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 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.

Help Save Make It Better’s Print Magazine — Take This Survey, Become a Requester, Win Our $500 Shopping Spree

As you may know, Make It Better started 10 years ago as a little, volunteer-run online community resource for moms in Evanston and New Trier townships. It was known simply as Our mission was (and still is) to help our audience make their lives and the lives of others better because that is what affluent, well-educated parents are naturally inclined to do. rapidly grew in ways that we never predicted to become Make It Better Media. It now includes a bi-monthly print magazine, bi-weekly email newsletter called the Better Letter, signature events and awards, vibrant social network (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and my own accounts), MIBTV videos, nonprofit fundraising help and event sponsorships. We even started our own foundation and Philanthropy Awards!

Make It Better Media now provides powerful, positive connections to such an engaged audience (as well as the businesses and nonprofits they support) that Tribune-owned WGN Radio’s Justin Kaufmann called our platform and statistics “impressive” during my interview with him earlier this week. Please take the time to listen to it. Justin is a fantastic host.

Listen Here


The secret to Make It Better’s success is simple. With every article and activity, we create virtuous circles, which strengthen our community. We’ve built a powerful online network of trusted resources — businesses, nonprofits, websites — in the process too. Experts now refer to this as our “internet gold.”

Eight years ago, we launched our print magazine to reach a broader audience. It was entirely underwritten by advertisers. But recently, we’ve discovered that we actually can be more impactful if we return to an online-only model. Online connections and memories from great events last long after the impact of a print magazine fades.

However, we also know that many of our readers really, really like the print magazine.  Therefore, if you are one of those readers, or if you just love a good print magazine in general, we ask for your participation in our “what’s next” decision too.

Please take this short, confidential survey and be entered to win a $500 shopping spree too:



South Africa’s Social Entrepreneurs

South Africa suffers a reputation for horrendous human problems alongside amazing nature. News about what is right within the country rarely breaks through the cacophony of wrongs reported across the Atlantic Ocean. So, during a trip there earlier this month, imagine my delight to discover many inspiring examples of successful social entrepreneurs who are moving the country forward.

In fact, these individuals have created or are growing the bright spots in this beautiful country.  They’ve built businesses and grown nonprofits around their passions or to give back to a place they love while also developing opportunities for others. In reality, South Africa offers our country examples of a better way forward too.

Intriguingly, two of the South African families with whom we spent time — the Vardys and the Steyns — were close to Nelson Mandela after he was released from prison. Their insights and examples helped formulate Mandela’s vision for governing the country post apartheid. But, wherever we went, we experienced other inspiring examples too.

Londolozi and The Varty Family


More than 40 years ago, as mere teenagers, Dave and John Varty founded Londolozi as one of the first ever non-hunting, eco-tourism models of conservation in Southern Africa. Londolozi means “protector of all living things” in Zulu. The brothers did this in order to keep the land they loved in their family following their father’s sudden death. Please learn more here.

Most of the world thought the boys were crazy. However, they not only proved the naysayers wrong, but they also launched the ecotourism industry, which ultimately lifted broad swaths of rural Africa out of poverty and has spread across the globe. Tourists pay well to stay in luxury accommodations, dine on locally-sourced food and experience extraordinary nature and wildlife at the side of well-trained, well-informed guides. The direct result of this is that surrounding communities enjoy employment, economic opportunity, education and other benefits.


Sunset cocktail hour — a safari tradition.

As Dave explains during a talk he gave during our visit and in his book, “The Full Circle,” “What emerged was the Londolozi model for conservation development — linking land, wildlife and people together in a hospitality and interpretive wildlife viewing experience.”


Dave Varty

My photos are inadequate to demonstrate the wonder of our safari experiences, which inspired a more profound awe for nature. (Watch videos on my Instagram page here and here.)



Soon, the Varty conservation development model had become a blue print. They exported the model all over Africa and others copied their approach too. The model was even endorsed by former South African president and humanitarian, Nelson Mandela, who visited Londolozi during the year following his release from prison. In the words of Madiba, “Londolozi represents a model of the dream I cherish for the future nature preservation in our country.”

Buntu Philosophy and the Good Work Foundation

The Vartys now explicitly run Londolozi as a social enterprise, based on the Zulu philosophy of Ubuntu — “I am because you are.” During his talk, Dave asks guests to remember, “We are because you are. Because you are here, we employ 250 people, which supports 2,500 when you include their families and helps all the surrounding communities too.”

Londolozi also supports an NGO called the Good Work Foundation. Varty claims that this foundation is creating an education revolution and uplifting rural communities by giving them access to world class education through cutting-edge technology. They have established a number of digital learning centers in areas surrounding Londolozi. More than 10,000 students per year pass through the schools.

The Vardy vision is to do far more to develop Londolozi as a “socially, economically and environmentally responsible business” that creates new systems of living that use land and humans to their highest potential too. They are bold social entrepreneurs indeed.

The Steyn Family, Mobaneng and the Ottery Youth and Education Center

Mandela also spent a great deal of time with the Steyn family, according to the Financial TimesDouw Steyn is one of South Africa’s most successful insurance, technology and real estate entrepreneurs. His wife when Mandela was released from prison, Liz, a former social worker, insisted that they do all they could to help him and the transition away from apartheid. Liz and Douw are now divorced. She is still a determined, feisty social entrepreneur.

Steyn’s sons Louis and TJ act from similar convictions too; most definitely they are their mother’s sons. They set up a foundation in her honor — the Elizabeth Margaret Steyn Foundation (EMSF). We were fortunate to spend time with all of them and see their social entrepreneur successes in action.

Louis and TJ were raised in Johannesburg, a city that has suffered substantial crime and decline in the past decade. Determined to help, they recently redeveloped the area known as “Maboneng Precinct” — transforming abandoned buildings and infrastructure into a hip artistic and entertainment district supporting a plethora of other entrepreneurial efforts. They intend keep this virtuous circle of investment and growth going too.


TJ is on my left and Louis is on my right at dinner in a restaurant at Saxon Hotel, which was the home they grew up in.

Because the current government is widely perceived as corrupt and inept, it is not likely that public support will help fix what is broken in this city. It will be the Steyns and other social entrepreneurs like them who are determined to redeem and rebuild the city they love, creating opportunities for others as they do.


Maboneng. An excellent example of before and after renovation work.

Liz acts on her belief that “when you transform one child’s life, you transform their family, you can transform their community too. One-hundred percent!” She served as a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Childrens Fund because of this. She now runs EMS similarly. She proudly gave us a tour of the Ottery Youth and Education Center to demonstrate a program that works and is worthy of greater support. Here, students receive skills training as well as the good education that is possible with small groups, in brightly colored classrooms with attentive, caring teachers.

The computer center, donated by EMSF, was recently dedicated too. But Liz laments, “We need to double the size of this school, which will compound the improvement for others.”

She continues, “The corporations doing business in South Africa are the most logical supporters for this type of school.”

Train the next generation of employees while reducing the population still disenfranchised from apartheid days. With this suggestion, Steyn champions a win/win virtuous circle similar to the ecotourism model.


From left: Liz Steyn, Principal Moosa Mahadick, my daughter Skatie, me, and my son-in-law Ed

She has more than enough passion and determination to make it happen too. “I’m terrible at looking out for myself. I would just give everything away.” She giggles, “But I am ruthless at asking on behalf of others!”

Principal Moosa Mahadick offers the YouTube video below as further explanation of the Center’s work, but a better one is in development. During our tour, we met two UCLA graduate students making a documentary about the school.

We experienced many other examples of the social entrepreneur spirit and virtuous circle making that seems to be at the heart of current South Africa success too.

Camp Jabulani and the Endangered Species Research Center

Lente Roode turned the farm she grew up on into a refuge for young abandoned cheetahs and elephants who otherwise would die. Eventually this became the large Kapama Safari Park, the smaller and more luxurious Camp Jabulani (named after the first elephant she rescued), which is a member of Relais & Chateau and the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Research Centre (HESC).


This is Jabulani, the first elephant rescued by Lente Roode, after whom the safari camp was named.

HESC, which is CITES accredited and a member of PAAZA, WESSA and WWF, is so successful that it now breeds and successfully releases cheetahs into the wilderness, helping to replenish the dwindling population.

We’re so impressed with the work, that we adopted one of the babies, “Victoria Love,” from the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, founded by Lente Roode.


My son-in-law Ed with Crunchy, a cheetah at Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre.

One of the most successful wine makers in South Africa is a social entrepreneur too — Zelma Long of Vilafonte. Long is a Sonoma County, California resident who is internationally respected as an oenologist and vintner. Just for fun and intellectual stimulation, she’s also earning her PhD in native performance arts. The South African wine industry brought Long to the country to consult in the early 90s. She and her husband were so impressed that they found partners and launched Vilafonte a few years later.


Photo courtesy of Vilafonte.

Long uses her wine platform to highlight and preserve other aspects of South Africa that she loves, including that it is the “cradle of humanity.”



One of their wines is named “Seriously Old Dirt” to highlight the fact that the dirt in which the grapes are grown is millions of years old, as opposed to merely 60,000-120,000 years as is true for U.S. wines, like those grown at her Sonoma County home.


Photo courtesy of Vilafonte.

More impressive, though, is that Long and a South African partner launched the Cape Town wine auction, with the famed Napa Valley wine auction as their vision. It quickly became a powerful virtuous circle.

“It is an annual auction, only four years along, that this year earned R22 million ($1.7 million) specifically for the purpose of education for the formerly and currently disadvantaged children of the winelands.” She continues, “All proceeds go to charities; the costs of the auction each year are borne by donors. It is exceedingly well run not only on the money raising side, but on the money distribution, goal setting, and evaluation side, of the charities to whom the proceeds go.”

Beneficiaries include:

The Trust financial statements are audited by PWC.

“The Cape Wine Auction Trust mandate to support education in the South African Winelands is being achieved through a simple yet unique model of giving. We fund passionate, well-managed beneficiaries in the field of education and support them to maximize the value of the funding they are given,” Long explains. “We ensure that those we fund get to know each other, learn from each other and support one another. This collaborative mindset has already resulted in enormous impact and increased efficiencies.”

Long exudes love of work, place, people — a true social entrepreneur. “Our South African Vilafonte wine and vines project is now 20 years old. We have felt privileged to work this patch of the earth, experience the beauty of the Cape, and watch the amazing, talented, energetic mélange of cultures that is South Africa.”

Love of South Africa and its culture brought successful international banker Paul Harris and his wife back to South Africa after great success in South American banking. They purchased “Ellerman House” — a large home built during colonial times overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Cape Town, determined to showcase the best South African art, décor, wine and food with it.


Landscaping beside the Ellerman House Spa and Villas.

As Harris explains here, “We want our guests to experience the best of what this country has to offer. To create this experience, we have an indigenous garden, serve only South African wine and cuisine, and have a renowned collection of local art representing the best of past and present. We also employ a diverse staff that provides guests with the warmest in true South African hospitality.”

“Indigenous” and “renowned” are understatements. The grounds and art are jaw dropping and soul-filling fabulous. No hyperbole.

Ellerman was the last stop of our South African journey. By the time we arrived, after experiencing social entrepreneurism and virtuous circle creation behind the most obvious successes everywhere else we went in the country, we weren’t surprised to be welcomed with a call out to their Giving Back opportunity.


Ellerman House, at the entry of the Modern Art Gallery

The Harris family raises money each year with a charity art auction at the hotel. The proceeds are used by their Click Foundation to expand the reach of multiple community pilot programs. Harris invites others who wish to help to contact the Ellerman House.  “You will share in the joy, excitement and pride of being part of this exciting country, where we can all make a difference in forging a brighter future for South Africans.”


My favorite painting on display at Ellerman House.

Example after example offered by South Africans of developing land, people and communities to higher purpose should inspire more social entrepreneurs in the U.S. It certainly inspired me!

Michael Rosengarden, Autohaus on Edens Host 2017 LAUNCH Fashion Show April 9

So here’s the deal about Michael Rosengarden, owner of Autohaus on Edens and Northbrook Toyota, attentive husband of Andrea, father of three great young adults, founder of the annual LAUNCH fashion show that provides scholarships for promising fashion design graduates of Columbia College and supports a different local nonprofit every year, and supporter of shelters for abused women and children, cancer research, Illinois Holocaust Museum and more.

Michael Rosengarden is awesome and he doesn’t act like he knows this about himself either.  He’s just trying to do the next right thing each day of his life.

Rosengarden believes, “If you have the opportunity to help, to give a person a lift up, you do it.” He continues, “It’s how I raised my kids. I told them, you can’t just walk past someone who needs help. You have to do something about it if you can.”

He’s a little quirky too. Rosengarden knows what he likes and just keeps doing it. For example, he likes work so he doesn’t venture far from it during the day. He likes lunch at The Happ Inn. More specifically, he likes Happ Inn cheeseburgers. So when he doesn’t dine out there for lunch, he just orders in a Happ Inn cheeseburger instead.

It was over a recent lunch at a Happ Inn corner table that Rosengarden explained how he feels about giving and helping, in anticipation of the 2017 LAUNCH: Driving Fashion Forward event at Autohaus on Sunday, April 9. This will be the sixth annual LAUNCH event.

“When you teach someone about the power of giving — when they had no idea how good it would make them feel — they come to life,” he declares as he dips his first French fry into ketchup. He comes a bit more to life as he digs into his cheeseburger too.

“The organizations that I support are the ones that others won’t, like the ACLU.” He grimaces. “Our country needs this organization now more than ever too!”

He is also working harder than ever to help raise money for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. The Chicago Awards Dinner will be held only a few days before LAUNCH on April 3 at the Chicago Four Seasons Hotel. The actress Bonnie Hunt is Master of Ceremonies. “Bonnie is a hoot and a relentless advocate for cancer research,” Rosengarden says. He shows me the photo below from last year’s event.


Back row: Adam Friedberg, Michael Rosengarden, Derrick Blakley, Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo. Front row: Stephanie Rosengarden, Alyssa Friedberg, Sugar Ray Leonard, Andrea Rosengarden and Bonnie Hunt.

Roesengarden rattles off a number of other organizations he champions between bites. “I’m really passionate about A Safe Place and Prevent Child Abuse America.”

This year’s LAUNCH benefits the Women’s Leadership Committee of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. Roesengarden knows how to bring community together and throw a good party too. LAUNCH will include bar bites provided by Morton’s The Steakhouse, wine and champagne provided by Knightsbridge Wine Shoppe, a silent auction and iconic raffle with live bidding for a U.S. Open Mercedes Experience for two, and a runway show with Avant for Men, Belle Vie Chicago, Enaz, Juniper Boutique and Peach Carr. Buy your tickets here.

As with the prior events, Make It Better is proud to be a media sponsor of LAUNCH 2017. But even more importantly, I am honored and blessed to be the friend of the awesome Michael Rosengarden. If everyone lived with his convictions, what a wonderful world it would be.

What I Wish You Knew Contest: Teens Can Win $1,000 for Their Favorite Nonprofit

If you are a teen in northeastern Illinois looking to help a favorite nonprofit, here’s an easy way to earn $1,000 for the organization.

Send an essay, photos and/or video explaining why the organization is worthy of support to Rotary District 6440’s What I Wish You Knew contest.

It’s that simple. You tell potential funders why they should support a great cause and create a win/win/win in the process.

  • Win for you because you get to express yourself and do good.
  • Win for the nonprofit (even if it doesn’t win the $1,000) because you create another opportunity for others to learn about the organization.
  • Win for the Rotary because they learn about other excellent nonprofits and about you.

Students in the 71 clubs within the footprint of Rotary District 6440 are eligible. A full list of clubs can be found on the Rotary’s website.

The contest is the brainchild of Rotarian and long-time youth advocate Sharon Weingarten. Through decades of experience as a teacher and social worker, she understands the importance of empowering youth to speak their own minds and learn that they can make a difference for others.

“Asking smart questions gets youth to open up,” Weingarten explains. “Kids are good. I see them wanting to make a difference but not have a clue how to do so.”

Weingarten founded the website in order to give voice to more youth. She is working closely with Rotary Head of Youth Services for District 6440 Vera Mayer to facilitate the contest. A panel of judges will determine the winner, who will be announced in April at the 2017 Rotary District 6440 conference and covered by Make It Better Media. The contest deadline is Jan. 15.


Vera Mayer, Casey Luc and Sharon Weingarten

Additional contest details can be found here.

Kudos to Weingarten and the Rotary for initiating the contest. Make It Better is proud to be a media sponsor and help empower youth, grow support for outstanding nonprofits, and strengthen the community.


Angelique Ndamage and Casey Luc, Weingarten’s assistants. Ndamage attended Evanston Township High School and currently attends graduate school in Paris. Luc, Weingarten’s assistant, attended Glenbrook North and is currently a student at George Washington University, where he is studying Global Public Health.

I’m Thankful for You and Our Community Partners

Happy Thanksgiving.

Please know that everyone working for Make It Better is thankful for your support and interest. We count it as a blessing.

We wish you and your loved ones good food, good times and an opportunity to count your own blessings as you gather around your Thanksgiving dinner table tomorrow.

With Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday arriving hard on this holiday’s heels, we also wish you a happy start to the holiday shopping and giving season.

We particularly encourage you to support the businesses and nonprofits that are part of our Make It Better community. All are Local Treasures — family-owned businesses and well-run nonprofits, working hard to provide a valuable community service.

Thank you.


Entrepreneur Darryl Rose Built Success on Values and Rules That Every Mother Loves and Every Community Needs

“‘Thank you for teaching my kid how to work!’ This is what I frequently hear from moms,” Darryl Rose, founder of Get Dwell, declares early in our interview. Those statements are just one of many examples that confirm that Rose grew his Chicago- and North Shore-based remodeling and handyman business on great values — adeptly creating opportunities that help others while providing outstanding service. His grin and twinkling eyes attest to the pleasure this brings him too.


Darryl Rose

Rose is the prototypical 21st century entrepreneur; he builds win/win scenarios for customers, employees, partners and the community. It’s no surprise that Get Dwell has been voted “Best Of” by our Make It Better audience four out of five years.

Ironically, Rose still acts surprised that he became an entrepreneur working with his hands at all. With a good job in corporate sales, a wife, two young children and a Wilmette home, Rose thought his path through life was set. But, he was happiest helping neighbors’ with their handyman needs and being a volunteer designer and builder of stage sets and other projects for his kids’ schools. His true calling was obvious to everyone else.

It took his wife, Beth — the person most likely to miss the security of his corporate life — to convince Rose to give it up and start a small home maintenance business out of their kitchen in 2005.

“Just leap and the net will appear,” Beth promised.


Darryl and Beth Rose

Not only did the net appear, but it also quickly expanded. From routine home maintenance, Get Dwell rapidly morphed into small construction and remodeling projects. But, when the market crashed in 2008, he needed a quick new strategy. Rose sagely reframed Get Dwell as just a handyman — rather than remodeling — business.

“Even in a down market, North Shore homeowners still needed simple repairs.” He adds, “But winning Make It Better’s ‘Best of 2010’ in the Handyman category is what really put us on the map!” Get Dwell has grown steadily ever since and was recognized in 2014 during Remodeling magazine’s Big50 awards.

Ten “People First” Rules That Develop Strong Businesses

Rose cites his “people first” rules as a driving force for the business. They ensure that his staff knows how to interact well with customers (as well as develop good work habits for teen summer employees). These 10 rules will develop good employees for other businesses too:

  1. Show up on time.
  2. Communicate effectively.
  3. Work efficiently.
  4. Leave the project site clean and ready for use.
  5. No cell phone usage on the job.
  6. No swearing (and yes, they have a “swear jar” for money donated to charity every time an employee breaks this rule).
  7. Lead where you are strong. Team where you are weak.
  8. Do what you say you are going to do.
  9. Treat others as you wish to be treated.
  10. Give back to your community.

Giving back is a core principle at Get Dwell. Rose is particularly proud of his firm’s long history of working with Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit that helps low-income home owners repair and stay in their homes.

Sharon Riley, executive director of Rebuilding Together North Suburban Chicago, says, “We have worked with Darryl Rose for years and his firm, Get Dwell, is one of the finest contractors we know. Darryl and his wonderful team are always ready to assist our applicants who have fallen on hard times with outstanding skilled work delivered with the highest degree of respect and professionalism.

“Darryl’s immense generosity and compassion in giving back to our neighbors in greatest need, from Evanston north to Waukegan, is inspiring.”


The Get Dwell Team

Building the Geek Squad of Home Repair — Local is Better

Perhaps the best evidence of Rose’s entrepreneurial acumen is his success at building partnerships with 27 family-owned hardware stores in Chicago and up the North Shore.

“My goal is to build the ‘Geek Squad’ of home repair using local tradesmen. This keeps consumer dollars local and makes local communities stronger,” Rose explains. “Hardware stores like Millen in Wilmette, Lemoi Ace in Evanston and Gordon’s Ace in Chicago are multi-generation owned and deeply entrenched in their communities. Many of these stores are on their fifth generation of family ownership! They understand how to serve a community they love.”

Rose built a good business by honoring his own passions and staying true to his family and community-centric values. He’s now growing a much wider network of support for local businesses throughout the region. Rose’s values and collaboration-building sensibilities should be copied widely.

He concludes by quoting Henry David Thoreau. He explains, “The old master first began his journey by building a cabin in the woods alongside Walden Pond.

“Thoreau wrote, ‘I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.'”


Responding With Love After the Election


It’s not complicated to understand what happened with the election, nor is the best path forward difficult to understand. It’s not easy to execute though.

The “haves” can’t ignore the “feeling left behinds.”

Instead of feeling stunned or reacting with anger, we need to listen, understand and love better those who feel trapped or even downwardly mobile.

One look at the county-by-county map of the presidential election results makes obvious that the 21st century haves — cities, coasts, university towns — voted for Hillary.

Study closely Hillary’s campaign and fundraising techniques and you will see that she largely ignored vast swathes of our country. Doesn’t help that those who feel like “forgotten Americans” watched her raise more than $500,000,000 — one-half billion dollars — for her campaign while she ignored them too.

Affluent, well-educated citizens can’t continue to succeed indefinitely at the expense of the rest of the country. Girls, women and minorities can’t succeed at the expense of boys, men and whites. That is the primary message of this election.

America grew strong because hard-working, primarily well-intentioned individuals and families spread out and found opportunity across America. Yes, they were white and, yes, they built their success on the backs of slaves, minorities and women without votes. So while we’re grateful that the wrongs embedded in that initial success now are being addressed and rectified — like slavery and bigotry — we also can’t ignore that the descendants of those founding families in middle America face an increasingly bleak future.

Everyone needs to be able to see a hopeful future. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have a hopeful future in place need to listen to, learn from and organize around doing more to help those who don’t.

We need to do more to strengthen home towns and local communities too — rather than continue the practices that have decimated them. That will make America even greater.

Also, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the pollsters and media elite got it wrong. As communication channels proliferate, media companies compete ever harder for ever-shrinking advertising dollars that target affluent audiences — because they are the ones with money to spend on advertisers’ products. Therefore, it’s more profitable for these media companies to study and report on the affluent and elite. It takes unprofitable time and resources for them to really survey and listen to middle America.

As a result of the stunning election results, I’m having unexpected, intense conversations with my children, extended family members and others. I’m learning even more about their frustrations with “the system.”

My daughters feel cheated that the woman lost and a misogynist won. Surprisingly, my sons somehow correlate this election with their empathy with Chris McCandless, the “Into The Wild” young man whose disaffection caused him to abandon his loving family and identity after graduating from college, and eventually died of starvation in the Alaskan wilderness.

Something is wrong when our daughters feel more empowered by their society than our sons.

My brother reminds me that he ardently needs one of those manufacturing jobs that Trump promises to return to the United States. He and I had to shepherd our family business — community grocery stores — through bankruptcy and dissolution. He’s been bumped from one downsized industry to another ever since then, earning less with every job. There is nothing racist, prejudiced or mean-spirited about him. He just needs the system to work for him too.

Listening, empathizing and responding with love is the best I can do for now — and ask everyone else to do the same.

I’m also grateful for the communications that have come from our Make It Better community, like this heart-rending and brave autobiographical essay by one reader.

Hopefully everyone in media and other positions of power — parents, politicians, affluent and educated others — will start listening better and responding with love. Working harder to find human commonalities with those who don’t share our demographics and political or philosophical views will help too.

Read more:

Prayers for Crushers Club Please

As you know, we love creating powerful virtuous circles of support for the most impactful nonprofits at Make It Better. This is why we started our Philanthropy Awards. We’re particularly proud of supporting Crushers Club with one of these awards. Please watch this short video to understand why:

Cubs Manager Joe Madden and Cubs Charities joined forces with Crushers Club soon after the organization received our award too. Please see Joe and Connie Falcone of Cubs Charities in action here:

Perhaps our favorite success story though is that Sally Schneiders and her family found a calling to support Crushers Club because of our award. And now she asks for one more powerful thing for it: Prayers. Please see Sally’s heartfelt plea below and add your prayers too. Thank you.


Just a few minutes ago, I was half way out the door on a run, but my phone rang. It was Sally Hazelgrove.

I picked it up, thinking she was going to confirm with me what time I would be arriving at Crusher’s today. I had butter softening on the counter in the kitchen, for the cookies I was going to bake and bring out to Englewood, along with donations for “carbo fests” from a couple of you (thanks!)

Sally had a hard time talking so I knew something was up, but I wasn’t prepared for what she was going to say. So many magical things were happening at Crusher’s — so many stories and so many kids powerfully impacted by her love and faith in them. Her “program”!

She told me in halting tones there are serious death threats against her … She is not sure why but thinks Facebook, or ‘cyber gangbanging,’ is the root of all of this. Sally has spoken out against the gangs, and certain members “hate on her.” 

Sally is often impervious to death threats with her faith in God, but this time she feels very human, and very scared for herself, her own children, and her Crusher’s kids.

She told me it was too dangerous for me to go out there today. So now what? Those kids need her, they need me, they need a lot of people to care about them. How do we do it without going out to Englewood?

For now, she asked me, please pray. And get others to pray for all of this to pass. She believes profoundly in the strength of our combined prayer and so I am asking you to do this. Please pray for Sally Hazelgrove and all of the kids in Englewood. 

I do not know what else to do!! Thanks for all of your past support and I PRAY I can go out there again soon — bring cookies and see them spar, make music, laugh, free to be themselves.

Thanks again!

Sally S.