About Susan B. Noyes

Publisher, Make It Better Media: Founder, Make It Better Foundation. Social entrepreneur, philanthropist, proud mother of 6, former Sidley Austin attorney, human who is most appreciative of her life journey and the opportunity to serve.

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, optionB.org, 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 Neurable.com. 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.

Make It Better Celebrates Our 10th Anniversary and Launch in the San Francisco Bay Area


Last week, Make It Better Media marked two very special milestones, our 10th anniversary and our launch in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a celebration at William Blair‘s stunning new space at 150 N. Riverside in Chicago. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to the extraordinary group of powerful, positive connectors who came together with us for an inspiring night looking back on 10 years of impact, and forward towards many more. If you couldn’t be there, I hope you’ll read my presentation and join us for our next special event. 



And thank you, thank you, thank you for coming to celebrate Make It Better’s 10th Anniversary in Chicago and launch in the San Francisco Bay Area through our acquisition of two outstanding regional magazines there. We are honored that you joined us tonight.


Big thanks, really ENORMOUS thanks to William Blair for sponsoring our celebration.  Isn’t this venue stunning? And don’t they put on a great party?

Make It Better thinks of our work as supporting the very best local businesses, nonprofits, and thought leaders while growing a powerful network that connects them to each other and our affluent, well-educated audience. This ensures maximum impact for all participants. You — this group, gathered in this room today — are a perfect example of this too.


Creating maximum impact for successful businesses, investors, and nonprofits is exactly what William Blair has been doing in Chicago for 80 years.


Make It Better has been creating virtuous circles with our expertise for only 10 years.  William Blair has done that for 80. So we particularly are honored to have earned this opportunity to work with this great firm after only one decade. Special thanks go to someone who is no longer with us — Dick Kiphart, one of my mentors. But also to Ned Janotta, Jon Zindel, Laura Linger, Joe Tabet, Laura Coy and Isidora Lagos.

Anniversary_CENTERMAIN_FINAL1106PM4Speaking of Laura Coy, director of community engagement and vice president of its foundation, her passion is inspiring next generation professionals and philanthropists. She learned this multigenerational approach from the best too — her father, who led the John Deere Foundation. He taught her, “We can do well by doing good” — the penultimate Make It Better sensibility.


We are most grateful for the sponsorship support of the Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy, represented here by Dean David Figlio, Jeff Hammock, Nichole Pinkard, and Amy Pratt; the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, represented by Marcy LarsonSidley Austin, represented here tonight by Julie Allen and Honey SkinnerKirkland & Ellis, represented by Scott Falk; and VISIT Lake Geneva, represented by Joe Tominaro.

Again, these organizations and individuals represent the best in our community. We are honored to collaborate with each of you too.


Make It Better co-founders Mindy Fauntleroy and Julie Chernoff (who is also our dining editor) are here tonight. They and our talented Make It Better team embody our tagline: Powerful. Positive. Connections. Each has worked brilliantly to grow our organization and are an integral part of tonight’s success. Please stand. And thank you!


We’re grateful to the Music Institute of Chicago and The People’s Music School for music by some of their most talented musicians. Let’s please thank the Kairos Quartet one more time too.


Particular thanks to The People’s Music School for being one of Make It Better’s most innovative, collaborative media sponsorship partners too. We are really looking forward to their sweet jazz with our sweets after this workshop and to growing an audience for their talented young musicians and subscribers to our Better Letter through their upcoming Music Hack at 1871.


Thanks to Wansas Tequila and Alberto Rojas for our craft cocktails. Alberto created Wansas to celebrate a culture and community that he loves. Similarly, we’ve launched and grown Make It Better to celebrate and connect the smart, big-hearted community that we love.


Finally, and most importantly, thanks to my husband, Nick, for his unwavering support of my work and to our oldest son, Nick, and oldest daughter, Skatie, who are here tonight representing their own successful businesses and nonprofit causes.

My family is my greatest blessing — these three are proof of that, as well as everyone else in our sprawling, diverse, complicated, fabulous clan pictured here.

So, who else is in this room with you right now? And what are we going to do together? The answers are simple.


YOU! Powerful, positive connectors are in every seat of this room. The solutions to more difficult problems than you currently imagine are in this room too. We are going to collaborate together to prove that. Ideally, we are going to inspire you to leave this room with enthusiasm for our “1, 5, 10 Amplification Strategy” too.

To be even more precise, you — this special group — includes some of Chicago’s most thoughtful philanthropists and family foundation representatives as well as a philanthropic powerhouse who has come all the way from South Africa. As the guest who has come the farthest to be here, Liz Steyn, please stand.

As background, please know that Liz and her family hosted Nelson Mandela after he was released from prison and was instrumental to his  coalition building. This was in large part because Liz, with her consummate Make It Better sensibilities, told her successful entrepreneur husband that they just had to do this.

CEOs and executives in charge of corporate social responsibility, strategic communications, marketing or foundation giving are here. So are leaders, board members or champions of some of our most impactful regional and national nonprofits, and champions for excellent international NGO collaborations — like The University of Chicago’s Center for Global Health and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Chicago’s great cultural institutions, which famously provide community outreach and education to underserved populations, are here, as well as representatives of some of the finest health care institutions in the world.

But importantly, representatives from smaller businesses or nonprofits, which are true local treasures and who can attest to the powerful positive impact of their relationships with Make It Better, are here too. These organizations are some of our most cherished relationships.


Pick a problem, any type of problem, that needs to be solved and there is someone in this room with knowledge about and strong connections to an important program that is already making thoughtful inroads to the solution.


Please allow me to do a special shout out to the Metropolitan Planning Council. We started collaborating with them about a year ago to promote their River Edge Ideas Lab and other efforts to facilitate more clean up and development of the Chicago River System. This led to our successful Water Issue last spring.

Because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we proudly take credit for Chicago magazine’s October issue with “rivers” as their cover story too.


Many of you already know the story of Make It Better’s birth and evolution. So please be patient as I share the CliffsNotes version of this for the rest of our group.

It’s a commonly asked question — Susan, why in the world did you start this nontraditional publication?

The answer is simple — because this is my journey; it’s what I’m supposed to do.

About 14 years ago, when the two oldest of my six children had started college and the youngest was in 3rd grade, I realized I needed a “what’s next” plan for my life. I had the opportunity to practice what I’d preached to my children, too — just find what you love and the rest will follow. That launched me on almost two years of rumination — “So what do I love?”

Organizing a lot of moving pieces.

Connecting people and ideas that should be together.

Writing and the power of a good story.

And then I read Katharine Graham’s autobiography. AHA! — I could do all the things I love as a publisher.

With the help of the Media Management Center at Northwestern University, I learned my business model:

  • prioritize online first,
  • identify an audience,
  • do massive research about them — where they get their information and who wants to advertise to them.


I started with what I knew — North Shore mothers — and brought together a group that represented the best of our community, including Mindy and Julie. We called ourselves the “Kitchen Cabinet.”

We launched a little website called makeitbetter.net on May 1, 2007. Our mission: To be the most trusted, easiest to use community resource that helps make your life and the lives of others better.


We called it Make It Better because 92 percent of this group is likely to change their brand loyalty if they believe it will make the world a better place, and because that is what this cohort is just naturally inclined to do — make it better for their spouses, kids, friends, favorite nonprofits, and business communities. If there is a little time left over — they make it better for themselves too.

We embedded every strategy we could think of to use that new fangled thing — the internet — to amplify fundraising, volunteering, and giving back efforts.


Flash forward a decade and here we are: a multi-platform publishing machine well ensconced in the greater Chicago region and launching soon in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Here is a timeline of all the activities that brought us to this exciting Make It Better inflection point:


It’s actually a little exhausting to think about all this activity. And a little embarrassing to admit that we made some big mistakes along the way that aren’t included in this — like launching e-commerce.


For a plethora of reasons, it’s more important than ever to empower women around finances and wealth too.

  • By 2030, 2/3 of U.S. wealth will be in the hands of women
  • Women just became the majority of U.S. millionaires
  • Women are set to inherit 70 percent of the $40 trillion-plus in wealth transfer that will occur over the next several decades
  • Women start and grow the majority of new small businesses

Women want clear advice, good communications, and strong ethics in their financial communications too.


Delightfully, men joined our audience too. They want to connect with the best resources for their family, community, and themselves and to make a difference for others.

The concepts of social impact, venture philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, and other variations on a theme of maximizing each dollar, hour, experience developed simultaneously to our growth too.


Particularly intriguing — the millennial children of our initial audience grew into adults who quite simply expect mission, meaning, impact, sustainability, and the opportunity to make a difference for others to be embedded in all aspects of their lives.

I’m bullish on our future because of this group — millennials.


Luxury lifestyle has merged with meaningful lifestyle. Emma Watson’s Instagram is a perfect example of this.


Advertising legend Cheryl Berman, also here tonight, was chairman and chief creative officer of Leo Burnett when she started working on the Make It Better brand 12 years ago. Early on she identified the issues that led to today’s national trends too. We’re grateful that her DNA is deeply embedded in Make It Better.


It’s relatively common knowledge that Warren Buffett invests “like a woman” — meaning that he uses cautious metrics and invests for the long run.

This combination — using common sense and high standards to talk about money — including social impact in investment strategies, means that even finance, investing, business is being transformed by Make It Better values too.


Make It Better grew by giving media sponsorships to every little nonprofit who asked, writing articles that brought the mission of each organization to life — with the intention of making a reader laugh, cry, think, and want to take action — as well as highlighting the event in multiple locations throughout our publishing ecosystem.

We always look to include or highlight sponsors and important partners or collaborators too.

Eventually, we had to start saying “no” to some of the nonprofits. We learned to discern which organizations would truly take advantage of our work. In other words, we became venture philanthropists.

As a way to still provide an opportunity to all nonprofits who asked for help, we formed the MIB Foundation and launched our Philanthropy Awards.


Any nonprofit can apply for the award. The application encourages them to demonstrate the characteristics most valued by all venture philanthropists too, and connects them to an Academy of Experts and thought philanthropists. We are particularly grateful to Nancy Searle for her leadership refining the mission and core values:

  • Effectiveness
  • Excellence
  • Efficiency
  • Leadership
  • Scalability


We’re particularly proud of the collaborative relationships and sponsorships that have developed from these awards too — including free or discounted tuition at the Kellogg Nonprofit Executive Education program for finalists and winners and additional coverage by co-sponsor CBS 2 Chicago.


Winners of these awards report spectacular results, but so do nonprofits with whom we’ve worked as media sponsor.

At this time we invite representatives of five of the organizations to give you one fun fact about their relationship with Make It Better.


We stumbled into the forefront of powerful trends as a publishing company. In order to maintain that and accomplish our goal to grow Make It Better globally, we’ve worked with two SEO experts.

One was a gift from Google of time with their leading expert — a true legend in the field — Avinash Kaushik. He said, “What you are doing truly is changing the world. But, you need to make your social impact even more apparent with everything you publish.”

The other was Brian Provost, who coincidentally now is VP of search for CBS. Cut to the chase, Brian’s advice was that because we started writing about nonprofits and community events so long ago, Make It Better enjoys a “gold mine” of the most valuable thing on the internet — links to and from our website to the sources Google trusts the most:


His advice: Just keep making sure that every article you publish has references and links to at least five sources likely to link back to you and share with their networks of at least 10 — but hopefully 10,000.


This became our 1, 5, 10 Amplification Strategy: 1 article, 5 trusted resources who share with their networks of at least 10.

The more we’ve worked with this strategy, the more we fall in love with it too. It’s the perfect tool for those who are the natural collaborators, connectors, and creative problem solvers who drive change for the better the fastest in this world.

Best of all, it builds a network of trusted resources. All of those links are like lines from boats to each other and back to the mother ship, creating a rising tide of helpful content that raises all boats.


I can even see how a big enough tide of this type of content would be a good antidote to fake news. But, I’m not going to try to convince you that Make It Better has that much power — at least not yet.

What we are going to do together right now though is demonstrate just how helpful and powerful this strategy can be for you and your organization.

Most of you came intending to facilitate a 2018 media sponsorship for the cause most important to you.

We’ve very intentionally put nine randomly selected people at a table with one Make It Better team member. At this time, the 10 of you are going to work together.

Please introduce yourself, explain how you found your way here tonight, describe the cause you want to promote and what five trusted sources you will be naturally inclined to ask MIB to reference in the article we write. But also, please listen for and discuss ways to help each other after the introductions. Hopefully, some wonderful, unexpected connections that are similar to the best of what happens online will occur. 


Also, please be mindful that MIB will officially launch in San Francisco with an event similar to this in the spring, too.

We plan that your discussions will take you about 20 minutes. We’ll be taking notes so that we can be as helpful as possible with follow up content.

Enjoy the conversations and connections. We look forward to hearing about potential impact and opportunities to help afterward. 

Anniversary_CENTERMAIN_FINAL1106PM36Thank you for sharing your passion for a cause important to you.

Now, I’m delighted to share my new passion with you — growing Make It Better into the San Francisco Bay Area through our acquisition of two highly successful magazines in that area: Marin Magazine and SPACES, a shelter publication with a footprint that includes Napa, Sonoma, and Marin counties as well as the highest HHI homes in the city of San Francisco.

Their publisher is here tonight too: Nikki Wood. Nikki please stand! Our collaboration between Make It Better and her publications is well under way and pointing toward great success. In short, our Chicago print magazine is improving because it is adopting their print format and model. And they are highly enthusiastic about learning our online and events strategies.


Now it’s time for sweets — sweet music, more sweet connection building, delicious sweet desserts, and our favorite MIB swag.

Thank you again for coming and participating in our celebration. Your presence is the sweetest gift of all to us. We hope that you leave here excited to do these things too:

  • Trust that you will do well by doing good too
  • Encourage collaboration and virtuous circle building
  • Subscribe to our Better Letter and encourage others to do so too (It’s free!)
  • Share your powerful, positive connections with each other and the world through a 1, 5, 10 Amplification Strategy
  • Join our social networks

Thank you!

#BetterTogether: From Go Green Wilmette’s First Fair to Environmental Commitment Across the Country and Around the World

One of the fun facts about Make It Better is that our business launched more than a decade ago in tandem with Go Green Wilmette’s annual community fair — on May 1, 2007, at the Wilmette Recreation Center. It’s no coincidence that Make It Better’s commitment to the environment and the Go Green movement have both grown and flourished.

Go Green Wilmette was the brainchild of environmentalist extraordinaire Beth Drucker. She also helped start Make It Better — serving as our volunteer Environment Editor — and has been featured in our content since then.


Beth Drucker and son Will

GGW grew so quickly that Beth stepped back from Make It Better to focus on it full-time.  GGW was such a good idea that surrounding communities soon started their own Go Green groups too, including:

Other Go Green Illinois members include:

The GGW fair also took off. It has become an eagerly anticipated annual event: Going Green Matters. The 2017 fair, held at the Michigan Shores Club, attracted more than 1,000 participants and included an electric and hybrid car show, giant “Geosphere” presented by The Geographic Society of Chicago, art show, and scores of other presenters on smart environmental living practices.


Image courtesy of GGW.

Make It Better flourished too! And the rest is history. The website grew up the North Shore and into Chicago, launched multiple platforms — Better Letter email newsletters, print magazine, awards, events, videos and more. Through our recent acquisition of Marin Magazine and SPACES Magazine, we’re growing into the San Francisco Bay Area, too.

Strong partnerships with other environmental organizations also helped Make It Better grow, including the Chicago Botanic Garden. We’ve held or proudly sponsored many events there, including our Re:Work Conferences and World Environment Day. We’ve even collaborated on contests with CBG, including parking pass giveaways.


Photo courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden.

We are most proud of our content about and collaborations with some of the other leading environmental resources in Chicago too, including the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Nature Conservancy, and Metropolitan Planning Council’s River Edge Ideas Lab.


James Corner Field Operations’ idea presented during MPC’s River Edge Ideas Lab

We embed sustainable living in our content more than ever — like this article on great Chicago nonprofits that protect the earth all year.


Alliance for the Great Lakes (Photo by Lloyd DeGrane.)

It’s truer now than when we launched Make It Better 10 years ago — collaboration is the best way forward for humanity, the environment, businesses, the world. Everyone needs to live and do business thoughtfully to ensure that future generations get to enjoy our precious world too.

If you are an avid environmentalist or an organization committed to sustainable practices, please send us your ideas. Please connect with our powerful, positive content by subscribing to our Better Letter and encouraging your friends to do so too.

We are all #BetterTogether.