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There are many stereotypes people are faced with every day. Whether they are based on skin color, religion or social circle, various judgments fill the adult world with preconceptions about people based on one characteristic.

Unfortunately, stereotypes stretch outside of the adult world and onto the younger generation. I hear many things when talking to adults about the work I do for the community, but I hear one thing more than any other: “It’s great to see a young person actually doing something!”

While I am aware this is meant as a compliment, I often take offense when told I am one of the few members of my generation taking action.

There is a strong stereotype that my generation doesn’t care, makes poor choices and is just plain bad. Yes, there will always be the 1 percent of teens my age who don’t care what happens to the world we live in, but they are far from the majority. There are young people doing amazing things, big and small, every single day.


Changing the world

I recently was selected as one of 10 national winners of the Peace First Prize. The prize is meant to “celebrate the powerful contributions of youth peacemakers.” I am extremely honored to be associated with a group of individuals, ages 9 to 22, who are changing the world.

From my project, the Tolerance Fair, an event meant to bring communities together; to the goals of others, such as bridging the gap between young people and police in Detroit; to providing teddy bears to orphaned children — I have learned about amazing projects being done by young people that are creating a big impact.

While there is a class of people in my generation who are following their passion, and dedicating parts of their lives to changing the world for the better, there are millions of teens making a difference in their own little way every single day.


Small acts do matter

One project that I launched is called Good Deeds Matter. The purpose of this campaign is to highlight the small acts of kindness. We ask kids to decorate a 5-by-5-inch puzzle piece describing their personal good deeds. The pieces show kids helping each other with homework, cooking for friends who are ill, donating food and taking time to volunteer.

When put together into mosaics, these pieces visually showcase a wealth of kindness.

So yes, there are some teens who would want to watch the world burn, but thankfully they are the 1 percent.

All that I would ask of an adult (or anyone for that matter) is to see the other 99 percent who will be there to fight that fire. Whether it’s the big-scale projects that can move mountains, or the little acts of kindness that add up to an ocean of good, you better watch out — because my generation’s 99 percent is changing the world as we know it. 

Justin Bachman, a junior at Solon High School who has Tourette’s syndrome, founded the annual Tolerance Fair of Northeast Ohio. This year’s event will take place on March 9 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Cleveland Convention Center. More than 200 nonprofit and resource organizations will be on exhibit. For more information, visit


To learn more about Honor Good Deeds, like its Facebook page and follow on Twitter @HonorGoodDeeds

In his book “What the CEO Wants You to Know,” Ram Charan shares the universal laws of business success that it doesn’t matter whether you are selling from a fruit stand or running a Fortune 500 company, the same basic fundamentals dating back to his days working in the family shoe shop in India still hold true.

At Clark-Reliance, we focus on sharing concepts from the book with our employees with the goal of helping our team understand the basic fundamentals that drive business results. Every member of Clark-Reliance becomes a leader when the basic fundamentals of business are promoted and executed.

There are three things to hone in on in any business in order to be successful: cash generation, return on assets and growth. We want our team to understand these important concepts individually and the relationships that exist between them.

Charan tells you right up front ... you don’t need a formal education and it does not matter what size your company is, you still need to think about your company in the simplicity of a street vendor. He stresses the importance of keeping the entrepreneurial spirit that he learned on the streets of India and shares his sage advice:

Cash generation — Cash is generated when the inflow of revenue exceeds the outflow. The cash that goes out applies to salary, taxes and supplier costs. Cash in is generally payment from customers. Cash is the business’s oxygen supply.

If you do not have cash, nothing makes business sense. The underlying goal is to make sure that everyone is involved in the daily thinking of, “How can I generate cash?” Simple things such as getting invoices out on time by assuring mailroom efficiency will help with cash generation.

Return on assets — Return on assets measures how well you are using the capital you have invested in your business. You may use capital to buy equipment, plants, computers, inventory and more. What kind of money is being returned to you through the use of those assets? How fast do raw materials go through a factory and become finished goods and then get sold?

The velocity or speed with which you turn your inventory into sales has a great impact on your return. Within the return on assets calculation lies gross margin: your sales dollars less your costs of producing the product. Watching and evaluating your costs to produce your product gives you valuable clues to your competitiveness and material costs.

Growth — The question you have to ask is, “Are you growing profitably?” How do you continue to encourage growing profitably? The customers are critical to this analysis. You have to make sure that you are going to produce a product that the customer base knows that they can use to reduce their costs and expenses.

You also want to assure that your engineers design the product with the customer’s needs in mind. The customer’s satisfaction with design, performance and price directly affects the basic fundamentals of your own growth, return on investments and cash generation.

This book is a tremendous tool to get everyone in the business to grasp, understand and to drive good results moving forward. The best methodology that we have utilized is to give employees something they can read and go back and answer questions and use examples to implement in our industry. ●

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies.

To learn more about Clark Reliance, like its Facebook page

Connect with Clark Reliance on LinkedIn

Small and middle-market companies aspiring to land national accounts may have advantages over larger competitors by offering more flexibility, greater efficiencies, better service and faster turnaround.

But often that’s not enough to win the business of the biggest and best brands, and the benefits that smaller organizations bring to the negotiation can be offset by downsides such as lack of buying power, fewer resources and limited national and international licenses. 


Benefits of client profit sharing

One breakthrough strategy for attracting and retaining major clients is to share profits with them. Client profit sharing can do the following:

■  Turn a customer into a partner with common goals.

  Increase client engagement and loyalty.

  Lower the cost of doing business.

  Increase revenue and net income.

  Drive information sharing and entry into new markets.

  Spur innovation and developing new products.

■  Bring products and services to market quicker.

  Grow referrals to potential clients.

There are several critical factors for analyzing client profit sharing viability.

First, the supplier should assess the opportunity not just from its own position of strength and financial interest, but also from the combined competitive advantages that both companies bring to the market. The assumption of profit should, however, be backed by mutual due diligence.

At the same time, there should be adequate margin in the individual profit to insulate the supplier from breaking even or losing money in the case of unanticipated cost increases. The shared profit model should also be competitive overall with the supplier’s lower-volume business, so the incentive to fulfill orders or provide services is equal.

The price of the product or service for which profit is being shared should be set at fair market value. The price shouldn’t be raised just to retain the supplier’s usual margin before the split at the potential expense of losing business to overpricing.


Forging a custom contract

Another benefit to profit sharing is forging a custom contract that safeguards the supplier and client in a way that typical agreements usually don’t. By detailing specific rules of engagement that include regulatory compliance, the interests of both partners are best represented and protected, and the doors to opportunity open wider.

Ongoing evaluation is essential to stakeholder satisfaction. Profit sharing agreements usually renew annually, but continuous appraisal is vital to optimum performance. Uphold deliverables and discuss modifications that can improve outcomes. Likewise, monitor the commitments of your partner to ensure equity and goal achievement. It takes two to make it work, but only one to break it.


Opportunities abound

Whether you’re a service company or manufacturer, prospects for creative client partnering abound. When two businesses merge their unique competencies, the synergies can result in mutual benefits well beyond a one-way transaction. Reciprocity is the key to endurance.

If you’re a small or midsize enterprise looking to push through the barriers for doing business with national firms, proposing profit sharing could be the attention-grabber that gets you in the door. Even if the concept doesn’t materialize, the points you get for trying may be high enough to turn the heads of decision-makers.

If nothing else, it shows potential or current client that your company is innovative, nimble and genuine about being more than a supplier. With a business commitment of any type, these are the ideologies of a lasting, productive relationship.


Eric Lofquist is co-owner, president and CEO of Magnus International Group Inc., an award-winning sustainable global products company. He is a regional and national EY Entrepreneur Of The Year whose business has ranked No. 1 on the Weatherhead 100. Contact him at (216) 592-8355, ext. 223 or For more information, visit 

Connect with Eric Lofquist on LinkedIn

Cle clm 0314 chuck fowler “Resource-ful”   @FM_sand


To learn more about Fairmount Minerals, like its Facebook page and follow on Twitter @FM_Sand.


ART: 134777189 ; 123262324 ; 157149536 ; 109907015


Sustainable development pays



At Fairmount Minerals, one of North America’s largest producers of industrial sand and resin-coated products, we believe that an investment in sustainable development — our people, our environment and the communities where we operate — is an investment in our organization. Daily the Fairmount Family brings to life our motto of “Do Good. Do Well.” by embracing sustainability.

In 2010, we began calculating the impact of our Sustainable Development program as a result of cost savings or cost avoidance and termed it, “SD Pays.” This program encompasses both tangible and intangible value as determined by each of our 13 sustainable development teams. Tangible value is calculated on a monthly basis with the goal of an annual dollar summary. For projects that span multiple years for implementation and where the scope remains the same, savings are credited and applied to each year.


Savings outpace expenses

In our first year, we spent less than $5.8 million on the program, but recorded more than $11 million in savings. This included one of our most successful ongoing projects for the Sustainable Value Chain team. The project entails switching from cardboard box packaging to a reusable and recyclable bulk bag. It saves us more than $650,000 annually and hundreds of thousands of pounds of packaging avoid the landfill.

Some areas we consider include material cost reduction, reduction of resources and increased operations efficiency. Intangible value is also important to meeting our people, planet and prosperity goals. Documentation takes the form of qualitative stories and anecdotal evidence. Examples include such things as social license to operate, talent attraction and retention, improved community relations and improved employee work/life balance.

Annually, we measure and manage how much the program “pays” as well as how much the program costs. The costs include items such as sustainable development team expenses, department expenses and community investment spending.

Another successful project resulting in SD Pays comes from the Sustainable Mobility team. Its goal is to maximize tonnage loaded in railcars, utilize barging when applicable and capitalize on Fairmount’s logistical and distribution network by shipping via unit train when applicable. In 2013, savings for this team totaled more than $8.6 million from a reduction in fuel consumption, which also results in a reduction in carbon emissions.


Carbon footprint improvements

Finally, the last project we would like to highlight comes from the Quest for Eco-Efficiency team. Fairmount Minerals is focused on ways in which we can improve our carbon footprint, and one of the ways we have identified is through increasing our use of renewable energy.

Building upon our successful solar array project at our Best Sand facility in Chardon, we again partnered with Bold Alternatives, an alternative energy firm, to install a solar array at our Menomonie, Wisc., facility in 2011. The array currently supplies 1 percent of the facility’s total energy draw, as well as completely offsets the energy usage for the office building.

While this may not seem like a significant contribution to our energy needs or SD Pays, we anticipate a three- to four-year payback on the project, which will allow us to continue to invest in alternative energy opportunities. In addition, the solar array represents an important intangible SD Pays. As part of the installation, we hosted students and the community as an educational tool so they could observe and participate in the process. This project illustrated our “Do Good. Do Well.” motto in action.

While we calculate the ways in which “sustainable development pays” to help quantify the value of our efforts for the Fairmount Family, our investors and other stakeholders, we also do so with the hope of inspiring other companies — helping them to see that sustainability supports economic value creation. We can definitely say, without any question, that SD Pays. ●


Chuck Fowler is the retired CEO of Fairmount Minerals. He is a longtime proponent of sustainable business practices and actively encourages environmental, social and economic responsibility. For more information, visit


Northern Ohio is known the world over as a major hub for medical innovation. From the cutting-edge research, clinical trials and promising breakthrough treatments developed at our hospitals, to the new Global Center for Healthcare Innovation, our region continues to play an instrumental role in shaping the future of health care.

Lesser known, but just as important, is our region’s contribution to the development and advancement of end-of-life care.


Hospice movement sprouted here

Hospice and palliative care is a philosophy that includes pain management and symptom control for the patient and emotional and spiritual support for the patient and family. It has become an important part of the health care continuum — and the seeds of the hospice movement in the United States were sown and nurtured right here.

Hospice of the Western Reserve was founded in Lake County in 1978, known as Cancer Family Services at that time. Today, the community-based agency has grown into one of the nations largest and most respected nonprofit hospice providers, with 900 employees and 2,000 trained volunteers. The agency is headquartered in Cleveland, and serves a nine-county area. 

We care for people of all ages, with any serious illness, and we have extensive expertise in the areas of cancer, heart disease, COPD, HIV/AIDS, dementia, chronic kidney disease and pediatric end-of-life care. Hospice of the Western Reserve believes that quality will be the strategic differentiator between hospices, and the most important tool for patients and families to choose a hospice program. 

For this reason, Hospice of the Western Reserve strongly advocates for a single database of quality scores for hospices across the country, and we are committed to providing absolutely unsurpassed quality care at end of life in our community.


How can hospice care help you and your employees?

■  It can reduce the overall cost of health care.

  Many of your employees are caregivers for their own aging parents or grandparents, placing an added burden on their health and productivity. Hospice supports the caregivers as well as the patient, giving them peace of mind and respite.

  Hospice can provide bereavement and workplace grief support.

Myths persist, but hospice is not about giving up. In fact, it’s all about living life as fully as possible when time is measured in weeks or months, rather than days. Palliative care helps people who are in the midst of life-prolonging and curative treatments to manage the pain and symptoms of complex illnesses.

Hospice ensures life at the end of life. It recognizes death as a natural process and focuses on a holistic approach in providing care and services. The physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological aspects of each individual are addressed, placing a special emphasis on symptom control.

As a leading advocate for dignity and choice at the end-of-life, hospice and palliative care will continue to grow in importance as the population continues to age. More than 1.5 million patients are currently receiving hospice care in the U.S.

Sometimes, as a disease progresses, curative measures are no longer available or effective. Hospice care can change how a person approaches the rest of his or her life. The focus becomes different. Hospice is about giving individuals choices, comfort and dignity in the final stage of life. It needs to be considered an integral part of the health care continuum.

William E. Finn is CEO of Hospice of the Western Reserve and has served in that role since February 2011. He has been in the field of hospice and palliative care for 28 years. For information, visit    @hospicewr

There’s no question that a fair amount of confusion exists about the Affordable Care Act — including the lack of clarity about the differences between private insurance exchanges and public exchanges.

Beginning now, individuals are, as a result of the ACA, required to either obtain health insurance or face penalties. Most people are covered by employer-sponsored medical plans, but many are not covered and have even previously been deemed uninsurable. Not any more.


Examining the public exchanges

The ACA’s public exchanges were intended to help make insurance more affordable and enable the uninsured to be covered regardless of existing health conditions.

The health plans offered on these public exchanges are labeled platinum, gold, silver and bronze, reflecting the levels of coverage and the cost to consumers. All these plans offer the same core benefits, or minimum benefit sets, and are offered by insurance companies through the public exchange mechanism.

The public exchanges offer only major medical coverage to participants and as a result, voluntary benefits such as vision or dental must be sought elsewhere. Fourteen states have set up their own, state-run public exchanges, and 36 states have chosen to rely on the exchange established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Thus far, consumers have had varying experiences in the public exchange marketplaces, state or federal, including reporting delays and glitches on a widespread basis.


Understanding private marketplaces

Private exchanges or marketplaces are different. They are open to consumers, whether individuals, employers or groups of affiliates. Private marketplaces make it possible to get information, examine alternatives, decide which plans are best and manage the process directly without any delays or bureaucratic interference.

Private marketplaces have particular appeal to employers who are striving to manage the costs of offering health benefits, while providing an exceptional experience to employees.

Employers can give employees a set amount of money, directing them to a private exchange, or they can utilize the more traditional defined benefit plan.

Enrollees also will be eligible for an array of voluntary benefits such as dental, life and various forms of gap coverage to bridge the difference between the deductible amount and out-of-pocket expenses.

Private insurance exchanges make it easier for the participant to take charge of health and benefit programs.


Consider the Ohio Benefits Marketplace

With this in mind, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with CieloStar, has established a private health care marketplace available to Ohio employers called the Ohio Chamber Benefits Marketplace,

This marketplace website provides an easy and cost-effective way to shop for health care benefits. Whether you are a company of one or 1,000, we have various benefit options that can be tailored to the needs of your employees.

In addition to major medical plans, the Ohio Chamber Member Benefits Marketplace also provides a comprehensive suite of ancillary health benefits such as dental, vision, life and other insurance options. Through the website, employees can craft a package of health care benefits that fits their needs, not someone else’s.

And most importantly, shopping for health care benefits on our website is easy. In just five steps, companies can be on their way to offering competitive employee benefits at an affordable price. ●

Beau Euton is vice president of membership at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. To contact the Ohio Chamber, call (614) 228-4201 or visit

William Mehus is the executive chairman of CieloStar. CieloStar and CieloChoice are trademarks of OutsourceOne Inc., a Minnesota-based corporation. For more information, visit

To learn more about the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, like its Facebook page and follow on Twitter @OhioChamber.

When asked what the key to remaining relevant in business for an extended period of time was, a prominent CEO once quipped to me, “Planned obsolescence.”

His company followed a strict rule: Every 18 months, it would introduce a new product and make an existing one obsolete. This, he explained, drove innovation and filled the product pipeline.

This same “constant reinvention” philosophy permeates many of the world’s best companies. They understand that to stay competitive you must develop corporate cultures imbued with innovation and the will to try new things.

Apple, for example, regularly introduces new versions of its iPhone, iPad and iPod, thereby ensuring that it keeps revenue streams fresh and products in demand. And rarely a day goes by that you don’t get a notification that an app on your smartphone or tablet has an update available.

SBN reinvention

You may have noticed with our January 2014 edition that we are in the midst of our own little reinvention. While we remain true to our core commitment of bringing you the best insight, advice and strategy from regional business leaders, we have introduced several new initiatives.

First, we added more contributing columnists to the publication and our website. Some of these new voices will appear quarterly; others two to three times per year.

In case you missed them, last month we introduced five of these regular contributors: Mal Mixon, chairman of Invacare Corp.; Terry Davis, president and CEO of Our Lady of the Wayside; JJ DiGeronimo, president of Tech Savvy Women; Stewart Kohl, co-CEO of The Riverside Co.; and Cheryl McMillan, Northeast Ohio Vistage chair.

This month, we feature another group, including Umberto Fedeli, president and CEO of The Fedeli Group; Bill Kitson, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland; Todd Goldstein, CEO and managing partner of LaunchHouse; and William Holdipp Jr. of the Consortium of African American Organizations.

And, in future months, you’ll hear from such regional leaders as Case Western Reserve University President Barbara Snyder, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, JumpStart’s Jerry Frantz, Fairmount Minerals’ Chuck Fowler and Hospice of the Western Reserve’s William E. Finn.

Two new features

Second, we’re excited to introduce two new features — Uniquely Cleveland and Building Stronger Communities.

Uniquely Cleveland provides a behind-the-scenes look at something that’s, well, uniquely Cleveland. This month’s article, for example, looks at some of the items housed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. In upcoming editions, we’ll peel back the curtain to discuss the business side of Walnut Wednesdays and PlayhouseSquare, and even explore what goes into pulling off the annual Taste of Tremont.

Our new Building Stronger Communities feature spotlights nonprofit organization leaders who are working hand-in-hand with the business community to strengthen the regions where we all live and work.

We’re also adding more “first-person” features, penned by the entrepreneurs who are shaping Northeast Ohio’s business community. The article written by restaurateur Sam McNulty about why he’s investing in Ohio City, which ran in January’s print edition, is just one example.

Finally, we’re launching a new signature event for 2014 — the Corporate College Smart 50. It will recognize the leaders of the 50 “smartest” organizations in Northeast Ohio, so don’t miss your opportunity for nominations.

All of these new initiatives are designed to bring this region’s business community just a little closer together. As always, we welcome your suggestions for story ideas, people to interview, voices to include and topics to cover. After all, this is your publication. ● 

Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at or (440) 250-7026

As the owner of a commercial grounds management company, I know a lot about sustainable practices in landscaping and snow removal. Propane-powered mowers, bio-nutritional fertilizers and green waste recycling are some of the ways we’re helping protect the planet and create healthier places to live, work and shop for our clients. 

But for business owners, sustainability is about much more than being environmentally conscious. Whatever your industry, you need to build a sustainable business that’s healthy and profitable. And just like in landscaping, that sometimes requires pruning.

It may seem counterintuitive to cut something back to help it grow, but as experienced gardeners know, strategic pruning is essential for healthy growth. A plant wastes a lot of fuel and energy trying to feed an old limb versus a new limb. To rejuvenate the plant, you cut it back. Removing the old wood, allowing the new wood to regenerate and grow.

For business owners, strategic pruning can mean the difference between surviving and thriving. Your products and services have to create value for your customers. If you don’t step back and take a good look at your business to be sure the marketplace values what you sell, you’re destined to fail.

Two years ago, we decided to assess the health of our business. Juggling too many balls was reducing our profits. We said, “Here’s the piece of the business that makes the most sense. Here’s where we can provide value, support our families and the community, create profit and build our enterprise.” So we started trimming and even cut off a few limbs.

Today, we’re a dramatically different company. By becoming 100 percent committed to commercial work, we’ve focused our staff and our operations on serving the customers who place the highest value on what we do. Profits have more than tripled over the last two years.

Change isn’t easy. It can even be painful. You may have to learn new ways of doing business. But if you don’t, your business will not remain sustainable. 

How do you know when you need to make changes to improve the health of your enterprise? If you’re not being innovative and strategic in your business, if you’re no longer focusing on what your customers value most about working with you, or if you’re crossing your fingers and hoping things will get better, it’s time.

Building a sustainable business is not just about creating a better environment. It’s about making sure your business is going to last. Here are some tips for building a sustainable business: 

Get help from experts: Look to trusted business advisers and peers for help in evaluating the value stream of your business and how to improve it. Working with a professional peer association like Vistage also can help you learn from the successes and failures of other business leaders and find the courage to make hard choices. 

Reward innovative thinking: Solicit ideas from employees on how to deliver greater value to your customers. Create a culture of innovation to keep your business ahead of the curve. 

Evaluate carefully: Unhealthy parts of your business can sometimes be fixed if you deploy different methods or retrain your staff. Explore all your options before making big changes.

Act strategically: Set clear goals for where you want your business to be in five or 10 years. Let your vision guide your decisions. 

Monitor continuously: A sustainable business requires constant monitoring and unwavering focus. ●


Jerry Schill is president of Schill Grounds Management, a commercial landscaping and snow removal company serving many of the most prominent retail, commercial, industrial, apartment and condominium properties in Northern Ohio. For more information, visit



Today’s donors and volunteers are seeking new ways to contribute their time, talent and treasure, forcing the nonprofit industry to find innovative strategies to keep them engaged. Audience segmentation based on a donor or volunteers specific interests engages them by affirming their contribution directly impacts the causes they passionately support. 

This is an issue I think about often as United Way struggles to hold onto its donors. In the last 20 years, the number of United Way donors has significantly decreased. Today we stand at only 80,000 donors in a community of more than 1.2 million people. It begs the question — how can United Way and other community nonprofits morph from our grandfather’s charity into something new, fresh and exciting?


Millennials and philanthropy

Baby boomers make up the largest share of donations to charities. Research suggests boomers determined their charities of choice in early adulthood. Following the trend of the preceding generation, millennials are currently making similar decisions about which causes they will continually support in their lifetime.

Millennials thrive on instant gratification, which impacts their approach to philanthropy. Millennials want to take action — they want to see their donations and their volunteer time impact the community immediately. This group gets involved with philanthropy because they want to personally identify with a cause.

Most millennials don’t give at the same level as their more established counterparts, but their ability to advocate is priceless. Millennials are more influenced by their peers than any of the earlier generations. They can and want to use their voice and other platforms like blogs and social media to create awareness about an organization’s cause.

Nonprofit organizations are starting to focus their research and strategies around millennials because they realize this generation is driving true community impact. To tap into this audience, nonprofits should create opportunities for millennials to give, advocate and volunteer to something specific such as kids succeeding in school or job training to reduce poverty.


Corporate social responsibility

We can also reach a new audience of donors within our corporate community. Like millennials who want to be more engaged, many corporations want a similar hands-on approach to philanthropy. Businesses are seeking opportunities to create a new kind of impact in their ever-changing communities. This is an opportunity for nonprofits and corporations to leverage their partnerships.

More corporations are aligning their philanthropic giving directly to their values whether it’s youth development or green initiatives. And business leaders also strategize their philanthropic giving around issues most important to their employees and their brand.

For example, housing services partner with banks to provide financial counseling and foreclosure prevention services in the community. And there are companies committed to education where employees serve as mentors to guide area students through academic challenges.

Millennials and corporations are becoming more strategic about their philanthropy. It’s vital for nonprofits to find ways to remain relevant in this new environment. Nonprofits need to be specific; it’s no longer enough to ask a donor to give to “help people in need.” Now, it’s a matter of focusing to improve graduation rates or ensuring kids read at grade level.

Let’s take advantage of opportunities to engage donors and volunteers by creating targeted, personal and localized giving opportunities, volunteer projects and chances for our audiences to use their voice to support our causes. 


Bill Kitson, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland, is committed to advancing education, income and health by engaging community members to give, advocate and volunteer. He can be reached at (216) 436-2101 or For more information, visit


Twitter: @UnitedWayCLE



Customers can make or break a business, no matter what stage or industry. One of the main downfalls of an unsuccessful business is not having the customer in mind when developing new products. Whether it’s focus groups, market research via landing pages or customer surveys — the list of ways to examine a customer/market fit is endless and can often be costly.

So how do you successfully stretch a dollar to develop that next “it” product? The answer is simple — focus on listening to your customer.

At LaunchHouse, we see it, preach it and utilize it time and time again when working with early-stage startups. The Lean Startup Customer Development process, popularized by Eric Ries and Steve Blank, is a way to make sense of relationships between customers and products, and the best part is that it can be applied to businesses at any level or industry. One of the key takeaways of this process is how to apply these principles to get, keep and grow your customer base.

Here’s an example of a big corporation not utilizing customer development when designing a new product.

Do you remember when BlackBerry launched the BlackBerry PlayBook? Only after launching the product did BlackBerry receive the negative reviews causing the company to dramatically cut prices. Needless to say BlackBerry lost its potential customers to the competition.

Start on day one

So, what steps can a business take in order to ensure successful product launch the first time around?

1. Get up, move around and leave your building. Not everything can be learned behind the comfort of a desk. Loyal customers are not created in a controlled office environment. They’re everywhere — malls, schools, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. Take an afternoon to hit the streets. Make contact with potential customers and conduct field interviews.

2. Communicate with your customers. Customer validation is key for every business. Focus on customer development and conduct interviews, building an understanding of customer’s needs. Utilize the feedback and established needs, build the minimally viable product, iterate. Do this until the product is complete and ready for launch.

3. Your customers are dynamic; their needs will change as well as the product trends and buying actions. Don’t communicate with customers only during customer interviews or only when launching new products. Implement a continual customer development method that works in harmony with your business to track changing trends.

4. Get to know your market. Whether it is a new market, a new segment or an existing market with a long line of supplementary products, build a knowledgeable team who is prepared to take on the competition.

5. Organize it. Implement it. Share the overall goal of generating customer satisfaction. Information collected during customer interviews, focus groups, surveys and other methods must be tracked, organized, focused and applicable for departments at any given time. 

Now take charge! Next week commit yourself to talk with 10 new customers. Ask yourself: What methods are you using to ensure customer growth and retention? What have you done in the past? What was the result? What new strategies can be implemented in the future?

Try out these tried and true methods and by the time you’re ready to launch a new product, there will already be customers eager to purchase the product.  

Todd Goldstein is the CEO and managing partner at LaunchHouse, a business accelerator and co-working community that fosters entrepreneurial success and job creation through seed capital, education and innovation. Since 2008, Goldstein has invested in a diverse portfolio of 51 startup companies, which have raised more than $10 million in funding. For more information, visit

Twitter: @LaunchHouse
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