The Enduring Power Of A Father’s Advice

A father’s advice and example can be powerful. Here are examples from the world and our own company:

Don’t hate, don’t hide, don’t be a victim.

Someone hateful burned a cross in the front yard of the home across the street from Jonathan Harmon in 1979—when he was 14. Harmon, his family and those neighbors were about the only blacks in their overwhelmingly white, middle class hometown.  Intriguingly, the values that Harmon learned from his father’s response to this terrifying event took him far in life, as he recently explained in the Wall Street Journal.

“Don’t hate, don’t hide, don’t be a victim,” his father instructed. His dad practiced what he preached too—including being civil to the person they believed to be responsible for the hate crime, who also lived in their town, for many years afterwards.

Harmon graduated from West Point and fought in Operation Desert Storm, where he learned empathy for police and military, before finding his way into a high-profile law career.  He now serves as Chairman of an international firm, McGuireWoods. So, there was great power in his father’s advice and example.

You can do anything.  Believe in yourself.  Help and serve others. All people are equal.

Harmon’s father reminds me of the advice and example that mine provided too. My father, Richard Blankenbaker, has been dead more than 30 years, but his words, values and example continue to influence my life and work as a publisher trying to make a difference for as many good people and communities as possible.
















Dad owned grocery stores in Indianapolis, in integrated or primarily black neighborhoods. He grew up dirt poor—with no electricity or plumbing in his southern Indiana home, until he put it in as a teenager. He believed strongly that every person deserved to be treated well and with dignity—including women and people of color. Dad paid forward the blessings of his then successful business and a large, healthy family by living, working and serving in diverse communities and actively promoting better opportunities for nonwhites and females. My neighborhood, schools, church, extracurricular activities and friends were truly integrated. As a white, I was in a very small minority at Shortridge High School. Our group believed that we modeled a post discrimination world in development.  How naïve we were!

Dad also served as the Indianapolis Public Safety Director, overseeing the police and other city public services.  He fostered mutual admiration between police and community in a manner that seems to long lost now.

My father’s stores didn’t survive the onset of the big box era, just as a truly colorblind society didn’t unfold and public trust in police has evaporated.  But I still hold tight to my dad’s beliefs in the goodness of people and the importance of civic service that fosters strong, equitable communities.

Perhaps my best gift from my father though were the following words that he repeated so often, they are burned into my soul:

“You can do anything.  Believe in yourself.  Help and serve others. All people are equal.”

My father died rich in relationships and admiration from others, but not wealthy in the traditional sense. My publishing goal is to honor his legacy and grow a more enduring business too. Yes, we can do good and do well.  In fact, in these disquieting times, it’s more important than ever to do so.

I’m honored to share my publishing journey with talented staff with big hearts and great goals too.  Their stories also prove the power of a good father’s words and example.

Leah Bronson:

“My Dad taught me how to be very creative with my words, negotiate, close a deal and not take no for an answer.  He taught me how to ‘count my pennies’ and that if you work hard, you get to play hard….so work hard.

He also told me that if I’m going to crack jokes, be SURE that people laugh at them. (there was a few choice words I left out of that statement, but you get the gist).

Maeve Walsh:

My father and father to seven kids, was an extremely hard worker. He worked a 9-5 job everyday and then came home and spent hours working in the garden, growing vegetables, tending to everything.   Like many of his generation he knew how to build things and also was a great carpenter.  He even knew how to sew and repair the machine when it broke down.  He was kind and honest and a great father.  I think I learned all of the above from him, (unfortunately not the carpentry).  I miss him.

Lesley Cesare:

My dad was born in Costa Rica in 1919. He died at 92 and would’ve been 101 in April!

Leading by example, he taught me to not complain. As far back as I can remember, anytime I asked how he was, he would always respond “no complaints“. I try to remember that.

Sabrina Tuton-Filson:

My father taught me to listen — whether or not I (initially) agree with the person or what they are saying. It takes little effort to be open minded and yet it makes a huge difference in the way we exist in the world. Exposing ourselves to new/different points of view affords us more opportunities to know better, do better, be better.

So grateful for him.

Sharon Coleman:

My father was recognized in WW2 for his bravery.  He was a very strong, kind and generous man.  Also, he was sought after for his negotiation/mediation skills well into his 80’s.

He taught me to be kind and respectful of others.  I miss him everyday … especially this week.

Sharon Krone:

My dad was first generation Irish in upstate NY. He suffered daily for his religious (Protestant) background by classmates and neighbors. He taught me to have faith in a good, forgiving and loving God despite what we may encounter.

Alyssa Armada:

My dad came to America from the Philippines at age 13 from a family of 8. Everything that he has accomplished has come through hard-work, determination, and compassion. He raised my sister and me on these 3 lessons:

  1. Put 100% effort into everything you do.
  2. Have integrity and respect for others.
  3. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

He is my role model, best friend, and a #girldad.

Julie Eldring:

My father taught me SO many things!  He embodied “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” He taught me to work hard, make myself useful and always do things efficiently.

He was a talented carpenter and builder and was an original recycler, he would save everything and found ways to reuse all materials.  There was rarely something he couldn’t fix or make.  Miss him so much.

Jennifer Woolford:

I had the most amazing dad  my very best friend in the world!

He was known as Big George and was proud of his Catalan heritage.

He owned and ran a swimsuit company and I grew up going to his office with him any day that I wasn’t in school or at our summer home. I would literally watch him work … selecting fabrics, styles and organizing shows and events, sales meetings with the companies I loved to shop at…. so much fun!

He showed me that as long as you have passion for the business, a strong character, a good sense of humor, show kindness and concern for others and get the job done…. you will succeed.

His biggest advice:  Always try your very best, be honest and EVER reliable.

“People remember reliable”

He was colorful, funny, smart, musical and as warm as they come.

Natasha Romanoff:

My father taught me generosity – he is one of the most giving people I know. He gladly gives his time, energy, and resources without expectations. He really has an open heart and I’m so grateful to have had his influence growing up.

Alex French:

My father thought at one point, that he wanted to be a Minister. I think it guided a lot of who he was. He taught me to always be kind and put the other person first.

Virtuous Circles: Cabi and A Safe Haven

We describe our publishing work at Make It Better Media Group — including Better Chicago magazine — as creating virtuous circles. We connect our audience to trusted resources through helpful, inspiring content in order to help everyone live, love, work, and play with greater purpose.

Naturally, we delight when additional connections and helpful activities flow because of our work too. This keeps the good growing — as virtuous circles are wont to do. Here’s a recent example I’m grateful to share with you.

Sue Pelletier is a consummate “Make It Better” woman, an intuitive connector who puts heart, smarts, and drive toward excellence into everything she undertakes. This includes her work on behalf of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School (OLPH) and as a rep for Cabi clothing.

Pelletier recommended one of my all-time favorite Better Chicago stories — on Sister Paulanne and her Needy Family Fund at OLPH. But, it’s her Cabi connection that I’m celebrating here. The company selected her as their Illinois Ambassador for the Heart of Cabi Foundation, which empowered her to create and host an event where many Cabi representatives and partners helped style and dress women trying to transition out of homelessness and back into the workforce.

Pelletier selected A Safe Haven (ASH), a winner of an early Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Award, as the nonprofit partner for this event. We are big fans of ASH and its founder, Neli Vazquez Rowland, another woman who embodies Make It Better sensibilities.  Please see her recent appearance on Windy City Live to be inspired by her too.

A Safe Haven’s wraparound model delivers comprehensive, effective services to homeless individuals and families, and needs to be replicated more broadly. The more support it receives from individuals like Pelletier and organizations like the Heart of Cabi Foundation, the more likely that is to happen too. But, in the meantime, we’re grateful that Pelletier selected ASH because of our work and are happy to share the news of the 90-plus women transformed by Cabi’s generosity through Pelletier’s and Vasquez Rowland’s perspective too.


Neli Vazquez Rowland and Sue Pelletier

From Sue Pelletier:

Dear Susan,

Thank you so much for introducing me to Neli Vazquez Rowland at A Safe Haven. As the Heart of Cabi Foundation Ambassador for Illinois, I was able to collaborate with Katherine Agle from A Safe Haven to create an amazing HOcF Week event one week ago on Wednesday, May 15 benefiting over 90 women residents of their program.

Over 500 items of clothing donated from Cabi and more than 400 items from stylist donations were organized in the chapel room for a Shopping & Styling distribution event for the women at ASH.

From 1:00 pm until 7:00 pm, the women came in shifts to the chapel to work with one of our 25 stylists who volunteered their time that day.

The joy and gratitude that filled the room that day was heartwarming!


Some of the recipients’ comments:

“I would love to thank the ladies of Cabi for taking the time to share & help the women of ASH to become better women with clothes for all occasions. Interviews will never be the same again! Thanks 4 everything!”

“Thank you. We had a great experience. They helped us and actually cared about how we felt about things. It was great!”

“Thank you so very much. I was feeling desperate and disappointed, but this event lifted my spirits.”

“This was one of the best experiences in my life! I love fashion so this was so amazing! Thank you all and especially Lori for giving me more beautiful clothes to add to my professional collection!”

“This way beyond made my day!! Thank you for doing this and making so many women smile and feel awesome about themselves! A special thank you to Karen for bearing with me and helping me find beautiful clothes for my new job!”

Some of the stylists’ comments:

“I definitely received more than I gave today.

Thank you to all of you for a wonderful day at A Safe Haven. The women were so appreciative and amazed at the generosity and kindness that they experienced!”

“Many thanks to Sue for her graceful leadership, to each of you who gave your time to planning the event, and to each one of the stylists who showed up with love to serve these women who have experienced such hardship in their lives. My experience was so meaningful because of all of you. Cabi sisters are the best sisters!!!”

Guest of a Stylist comment:

“What a wonderful experience! So enjoyed meeting you all: your compassion and passion was contagious…so I felt the joy of sharing, giving, caring all day long. Thanks to all who committed so much time and effort for this great event.”

Overview [By The Numbers]

90+ recipients

22 stylists, 3 guests of stylists

Each recipient was able to choose 8-10 items and also received an infinity scarf and Cabi pen. Extra clothing was donated to ASH where they plan to distribute at their Homeless Veterans Event as well as to future residents in the program.

Additionally, box lunches for the stylists were purchased by Cabi through A Safe Haven’s catering business, thus supporting another program at A Safe Haven.

The Heart of Cabi Foundation Week held 33 events across the United States, Canada, and the UK. 46 nonprofit organizations were supported. 2,875 women served and loved. Over 17,581 clothing items distributed!

Thank you again for the connection to Neli and A Safe Haven. Connections and the relationships that develop from these connections are what make everything BETTER!




Robin Beattie and Laurie Carver with guest




Shayne Bullen, Jody Beutler and guests

From Neli Vazquez Rowland:

Good Morning Susan Noyes,

Ditto! Thank you for introducing us to Susan Pelletier! You are both a huge blessing to us in so many ways.

I cannot thank you both enough for everything you did to connect with us and all of the women at A Safe Haven Foundation!

Susan Pelletier, it was awesome to witness all of our ladies smiling as they were over the moon with joy knowing that there are people like you and all the Cabi ladies out there that took the time to care about them and to generously give of their time, talent and clothes!

Many of the women arrive with just the clothes on their back as they escape domestic violence or sex trafficking situations, are under house arrest awaiting court dates because they couldn’t make bail or because of living on the streets due to addictions or joblessness, mental health issues like depression and poverty, by the way most of them are moms with children in our program. All of them are desperately in need of some love and support and pampering them with their own professional stylists and clothes is truly a gift that they will never forget.

On behalf of myself, Katherine and all of the women at A Safe Haven, thank you Susan for thinking of us and for everything you did to make it a day of social impact and a beautiful day to remember!

Your gift of the surplus clothes continued to be felt by the women veterans at our military veteran stand down this Saturday where we hosted over 500 veterans, 75 volunteers and the clothing boutique was among 80 services the vets received like health check ups, housing and employers came to bring real resources to our military heroes. The event attracted several top government agency leaders who came to speak and share their commitment to employ more veterans at their agencies. It was another heartwarming, authentic and amazing day of true social impact where CABIs presence was felt and deeply appreciated by all.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!”

Pelletier said it exactly right above — “Connections and the relationships that develop from these connections are what make everything BETTER!”

We’re so grateful for the opportunity to create and amplify positive, powerful connections like these.

If you haven’t already done so, please subscribe to our Better Letter and help grow the good while you live, love, work, and play with greater purpose too.

Thank you!

Giving Tuesday: Where to Donate to Make the Most Impact

It’s hard to believe that Giving Tuesday is entering just its seventh year. Immediately following Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday is perfectly situated to counter any angst shoppers might feel from overspending on those who already have plenty or for those who simply want to elevate holiday gifting to a more philanthropic level. This was a great idea because gifts to those who most need it really is the best giving of all.

Giving Tuesday was founded by the Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation as a response to the commercialization and consumerism of the post-Thanksgiving season.

Giving Tuesday 2018

Image courtesy of Giving Tuesday.

Mashable, a technology website, first announced #GivingTuesday. Other founding partners included Skype and Cisco,  MicrosoftSony, Aldo

$10 million was raised that first year. Thereafter, the concept quickly caught on elsewhere too. The Belfer Center now provides tools and a platform to help every nonprofit interested in participating, and facilitated more than $300,000,000 in giving in 2017. Tomorrow’s event is sure to be a blowout affair too.

Facebook and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provide a good example of the #GivingTuesday acceleration. In 2016, the Gates Foundation matched $500,000 in donations through Facebook, which waived donation fees. When the $500,000 limit was quickly reached, the Gates Foundation increased its matching to $900,000. In 2017, both organizations upped their gifts and more than $45 million was raised!

But the #GivingTuesday clamor can be overwhelming now too with so many organizations vying for your attention and dollars. This raises questions of who to support and where your gift will do the most good and make the most lives better.

Fortunately, as #GivingTuesday grew, so has Make It Better Media’s venture philanthropy expertise. The list of nonprofits we’ve carefully vetted and can highly recommend in Chicago has grown accordingly as well.

If you’re looking to create the most impact with your Giving Tuesday gift, you can trust those who have won our Philanthropy Awards, earned one of our Better Giving Circle media sponsorships or event sponsorships, taken advantage of our $10,000 and above matching grantsor provided extensive information for the nonprofit category of our Better List.

As we grow in the San Francisco Bay Area, we look to recommend more nonprofits there in the future. At this time, though, we’re enthusiastic supporters of 10,000 Degrees, WorldWideWomenand SMART.

I particularly and proudly recommend the Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Award winners — find a full list on the Foundation website — and thank all judges and sponsors for their support too. The following are a powerful virtuous circle of venture philanthropists and philanthropies that you can trust. 

Philanthropy Awards judges and sponsors:

Organizations that are important Make It Better Media nonprofit partners and venture philanthropies:

Whether or not you give to one of these organizations, thanks for giving at all. You’re creating impact and making a difference for others. I’m grateful for you.

Happy giving and happy #GivingTuesday.

Q&A: Joffrey Ballet President and CEO Greg Cameron

In an era when many of the traditionally great cultural arts organizations struggle, the record-breaking financial and attendance success of Joffrey Ballet’s 2017-2018 season particularly stands out:

  • Revenue up 11 percent year over year.
  • The season opener and closer — “Giselle” and Alexander Ekman’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” — earned revenue that makes them two of the top five best-selling productions in Joffrey’s history — except for “The Nutcracker.”
  • Christopher Wheeldon’s reimagined, Chicago-themed “Nutcracker” earns $4.6 million in just its second season.
  • Stunning collaborative performances with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Los Angeles Opera of “Orpheus and Eurydice” — the latter performed as part of a month-long residency at The Music Center of Los Angeles.
  • Sold-out performances at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.
  • Education outreach programs that create opportunities for artists and nurture the next generation of audience for ballet.

Because success begets success, it’s not surprising that the Joffrey also received a $1 million grant from the Alphawood Foundation to fund a three-year audience expansion and sustainability project, as well as a recent $5 million endowment gift from the Paul Galvin Memorial Foundation Trust to establish The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director position in honor of long-time Joffrey supporter Mary Galvin.

So what’s at the heart of all this extraordinary success?

The 10-year tenure of internationally renowned Ashley Wheater as Artistic Director, world-class performers and staff, and a connected and highly engaged board, women’s board, and other development arms help. But, make no mistake, much of this success can be traced to the 2013 hiring of Greg Cameron.

Heart for the arts meets smarts with him.


Ashley Wheater and Greg Cameron at Joffrey’s 16th annual Gala on April 20, 2018. (Photo by Steve Becker Photography.)

A natural connector, strategist, collaborator, story-teller, and motivator, Cameron is a lifelong Chicagoan and champion of the arts. His career reads like a march up the city’s leading arts organization ladder — including service at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Art Institute of Chicago, and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, where he rose to the roles of Deputy Director and Chief Development Officer, and Chicago’s public television and radio stations, WTTW/WFMT, as COO.

Cameron evidences his deep commitment to Chicago through broad based civic service too. His board and committee service include Enrich Chicago, Forefront, UIC, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Fashion Committee, Chicago Community Trust LGBT Committee, Terra Foundation‘s Art Design Chicago Advisory Committee, and Choose Chicago. Cameron even serves as a State Street Commissioner.

I confess to a significant soft spot for Cameron, because he quickly embraced Make It Better’s innovative, collaborative, community-building strategy and helped forge a strong partnership between our organizations.

“We’re tired of first dates,” Cameron declared. “We want to go steady with you!” He serves as a particularly thoughtful judge for our Make It Better Foundation’s Philanthropy Awards too.

Because Make It Better believes that great arts for all makes communities stronger and better, we hope this Q&A will inspire a multitude of other arts organizations to similar success too. 

Susan B. Noyes: Bravo and congratulations on the Joffrey’s extraordinarily successful 2017-2018 season! Thanks for the opportunity to celebrate with you and inspire others too.

Let’s cut to the chase. Were you born to do this work?

Greg Cameron: Feels that way. I’ve always loved the arts, but I was never a good artist. I could paint by numbers, or I could connect the dots. Early on I realized that I was a good dot connector. I could connect people to each other and get them involved with the things they believed in.

I ran a makeshift theater out of my garage and sold more mints than anyone else for my local YMCA. It seemed natural to turn these passions into a career raising funds for cultural organizations that I love too.


A young Greg Cameron (Photo courtesy of Joffrey Ballet.)

Please tell us about your other loves too. What do you love to do when you aren’t working? 

To be honest, I do not think of my support of the Joffrey mission as work. It is more of a calling. On any given day I might be part pastor, politician, psychologist, or philosopher. Trusted and dedicated colleagues ensure that even when we have challenges, we have fun!

Of course, I enjoy quiet time with my partner, Greg Thompson. When we are not attending a Joffrey event we might be at the Museum of Contemporary Art “meeting” a new artist, engaging in a Steppenwolf performance, seeing a film, attending a reading, exploring Chicago’s amazing culinary scene, or entertaining friends with a home-cooked meal. I am the sous-chef and Greg is the chef de cuisine.

Our priority is each other followed closely by family and friends. They bring us joy and keep us curious. 

What are your Chicago favorites — restaurants, buildings, parks, sports, other? 

In my 60 years as a Chicago resident, I have been to three Cubs games, two Bulls games, and one Bears game. I do not attend frequently, but I love when they win. My favorite breakfast spot is NoMI in the Park Hyatt. For dinner, I love Avec, Proxi, Cafe Bionda, and several neighborhood Mexican cantinas.

As for buildings, I love the Thompson Center, even if I’m in the minority of popular opinion. My other favorites are the Chicago Cultural Center, anything that has to do with Mies architecture, and the ever-changing State Street.

As a Lakeview resident, there is nothing better than a jaunt to Lincoln Park. It has everything — the lakefront, public art, the Conservatory, the Zoo, the Green City Market, and the Chicago History Museum. 

What are you most excited about for the upcoming 2018-2019 season? Can it top the extraordinary success of this past year, which included a celebration of Ashley Wheater’s 10th Anniversary too? 

With Ashley’s artistic vision and the technical and theatrical skill of our company artists, it just continues to get better. I am particularly excited about our “Anna Karenina” co-commission with The Australian Ballet. It will be on par with our world premiere production of Christopher Wheeldon’s “The Nutcracker” in 2016. The artistic team is different, but equally accomplished in all areas of the performing arts, whether it be the choreographer Yuri Possokhov, Emmy-winning designer Tom Pye, or one of Russia’s most esteemed composers in Ilya Demutsky.

As I write, Yuri is creating the work on the company artists. Mark your calendar for the world premiere on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019.


“Anna Karenina” (Image courtesy of Joffrey Ballet.)

What are the best techniques for other arts organizations who would like to expand audience and financial support too? 

Lead with mission and tell your story. Do not try to control the so-called “consumer experience.” Take baby steps and ask your supporters to join you on the journey.

Please share your best mentor advice. How does one prepare to successfully lead an arts organization that relies as heavily on philanthropy as the ballet does in the 21st Century? 

The Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

When you listen to other people and their stories, you create authentic and lasting relationships. These relationships sustain an organization in times of scarcity and abundance. And of course, always remember to thank people multiple times.   

Anything else you want to tell us?

Get involved in what gives you joy and makes you smile. If more people embraced the words of Mother Teresa, “Peace begins with a smile,” Chicago and beyond would indeed be a better place to live, learn, work, play, and dance!

Thank you!

Q&A With Laura Scher of CREDO

Laura Scher was a successful social entrepreneur long before the term became a buzzword. She didn’t just engage in corporate social responsibility, she made it the foundation of the successful corporation she founded and grew — CREDO.

In 1985, an era of Wall Street excess when many operated by the mantra “greed is good,” Scher and two other cofounders started a company focused not on money but change. The company was then called “Working Assets” and the business plan was groundbreaking: make it easy for people to power social change through everyday acts of commerce.

Working Assets began with a credit card. Each time a member used the card, Working Assets donated a percentage of the purchase price to nonprofit groups dedicated to progressive change. This was the beginning of what is now called CREDO Donations. Working Assets also funded grassroots advocacy through its Action arm, known now as CREDO Action.

The company took off and eventually added long-distance phone service too. In 2007, iWorking Assets rebranded as mobile carrier CREDO Mobile. The name has changed, but the mission remains the same: offer excellent consumer services that support the progressive values of its customers.

Since 1985, Scher’s brainchild has generated over $85 million for nonprofit groups working for causes like women’s rights, social equality, and climate justice. Nonprofits funded over the years include Planned Parenthood, Rainforest Action Network, and the ACLU. Groups are nominated by members (customers), chosen by CREDO staff, then donations are directed to three groups each month by members who vote at

Another arm of the company, CREDO Action — which now empowers over 5 million activists nationally — has achieved thousands of vital policy victories on the local and national stage through the years too.

Reflecting Scher’s personal creed — to always do more, give more, progress more — the company recently expanded into the field of renewable power with the launch of CREDO Energy. It creates demand for green, sustainably produced wind power and allows members to green their state’s power grid. CREDO Energy is currently rolling out in select states across the country — and already available in Illinois.


Laura Scher and Susan Noyes

I met Scher through Make It Better’s partnership with Marin Magazine and its “Celebrating Women” event in May. She lives in Tiburon, currently serves as CREDO’s executive chair, and teaches business at Stanford University. She’s an impressive and inspiring woman. I’m particularly proud of Make It Better’s recent custom Better Letter for CREDO too, which included articles about:

The following Q&A with Scher from 2015 will help you get to know Scher and her 30-plus year socially responsible business better. Such an ingenious concept — make it easy for customers to fulfill basic responsibilities (like paying for cell phone service) knowing that they’re also making the world a better place by doing so. We hope her words will inspire even more social entrepreneurs.

1. Why has CREDO been successful?

We’re like a lot of small companies that succeed. We have a good product, great prices and we have excellent customer service.

And then we offer something no other phone company does. It’s the feeling you get when you buy a product or use a service that gives back. Like driving a hybrid car or buying fair-trade coffee. People feel good when they use CREDO because they know we donate millions every year to progressive causes they believe in and they get to vote to decide where the money goes.

If you care about our world, then CREDO is a no-brainer. Literally. You make a call or you use your credit card and you make the future better — without even thinking about it.

2. Obviously you’re proud of building a company like CREDO. What gives you the most satisfaction?

The victories we win for progressive change. For example, CREDO was instrumental in stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have been a disaster for our climate. We fought against Keystone for over five years. We raised more than $2 million for groups opposing the pipeline. We generated 42,000 phone calls, over half a million public comments and 4 million petition signatures against it…

CREDO is the largest corporate donor to Planned Parenthood, so I’m proud that action by our members helped convince the Susan G. Komen Foundation to reverse its decision to defund Planned Parenthood. For years we fought destructive oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge. And we’ve been working for marriage equality and LGBT rights since the day we opened our doors.

3. What do customers say about CREDO when you meet them?

What makes me most pleased is when I meet people who have been with our company for the entire 30 years, who had our socially responsible credit card back when that was our first product. Then, when we went into the phone business, they had our landline, they had our pager — we used to have pagers! I’m feeling old now — and today they have our cellphone service. Obviously we’re doing something right. We have so many loyal customers. I remember setting up a booth at a Holly Near show in Oakland in the ’80s and signing up people for our credit card. I still see some of them today and now they have a CREDO iPhone.

4. When you’re not making change in the world, what are you doing?

I work with social change startups, advising them. And I’m a busy mom of a high school student! When I really have nothing on the agenda, I hike the trails of Marin. It clears my head and gets me ready for what’s next.

5. You haven’t slowed down since you stepped away from the day-to-day at CREDO. You’re still with CREDO as executive chair, you teach at Stanford, you’re on several boards. How do you stay on top of it all?

I teach at Stanford as a way to inspire the next generation of social entrepreneurs, the young people who will follow in my footsteps. At the same time, I tell them you don’t have to be the CEO of a socially responsible company to make change in the world. You can make change simply by choosing to do business with companies that share your values. There are a lot of us out there nowadays — like CREDO.

The Power of Positivity: Tapping Into the Bright Side of Social Media

There’s a lot of negativity surrounding social networking these days, from its effects on kids — and elections — to the time it can (admittedly) suck from our already full lives. But all of that pales in comparison to what a powerful force for good it can be when used appropriately. Positive posts, comments, shares and likes serve as a welcome antidote to the angst and anger of our current public dialogue — and, let’s be honest, much of our media. By amplifying your voice and focusing on the good, you inspire those around you to do the same.

A poignant example of this is the post Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg wrote expressing the unbearable grief and pain she experienced in the wake of her 47-year-old husband’s sudden death — and the warm embrace of love, help and kindness that met her on the other end. That outpouring of support paved the way for her book, “Option B,” co-authored with Adam Grant, and her nonprofit,, which aims to help others develop resiliency in their most difficult times.


Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant speak with Mellody Hobson at the Chicago Humanities Festival. (Photo by Ben Gonzales.)

Social networks expedite the growth of powerful ideas while amplifying good intentions. Make It Better’s Executive Editor, Cara Sullivan, organized a children’s peace march, Lights for Love, in response to racist and anti-Semitic graffiti at her children’s public elementary school last summer. News of the march, which Make It Better promoted, quickly spread, and it was replicated across Chicagoland and around the country too.


One of many Chicago neighborhoods that gathered for the Lights for Love march in August. (Photo by Lauren Weiss.)

Further illustrating the ways social networking can be used to inspire change and give back, the Hanley Family Foundation — in partnership with innovative businesses, other family foundations, and Make It Better — recently launched a digital matching grant campaign to raise $20,000 to purchase LuminAID solar lanterns, which provide light to families without electricity in Puerto Rico. The campaign was five times more successful than planned, raising $100,000 — the equivalent of 10,000 lanterns.


LuminAID founders Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta distribute lanterns in Puerto Rico with their humanitarian partner, Convoy of Hope. (Photo courtesy of LuminAID.)

Closer to home, our annual “Best Of” voting provides an opportunity for our audience to proudly promote the local and family-owned businesses they love to others via their social networks, and our many media sponsorships give each of our beloved nonprofits a pedestal from which to share their mission and earn more support. As a result, the businesses report a boost in sales, the nonprofits gain real traction — both on a local and national level — and everybody wins.


Make It Better Dining Dditor Julie Chernoff, actress Sarah Paulson, and Editor-in-Chief Brooke McDonald at Steppenwolf’s ninth annual Women in the Arts luncheon, one of our many media sponsorships. (Photo by Kyle Flubacker.)

As for the negative effects this brave new world of social media can have on our kids? We have the power to turn that around, and just like everything else, it all comes back to leading by example. Kids always know — and like — when their parents post something good about them. Our publisher Michelle O’Rourke Morris’ triplets just turned 18, and as Morris frequently celebrates on her Facebook and Instagram accounts, they (and her youngest daughter) are #greatkids and #collegeready. The pride and positive energy she consistently shares online about her four children is downright inspiring: The next generation is the future, and by teaching them to use their voices in positive, powerful ways, we will most certainly be #bettertogether.


Make It Better Publisher Michelle O’Rourke Morris’ triplets, then and now. (Photos courtesy of Michelle O’Rourke Morris.)

Parkland, Kids and Gun Violence

Yes, you can help the grieving Parkland community, and you can become part of the solution to deter future gun violence, too. We make it easy for you to get started with Make It Better’s How to Help: Support Parkland’s Victims and Students and Fight Gun Violence.” Donate, march, or give blood to directly impact Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Please don’t turn away, become numb, forget the pain of Parkland, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Orlando, Columbine, and our country’s roughly 35,000 gun deaths each year. Because, you really can make a difference by spending only a few minutes online.

Common sense solutions may be complex to implement, but if everyone does a little something to help, we get to that better place much faster.

All children are our future, and it’s our duty to ensure that they have the physically and emotionally safe spaces they need to blossom. They need opportunities to explore their interests — nurture body, mind, creativity, and soul — in order to have hopeful futures, too. Without hope, it’s more likely a person will turn despair into violence. So, our best hope for the future is taking better care of all children and teens as a society.

But also, guns need to be harder to get and use in public spaces — particularly rapid-fire assault weapons. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and legislators who support extreme interpretations of the 2nd Amendment need to change their views on this or be made irrelevant.

To help make guns less accessible and our public spaces safer, you can visit Every Town for Gun Safety, The Courage To Fight Gun Violence, or Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America.

You can help by learning more about the issues, expressing your views to elected state and federal officials, and supporting candidates committed to fighting for better gun control legislation. You can lobby your legislators to support common sense gun reform legislation, and learn about pending state and national legislation here.

Vote for candidates based on their gun control positions. If a candidate’s gun control stance isn’t obvious, ask the candidate, and check his or her National Rifle Association funding or rating. If the NRA supports the candidate, chances are they don’t support stricter gun control legislation.

Another way to help is to foster more opportunity for underserved youth. If you give hope and a better future to one child, you also help transform their family and community. You could be saving the lives of many, too. Your gift of time, talent, or treasure to any of these organizations will have great impact.

We also need to work to strengthen our mental health public safety net. We won’t ever be a safe society again if we don’t take seriously the mental health of everyone. Discuss mental health issues publicly, and do your part to wipe out any remaining stigma about mental health struggles. We need to ensure that everyone has access to professional help, too.

We know that the government can’t afford to tackle mental health alone. That model has been tried and failed. Institutions with expertise and deep pockets need to collaborate with the government — ideally through private/public partnerships. You can help by advocating for such collaborations and electing politicians with this type of vision.

Also, you can help by supporting outstanding collaborative public/private programs already in place. In Chicago, these include The Rush Hospital West Side Total Health Collaborative and the Text-A-Tip Hotline.

There usually is a reason others behave badly. Some pain is pushing them hard. Rather than reacting with anger or turning away when we are confronted with someone struggling, we as individuals and as a society need to listen with love and help them find help.

It’s heart-rending to learn how many occasions were presented to authorities and others to learn more about accused gunman Nikolas Cruz and his pain — and to do something that could have kept him from becoming the Parkland shooter. Too many “if only” moments ….  If only the person who reported his social network “professional school shooter” post to the FBI had followed up to make sure that someone had acted on it … If only the school system had provided more resources and support specific to his autism spectrum diagnosis, instead of repeated expulsions … If only others could have connected with him emotionally after his mother’s death …

Next time you encounter someone angry, pained, challenging, please take the time to listen with love. Show them you care. Connect them to help.

This is particularly true with respect to children. If you can find the time, please find a way to interact with children in less fortunate families or communities than yours. Show just one child the love and trust that every child deserves, and you could transform a life and the world. That’s time well spent indeed.

Q&A: WGN Radio’s Steve Grzanich

Steve Grzanich hosts “The Opening Bell,” one of WGN Radio’s most popular segments. He regularly interviews CEOs, but features anyone with something intriguing to teach about the “life of business and the business of life.”

He’s also loves dogs, can’t get enough of Adler Planetarium, and cherishes life and work on Chicago’s lakefront and water ways — as I learned during my interview with Steve on Oct. 30.

I think you will enjoy learning from Steve through this Q&A too.


Steve Grzanich

Susan B. Noyes: How do you describe yourself and your show?

Steve Grzanich: The positioning statement or slogan for “The Opening Bell” says it’s a broadcast that focuses on the “life of business and the business of life.” Rather than be a show about numbers and stats including stock prices and trends, we try to put business news in perspective for all audiences, not just business types. We select compelling guests with compelling stories, covering just about every industry and/or organization you can think of. Topics abound, from the business of agriculture, business of politics, business of science, business of education, business of religion, and on and on and on. We’re moving into the third year of the broadcast and can proudly boast it’s become one of the most listened to shows on WGN. As for me, I describe myself as a lifelong learner, always curious and always challenged to ask the kinds of questions that make listeners react with “Wow” or “I never knew that.” My goal going into every broadcast is to make sure listeners hear something they didn’t know before and help them.

How long have you been interviewing CEOs and other business leaders?

I’ve been interviewing newsmakers including business leaders for most of my 35-year career in broadcast journalism. We’ve been doing the CEO segment on The Opening Bell for two years now. The feature airs every Monday on the broadcast but we have business movers and shakers on the program almost every day and sometimes two per show.

What are some of your favorite interviews? 

Some of my favorite interviews are with CEOs of startups and a couple stand out. One was with Ramses Alcaide from Ramses is barely out of college and has developed a brain-computer interface (plus software), which allows people with disabilities to interact with the world in many ways including with prosthetics. Even though his creation will eventually be used by everyone, he’s been passionately guided by helping people regain independence and not be left behind by society.

Another memorable interview was with Alex Niemczewski of the voting app Ballot Ready. She’s helping citizens become more informed voters. Her passion for making sure the citizenry is informed before they cast their ballots is only surpassed by her knowledge of coding and information presentation. I firmly believe her company will be at the forefront of digital voting someday.

Another memorable interview was with Marc Gyongyosi from IFM Technologies. He too created his company with fellow students at Northwestern University utilizing the school’s tech incubator. The company was featured on TechCrunch’s “Disrupt” in San Francisco. It involves using drones to perform inventory inside large warehouses, which is currently a difficult and almost impossible process. As I asked questions about his company, it was just obvious that his generation will help us find the answers to some of our big problems as a society. There’s no doubt his creation will someday make him a billionaire. I knew him when.

Have you observed any common characteristics of CEOs in Chicago?  If so, what are they?

The successful CEOs I’ve interviewed have all gotten to where they’re at because they understand the importance of having successful teams of employees below them. These are CEOs who make sure their workers are inspired, equipped, and happy, like Amanda Lannert of Jellyvision and Tom Gimbel of LaSalle Network. Both companies always make the lists of best places to work. Many of the successful CEOs I’ve interviewed also share qualities that include having a personal routine that begins their day including exercise, meditation, not hitting the snooze button, and even remembering to make the bed.

Chicago is known for the success of its public/private partnerships and civic support by business leaders. It also ranks as the most philanthropic city in the U.S., according to a study published by Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. How have your guests reflected this sensibility (if at all)?

I always ask CEOs about civic support and corporate philanthropy and almost every one of them is involved personally in some way with one group or another (and often multiple groups). But there are many who bring this into their organization as well. Instead of holiday parties, they make sure employees get involved in the community by volunteering at food banks or other charities. They get their employees involved with helping local schools too. And several companies give part of their profits directly to charity. Flowers for Dreams is a perfect example of this, where they focus on locally crafted flowers and free flower delivery with each bouquet benefiting a local charity. These CEOs also understand that millennials are more loyal than other generations to companies who do good things. They’re not doing business with companies that aren’t socially conscious.

What advice do you have for people aspiring to business leadership positions, based on your interviews with CEOs?

My advice is don’t exist in a bubble. Search out and learn as much as you can about as many CEOs as you can. Study what works and what doesn’t for those CEOs. Also, get out there and network as much as possible and make yourself for mentorship. Welcome being mentored or pay it forward to someone you might be able to mentor. I’d also recommend that aspiring business leaders learn how to communicate effectively with interviewers like me. There’s very good chance a journalist is going to interview you someday, so be ready. Be informed about your industry, your company, and your community. If you struggle with this kind of thing, do some practice interviews with yourself or a colleague. The most engaging CEOs I’ve interviewed have mostly mastered this. I say mostly because there might always be a journalist like me who asks a question you weren’t prepared for. Handle this successfully and you’re genuine… the real deal.

What are your Chicago favorites — places, restaurants, things to do, ways to give back?

My favorite places to play and learn include Adler Planetarium, The Field Museum, Chicago History Museum. I’m a member of Adler and can’t get enough of science and astronomy. I spend free time along the lakefront with my dog (Edward Rover Murrow) and enjoy mountain biking and hiking. My favorite organizations to donate time and/or money to include Anti-Cruelty Society, Lutheran Charity Comfort Dogs, and Gilda’s Club. Me and Murrow have volunteered together at Gilda’s Club to play with children battling cancer.

Thanks to Steve for his time and thoughtful answers — it’s a true pleasure to work with him.

Please Join Our Better Giving Circle

All giving circles are good. But, we’ve got a Better Giving Circle. We hope you will join it this year.

As you likely know, a giving circle is a form of participatory philanthropy where groups of individuals donate their own money and/or time to a shared cause, seeking to increase awareness of and engagement in the issues covered by the project. Giving circles are great social vehicles too.

Giving circle examples abound — from church knitting circles to Women Moving Millions (individuals who pledge $1 million or more to support nonprofits helping women and girls around the world). The Impact 100 (100 women donating at least $1,000 each, who study multiple nonprofits and select at least one to receive their pooled funds) is an excellent example of $1,000 Giving circles in the Chicago area. Rotaries, other service clubs, and philanthropic boards are giving circles too.

We believe that amplifying this basic human urge to come together, network, and give support to others is a faster way to a better world.

Amplifying and connecting ever growing giving circles is core to our publishing mission, too. We built our highly successful platform by doing just that right from our start 10 years ago, through our media sponsorships of nonprofit fundraisers. Doing it right takes time, and a lot of resources though, so we’re asking for your support to help us keep growing the circles of good.

Our Better Giving Circle allows you to underwrite a media sponsorship by donating $1,000 to your favorite nonprofit. The organization then enjoys our impactful connection-growing, evergreen online content, and significant support for at least one fundraising event. 

And now, the fun part: You will also be invited to join other Better Giving Circle members and champion your cause at our gala dinner, curated by Make It Better dining editor Julie Chernoff, next fall. You will enjoy not only a great dinner, but also meet 99 like-minded, philanthropic friends. 

You can view a similar networking event to what we will do in our MIB TV video of our 10th Anniversary Celebration. As you will see, the positive, powerful energy and connections are palpable!


One other “gift that keeps on giving” comes with the Better Giving Circle too. We provide your nonprofit with a free platform and amplification for all matching grants of $10,000 or more, and we look for other media sponsors to help promote it too. Please see our articles about these three recent matching-grant initiatives as examples:

As you can see, our Better Giving Circle media sponsorships are a win for you, win for your favorite cause, win for the world.

Please join us. But, please hurry to do so, as the number of 2018 Better Giving Circle media sponsorships is limited to only 100, and those are going quickly!

Thank you!

5 Investment Experts Explain the Growing Importance of Impact Investing

Evaluating businesses for their social impact has become an important investment trend. Savvy long-term investors realize that companies who do good, also do well.

As examples, think Starbucks, Whole Foods, TOMS, Hershey’s, and Lyft (not Uber).

More than ever, businesses succeed and grow when good values are embedded in their core business practices — like treating employees well, fostering sustainability, helping others.

[Note: Make It Better’s 10-year history also proves this. Bucking publishing trends, we’ve flourished because everything we write and do fosters powerful, positive connections, which help to make life better for our audience and others.]

Correspondingly, a growing number of the top investment firms offer social impact advice, insights, and tools too. Here’s a look at five such firms.

Morgan Stanley

At Make It Better’s recent Money, Values and Impact symposium, Morgan Stanley Vice Chairman Carla Harris presented a compelling description of her work with large corporations across the United States and around the world on their social impact.


Carla Harris

“I’ve had more ‘Courageous Conversations’ with CEOs where we discuss ills, issues in their communities. They acknowledge that they must do something… lock arms with their employees to understand how they are dealing with problems [and how their companies can help] too.”

Furthermore, she explains, a growing number of firms now believe that they are responsible to four or five constituencies — not just the traditional three. Until recently, corporations identified shareholders, customers, and employees as their primary constituencies. Most now include “community.”

Some — like Starbucks and Hershey’s — include supply chain resources as an area of primary concern too.

“Hershey’s sources a lot of cocoa from Africa,” Harris says. “It asks itself how to empower and educate those farmers, how to innovate and impact those countries and others around the world too.”

William Blair

Social concerns like how a business impacts the environment have long been a core component of William Blair’s investment analysis strategy and advice, says Blake Pontius, CFA, portfolio specialist at William Blair. “We consider environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues to be… inextricably linked with our fundamental assessment of the quality of corporate management and financial statements.”


Blake Pontius

Pontius affirms a growing trend by corporations to examine core activities through a social lens too. “Many businesses are focusing on aligning core practices around social values, as interest in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment factors is expanding at a rapid pace among institutional and retail investors. Some studies have shown that businesses with strong corporate governance and social considerations such as racial diversity and employee satisfaction can lead to improved performance.”

Northern Trust

While Northern Trust does not yet include analysis of social impact as a core investment analysis strategy, it has devoted considerable resources to understanding and promoting social impact through philanthropy — initially through its own work helping underserved communities, and more recently as part of its work advising institutional investors, too.

Connie Lindsey, the firm’s head of corporate social responsibility and global diversity & inclusion, explains, “Northern Trust has a long history of investing its own capital in underserved communities to create sustainable positive change. We believe in the power of capital and the unique role patient flexible capital can have in creating social impact.


Connie Lindsey

“As more clients have become interested in investing capital for impact, we have created a partnership between Northern Trust’s Corporate Social Responsibility group and our Foundations & Institutional Advisors group to share our direct experience of investing capital for impact. This partnership, Social Impact Advisors, works directly with foundation and institutional clients as an extension of their investment management relationship.”

Because collaboration between well-informed philanthropists creates powerful synergies, this strategy likely amplifies philanthropic social impact, too.

J.P. Morgan

J.P.Morgan did not identify an executive whose work incorporates social impact analysis, but Kristen McNamara, banker, J.P. Morgan Private Bank, enjoys working in this space.  Because the influence of millennials and the dramatic growth in the percentage of wealth controlled by women helps drive the increasing role social impact plays in business and investing, this is a smart career choice for this junior banker.


Kristen McNamara

McNamara explains, “It is important that clients’ investments align with their specific financial objectives and personal goals. Screening and performing research on potential investments is key to begin. Then, investors can think about investing according to specific environmental or social themes, as well as the potential impact of companies or funds.”

Next, McNamara describes a three-step process. “Test the waters… test implementation through a [small] carve-out in their portfolios. Create an impact-driven carve-out. [Designate a larger percentage of the portfolio to impact investing]. Pursue broad integration… adopting a sustainable investing lens across all asset classes.”


Wintrust Financial not only gives strategic consideration to social impact, but it also provides an excellent example of the power of embedding good values in core banking practices. Founded by Ed Wehmer as Lake Forest Bank and Trust in 1991, the bank thrived by immediately developing strong community connections, looking for opportunities to help, and prioritizing quality of life for employees.


Ed Wehmer

“To be a successful community business, get the community involved and treat people like you want to be treated,” Wehmer says.

Not surprisingly, Wintrust just kept replicating its good values and community-centric model as it rapidly expanded. Now it consistently ranks among Chicago’s very top financial institutions.

Wehmer’s perspective confirms Harris’ statement about constituencies and communities served, too. Incorporating a larger number of them into the core business model ultimately leads to a better bottom line.

Hopefully this impact investing trend will continue to build on itself — generating greater knowledge, better advice, and more lives made better with each passing year.