleged drug user who regularly interacted with criminals. Conversely, UC Berkley erupted in riots, when conservative Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak. He needed evacuation by police to protect him.

In 1969 Governor Ronald Reagan intervened decisively in those Berkeley riots. He dispatched and empowered the National Guard and chastised university officials and the riots stopped. In contrast, the current university chancellor, president and governor seemingly did little to quell this most recent disturbance. In fact, one student attending the speech was pepper-sprayed by masked and violent protestors. Now that student is suing the university and the city for not protecting her.

She claims further that university administrators express open hostility toward conservatives. Evidently Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks said this about Yiannopoulos, “ (he’s) a troll and provocateur who uses odious behavior in part to ‘entertain,’ but also to deflect any serious engagement with ideas.”

We have “scholars” distorting data and lying to get research grants; professors ridiculing evangelicals and Catholics for their faith and masked protesters erupting against opposing views. Sure colleges and universities tout themselves as safe places where students can pursue “truth”, but the reality can be quite different. In fact, right now the US Justice Department reports that one-in-four female students will be sexually assaulted before they graduate, and it’s actually higher because 70% of victims don’t report it. Beyond that, some institutions have become bastions of intolerance. Raucous behavior and riots replace debate; political correctness replaces free speech.

Pay-to-Play

Now comes the latest “pay-to-play” scandal. Allegedly coaches have been bribed, underperforming students have been admitted, significant payments have been made, and (for a fee) parents have had surrogates take SAT tests for their children. While Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are the poster children for this, there are allegedly hundreds more involved.

What’s interesting is that some of America’s most “elite” institutions are implicated (Yale, Stanford, USC, Wake Forest, etc.), and it’s been happening for a while. A 2009 Chicago Tribune story exposed abuses at the University of Illinois, where politically connected students received preferential admissions treatment regardless of their academic credentials. Also, the University of North Carolina offered over 200 fraudulent classes for two decades, mostly to athletes.

Though coaches are accused of using prostitutes, making payments and offering bribes to get students into schools, universities have been prostituting themselves for decades. More than a few underperforming students have secured enrollment after a relative made a significant donation to a capital campaign project.

The Perfect Storm

College costs continue to rise well beyond the CPI. Right now student loan debt exceeds $1.5 trillion, and a good portion of that is because students can’t afford college. Tuition, fees, room and board now top $70,000 per year at many colleges and $50,000 or better at hundreds more.

Consider a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor report showing that tuition and fees were 1,333.76% higher in 2019 versus 1978. Simultaneously, another report showed there are more than 100 universities with endowments exceeding $1 billion. Harvard tops that list with over $38 billion. So why isn’t there more help for students and where is all of this leading?

I believe higher education is in for a rough ride. Declining demographics, less expensive online options and rising costs have created a perfect storm. People regularly question the value of a degree. So where is the leadership and what can parents do? I’ll cover that in my next blog.


A Salute to the Heroes

Last week, our firm’s President, Len Moisan, had the pleasure of traveling to Lynchburg, Virginia to celebrate his father-in-law’s 100th birthday. While making it to this milestone is quite an achievement in itself, George Rogers is not your typical centenarian.

An American Hero

Mr. Rogers is a great American patriot, a decorated war hero and a survivor of the Bataan Death March. The March came after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The Japanese landed the next day near Luzon in the Philippines. In January the allied troops retreated to Manila and then to Bataan under heavy fire. On April 9, 1942, after fierce fighting, General Edward King finally surrendered.

Bataan Death March

The surviving forces, numbering about 76,000 Americans and Filipinos, were forced to march over 100 kilometers in what became known as the Bataan Death March. The trip lasted several days in scorching heat, with no planned food or water stops. Since the troops had been on limited rations, they were already weak and tired. Men carried sick friends but as they fell, they’d be shot, stabbed by bayonets or run over by tanks. By the end of the march, 10,000 men had died. Immediately, survivors were loaded into steel boxcars and shipped to Camp O’Donnell with temperatures inside reaching 120 degrees.

George and the other prisoners were eventually shipped to Japan and forced into hard labor in a steel mill. During 3 1/2 years in prison camp, George was on a starvation diet that left his 6’3″ frame weighing only 85 pounds. In addition to the hard work, he endured beatings, humiliation, Malaria, Dry Beriberi, dysentery, burying 1,600 Americans and much more at the hands of his captors.

Never Losing Hope

Despite these circumstances; he wasn’t defeated and he never lost hope. That’s what true leaders do. George survived in captivity, because of two things. First, he had faith and believed in God. Second, those beliefs helped George create a vision, which transcended his present circumstances and encouraged him to plan for the future. Thinking about Mr. Roger’s selfless service to our country and the sacrifices he and his fellow soldiers made got me thinking about other heroes who’s efforts often go unnoticed.

Heroes in our Schools

This June, my daughter will graduate high school. As I think about her journey through her educational experience, I am reminded of the many teachers, staff, and administrators who helped guide her to this point. I think about teachers, like Mrs. Higdon, who helped develop in Erica a love for math. She encouraged her to challenge herself by taking hard classes and taught her to not fear difficult content. Then, there was Dr. Bentley, her AP Physics teacher. When I questioned her readiness to take such a difficult class, he voiced his confidence in her ability to handle the subject matter. He helped Erica uncover an untapped gift in science that is driving her to study medicine as she moves into her college coursework.

There were other heroes along the way. Teachers who came in early or stayed late to help students so they could better understand difficult content, make up tests, or just provide a listening ear. There was Mr. Ross, her middle school principal who made every child in the school feel welcome. He made it a point to personally greet the students and he seemed to keep an extra eye out for those who didn’t fit in quite as easily. He found ways to make everyone feel included.

Heroes in our Community

In addition to educational heroes, I think about others in our community who give generously and unselfishly to promote the common good. I think of non-profit leaders who feed the hungry, house the homeless, provide a safe place for the abused, or a home away from home for parents of seriously ill children. I think of those who build parks, provide educational scholarships and help the developmentally disabled live lives of independence and there are so many others.

To the heroes who go to war or serve selflessly in the military, to the teachers who encourage students to dream, achieve and reach for their goals, to those who offer help to the hurting or invest in ways that make our community strong…I salute your leadership. Please know that your efforts have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. Keep doing what you do to serve, inspire and lead. We are all better off because of these heroes.


Getting to Know Your Next Gen Donors

Last week I attended an Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) monthly meeting. The topic was Getting to Know Your Next Gen Donors. The content included giving trends highlighted in a recent report “The Next Generation of American Giving”. It also included a 6-person panel discussion with 2 representatives from each of the following generations: Generation X (born 1965 – 1980), Millennials or Generation Y (born 1981 – 1995) and Generation Z (born 1996 and after).

The purpose of the session was to determine if the study findings were consistent with the actual giving behaviors of each of the respective generations. The study itself revealed some interesting results. For example, fewer Americans are giving. Even though total dollars donated continues to increase, the population of givers is declining. Research comparing 2013 to 2018 giving figures showed a marked decline in donors to charities. This is true for all generations, with the exception of Baby Boomers. Giving by Boomers represents 41% of all money donated last year and 75% of Boomers self-report giving.

The session focused on some key take-aways that fundraising professionals should consider when deciding how to approach the up and coming givers.

Don’t Underestimate Generation X.

There tend to be misconceptions that Gen X is a small sliver of the population sandwiched between two giant generations (Boomers and Millennials). However, research demonstrates there are 65.6 million people in this group. Of this population about 55% give an average of $921 annually to about 3 charities. Other studies show that amount is much higher. Also, Pew Research suggests that Gen X will exceed Boomers in 2025, making the reign of Gen X as prime donors less than 10 years away. This generation is the ideal target for bequests, planned gifts and workplace giving. Smart fundraisers will begin to plan strategies accordingly now.

Donor Retention is Becoming Increasingly Important.

The same report states that first year donor retention still remains between 25%-30%. Considering the fact that the donor population is shrinking, retention becomes even more paramount. Successful fundraisers must find new ways to keep donors. One strategy discussed suggests focusing on a multi-generational approach. Involving multiple generations of donors within a family as a way of retaining donor and affinity beyond the lifespan of the first donor. Finding ways to listen to and engage family members across multiple generations (parents, heirs) may help improve retention and increase donations. Panelists at the session cited examples that supported this fact. Many mentioned learning philanthropy from their parents or grandparents. An important idea to remember is that “Fundraising is not mining or hunting’ it’s farming.” Sowing seeds across multiple generations through relationship building and cultivation is a strategy that should reap a beneficial harvest over time. Also engaging Millennials and post-Millennials today in volunteer efforts may help them become financial donors in the future.

Create a Transparent Culture

Transparency on how dollars are used remains a key concern for many donors. Successful nonprofits create a transparent culture that communicates the outcomes from the funds raised. Donors want to see this and it greatly assists fundraising effectiveness. For all generations, except Gen Z, donors use a nonprofit’s website as the main source to learn about causes they’re considering. That means your website should make it easy for donors to find answers. They want to know how funds are used and amounts that go for programs vs. overhead. Panelists also cited referrals by friends and family as key sources to learn about causes.

While the next 10 years will see Boomers as the prominent giving sector, multi-generational strategies are vital. With Generation X on the rise it’s important to build relationships with them not just as direct givers, but also as prospects for planned giving. No doubt, investing time and resources to build relationships with Millennials will have long-term benefits.


Why are some nonprofits and churches successful while others are not?

This question comes to me in one form or another almost daily.  There are different answers for different organizations, but usually it comes down to just a few items. In fact, these are not very complex solutions, but you’d be surprised how many organizations fail to follow them.

1.     Vision – Every organization must have a vision that drives their actions. Proverbs tells us that without vision the people perish. The same is true for organizations. Without vision it’s quite difficult to recruit effective leaders or engage transformational donors. Vision is not just about what you’re currently doing. It’s also about the future and what you want to be or become as an organization.

2.     Leadership – This is true for churches and nonprofits: leadership is crucial to success. Leadership certainly includes the CEO or Pastor. Yet successful organizations also have board members who take an active interest in organizational life. They ask questions and challenge decisions. In fact, trouble often comes when board members rubber stamp decisions. They may be very nice people, but one has to ask, are they equipped to lead?

Also, even if they’re good, often there are simply not enough of them. Having only 5 or 6 board members might make for easier decision-making, but do those “harmonious” members give you the best decisions. As Tom Peters noted in the 1980s, sometimes the best decisions don’t necessarily come from harmony; they come after organizations work their way through the chaos of disagreement.  That’s why diversity in the leadership team is crucial. And, when it comes to things like fundraising, enhancing organizational visibility, or tending the flock it requires more board members to help.

3.     Information – Sir Arthur Cannon Doyle once said, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data…one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

A client of ours was getting ready for a capital campaign. They needed to find new donors, so I explained that some of those donors might be right there in their database. They theorized without facts that there weren’t any. However, we finally convinced them to conduct a database analysis/wealth screening and found 18 multi-millionaires about whom they knew nothing.

Another time we worked with a church that also wanted to conduct a capital campaign. They were convinced they could achieve a lofty goal, until we did some interviews and a church survey. Fully 65% of respondents were against the campaign. Without this information, they may have failed miserably and created a major member uprising.

4.     A Plan – People want to know that you’ve thought through what you’re doing, particularly if you want them to make a financial investment. An effective planning process starts with information gathering through a stakeholder survey.  That information helps you identify critical issues, and then develop goals, strategies and action plans to address those issues. Whether it involves enhancing or growing membership or improving services, you need a plan.

A plan also answers critical questions. Does what you’re planning make sense? Is it the best alternative? Have you considered other options? Who are the leaders and what is the timing? What’s driving your plan? All of these and more are important planning questions that should be addressed before you engage members or donors to help.

5.     Action – It is really where all of this converges.  You can have vision, leadership, information and a plan but if you don’t have action you achieve nothing.  As Mark Twain said, “Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” Organizations that achieve follow through on their plans with action.


Why Is Everyone So Angry?

As I read the news today I noticed there is a pattern to the stories. Some stories were uplifting, but most were about people getting angry. In one story a former Jeopardy champion criticized critics of the show’s new “All Star” format, in which former champions compete with former champions. He concluded by telling critics, “if they don’t like it; don’t watch it,” not exactly a great marketing strategy.

Emerging Patterns of Anger

After that I read that Spike Lee, got visibly angry and stormed out of the Academy Awards because the “Green Book” won best picture instead of his movie. I also read that Democrats are fighting internally about the Green New Deal…some like it and some don’t.

Also, most observers at the Oscars called Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s performance electrifying. However, one of the Spice Girls, Mel B, didn’t like their obvious chemistry as they performed together. She “felt bad” for Cooper’s girlfriend who sat in the first row. Then there was a story about an angry man who stabbed another man three times in a doughnut shop in California.

Of course, there are many daily stories about people who are angry with President Trump. And the anger and hatred directed towards the Covington Catholic High School students from the Black Hebrew Israelites is yet another example of this culture of anger. In fact, an NBC/Esquire survey indicated 7 out of 10 people are angered by something in the news at least once per day. There is anger about race, oppression, TV programs, losing and winning, legislation, wearing certain hats and just about anything else you might imagine…resentment, anger, outrage, violence!

Is Anger Fear in Disguise?

True, sometimes anger is justified, but increasingly the reactions we see seem to be way over the top. People fight, riot, disturb and destroy with seemingly no remorse. In fact, the NIH noted that more than 16 million Americans have a condition called intermittent explosive disorder…(people getting angry out of proportion with the circumstance). So I asked, where does all of this come from? I heard a scholar say once that anger is fear in disguise. There’s a lot of truth to that, but with the increase of anger we’ve seen lately, people must be awfully fearful. So how do we tone this down?

  1. First, for over two millennia churches and synagogues have been primary teachers of values. That’s where we learned to respect, serve and care for each other. It’s not surprising that the decline in church and synagogue attendance parallels the increase of anger and vitriol we see today. If houses of worship stepped up and had a more prevalent voice, the anger might start to abate.
  2. Second, to keep the attendance steady, some pastors tend to give people what they want rather than the truth that they need. Therefore, people aren’t learning to deal with life in a civil way, so they explode when they don’t get their way. The Gospel is life-changing and transformational, and scripture tells us to preach it in season and out of season. In other words, we need to preach it whenever we can, and remember the words of Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words.”
  3. Third, understand that people are different. Our challenge is to respect them and listen politely when they speak, regardless of how much we might disagree. As the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians, “Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” A little more grace would be helpful.
  4. Finally, we don’t have to comment on everything. Sometimes the better side of discretion is shutting off the media and being quiet even on Facebook.

Too Many Campaigns Occurring…Not Enough Money

Have you ever heard such comments from board members or reluctant volunteers? As fundraising consultants, we’ve heard that many times over.  In fact, a friend of mine recently heard that objection, so I decided to do some research.

Data on Giving

In recent years I was a member of the Giving Institute, and I served on the editorial committee of their annual survey, Giving USA. It’s the authoritative report on giving in the US. It shows the collective giving from individuals, bequests, foundations and corporations.  Last year alone giving in the US totaled a record $410.02 billion.

I realize there are variances in state populations and therefore state giving. Still, doing quick math gives us an average of $8 billion per state. Now again California, New York, Pennsylvania and a host of other states have a greater population than Kentucky. However, I figured there had to be a way to calculate or at least approximate our giving in Louisville, so I went to work.

I first had to find what % of households give to charity each year. While the Philanthropy Roundtable indicates that 70-90% of households give, Giving USA indicates that only 56% give. However, giving also increased substantially over the last two years from $390 billion to $410 billion. Traditionally about two-thirds of households have given to charity.  However, I’ll stay with the more conservative 56%.

Conservative Estimates Still Produce Big Numbers

Yet, even if I use the conservative number the amount of giving in your area will be substantial, so let me show you how I calculated it for Louisville. The metropolitan area here has a population of 1.34 million people. On average there are 2.58 people per household. Dividing 1.34 million by 2.58 gives us 519,379 households, and Americans gave about $2,650 per household.

Now I want to stop right there for a minute, because in a story about the most generous cities, the Chronicle of Philanthropy indicated that people in Louisville gave an average of $4836 per household. However, for the sake of this blog I want to stay with the more conservative number of $2650 per household. Likewise, instead of going with the typical 67% of households who give, again I used the more conservative number of 56%.

I next calculated the number of Louisville households that gave by multiplying .56 X 519,379 total households. That gave me 290,852 households who gave last year, and then I multiplied that by the average gift of $2650, which added up to $770,758,436 (70% of the total) given by individuals. Then when I calculated giving from corporations, bequests, foundations and donor advised funds (30% of the total) it added up to another $230 million.

With very conservative calculations total giving for our area last year was a little more than $1 billion. If I use the traditional two-thirds number (67%) of households that give, it adds up to $1.285 billion. Either way it’s a substantial number.

True, some of that giving went to organizations outside of Louisville, but many donors from outside gave to Louisville organizations, so I considered that to be a wash. Well then, if people give that much what’s the difference? Why are some organizations able to raise millions while others struggle to get by?

Leadership is Key

First, it has to do with the kind of leadership coming from the board chair, CEO and full board. The good ones don’t make excuses; they get busy making the case, cultivating and asking others for help. Second, they have a well-thought out vision behind their case that serves and/or helps people. And finally, they believe in what they’re doing and they plan to win at fundraising and not lose.


Leaders are Calming and Hopeful in Crisis

Sometimes leaders have to deal with crisis and controversy. Certainly it’s not a pleasant part of their job, but it’s none-the-less important. It takes integrity to stand up and do or say what’s right, even if it’s unpopular.

Leading with Hope

That was the case with the 9/11 terrorist attack. People were shaken and stunned. One study found that 90% of American adults exhibited symptoms of stress following the attack, and 44% displayed substantial amounts. That week, church attendance grew 6% as people sought answers and questioned their futures.

My son lived in NYC during 9/11. He explained that just a few months later several colleagues changed their careers, with many going into nonprofit or church work. It wasn’t an easy time for President Bush, the heads of the NYC Police and Fire Departments, Pastors and Rabbis or any leader. Yet, the crisis demanded that they step up and bring a sense of calm and hope to people they served.

Prominent NYC Pastor Tim Keller commented about 9/11,

“…We have to grasp an empowering hope for the future. In scripture we have the promise of resurrection…the restoration of the life we lost…(Shortly) after 9/11, I was diagnosed with cancer and treated successfully…the future resurrection…was my real medicine.”

Keller explained further that in Tolkien’s Return of The King…after the ring is destroyed, Sam wakes up (resurrection-like) thinking he and his friends are dead. He discovers everyone is alive. He exclaims: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead…I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?” 

Keller concluded, “The answer is YES…If the resurrection is true, then…Everything sad is going TO COME UNTRUE.”

Taking Action Based on Fact not Fiction

In light of hope, we should be better equipped to deal with crisis and sadness when they emerge. However, my “equipping” was certainly challenged during a recent incident. Specifically, it’s the overinflated, fabricated crisis where grown adults unjustly harassed and intimidated Covington Catholic High School students (CC). While media bullies quickly joined the barrage, their attacks lacked substance.

In fact, the students were there for a pro-life rally, which says a little something about their demeanor. Kids at pro-life rallies aren’t prone to initiate altercations, which should lead one to seek more information. However, very few did that. In fact, even when new information emerged shortly after the event, the boys continued to be harassed and demonized. Shamefully, that harassment was so grave that several boys and their families received death threats. Even our company received several nasty phone calls and emails. Why? Because we’d done some work for CC. We described that work on our website because we’re proud of our association with CC. It’s an outstanding school, and the criticism was irrational and out of control.

So is this Where America is Headed?

I hope not. Stopping it requires leaders who are willing to stand up and calm tension rather than ignite it. With the CC students, adults actually initiated their harassment and no other adults intervened. On sketchy information, the press took an adversarial position and developed a bogus story. However, if they desire any credibility at all, they need a bit more objectivity in their reporting. Unfortunately, once they saw those MAGA hats all objectivity was lost.

Objectivity can certainly be resurrected, but not when the only leaders around are kids. The CC students clearly represented themselves, their families and their school well. They maintained a non-combative demeanor and eventually walked away; would that more adults might model their behavior. If the press seeks credibility the formula is simple: lead with integrity, report accurately, stop the sensationalism, and (wishful thinking) maybe even try church!


Performing Beyond Expectations

Creating and Adding Value

Quite a few years ago Frederick Reichheld and several colleagues at the Boston consulting giant, Bain & Company, were trying to explain growth and profit disparities among companies in the insurance industry. As the team explored evidence from a number of different companies they found something they didn’t anticipate. First, they realized that traditional competitive strategy models did not apply in industries where knowledge and intellectual capital were primary assets. Then, they searched further and learned that when companies were able to earn superior levels of customer loyalty and retention, they grew faster and earned profits that were consistently higher. They also learned that customer loyalty is closely linked to employee loyalty, which is earned by creating and delivering superior customer value.

Inspiring Loyalty and Creating Profitability

Reichheld and his colleagues tested the findings in other industries and discovered that they applied there as well. He explained, “… creating value for customers is the foundation of every successful business system. (It) builds loyalty, and loyalty in turn builds growth, profit and more value…. Profit is indispensable, of course, but it is nevertheless a consequence of value creation….” Essentially what Reichheld and his colleagues found is simple and yet profound. When leaders perform beyond expectations and enhance the customer experience in ways that add value, it inspires loyalty and increases profitability. It also turns customers into stakeholders, people who see themselves as having a stake in the future of the company, team or organization.

The Cal Ripken story provides an excellent illustration of this point. True, you might not normally think of athletes as leaders, yet lead is exactly what he did. In the season of 1995 when Mr. Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games, he certainly performed well beyond any contractual expectations. Sure people may have had expectations for him, but by going above and beyond those expectations he created great value for the fans and inspired loyalty. From a market perspective, going to see one of Mr. Ripken’s games was perceived to be well worth the price of admission. There was value, not only in seeing a game but also in watching an outstanding performer make history in an incredibly graceful and benevolent way.

Benevolence and Commitment to a Higher Purpose

For example, he did not bask in the glory of his accomplishments, as he might have been expected to do. Instead, he took advantage of the opportunity to call attention to (ALS) the dreaded disease that claimed Lou Gehrig’s life. In a move that speaks to his character, Cal Ripken set up the Cal Ripken, Jr. / Lou Gehrig ALS Research Fund at Johns Hopkins to help with fundraising to find a cure. His unselfish commitment was demonstrated in his good sportsmanship and the way he gave back more than was expected to the game of baseball. It inspired fans and brought them out to the parks in great numbers.

In an environment of free agency and mistrust, this kind of commitment to a higher purpose is unusual but still very much admired. That’s why the leadership evident in what Cal Ripken did and how he competed became so inspiring. He’s clearly added value to the game and created a legacy that will not soon be forgotten. Whether they do it to benefit customers, employees or fans, when individuals lead this way it inspires others to follow. Performing beyond expectations as Ron Clark, Cal Ripken and others have done, provides benevolent examples of leadership. Beyond that leadership like this not only adds value to their organizations and its stakeholders, it also builds loyalty in ways that continue to be profitable.


Leaders Commit in Ways that Inspire Others

One of the most inspirational people I’ve met is Ron Clark. This incredibly gifted teacher is the winner of the 2000, Disney Teacher of the Year Award. He was Oprah Winfrey’s first, “Phenomenal Man” and he’s been called “America’s Educator.” Recognized worldwide, Ron’s been invited to the White House three times, appeared on the Today Show and he’s been interviewed by many nationally syndicated radio and television programs. He’s spoken about his educational philosophy all over America and is also the subject of the acclaimed 2006 television movie, “The Ron Clark Story.”

Seeing a need and responding

I had the great pleasure of hearing Ron speak on two occasions. Both times he had people laughing, crying and standing up applauding. Besides his incredible energy and enthusiasm, what’s inspiring about him is his unwavering commitment to children. Ron told me that after viewing a television program about schools in Harlem that couldn’t attract teachers, he packed his car and left his rural North Carolina home for New York City. He landed at P.S. 83, teaching a 5th grade class that school officials deemed “hopeless.”

Ron fought racial barriers and cynicism from educators, parents and the children themselves. He was spit on, laughed at and mocked during his time in NY. Yet, he persevered and eventually broke through all the barriers by demonstrating his care for the students. He was excited about what he was teaching and continued to believe in their capacity to learn. Certainly Ron’s approach was structured and his expectations were high, but everything he did was driven by love and respect for the children. And he used many innovations from rap, to dance…whatever he could to engage kids in learning.

Inspiring others to follow

Ron’s commitment motivated students to excel in their subjects, earning the highest test scores in the school. Additionally, most of them were admitted to the most exclusive middle school in Manhattan. Ron developed creative techniques and 55 rules that helped him succeed. Yet, his unwavering commitment to kids was really what caused students to follow him. That commitment also led him to found The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta for underprivileged, underperforming children and he inspired others to help build it through fundraising. Clearly Ron is inspirational. He’s inspired these children to achieve at the highest levels, and he’s also inspired many others to be more effective as leaders.

Ron told me that teaching is his calling and primary work in life. Leadership cannot really occur apart from this kind of deep and abiding commitment to organizations and their people. As leaders commit this way, sometimes they also inspire that same kind of commitment in others. When that happens, it motivates people to act productively on organizational objectives.

Lacking commitment can be costly

Whether the organization is a school, church or business; an erosion of commitment to the purposes and people is costly. In fact, research clearly demonstrates that customer and employee attrition cost untold millions each year in lost productivity and increased marketing, recruitment and acquisition expenses. Essentially attrition is a manifestation of a lack of commitment, which typically comes from relational shortcomings of some kind. A customer service representative is rude, a teacher ridicules a student publicly (causing him to shut down), the only time an alumna hears from her college is through the mail when they need money. Relational breaches like these occur daily and they can be devastating for organizations.

Still there is a way to conquer these breaches. It starts simply by listening, learning and applying the lessons about motivation that are demonstrated by leaders like Ron. You might find that difficult, but you’ll also find it rewarding!