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 The mission of the "Your Mark on the World Center" is to solve the world's biggest problems before 2045 by identifying and championing the work of experts who have created credible plans and programs to end them once and for all.
Crowdfunding for Social Good
Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Monthly Archives: December 2015

Teaming Up Locally to Help Out Globally

This is a guest post from Angie Stocklin’s, COO and Co-Founder of One Click.

It’s nearly 2016 and time to wrap up a season of giving. Family and friends gathered together to count collective blessings and to share food, stories and gifts. We are, as New Year’s approaches, entering the handful of days when we are all focused on making and keeping promises — about how to treat ourselves better and how to treat others like we treat ourselves. So, it’s the perfect moment to reflect on the ways we can and do give back; to think about how we share the fruits of our success with those who need help the most.

Our mission statement calls on One Click, from senior leadership to our entry-level team members, to “enrich lives by helping people find the eyewear meant for them.” For those most desperately in need, “the eyewear meant for them” means the reading glasses and sunglasses we provide at no cost through our partner in giving — Timmy Global Health.

Timmy Global is a local (Indianapolis) 501(c)3 dedicated to providing, improving and expanding healthcare and health-related programs in Latin America. Their goal is to establish long-term, sustainable programs to provide a variety of assistance including clean drinking water and on-site health exams. All of this is built around long-term, individualized profiles. Medical teams who visit every 2-3 months will come equipped with the medical history of their patients in order to provide the most effective, efficient care possible.

The fit for us is a natural one. We’re able to provide Timmy with reading glasses that can be crucial to a family in need when their means of earning a living depends upon being able to see up close, such as weaving or fine beadwork. We’re also able to provide sunglasses that serve both as protection from the brightness of the sun, as well as from diseases of the eye that arise from the accumulation of fine dust and plant particles.

For so many people around the world, being able to see through a reading lens or a UV tint means being able to perform vital work. When, for some, cost and availability of that eyewear is insurmountable, access to relatively low cost eyewear can become a matter of basic survival.

In our partnership with Timmy Global Health, we’re not just giving the eyewear to individuals; we’re giving eyewear to individuals so that they can continue to provide for their families. When their families are strong, it means that they can work together to make stronger villages. When those communities are healthy and vibrant, when they become thriving social and economic centers, they are less likely to need help so that Timmy can concentrate on bringing aid to the next community in need.

Because our partner is local, we’re able to make low-cost deliveries of high volumes of product without having to cut back on the amount of help we’re able to give. Which in return means that our giving can be more efficient, wide-ranging and, ultimately, helpful. And, just as importantly, we’re able to spend time getting to know the Timmy Global Health team. Sometimes, saying “hi” and “how are you doing?” leads to conversations that develop into decisions that lead to increased efficiency, bigger ideas and, most importantly, the ability to simply help as best we can.

So, in this season of promises — of introspection and dedication to bettering ourselves and the world around us — we are proud to renew our commitment to improve the lives of people in need. We are incredibly blessed to be in a position to help the less fortunate and grateful to have a local partnership so perfectly suited to making that help as effective as possible.


About Angie Stocklin:

Twitter: @easterday77

Angie Stocklin, COO and Co-Founder, along with her husband Randy, of One Click, oversees business operations including customer service, order fulfillment, merchandising and vendor account management for felix + iris, and Sunglass Warehouse.


New Online Course Teaches You How to Add Profit by Adding Purpose

Yes, this is a shameless plug for my new online course, but don’t stop reading, yet!


Over the past 18 months or so, I have produced five courses for online training company Pluralsight. Today, the site published the most recent of those courses, “How to Add Profit to Your Business by Adding Purpose.”

Over the past few decades, a transition has occurred that has changed the way most people think about social causes and corporate responsibility. The old-school notion that we make money at work and do good on our own time is just that, old school.

The cool kids are all integrating their lives such that their careers, investments, and consumer behaviors all align with their core values. Fewer and fewer people today are willing to go to work all day at a job they merely tolerate so that they can put food on the tables. People want to live on purpose!

Because of that demographic shift, companies can–some would argue must–incorporate purpose into their business strategies in order to reach the right employees and the bulk of customers who are willing to make purchasing decisions based on social causes.

The new course makes the case that companies can clearly add profits by strategically adding purpose to their business and goes on to explain exactly how to go about incorporating a cause into the business model to do so.

The course wraps up with a case study on Estee Lauder’s MAC Cosmetics brand, which thrives because of its decades long role in fighting the AIDS epidemic. Over the years, I’ve covered this story a few times for Forbes.

Now, I’ve compiled all of the corporate social responsibility wisdom I’ve gathered from my 25 year business career and five years of writing about social causes and corporate social responsibility into this new course on Pluralsight. You can take the entire course for free using a trial membership or for no additional charge if you’re already a subscriber.

Pluralsight is recognized as a tech “unicorn,” raising $135 million in their last venture round. It is also a notable example of a purpose-oriented business itself, working to enable learning at radically affordable rates.

Top Five Most Popular Podcast Episodes of 2015

Earlier, I posted a ranking of the top five interviews I did during 2015 based on YouTube minutes watched. This, by contrast, is a ranking of the top five most popular interviews based on the number of downloads of the podcast from iTunes, Stitcher and elsewhere using data from my podcast host Podomatic.

There is only one (read on to find out which one) of the top five from YouTube that landed on the top five podcast list. This is an important insight for me because it confirms my theory that while I’m posting the same interviews in both places, there are different audiences for podcasts, which people often consume while doing other things, especially driving and running, than for video content, which people must consume in front of a device.

5. The fifth most popular podcast of 2015 was my interview with Christian Busch of Indiegogo and Jake Kirsch of Shock Top. Originally, I posted this interview to here. We talked about the Shock Top CSR program that incorporates crowdfunding on Indiegogo to fight the effects of drought in California.

4. The fourth most popular podcast of 2015 was my interview with Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stork of Luminaid. Originally, I posted this interview to Forbes here. Luminaid produces solar lights at low prices. The lights are particularly useful in the developing world following a natural disaster; they are also popular with campers. The women pitched successfully on Shark Tank and shared their experience with us.

3. The third most popular podcast of 2015 was my interview with Amanda Mukwashi, the Chief of the Volunteer Knowledge and Innovation Section at United Nations Volunteers. Originally, I posted the interview to Forbes here. Amanda was the chief author of a UN Report on volunteering and activism that documents the tremendous, positive impact of volunteers.

2. The second most popular podcast of 2015 was John Goldstein of Imprint Capital. Originally, I posted the interview to Forbes here. Shortly after the interview, Imprint Capital was acquired by Goldman Sachs for an undisclosed amount.

1. The most popular podcast of 2015 was my interview with Ron Miller of StartEngine and Paul Elio of Elio Motors. Originally, I posted the interview on Forbes here. Elio Motors is working to produce a $6,800 three-wheeled car that gets 83 miles per gallon. We talked about their efforts to raise money with the help of StartEngine. This was the only podcast that also ranked among the top five interviews according to YouTube.

Paul Elio, courtesy of Elio Motors

Paul Elio, courtesy of Elio Motors

Remember to “join the cavalry” by subscribing to our content here.

Devin D. Thorpe

Top Five Most Popular Changemaker Interviews of 2015 – YouTube Ranking

In 2015, I recorded 149 live video interviews with changemakers from around the world. I laughed, cried and learned a lot along the way.

While there are lots of ways to identify the “best” or most “popular” episodes of my Your Mark on the World show, this post will recap the five most viewed as measured by YouTube analytics using the measure of total minutes watched.

5. The fifth most viewed interview, with 6,917 minutes watched as of this writing, was with Jean Oelwang of Virgin Unite. Originally, I shared this episode on Forbes here. Jean works closely with Richard Branson and leads Virgin’s extensive charitable activities.

4. The fourth most viewed interview, with 7,135 minutes watched, was with Tony Robbins. Originally, I shared this episode on Forbes here. Tony set a goal in 2015 to provide 100 million meals to people in need through Feeding America. At the time of the interview, he’d reached 91 million and hoped to reach his goal by year-end.

Tony Robbins, NYT Bestselling Author, courtesy of Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins, NYT Bestselling Author, courtesy of Tony Robbins











3. The third most viewed interview, with 11,458 minutes watched, was with three crowdfunding experts, Sara Hanks, Richard Swart and Sam Guzik, who explained the new SEC Regulation A+ regulations. Originally, I shared this episode on Forbes here. The three experts explained how entrepreneurs can use Regulation A+ to raise up to $50 million.

2. The second most viewed interview, with 68,830 minutes watched, was with Ron Miller and Paul Elio. Originally, I shared this episode on Forbes here. Ron Miller, CEO of crowdfunding site Start Engine and Paul Elio, the founder and CEO of Elio motors, a startup auto manufacturer that has designed a $6,500 car that gets 83 miles per gallon, discussed the Regulation A+ offering of Elio motors stock.

1. The most viewed interview, with 84,242 minutes watched, was with Dr. Julian Maha. Originally, I shared this episode here on Julian has a son with autism and created a nonprofit organization to support young people with autism, especially to help them get jobs.

Remember to “join the cavalry” by subscribing to our content here.

Devin D. Thorpe

‘It Is Not Enough That We Do Our Best’

On Christmas Day, Pamela Atkinson, an advisor to Utah’s last five governors and the state’s leading advocate for the homeless, hosted–as she does every year–a dinner for 800 of her homeless friends.

The steak dinners are first class and the volunteers who serve the guests their meals are among Utah’s notable, this year the team included President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Past events have included other luminaries, like Governor Jon Huntsman. Being invited to volunteer is a privilege.

Pamela Atkinson after serving dinner to 800 homeless friends, photo by Devin Thorpe.

Pamela Atkinson after serving dinner to 800 homeless friends, photo by Devin Thorpe.

Pamela limits the number of volunteers to ensure that everyone has a role and that every role is completed. She doesn’t want volunteers standing around feeling that their time and energies weren’t appreciated.

For the past few years, it has been my privilege to join my son Dayton as a volunteer at the dinner. It has become an important Christmas tradition.

This year, one of my friends in attendance Lew Cramer, President and CEO of Coldwell Banker Commercial, who is active in supporting the homeless year round, said wistfully, “tomorrow they will be hungry again.”

Unsure what to say to him, recognizing his point that so much more than one meal is needed to solve the problem of homelessness in our community, I said weakly, “We can only do our best.”

Lew Cramer

Soberly, he put his arm around me and said, quoting Winston Churchill, “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.”


Utah has by several measures become a role model for the nation in reducing homelessness–in no small part due to Pamela’s tireless work. One of the things I love about Utah is that the community looks at our homeless problem as one of its top priorities and considers homelessness to be absolutely unacceptable.

Our community doesn’t have all the answers, but that doesn’t stop us from looking. The mayors of both the city and county of Salt Lake both independently commissioned community leaders and activities to come together to work on homelessness. The two commissions will be combined to bring the work together using a collective impact approach to formalize collaboration among all of the community resources serving the homeless.

The annual Christmas tradition of serving a meal to the homeless seems to be in no risk of being due to a lack of homeless people to serve in 2016, that seems to be community goal.

Once we recognize that helping people isn’t about having made an effort, that the gesture isn’t a solution, we can get about the real work of solving problems. To Lew’s point, it isn’t about our effort; it is about doing what is necessary to end the suffering.

Social Entrepreneurs: Stop Using ‘Sustainable’ When You Mean ‘Financially Self-Sustaining’

The word “sustainable” has two distinct, though related meanings in the realm of social entrepreneurship and impact investing. First, a business that is environmentally friendly and/or supports a more just society is often said to be sustainable and, second, a business that generates revenue and is financially self-sustaining and therefore not reliant on donations is also said to be sustainable.

While, I suspect, some use the term intentionally to cover both concepts, such use, in my opinion, is so vague as to rob the word of all its meaning.

It appears to me that the word sustainable was first used to apply to a business to convey the idea that the business is not only environmentally sustainable but that it is socially sustainable, that is that it doesn’t exploit employees, customers or other stakeholders, especially any who may be otherwise disadvantaged. For expediency, I’ll use the short-hand environmentally and socially sustainable to describe this use.

Using sustainable to describe a business as being financially self-sustaining on the other hand is a relatively new use and one that is confusing. First, the same group of people—the social good community of nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, impact investors and philanthropists—have been using sustainable (and more commonly sustainability) to describe businesses that are environmentally and socially responsibility.

Additionally, the for-profit world, apart from social entrepreneurs, has never used the term sustainable to describe a for-profit business’s ability to generate the required cash flow to support its operations without outside capital, yet it is exactly that feature of a for-profit business that social entrepreneurs wish to invoke when they use sustainable in this context.

The need for a term to describe a social enterprise as being financially self-sustaining is real, however. In the nonprofit world and among those deeply and primarily committed to a social mission, the idea of making a profit for its own sake is less important and to some repugnant. The appeal of a business model, however, that doesn’t require fundraising by constantly asking for donations—large or small—is huge. So, in an effort to avoid invoking the word profit, especially when trying to describe activities within a nonprofit entity that would make it more financially self-sustaining the word “sustainable” has become a clumsy short-hand.

The overlapping and somewhat incongruent definitions for the single term sustainable robs the word of its meaning in either context. If you simply say to an investor that you are creating a business that is sustainable, it isn’t at all clear what you mean. If the word you choose to use doesn’t convey a clear and definitive meaning in a reasonably complete context we need new words.

Therefore, I would argue for using the term self-sustaining to refer to the idea of being financially self-sustaining as you can reasonably infer from the typical context of the reference what is meant. I would also like to preserve the word sustainable as a reference to environmental and social sustainability.

If we adopt these two phrases as I propose, our ability to communicate these two critical ideas central to the social entrepreneurship movement to one another and to outsiders would be significantly enhanced.

So, what do you think? Does it make sense to socialize this idea a little bit to see if we can develop clearer language within our community?

Remember to “join the cavalry” by subscribing to our content here.

Devin D. Thorpe

Legal Keys to Fundraising from Abroad in the U.S.

Michael Durham, an attorney at our sponsor Kirton McConkie, works on cross-border philanthropy; he helped me to understand more about the challenges faced by international nonprofits fundraising in the U.S. Specifically, he shared three tips for helping nonprofits set up a U.S. nonprofit affiliate to help with fundraising.

Here are the three tips for setting up a U.S. nonprofit arm for fundraising for an international nonprofit:

  1. Ensure that the U.S. nonprofit controls where the money goes.
  2. Build a record of decision-making in the U.S. entity.
  3. Consider alternatives to setting up your own entity.

Let’s take each of these in order.

First, Michael says, “Make sure it is properly structured to vest real discretion and control over how the funds are used in the U.S. entity.” He explains, ” U.S. law does not permit donors a tax deduction for amounts contributed to foreign organizations or amounts funneled through U.S. organizations to foreign organizations.”

“But U.S. organizations can raise money and use that money to serve charitable purposes overseas,” he clarifies. “The clearest case is one where U.S. board is not controlled by foreign org, and all grants of U.S. raised funds are for specific charitable projects approved on a case-by-case basis by the U.S. board. If that is not possible, other models may also work, but ideally you would disclose those in your exemption application so that you are confident that your structure has been cleared by the IRS.”

Second, “Remember to build a record of real decisionmaking in the U.S. affiliate as to how the funds will be used by the international nonprofit,” he says.

Michael cautions, “It is easy to fall into a routine where the foreign organization simply makes a request for grants serving some broad goals, and the U.S. organization periodically turns over the bulk of its funds in response to such requests. In several recent rulings, the IRS has rejected U.S. ‘friends of’ foreign charities where they left too much discretion to the foreign charities. For instance, if the funds were being used to provide scholarships at a foreign university, the IRS might expect the U.S. affiliate to have reviewed the foreign university’s standards for determining financial need. The U.S. entity should review full details of the programs in advance, and should obtain detailed reports about how the funds were spent after the fact.”

He further warns, “Be careful how you describe the use of funds in fundraising appeals. It is permissible to state that funds will be used to support the foreign organization, but it should be clear that the U.S. organization could alter that decision if it no longer appeared that the foreign organization’s programs would carry out the U.S. ‘friends of’ organization’s purposes.”

Third, Michael says, “Consider other options besides setting up your own entity.”

He notes, “Many foreign organizations overestimate the amount of funds that a U.S. entity will attract. While it is true that U.S. charitable giving is higher than that of many other countries, attracting significant funds requires time and effort to distinguish your organization from all the others. A U.S. entity must comply with annual public filing requirements, including exhaustive financial information and salary information for the leadership of the U.S. entity, in some cases including salaries paid by the foreign affiliate.”

“As an alternative to setting up and maintaining your own U.S. affiliate, you might consider opening a ‘friends of’ fund with an existing public charity that manages such funds on behalf of multiple foreign charities. That is a lower-cost way to ‘test the waters’ to see how much your organization can realistically expect to raise in the U.S. before you invest in maintaining your own U.S. 501(c)(3) organization,” Michael concludes.

On Wednesday, December 23, 2015 at 1:00 Eastern, Michael will join me for a live discussion about optimizing a U.S. entity for fundraising for an international nonprofit. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

More about Kirton McConkie:

Twitter: @kirtonmcconkie

Kirton McConkie is Utah’s largest law firm. It provides excellent service in helping clients solve problems, achieve results and realize opportunities. We serve individuals and businesses, from large multinational organizations to small start ups. As the largest law firm in Utah, we represent a depth of collective knowledge and skills, clients desire. We also know, for the most part, clients tend to hire individual lawyers they have heard about, who have been referred to them or who they already know. We know it is true because it happens for us all the time. Many of our new clients come from referrals. To us, this is the highest form of recognition for the work and service we provide as lawyers and as a law firm.

Michael Durham, courtesy of Kirton McConkie

Michael Durham, courtesy of Kirton McConkie

Michael’s bio:

Michael Durham is a Shareholder at Kirton McConkie, a law firm based in Salt Lake City, where he focuses on the laws affecting nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations. Prior to joining the firm in 2015, he spent ten years practicing in the same area at Caplin & Drysdale, in Washington D.C. Michael has devoted a significant part of his practice to dealing with the increasingly complex rules governing cross-border philanthropy. His clients include internationally active high-tech nonprofits, religious organizations, private foundations, and donor advised fund organizatons, among any others. Michael is a graduate of the Yale Law School. He currently serves as co-chair of the Religious Organizations Subcomittee of the Exempt Organizations Committee of the American Bar Association Tax Section.


Stanford Student Wins Trip of a Lifetime with Nick Kristof

Austin Meyer, a young journalist who recently graduated with a masters degree from Stanford, got his Warholian fifteen minutes of fame this year.

You see, Austin won the New York Times “win-a-trip” with Nicholas Kristof competition. A host of college students apply for the coveted opportunity to travel with the famed columnist to a destination in the developing world to cover, as only Nick does, the painful stories of the developing world.

Austin Meyer and Nicholas Kristof in Nepal, courtesy of Austin Meyer

Austin Meyer and Nicholas Kristof in Nepal, courtesy of Austin Meyer

Austin shared some of his history with me in preparation for this piece and live interview. He confessed that he didn’t always plan to become a journalist.

When I arrived at Stanford, I had no clue what I wanted study. My passion hadn’t been revealed. But in the spring of my freshman year I took an introductory creative writing course in fiction and it clicked: storytelling. The story I was writing in that class was all I could think about. So I followed that impulse. That storytelling momentum. I wrote fiction, nonfiction, audio documentaries, plays, screenplays, and performed improvised stories on stage. I rode that passion to a master’s in journalism.

He continued, “As my master’s year was coming to an end, I was looking for an opportunity where I could use my storytelling as a way to truly impact the world. I wanted to combine my drives to tell stories and to fight against social injustices. There was no better opportunity than to join my journalism idol, Nicholas Kristof, who has made a living doing just that.”

To get a sense of Austin, I asked about challenges he’d overcome. His response didn’t surprise me. “I have been so fortunate in my life. I won the lottery of birth. I was lucky enough to grow up in an extremely loving family with the freedom to pursue my passions. Especially after reporting on issues of social injustice in India and Nepal, there is no challenge I have overcome that is really much of a challenge.”

Upon further reflection, however, he added, “Perhaps the obstacle I overcame that so many of us face, was my own comfort. I wanted/want to do this type of journalism because it is a way to make immense global impact. However, doing so requires a turn towards suffering. It requires reckoning with your own privilege and ego. It requires getting your world flipped upside down. I embraced that escape from my comfort zone, because I know that is what will inspire me to make change in this world.”

Given Austin’s career ambition to be like Nick, he couldn’t have transitioned out of college more successfully.  I asked to what he attributes his success.

He replied, “There are so many people who I want to thank for getting me to where I am. First off, my family: my parents Roy and Pam, and my two older brothers Jordan and Brendan. I have the best role models. There are also so many teachers and mentors at Stanford who helped me hone my storytelling skills. Too many to name them here.”

He added, “But other than people, I credit my journey to my determination to be optimistic and inspired. I chase what excites me. I chase what inspires me. And I am optimistic. I know I can make global impact.”

He concluded with a rather demure response, “All that being said, I do not know how successful I am yet. Getting a byline in the New York Times doesn’t make me successful.”

While one byline in the Times may not define success, its certainly a sign that he’s on his way. I suspect his 15 minutes of fame in 2015 won’t be his last.

On Wednesday, December 23, 2015 at 5:00 Eastern, Austin will join me for a live discussion here about his experiences reporting with Nick. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

More about the NYT win-a-trip competition:

Twitter: @nickkristof

The New York Times win-a-trip with Nicholas Kristof competition launched in 2006. It is an opportunity that allows one collegiate student to travel and report with Nicholas Kristof in a developing nation. The student reports their own stories for the New York Times website.

Austin’s bio:

Twitter: @austinmeyer17

Austin Meyer grew up in beautiful Santa Rosa, California where he enjoyed hanging out with his golden retriever, making music videos with friends, and playing soccer. Austin went on to attend Stanford University. At Stanford, Austin played center midfield for the varsity men’s soccer team, was a performing member of an improv comedy troupe called the Stanford Improvisers, and studied creative writing. He went on to receive his master’s degree at Stanford in journalism. He was selected out of 450 applicants as the 2015 New York Times win-a-trip with Nicholas Kristof winner. His stories have been published by the New York Times, LA Times, KQED, and SF Chronicle, among others.

Remember to “join the cavalry” by subscribing to our content here.

Devin D. Thorpe

New Report: ‘Purpose-Oriented’ Employees ‘Outperform’

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Last month, social enterprise startup Imperative, in partnership with NYU, released a report called the “Workforce Purpose Index” that author and Imperative CEO Aaron Hurst hopes will be a positive disruptive force.

Hurst says, “ It is the first study of purpose in the U.S. workforce and the findings are shifting the way the field is thinking about recruiting, culture and leadership.”

Hurst hopes the report isn’t just filed away, but is used to drive change and improve recruiting. He says, “The goal is to have leaders across sectors understand the science of purpose in the workforce and begin to use it to help boost the performance and well being of their teams. It is the most disruptive and potentially positively game changing research about work in over a decade.”

The introduction to the report begins the the following:

28% of the 150 million-member U.S. workforce defines the role of work in their lives primarily as a source of personal fulfillment and a way to help others. These Purpose-Oriented Workers, roughly 42 million strong, not only seek out purpose in their work, they create it and as a result, outperform the rest of the workforce.”

Those interested in the report can download it by clicking here.

On Wednesday, December 23, 2015 at 2:00 Eastern, Hurst will join me for a live discussion about the report and its implications. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Imperative:

Twitter: @Imperative

Imperative is a B Corp empowering Purpose-Oriented Workers and supporting the organizations that embrace them. We believe together they have the power to transform the economy and society. Our Imperative is to double the number of Purpose-Oriented people in the workforce in the next ten years.

Aaron Hurst, courtesy of Imperative

Aaron Hurst, courtesy of Imperative

Hurst’s bio:

Twitter: @Aaron_Hurst

Aaron Hurst is a globally recognized entrepreneur who works to create communities that are empowered to realize their potential. He is the CEO of Imperative, a B Corp advocating for Purpose-Oriented Workers and supporting the organizations that embrace them.

Widely known for his thought leadership, he is the author of The Purpose Economy (2014) and a regular advisor and thought partner for many global brands. He has written for or been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg TV, Fast Company and was named a LinkedIn LNKD +0.44% Influencer.

Aaron is the founder and an active advisor to the Taproot Foundation where he was the catalyst and lead architect of the $15 billion pro bono service market. He was the creative force behind the conception of the White House’s Billion + Change campaign.

Aaron is a member of the Nonprofit Times’ Power & Influence Top 50, and has been recognized as a top social entrepreneur by Fast Company, Ashoka, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Manhattan Institute and the CommonWealth Club. In 2009, he received the highest honor bestowed on an alumnus of the University of Michigan.

An entrepreneur since 16, Aaron began his career as a social innovator at the University of Michigan, where he designed and led an educational program for local correctional facilities, subsequently becoming the first student to receive the Michigan Campus Compact Award.

Born in Aspen, Aaron has lived in Bisbee, Boulder, Brooklyn, Halifax, Ann Arbor, Prague, Chicago, and San Francisco. He currently resides in Seattle with his wife Kara Hurst (Worldwide Director of Sustainability for, their two children and dog. Purpose Type: Empowerer

Finding Strength and Healing Through the Holidays

This is a guest post from Sona Mehring, founder and CEO of the global nonprofit organization

Whether the holiday song in your head is the Andy Williams classic, the version by Garth Brooks or the Staples office supply commercial, we are, indeed, approaching “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” And while my window on the world could easily be closed – or even boarded up – to “the hap-happiest season of all,” the opposite is true.

As founder of CaringBridge, the nation’s most established social networking platform for people immersed in difficult medical journeys, my exposure to the struggles of patients, family caregivers and loved ones seems reason enough to just skip the holidays. Instead, I feel inspired. Across more than 550,000 CaringBridge websites that have received 2 billion visits over 18 years, I am awed by the power of hope and compassion that shine through a health crisis. In moments of celebration – a clean MRI! –and in the terrible times, too, I have come to believe in the gift of healing.

Of course, healing is a less dazzling gift than boxes with bows, Hanukkah gelt and Kwanzaa zawadi. But who wouldn’t prefer health over sickness? Home over hospital? Cookies over chemo? One CaringBridge site authored by a woman whose husband had a brain tumor recurrence six months after their wedding, wrote that they “just wanted to be people. Not people with cancer.” Or stroke, heart disease, infection, traumatic injury, premature birth, surgical complications, organ failure …

But for those jolted from “normal life” into roles as patients and family caregivers, sharing their stories often creates a healing effect. And while the impact of responses of sympathy and encourage menton outcomes is not clearly defined, the love and hope that friends and family want to give becomes an empowering force. A business executive who launched a site after his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis as a “form of self-defense,” merely to organize the chaos of sharing news, said he was amazed by the healing their social network provided.

I can’t pretend to explain the gift of healing, but I experienced it when I created the first CaringBridge site in 1997. My dear friends, JoAnn and Darrin, had endured a life-threatening pregnancy and devastating loss of their newborn daughter, Brighid. I never imagined what Darrin’s overwhelmed and exhausted request for me to “Just let everyone know what’s going on,” would become. I also never imagined the sea of caring people at baby Brighid’s memorial service whose waves of love and support had surged through the Internet to comfort her parents. On that day, I saw what healing looks like.

As a software engineer by trade, I naturally seek data that will also show what healing looks like. And there is some research:

  • 88% of patients and family caregivers who responded to a Forrester Research study sponsored by CaringBridge said connecting with family and friends had a positive impact on healing.
  • Social support was identified as the strongest of four factors contributing to positive health and treatment outcomes by a Robert Wood Johnson and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute study (social support: 40%; health behaviors: 30%; clinical care: 20%; physical environment: 10%).

But mostly, I have given myself over to not being able to measure magic. A CaringBridge author fighting mantle cell lymphoma described being surrounded by loved ones with healing strength as “emotional sustenance.” Is there any better gift?

As a nonprofit CEO, I am thrilled to imagine the healing aspects of CaringBridge as a lifeline. But as a mom, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, cousin and friend, I am adamant that no one should navigate a health journey alone. This requires “leaning in” to wrap your arms around something you’d rather run from. It can take the form of hot dish-delivery, making pillows from t-shirts of a loved one, or the stiff-and-awkward hugs for which Minnesotans are famous. It also means saying something – anything – when there are no words.

Any time you can give – or receive – the gift of healing this holiday season, do it! The gifts come as much from taking time to express encouragement as they do from pausing to take in encouragement. My hope is that for a brief minute,you, too, may experience the essence of the “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

Sona Mehring

Sona Mehring

About Sona Mehring:

Sona founded CaringBridge, the first and most widely used social networking site focused on communicating with loved ones during a health journey, at a time when the Internet was just becoming a household name.

Sona is frequently recognized and honored for her passion and visionary leadership. In 2015 Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal honored her as a top CEO in technology with the Titans of Technology Award. In 2014 The Women’s Health Leadership TRUST named her one of the top 35 Women Leaders in Minnesota Healthcare. In 2013 Minnesota Monthly placed her on their list of the 75 most influential people of the Twin Cities. She was named one of 2011’s “Most Influential Women in Technology” by Fast Company.


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