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.
Speaking 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 Larson; Sidley Austin, represented here tonight by Julie Allen and Honey Skinner; Kirkland & 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!
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.
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:
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.
- Brian Floriani, Bernie’s Book Bank
- Neli Vazquez Rowland, A Safe Haven
- Marcy Larson, Illinois Holocaust Museum
- Michael Herman, Kohl Children’s Museum
- Jennifer Baryl, Shedd Aquarium
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.
Thank 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