This is the first in a series of posts looking back on the start of Turnstone Strategies. This post first appeared in March 2017 as "After getting an MBA, we head out into the real world — our careers — while never actually having left."
It’s my first year as an MBA student and I’m sitting in a tiny office with a TA, going over Microeconomics problem sets. On this day, I’m trying to figure out how to set up a demand curve and identify the market equilibrium in the global steel industry. The TA takes my pencil and draws horizontal lines showing the production capacity of each plant in the industry. Then he draws a sloping line that represents demand. The concept starts to make sense. I continue to practice daily ahead of the final, which accounts for nearly 100% of the grade. When the final comes, I pounce on the first problem, which luckily is the same one the TA showed me, one that I reviewed over and over. The final ends up coming down to a set of true/false questions on Cournot reaction functions. I have to guess on a few of those but still end up with a solid score on the test.
As I complete my MBA this week [March 5, 2017], I look back on plenty of indelible academic, and social experiences. As classmates, we spent hundreds of hours together, making the time pass through the drudgery of group meetings, conference calls and occasionally dry subject matter. Our lives became compartmentalized into Home, School and Work. And whatever happened at Work was left behind when arriving at School. There was a wonderful comfort in the pre-class conversation and idle observations about classes and the world and I may miss that the most.
Then there are the classes, the heavy core classes like Microeconomics and Finance and the fun ones in Marketing and Management. We studied well-known business cases and obscure ones that were sometimes the most memorable (just this past quarter, Steinway pianos and the Thai scotch industry). After a while, the concepts from the courses began to come together like a puzzle and we had at least a passing answer for everything. We learned to posit theories with incomplete information, and make reasonable attempts to back them up with evidence. And as someone in the nonprofit space, I had experiences I never would have thought possible, including contributing to the launch of a new service in the vehicle battery market for a Fortune 100 firm.
It’s important to acknowledge that even being able to apply to an MBA program, though, comes from a place of extreme privilege. Most everything we did took place in a bubble, a comfortable space with its own norms and a fair share of incongruities. It was a sort of dream world where one can be earnest and a little smug, caring and outright capitalist, generous and completely self-interested. It’s unreasonable to think that the world will always present itself as cleanly as it did in school, with the neatly defined case studies and hypercollaborative colleagues. Where it’s OK to say that the answer is “it depends” and where quantitative, verifiable information is always preferred over gut instinct or intuition. It’s unlikely most of us will ever be able to open a steel mill in Brazil or tell the CEO of Airbus what to do in its unending battle with Boeing, and we may not be able to decide whether Miele enters the Hong Kong market positioned as an ultra-luxury brand. In reality, most of our decisions will probably always be more mundane.
After finishing our MBAs, we head out into the real world — our careers — while never actually having left. What has changed, though, is that we’ve strengthened our ability to persist, have stretched the boundaries of our time and resources, can better frame the decisions we make at work and maybe even developed a new curiosity about the world. And that’s the most important lesson, one that ran through my head over and over, even in Microeconomics: to above all else always value growing and learning. And that’s what I’ll take away most: never stop learning. Ever.
Every organization should have a strategic plan. But getting off on the right foot will set you up for success later. Here are some questions to consider, from the perspective of someone who's been immersed in many strategic plans through the years--each tip preceded by a Star Wars quote (all from the first trilogy, of course).
1. "These are not the droids you are looking for." Is strategic planning actually what you need? A strategic plan will not be a panacea for low revenue, poor morale or a hostile political environment. It can help with those things, but it will not be the only solution.
2. "It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs!" Is this the right time to start a strategic plan? Leadership and other staff transitions, seasonality, resources and operational capacity are all factors to consider. The most effective plans take time, from research to discussion to articulating recommendations.
3. "I've got something. Not much, but it could be a life form." Do you have the capacity to handle the plan internally or is outside facilitation needed? Some organizations will be in position to have a staff or Board member gather research, lead discussion sessions, make recommendations and write the plan. But the benefits of having an outside, neutral perspective may outweigh the benefits of handling it internally.
4. "Do or do not. There is no try." Is there initial discovery that could be done internally right now? Beginning to collect key data points can jumpstart your process. Then your first internal planning meeting will have some information to stoke dialog right away.
5. "You will go to the Dagobah system. There you will learn from Yoda." Are there upcoming venues for starting a strategic plan conversation? A strategic plan conversation can be added to the agenda at retreats, executive team meetings and Board meetings. Kicking off your next plan may not be all that far away.
Finally, the strategic plan needn't feel like a burden or extra work. Rather it should fit into or enhance your daily activities as an organization. The data and discussion provided by the plan can make an impact right away.
Turnstone can write and facilitate strategic plans. Contact us for more information.
I had a great time discussing "Monty and Rose," the film we made about endangered Great Lakes piping plovers, on Fox 32's "Good Day Chicago" on Jan. 20. You can watch the appearance here.
By Ellie Raidt
It is well known worldwide that we are in the midst of an environmental apocalypse. Our planet cannot adapt to the way we are developing. With increasing population and demand for new technologies, material goods, food, and entertainment, it is difficult for our environment and ecosystem to stay stable. Our home is choking on our excessive level of fossil fuel and drowning in our rising seas. This is not only a risk for humanity, but a burden for the youth of the world to clean up after those before them who left this mess.
For years, the newest generations have been making it clear to the leaders of the world that they need to work harder toward the end goal of a clean Earth. Youth are making their voices heard and are not afraid to step up and speak up to those in power. For example, young women like Varshini Prakash, who led a 150-student protest outside then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's office. Also Xiye Bastida, who is one of the many leaders of the youth climate movement. Young men like Benji Backer, who, despite being conservative, submitted his testimony to Congress stating that environmental wellness should be world governments’ No. 1 priority, as it impacts every single person. Also Vic Barrett, who is a part of the Alliance for Climate Education, one of the most important movements in the world today. Lastly, the renowned Greta Thunberg, who at only 16 years old has spoken to United Nations leaders about how they have betrayed the young people of the world by leaving a mess of a planet.
In August of 2018, Thunberg began the soon worldwide school strike by sitting on the steps of the Swedish Parliament every Friday in a silent, solitary protest. Thirteen months later, this led to a worldwide strike of about 7.6 million participants throughout 185 countries, the largest climate strike in history. Millions marched the streets with signs reading clever statements on single-use plastics and fossil fuels, grabbing the attention of pedestrians, city-goers, and most importantly, the world’s political leaders. In December Thunberg was named Time’s Person of the Year.
These people are making it clear that they are willing to stand for the one thing that every person has in common: our planet and home. It is still unclear exactly how the United Nations will act upon the requests being made from millions of people across the globe, if at all. One thing is clear: the Climate Crisis is making headlines and being acknowledged, which is more than what we have had in far too long. If politicians do not act when millions of people are on the streets rather than at school or work, then there is likely nothing that will impact their judgment.
If humans are going to reach the year 3000, the world needs to stop talking and start acting. Carbon emissions must be cut to zero, agriculture must become entirely sustainable, and green energy must be implemented as part of daily life. The Climate Crisis is a mountain that is seemingly impossible to summit, but with people like Greta, Benji, Varshini, Vic, Xiye, and the almost 8 million activists standing up for our home, there is hope for a green future.
Ellie Raidt is a first-year high school student who previously wrote a piece for The Fact Sheet.
The recent Chicago coyote attacks led me to start thinking about an encounter I had with one a few years ago when my daughter was about six months old. She was strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn and we were walking in Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, a brief escape from home on a crisp fall day. In those early days as a parent, it was a joy simply to get outside, but it was especially nice to introduce Sonja to our closest natural area.
There was a coyote ahead of us on a path near the central meadow on the point, about 50 yards from us. I suppose my tendency could have been to turn around right away when we saw it, but I stood for a while so we could both get a look at it. This passed for a type of adventure amid a lot of sleepless nights, diaper changes and bottle feedings. The coyote eventually turned away and walked in the opposite direction. Maybe I’m naive, but I never felt in danger - it’s also been a fun story to tell as Sonja gets older. The coyote attacks have led to perhaps sensationalistic media coverage - a producer or editor’s delight. This preys on our fears, though, and leads to an even deeper disconnect between people and nature, just as there is a wonderful re–wilding taking place in our cities.
Of course, my heart goes out to the child who was attacked - I have been in the woods enough to know that there are genuine concerns. But this shouldn’t lead us to lock ourselves in our homes and further withdraw from the outdoors. If anything, we need to head back out into nature with all of our senses attuned and a deeper awareness of the world around us. And indeed, that is what being in nature is all about.
I've been involved in an effort to protect Chicago's endangered piping plovers throughout 2019, as a volunteer, a Board member of Chicago Ornithological Society and as a documentary filmmaker. I addressed the Chicago Park District's Board of Commissioners during their monthly meeting today at their headquarters. Here's what I said.
Good afternoon. My name is Bob Dolgan and I’m a Board member of Chicago Ornithological Society and dad to two young daughters who frequently visit Montrose Beach. I’ve also made a short documentary, “Monty and Rose,” about the federally endangered piping plovers that nested at Montrose Beach this summer—one pair out of only 71 pairs left in the world. The film has played to seven local screenings, five of which have sold out and led to Governor Pritzker declaring November 18, 2019, Piping Plover Day in Illinois.
When Monty and Rose began scratching their nests, it was a stunning moment in Chicago’s natural history. For 64 years, these birds, the gray ghosts of Great Lakes beaches, had been missing from Chicago. Now they had returned, much to the surprise of the entirety of the birding community. We dropped everything to be there and stand guard around their very vulnerable nests. A few days later we learned of the Mamby on the Beach music festival being scheduled for Montrose Beach for the third week of August. It felt as though the rug was pulled out from under us. The festival certainly would be a conflict for the up to two dozen shorebird species that would be stopping on the beach for migration at the same time.
Montrose Beach is a top three birding destination in eastern North America in terms of the number of species observed, 346. It’s the top birding destination in ALL of North America when accounting for its relatively small size. It’s become an even more incredible place because of the longtime efforts of habitat restoration volunteers led by the indomitable Leslie Borns, and because the Park District has invested in it. People come from all over the Midwest and the suburbs to visit Chicago, to visit Montrose, to watch birds. Four weeks ago today, an ancient murrelet, a seabird of the craggy coasts of the Pacific Northwest, showed up at Montrose. One hundred and four birders from across the state arrived on a moment’s notice to observe the bird on a dreary November day. That’s just one example of a lot of people coming into the city to watch birds.
We need to recognize that the dunes, savannas and wetlands on the southern end of Lake Michigan existed long before us. Birds still utilize the patchwork of what’s left. That’s why we’re asking that the Park District create a policy for large events at Montrose, so that we can again be the City in a Garden.
Piping Plover Day draws 2.5 million-plus media impressions, mobilizes volunteers, marks release of documentary
From two beach clean-ups to a bird walk, a happy hour and even a film screening, the first-ever Illinois Piping Plover Day was a smashing success, tallying at least 2.5 million media impressions and bringing together people across the Illinois shore of Lake Michigan. Piping Plover Day—a concept developed and implemented by Turnstone Strategies—was inspired by “Monty” and “Rose,” a pair of endangered piping plovers that took up residence this summer on busy Montrose Beach in Chicago. When a scheduled music festival encroached on their nest, the plovers were propelled to national headlines and became local avian celebrities.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker declared November 18 Piping Plover Day to celebrate the birds, the volunteers that protected them and the release of a documentary on the same day. The announcement drew interest from television, radio and newspaper outlets. With just days to prepare, we quickly organized a suite of activities on a dreary November day. For starters, volunteers gathered at Montrose Beach to collect plastics and other human debris in hopes of protecting shorebird habitat. Volunteers in Waukegan followed that up with a beach cleanup of their own. Meanwhile, a group of birders braved the 30-degree temperatures for a walk at South Shore Nature Sanctuary, a parcel of lakefront property that is threatened by development. In the afternoon, the festivities moved to Spiteful Brewing on the city’s North Side, where a cause marketing promotion included a toast to Monty and Rose and a percentage-of-sales to benefit piping plover conservation.
The special day was capped by a screening of “Monty and Rose,” an independent documentary developed by Turnstone Strategies and funded through the generous support of backers on Kickstarter. The showing drew a sellout crowd to the historic Music Box Theatre, the first of five sold-out showings.
A robust social strategy resulted in at least 100,000 impressions on Twitter and nearly as many on Facebook. The #PloverDay hashtag and custom graphics received tweets and retweets from a number of notable birders and leading Chicago conservation organizations and public agencies. The earned media strategy included print media and a letter to the editor that appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
Local volunteers are hopeful that Monty and Rose return to Chicago next year. Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a goal of ensuring 150 piping plover pairs in the Great Lakes by 2050. The current total is 71 pairs. The next steps are to develop a longer-lasting communications strategy that raises awareness of the birds, rallies Chicagoans and ensures expansion of the plover population.
Visit www.montyandrose.net to learn more about the documentary and attend a screening.
"Monty and Rose" tells the story of a pair of endangered piping plovers that successfully nested at Chicago's Montrose Beach in the summer of 2019, the first of the species to nest in Chicago in 64 years. Written, produced and directed by Turnstone's Bob Dolgan, the short documentary chronicles these special birds and an unpredictable series of events including a proposed music festival that propelled the birds to national headlines. "Monty and Rose" features interviews with an array of key players in the story, including biologists, birders, volunteers and the advocates who spoke out when the music festival was proposed. "Monty and Rose" is an independent project, funded through the generous support of backers on Kickstarter. Partners in the project include Turnstone Strategies, Wenkus Productions, Free Spirit Media and Eileen Wagner Design. Music is by local indie favorites Congress of Starlings. "Monty and Rose" will be released in November 2019. Learn more and support the film by visiting www.montyandrose.net.
Check out our trailer below!
By Bob Dolgan
September is traditionally the time when nonprofit organizations take a serious look at their plans for year-end fundraising. For many organizations, the last several weeks of the year account for the majority of individual giving. The rise of Giving Tuesday has changed the traditional calendar a bit. So have changes to the tax code — Dec. 31 is more of a symbolic deadline than it was in the past. What hasn’t changed is the importance of communicating with advocates, donors and volunteers — early and often.
Here is a primer on the four P’s of nonprofit marketing, a framework I developed after studying the four P’s that reign in corporate marketing. Nonprofit marketing has some things in common with for-profit marketing. It also has many things unlike for-profit marketing in that its activities are for public benefit rather than for shareholders. So here goes.
People are the advocates, donors, employees, partners and volunteers who support your cause and may be best positioned to support it again. Each of these groups requires a slightly different approach, though relationship-building and communications are at the core. People may be approached through events, phone calls and meetings, or virtually via email or social media. Your interactions with People throughout the year should build to a well-positioned request for support at the end of the year.
Programming refers to the mission of the organization or the services it provides. Having marketers present for programming conversations is highly valuable. When I was with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the rollout of the Producemobile served multiple purposes — it provided fruit and vegetables to food deserts but also served as a unique identifier for the organization and a popular program with members of the media, donors and volunteers. In the end, the organization’s programs are a form of marketing.
Promotion is made up of the organization’s marketing channels, or all the communications that explain services and their impact. Promotion tactics are especially varied, including advertising, blogs, direct mail, emails, newsletters, podcasts, social media, websites and video. The goal of promotion is a high volume of impressions that reach people several times with meaningful information about the organization. It’s important to be consistent with everything from messaging to visual identity.
Purpose is about differentiating an organization’s offerings and creating value that goes beyond the services it provides. Purpose can relate to the organization’s beliefs, how it goes about its work and how it conveys its organizational voice. One significant opportunity under Purpose is storytelling. The way the organization shares its most compelling anecdotes can help it stand out from the crowd. Purpose can be one of the less tangible concepts but also can be one of the most powerful.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act, the view from coal country and a visit to a solar-powered building in Uptown
I went back to some old haunts in Southeast Ohio recently. My friend’s family had owned a cabin in the Appalachian part of the state for years, and I’d been fortunate to spend quite a bit of time there. It was something of a reunion of 40-something friends that brought us to a campground in the area in June, right along the Ohio River.
We did some wonderful hiking, but there often wasn’t much to do but sit and watch barges go by on the river. The barges, as it turns out, were moving coal toward a big power plant on the West Virginia side.
I thought about the amount of energy being used to extract the coal, fuel the barges and power the plant. Then I thought about how mining coal would affect the trees and the hills all around us. Not to mention the carbon-filled air from the coal plant. It seemed there might be some more modern and healthier ways to create electricity.
Back in Chicago, there’s been another thing I’ve observed recently: a buzz around electricity without coal. I’ve met several people in the past year who are working in the industry or even starting energy companies themselves. It’s given me some room for optimism. Here’s some evidence of less reliance on coal in the place I call home, along with the recent closures of nearby coal-fired plants. There’s some national data showing a trend here.
That’s what brought me to a town hall-style event at the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) in my neighborhood of Uptown a few weeks ago. ICA has a noble mission, committed to equity and the environment, located in a “green rise” building powered by solar panels. The event was to discuss a bill, the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA), with some lofty goals: 100% renewable energy in Illinois by 2050 and 40 million solar panels and 2,500 wind turbines by 2030. The bill has provisions around jobs, too, including investing in former power plant workers and disadvantaged communities.
The people at the town hall included families and a cross-section of Uptown residents. They came with common-sense concerns about energy and the economy. A lot of people felt like alternative energy was expensive, something that was out of reach and only available to the wealthy. Event organizers explained how that wasn’t necessarily the case.
I’m not entirely sure why CEJA wasn’t approved in the last session of the General Assembly. The bill makes quite a bit of sense and will not drain resources in a time when state finances are suffering. The hope is that it will pass in November and then be signed into law.
A meeting room in Uptown is a far cry from the banks of the Ohio River and coal country. But maybe an effort to further wean us from fossil fuel can start here in Chicago and Illinois. That could be hard to imagine for those in Ohio and West Virginia, who rely on coal for so much, but perhaps there is a path forward that works for everyone—and for our own health and well-being.
ICA has a nice write-up about the Uptown event here. ICA is organizing two more similar listening events, in South Shore on Aug. 28 and in Bronzeville in October.
Click here to learn more about CEJA and to get involved.