Two Critical Questions

In this Random Thoughts post, I’d like to examine two critical questions women and HeForShe investors, entrepreneurs, and business owners need to ask in order to make impact investments count. These two questions are the Why and So What Questions.

The importance of having a clear answer to these questions was made apparent to me as a pro bono evaluation judge in the annual Social Impact Exchange Business Plan Competition held for five years from 2010–2014. Twice per year–in January and April–I would receive 3–4 business plans from nonprofit social enterprises seeking growth capital to scale the positive impact of their organizations. As an evaluator, I was asked to assess and rate each of the 40-50+ page plans on a number of criteria, make a recommendation if the enterprise should proceed to the next phase of competition, and explain why the enterprise should advance (or not).

In my five years of service to this competition, I found only 20% of plans were able to answer these two critical questions in a clear and compelling manner. This is the reason why I could not provide a positive recommendation for advancement in the competition. This outcome replicated what I had experienced during my forty year career as a Certified Management Consultant™, coach, trainer, and course/learning program developer. That is, I found an estimated 80% of the 1,000+ strategic, business, and investment plans I reviewed could not clearly articulate the “why” and “so what” of the enterprises and the ultimate impact these organizations were trying to generate in the world.

I refer to the Why and So What questions as “focus-related” questions. They serve to sharpen the lens you and your team at work or home are using to achieve something important or worthwhile in the world (e.g., close the gender wealth gaps, build a sustainable and high-impact enterprise, build financial security and wealth, etc.). These two questions serve to orient key stakeholders and ensure they are on the same page. This alignment of focus and intention is critical for making any investment of time, money, and energy count.

In my consulting and coaching work over the years, I used the Why Question to help teams identify the real root cause for the problem they were attempting to solve for customers or for their enterprises. I used the So What Question to help leadership or strategic planning teams identify the higher purpose for their organization’s purpose or mission (sometimes called the raison d’etre or reason for being). Both processes require asking the Why and So What Question five or more times to get to the heart of the matter.

There is one other reason these questions are important. This reason focuses on the requirement to “wake up” brains of people and capture the attention of these brains long enough in order to provide the context and focus for what you are asking them to consider and/or to do. To facilitate this awakening, I’ve used the AIDA Model to help leaders communicate a clear and concise story about their organization as well as help investors evaluate whether an enterprise is capable of delivering sustainable growth and impact over a multi-year investment period.

Here’s a short video on the AIDA Model courtesy of Mr. Stefan Kojouharov. His succinct presentation will help you see how AIDA can assist in awakening brains and help answer the two critical questions of Why and So What?

As an example of an entrepreneurial leader who successfully communicated the Why and So What of her enterprise within the context of the AIDA Model, I asked Ms. Jenny Gore, Executive Director of Reading Connections, for a copy of the presentation she used to “make the case” to community stakeholders during two recent fundraising events. Reading Connections is located in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Here is a portion of her remarks, which represented only a small part of the overall fundraising event and giving experience:

“So what does success look like for our community? At Reading Connections we say it’s 100% literacy for Guilford County. And what would that look like?

It would look like the most skilled, most competitive workforce in the state, the highest rates for school readiness, the highest voter turnout, the lowest school dropout.

This year we served over 900 students, which is a fantastic achievement – but there are so many more waiting. And in Guilford County there are more than 75,000 adults who struggle with those basic skills.  And, the sad thing to me is – we know how to teach someone to read. We just don’t have the resources. It takes about $1000 a year to teach one person to read and that opens up a lifetime of opportunity.

So what is needed? Frankly we need to develop the capacity to serve more adults. And be able to serve in more Title I elementary schools through family literacy – our program that is so successful teaching parents how to have their children school ready. We’d like to serve women in the detention centers and return to the High Point detention center to help paint the picture for a different path for students there to follow.

We’re going to need more volunteers to tutor, staff to conduct outreach and instruction, financial resources for materials and supplies. It’s going to take everyone pulling together. It’s not an impossible vision and I see us growing closer to this vision each and every day that another student moves forward or we are asked to serve in another elementary school.

I recently read a study from the University of Rochester which found – people aren’t any happier when they’re more wealthy, more famous, or more powerful. In fact, they may be LESS happy! What makes people happy is relationships, health, and being involved in their community. So today we have a simple message.

Success is about how many lives you have touched and how you have made your world a better place. Success is about helping others realize their dreams and achieve their own success, however it’s defined. And I challenge each of you, that in Guilford County, our measure of success is that every one of us can read.”

The impact of Ms. Gore’s message? Well, Reading Connections exceeded the previous year’s fundraising total by 124%! Not a bad outcome for spending time to answer the Two Critical Questions and create a positive experience resulting in a higher level of stakeholder attention, awareness, interest, desire, and action (giving).

Job well done Jenny and the team at Reading Connections!

Published by Mark Livingston

Coach Mark is a Certified Pickleball Coach, Teaching Professional, Rating Specialist, and Director of an IPTPA Training and Testing Center. Learn more at

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