A Tribute To Skin Of Steel Founder Susan Steel

Susan Steel, of Glenview, died in January from melanoma. Most people diagnosed with late-stage melanoma, like Steel, live for a few months. Steel lived for more than a decade. That is big news in and of itself, but what is extraordinary and inspiring is the way Steel lived and what she accomplished as she endured brain surgery after brain surgery and drug trial after drug trial.

susan steel skin of steel

Susan Steel in 2014.

Steel very intentionally lived “with vengeance”—as an alternative to just “fighting cancer.” She did so by focusing her attention on helping others—her children, friends, future melanoma patients, the world. Her impact grew with each passing month because of this. The nonprofit she founded with others to raise awareness of, education about and research opportunities for melanoma—Skin Of Steel (SOS) —will live on with vengeance, too.

“Susan founded SOS to provoke revolutionary change in the treatment and prevention of melanoma, and by God that is what we are on the cusp of!” Board Chair Steve Sullivan declares. “She strategically partnered with people all over the globe to change the landscape of melanoma, and attitudes toward melanoma, and there will be no ‘end’ to her story. She may well have the most productive afterlife of anyone the world has ever known… Our team is resolute to open the world’s first ever ‘openly collaborative melanoma tissue bank.’” These audacious, laudable plans helped SOS win a 2014 Make It Better Philanthropy Award.

skin of steel make it better philanthropy award winner

Susan Steel (center) receives a Make It Better Philanthropy Award on behalf of Skin of Steel.

In 2005, Steel was a married international real estate fund executive and former competitive skier with two children, 11 and 13, when she was diagnosed with late-stage melanoma and given that dire prognosis. She launched into seek and destroy mode, finding every possible experimental program that could help her fight against the deadly disease at places like the National Cancer Institute in Baltimore.

By 2008, the first time I wrote about her, Steel had already endured seven brain surgeries and clinical trials. She described a Tibetan Medical Monk asking her a question that transformed her thinking from just “fighting” her cancer battle to “living with a vengeance.” This energized her life and got her focused on helping others. Steel giggled and called her determined actions “leveraging cancer.”

Steel traveled with every family member to help them pursue some dream. She launched a crew program as a way to give back to her cadre of gal pals who swooped in to help her and her family during her treatments. She wanted them to focus on learning a new skill and taking better care of themselves. She surprised herself by joining them, too. According to coach Hope Poor, Steel stated: “Rowing was one of my most defiant acts.” It was also a great success. The program blossomed into today’s formidable New Trier Women’s Masters which competes across the country.

Steel started SOS in Glenview, primarily to educate local youth and others about melanoma prevention. She spoke publicly, including to rotaries and PTAs, ran fundraisers, insured that NorthShore University HealthSystem had a robust pool of blood platelet donors. As years passed and she lived on, Steel sought out fellow melanoma warriors nationally, helped rewrite medical protocol, learned that researchers clamor for more tissue to do their work, and so Steel set her sights even higher.

According to Sullivan, Steel’s life work became “helping science unlock genetic biomarkers that may very well hold hidden clues for cures.” With laser focus, Steel built a coalition and a plan to fund four collaborative tissue banks across the United States, including one in Chicago.

In 2014, Pittsburg’s Woiner Foundation hosted a forum announcing that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center will be one of the Skin Of Steel tissue banks. This is the legacy that SOS continues to champion with a vengeance. Success insures that Steel’s legacy will transform life for melanoma patients and their families around the world in perpetuity.

By choosing to live with vengeance and help others, rather than just focusing on the fight she was destined to lose, Steel was able to live a decade longer than anticipated, help her children pursue dreams and grow into lovely adults, found a blossoming athletic program for women, inspire others to live courageously and with vengeance, and eventually likely transform melanoma research and outcomes around the world.

Thank you, Susan Steel. God rest.

A Future Stronger Than The Empty Nest

My youngest child, Emma, will be a freshman at Harvard this fall.

Emma Noyes in the graduation dress made by her sister, Skatie.

Emma’s good news could have been my bad news because of the Empty Nest Syndrome. Fortunately though, my future as a publisher and social entrepreneur is too exciting to dwell much on this loss.

For this, I particularly thank John Lavine and Tim Bingaman.

About eight years ago, I asked Lavine to mentor me through a newly found calling to become a publisher. He had sold a publishing empire, founded Northwestern University’s Media Management Center and successfully reorganized Medill School of Journalism as it’s Dean.

John Lavine, Director of Northwestern University Media Management Center

Lavine agreed on the condition that I accept simple principles – prioritize online, identify an audience, and honor what it wants. For these reasons, Make It Better was born May 1, 2007 as a little website for North Shore women. It’s mission – to be the most trusted, easiest to use community resource that helps make life better for our audience and the businesses and nonprofits they support.

We called it Make It Better because that’s the innate inclination of this audience; helping is their most common denominator and the overarching connector of their collective lives. They make it better for their children, parents, husbands, friends, schools, churches, synagogues, less privileged others, book groups, sports teams, favorite nonprofits…etc. If – and only if – there is any time left over, they try to make it better for themselves too.

This year, we completed our first official audit by the Circulation Verification Council (CVC), which is run by 15 of the largest advertisers in the country and annually audits publications representing over 70 million readers. A readership audit is not an easy process. Imagine willingly inviting the IRS in to examine all your business.

Fortunately, our audit results were spectacularly good. Our valuable audience loves Make It Better. No hyperbole.

In fact, the audit data was so remarkable that the CEO of CVC, Tim Bingaman, asked to personally guide us through the good news and recommend a simple, rocket-fueled path to growth.

Tim Bingaman, CEO of the Circulation Verification Council (CVC).

When is the last time a CEO of an organization serving 70 million called you out of the blue and volunteered to help? This request caught our attention.

In short, our audience of affluent, educated women far exceeds national and North Shore norms. Because these women control their hhi budgets, they are uber valuable to advertisers.

Bingaman’s words energized me and our talented staff. I hope to thank him for them in person some day. In the meantime though, I’m also using them to focus on building an even better future as an almost empty nester.

Nonetheless, please don’t hold it against me this fall, if you ask me about my kids and detect a hint of tears at the edge of my answer.

$3,000,000.00 raised for nonprofits!!

As of Feb 28, 2014, Make It Better has officially raised $3,009,451 for nonprofits.

Thank you to the Make It Better staff, readers, advertisers and nonprofit partners. It has been a great pleasure growing a valuable and effective community resource with you.

You are officially invited to the $4 million party. Our goal is to have it by National Philanthropy Day, November 15, this year.

Live Blogging our Awards Today – Please Follow And Celebrate With Us

Please Follow Our Awards Delivery Today – National Philanthropy Day

“If you have the chance to help someone, and you don’t do it, then you are wasting your time on this earth.” – Roberto Clemente (and Mark George of the Music Institute Of Chicago)

In honor of National Philanthropy Day, Make It Better Media and its Foundation recognize its 2013 Philanthropy Award winners with an all-day awards delivery tour and evening celebration, which will be live blogged here and Tweeted at twitter.com/makeitbetterNS.

Please follow and celebrate with us.

View the video from last year to see just how fun this is: http://vimeo.com/58231212.

Last year, eight organizations benefited from the awards, using the videos prominently for marketing on the web and at fundraising events.

“With the help of that video, we were able to increase our fundraising by 64 percent,” says Tom Daily, Program Director of Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association, a 2012 Philanthropy Award winner.

“I can’t think of a better gift to give a young nonprofit than a way to effectively communicate their mission,” says Robin Lavin, Executive Board Director of SPARK Chicago, Philanthropy Award 2012 winner. “With these fabulous videos, we’ve done exactly that.”

Last year’s winners joined the judges panel which included judges from sponsors Walgreens, JPMorgan. Wintrust, and Autohaus and venture philanthropy experts Liam Krehbiel, Founder of A Better Chicago, and Ben Kovlar and Ron Levin, of Invest For Kids, as well as Make It Better staff.

A full list of last year’s winners and their organization videos are available on Make It Better’s site: www.makeitbetter.net/make-a-difference/make-a-difference/4883-philanthropy-awards-2012.

Women of Worth Contest: Please vote for Susan Garcia Trieschmann of Curt’s Café

“Don’t try so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out” – a sign displayed in Curt’s Café

Tevin, Cecilia Rothschild, Susan Garcia Trieschmann and Justin at Curt’s Café

Thankfully, Susan Garcia Trieschmann lives by the message on that motivational sign (and the many others on display), especially through the innovative nonprofit she founded, Curt’s Café (curtscafe.org).

Located on Central Street in Downtown Evanston, Curt’s Café is a restaurant that serves fresh pastries, sandwiches, and salads, but more importantly, Curt’s is making a difference in the lives of at-risk youth by providing support, training and positive mentors.

Her work with Curt’s Café has earned her a spot as a finalist in the L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Contest (http://www.womenofworth.com/home/home.aspx). Trieschmann could win $25,000, but she needs our help. Support Susan and Curt’s by voting online every day until November 20th.

Vote for Susan here.

***And on November 19th cast additional votes by visiting L’Oréal Paris’ Facebook Page and “Liking” Susan’s post/photo. You can also retweet the tweet about Susan on L’Oréal Paris’ Twitter Page.

To learn more about Curt’s Café, watch this YouTube video from Sean Magner.

Thank you. And congratulations to Susan on such an outstanding achievement!

How to Raise More Money for Your Favorite Nonprofit – Please Join Me

Only three spots left!

Only three spots left for my workshop this Friday at 1 pm and a few more next Thursday at 5 pm (wine served with this one) on “How to Raise More Money for Your Favorite Nonprofit.”

Find more information and register here.

We will discuss and expand upon the following tips:

1. Bring the mission of your organization to life with a short, heartfelt story, article or video that demonstrates its impact. Make others laugh, cry, think and want to take action.

2. Prove that money is efficiently spent.

3. Develop an easy-to-attend annual fundraising event that is also FUN-raising.

More Philanthropy Awards Celebration Accolades!

So happy to share the below message. Please apply on behalf of your favorite nonprofit for the second annual Philanthropy Awards on or soon after July 15.

Susan, Mindy, and the entire MIB team –

THANK YOU! I was really moved and inspired by the event earlier this week – it was such a great break from the hustle and bustle of everyday living, and a moment to reflect and celebrate. It was an honor to win the award, great to receive the benefits – but even better to have participated in such a great event.

I wanted to make sure you all knew the impact it made on me in the midst of a very busy, hectic week. Your work is an inspiration.


Jen Groh

Director, Program Development

DeVry University

The Boy Who Saved Earle’s Life

Charlie and Earle

Earle Martin was a man with enormous blessings; but, he was still deeply depressed.

Charlie is his grandson, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 1/2 years old.

This brought Earle to life, and probably saved his life.

Earle tells his story, and inspires others in his book, “The Boy Who Saved My Life – walking into the light with my autistic grandson.”


Autism Speaks, autismspeaks.org, a vibrant nonprofit founded to connect families facing autism was well represented at the book signing and confirmed that all the Charlies of the world can be a gift to those who love them.

“We make ourselves wider and deeper and more thoughtful by caring about these special people. Please dig in a little more to help too,” Earle asked.

The proceeds from his book benefit The Brookwood Community, outside Houston, Texas, an educational and entrepreneurial community for adults with disabilities, where Charlie – now 24 – works.

Charlie and Earle spend two days each week together – as they have since Charlie was first diagnosed.

Better Deals – Much Better Deals, Really!


Make It Better is launching our Better Deals tomorrow. Think Groupon or Living Social, but much better for your community because businesses keep more and nonprofit partners share in the proceeds. Win for business, win for the nonprofit, win for your hometown.

To participate, please sign up through this link:


Thank you!