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.

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 makeitbetter.net. 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.

Makeitbetter.net 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: makeitbetter.net/mibsurvey



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 WhatIWishYouKnew.com 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.