Remembering Poppa — Johannes Ingebret Olsen

My grandfather, Johannes Ingebret Olsen passed away on September 1, 2014.  He was the very best, and I was beyond fortunate and blessed to have had him in my life.  Along with some of my cousins, my sister and brother, I was honored to speak and give this remembrance at his funeral service.  I will miss him more than I can imagine, and more than I have yet to realize, I’m sure.

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Poppa at his desk at Williamsville East High School (NY)

Johannes. John. Joe. Dr. Olsen. Student. Lieutenant. District Governor. President. Professor. Boss. Dad. Very rarely, hey you. Or, as I called him, Poppa.

He served in many influential roles, to many people. He was dedicated, generous, kind, stubborn (but in the good way – and I can relate), loving, spirited, and memorable.

For some reason, it’s rare for someone my age to have a long, rich relationship with their grandparents. Even more rare, a friendship. My 33+ years have certainly been better because Poppa was a big part of them. Even though I generally got to see him several times a year, it was normal to spend half an hour on the phone with Poppa and Gramma — and we’d cover all kinds of topics. Poppa knew something about most of them. Always thoughtful, he usually engaged. When he wasn’t as familiar with what we were discussing, he would ask questions, and when he had something to offer right away, he usually did – and he shot straight. Most often we agreed, but not always, and I guess that doesn’t mean he was wrong – and he’d likely confirm that if he were here. Quick to encourage, and just as quick to challenge, he was one of my biggest fans and supporters for as long as I can remember. Always genuinely interested in what I was doing personally, in various levels of school, sports, music, travel, or professionally, he was there to encourage, offer counsel, celebrate, laugh, and ask questions. I don’t have the details on everyone, but I know he served in this role for many people throughout his life.

As interested as he was in what I was doing, there was certainly no lack of reciprocation in his activity level. Whether it was leading Williamsville East High School, serving one of his many boards, Rotary, teaching, driving a few minutes or all across the country to see family and friends, playing the organ, starting a church or serving at one of many more, or spending the day with the love of his life, he was usually engaged in more than I was.

I know when he got there on that Monday night, St. Peter called his name, but given Poppa’s non-stop nature, by now I’m sure he has it memorized. There’s no doubt he has already gone back to the pearly gates a few times to ask directions to the business center, the organ, the library, and more. Tomorrow, he’ll likely find out what neighborhood all the Lutherans hang out in, so he can attend the right church. Next week, he’ll probably join the church council. For sure, he has signed up for the print edition of the paper, as there is no way he’s going to let a night pass without finishing the crossword. And if none of the rest of these is true, I do know he has eyes fixed on Gramma, all his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. He will be watching with delight, just as he always has, to see what we all are doing. He was so proud of all of us – no matter what.

Amanda and I are expecting a son shortly. There will be few things he isn’t able to do that I wish more for him than that he could have met and gotten to know my grandfather. And maybe a little selfishly, I’d love to be able to hand the kid off to Poppa when I’m not sure what else to do with him – those of us who were children trying to test his patience know what I’m talking about. Children included, but aside for now, my grandfather commanded respect without asking for it. He could say more through actions and silence than anyone else I know. And respect is what he received from all who knew him. Anyone who has spent time with him has been enriched. Part of what kept his activity level so high is that I never knew him to start something he didn’t intend to finish. He would see things through, and if somebody else couldn’t get it done, he would. It didn’t matter how great or small, or what the context – that was his project and reputation on the line, and he made sure whatever the task, it was done with excellence.

I had the opportunity to see him demonstrate several examples of leadership, principle, honesty, and consistency. He made certainly not always the easiest choices or the most popular, or those without the least headache or repercussion – he made the hard decisions.   If there was a league for sticking to your guns, he would have been its prizefighter.

A few I have certainly yet to master, but I hope I will be fortunate enough to pass on to my son these lessons that I learned from Poppa:

  • Integrity is something that cannot be recognized unless it is earned.
  • Follow through on the big and the small.
  • Serve the community around you, and make it better.
  • Shoot straight – beating around the bush doesn’t get you anywhere other than around the bush.

He never told me any of these things. He lived them.  And like the natural leader he was, he helped the people around him find their version of better.

Lastly – and selfishly I really hope I can teach my son this one – when you get to your late sixties and early seventies, and you look so young and full of life that people think you are your grandson’s father, don’t deny it. Just roll with it….Poppa always did when we were together.

Many things will remind me of Poppa. Whenever I see a pair of L.L. Bean moccasins, someone working on the crossword in a newspaper, adding ice to his bloss until it’s only water, displaying a Norwegian flag or Rotary sticker on their car (I used to think all the cars from the Buick dealership came with those already put on), or sitting at the head of a huge family table, I’ll think of Poppa. But, these are pictures. It’s the conversations, the example, and the support I’ll keep with me.

There is a Hagar the Horrible comic strip that has been on the fridge in my parent’s house as long as I can remember.  Poppa was an American through and through, but he was all Norwegian too.  This comic paints a pretty good picture of Poppa’s sense of humor.

Hagar is standing with a younger boy and says: If people ask you, tell them you’re a Viking.

The boy says: And a Norwegian?

Hagar responds with: No, you don’t have to tell them that…..

It might sounds like ‘bragging.’


I know you never would have Poppa, but it was my honor to brag about you today.


Poppa, Gramma, and me.

Poppa & me when I received my MBA.

With Poppa when I received my MBA. Education was always a priority for him, and will be part of his legacy.

The Buffalo News article remembering my grandfather.

Promote, Engage, and Ask.

picture from

I recently finished a great book on my kindle.  It’s a story about a writer’s journey through Patagonia while on assignment for National Geographic.  Those who know me know that the initial description alone would be enough of a hook.  This story though, takes off on another level completely, and the author weaves his personal struggles, joys, and everything in between into the fabric of stunningly perfect descriptions of the land he’s traversing.  I was captivated, and while I didn’t love everything in the storyline, I couldn’t read it fast enough.  I finished it and wanted to recreate the actual trip, meet the people he met, drive the roads he drove, see the skies he saw, and eat and drink the food and wine he ate and drank.

When I finished, my kindle gave me the option to post a tweet about the book.  So I did, and took an extra moment to look up the author’s twitter handle and mentioned him as well.  This particular author isn’t a household name, but has contributed to many publications that are.  He replied with a simple thank you and asked me to write a review on Amazon.  I was happy to do it, and after I posted the review he thanked me again.  He recommended another book he has written, and also posted my review to his website.  He lives in England, and I live in Chicago.  We’ll probably never meet or even talk, but we’ve had quite a bit of interaction on Twitter, written reviews, conversed about other writing projects, and that was well worth the short amount of time spent.

The point of all this is to choose to engage online.  It seems fairly simplistic and maybe even overly so, but I’m often surprised at what people choose to promote (or the opposite) over what they could promote.  Choose to promote yourself, your value, or other people and subjects you value.  To do this well, sometimes you need to make it personal.  Be intentional to ask people (especially those you don’t yet know) a question, or for a call or meeting.  Even though in the case of this author, we’ll likely never meet, I’ve had many similar interactions and several meetings that have resulted from a simple ask via Twitter.  Those meetings whether in person (conferences are great places to set up meetings on Twitter), email, or phone may otherwise never happen.  You have value to offer, and in many cases there is value for you in return.  Make sure that is clear and apparent to people who are intentionally looking for that value, as well as those who may find it accidentally.

Map from National Geographic

A Clear Compelling Calling: Effective Communication Yields Generosity

Esther with Xerxes & Haman (Rembrandt)

Shortly after worship at church last Sunday night our lead pastor began his sermon by talking about how once a year the leadership decides to focus a couple weeks on the vision of the church.  Brilliant!  They do this a little differently each year, and what followed on Sunday made for one of the best church services I’ve attended.  He spent the evening talking about Esther and relating her story to the vision of our church.  We, like Esther are here now in this specific place, situation, job, neighborhood, church, etc “For Such A Time As This.”

One of the strengths I appreciate about my church is not only their mission, but the drive to accomplish it.  More than that, the vision is actively shared with other churches in Chicago, and the church partners with them instead of “competing.”  Attendees and partners know exactly what they are a part of, what their investment in the church yields, and who it serves (another strength is that once a year they break down the finances in detail for the church to see during the service).  Many churches would be well served to pause for a week or two and share about why exactly it is that they do what they do, what that has grown from, where that is leading, and how people can grab on and dive into a bigger part of the action.

And yes, this is a GREAT way to not only encourage and increase giving to the church, but to get people excited about giving to the church.  Transparency and action such as this leaves people wanting more and results in increased investment in the church, and its vision and mission.  Many times this kind of vision presentation precedes a capital project or another specific season of accelerated generosity.  The same principles that guide a church’s vision during a campaign should be as or more evident every week – after all most campaigns exist to fund the vision while leading people through a discipleship process in the area of generosity.

By the way, here is the vision: To be a biblical community where the Gospel of Jesus Christ transforms lives, renews the city, and impacts the world.  One dream is that through partnerships with other churches, planting, and multi-site strategy, there would be a Bible based church in every neighborhood of the city – within walking distance of every person in the city.

Neighborhoods of Chicago

India & Nepal: Funding & Communicating For A Cross Cultural Organization

I just returned from a trip to India and Nepal to visit the home base and headquarters of a client organization.  I designed this trip to spend time with their leadership, gain a better understanding of the scope of their ministry, and mainly to produce a series of videos that will help cast their vision and mission to a wider audience in the upcoming year.

Interviewing in a Local Village. Photo ©Copyright Gary S. Chapman 2011

While I loved the people, hospitality, and many parts of the culture, the heartbreaking and mostly unseen reality is filled with intolerance.  Persecution doesn’t begin to describe what many of these people have seen.  Some of the experiences just can’t be shared unless you are there.  Overwhelmingly, these stories were told with incredible joy, and together these people brought James 1:2-4 to life. Persecution is part of their lives, and they accept it readily because they believe their message is worth it, and that ultimately God receives glory as His Kingdom is extended.  I’ve overheard the founder say this before: Don’t pray that the persecution will end; pray that we would have the strength to persevere through it so our message is stronger.

While there I interviewed and heard stories of:

  • pastors who had been rescued from slavery as children and gone back to their native tribal areas to enhance the lives of their neighbors.
  • a pastor who given the option to leave, chose to preach to a crowd at gunpoint (that gunslinger is now slinging a Bible).
  • students who have been disowned, kicked out, and threatened by their families for their faith in Jesus.
  • staff and pastors who have been beaten, jailed, and worse because of their faith in Jesus.
  • beautiful children who are being sponsored or raised in their children’s home because they have been found in a plastic bag, left at the door, forced to watch their parents brutally murdered in an act of persecution, or because their hospital staff was able to convince a teenage mother not to have a late term abortion (and furthermore, that she could still have value in life as an unwed mother, even though the culture tells her she should be excommunicated).

This organization cares deeply for people by feeding and educating those who would go without, providing medical assistance for anyone (including those who have persecuted them), and in countless other ways.  They earn the right to let people know why they have been cared for, and the ministry has grown and been blessed in amazing ways.  I went mostly to capture a few specific stories.  I found many, many more.

Why is this kind of a trip important for a fundraiser?  It communicates to me as a leader in this organization that I am doing a work that matters greatly — the stories above are raw and real, and there is an audience that wants and needs to know about them.  In this particular ministry, it alerts me of several cultural challenges I will encounter in our partnership, and allows me to address them at the beginning of the relationship. As a bonus, just to keep me humble, it lets me know there is nothing I can do alone that will impact great change, but only through true partnership, strategic guidance, and intentional follow through.  It provides the opportunity for me to identify areas they may not have been thinking about, and lets me begin to lay the foundation for the next stages of communication and funding priorities.  In a more external sense, it allows me to have conversations with donors that I could not have before seeing the work with my own eyes.  The communications I am producing now open the door for dedicated and specifically targeted areas of giving.  It begins the process for personalization of gifts of many donors which helps increase repetitive giving to the same organization (and more specifically, the same area within the organization where the donor feels a particular calling).

I went seeking stories.  Seven in particular.  I found thousands worthy of anyone’s time, and an understanding I can now take back to donors that will help accelerate generosity for this organization.

Welcomed at the children’s home. Photo ©Copyright Gary S. Chapman 2011

Note: while I am “producing” the series of videos, this is not my area of expertise, and I hired Whistle Peak Productions.  I also hired Gary S. Chapman, an incredible photographer.  The organization was well served by them, and I recommend them especially if you are looking for international work.  I now consider them my “team” for this client and am looking forward to sharing some of their work on this blog in the future.

Legacy Generosity, Comfort, & Saying Thank You

While I haven’t posted here lately, these are links to recent blog posts I’ve written about generosity in the church for

Legacy Generosity in the Church – Are you aware of the incredible opportunities presented through planned gifts?

The Generosity Comfort Zone – Getting a little uncomfortable will yield growth for you and your church.

Saying Thank You – How do you say thank you to your givers?  Here are a few practical ideas.

Utilizing Relational Resources

Engage the Resources of Your Leaders

A friend invited me to attend the quarterly meeting of the Chicago Barnabas Group last week.  This organization connects ministries w/ marketplace leaders in several cities around the country.

In the middle of the morning we were challenged by Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church.  He spoke about the idea that our resources are a part of a larger design to invest in people and develop relationships — something I thought of as a literal ‘means to an end’ if you will.

Resources in this particular forum are not just financial, and in fact, focus on talents, networks, unique skills, and what is often the hardest thing to part with: time.  While many marketplace leaders are blessed and poised to write a check when approached, there are many other tangible and often underutilized ways to engage them as a resource.  Many times, marketplace leaders can step up financially in a significant way.  Engaging their minds and skills as well builds a deeper network and creates an additional level of attachment to an organization that will often lead to increased financial support.

Engaging talents of a gifted manager, an accountant, a marketing strategist, a financial expert, or an attorney to name a few can make a game changing difference in the impact and efficiency of many organizations.  An outside source of knowledge alone is valuable, but one of the most important resources these leaders have is their network and the ability to ask others to also serve in some way.  This is a win for the organization as it gains insight and support, and a win for the leaders as they feel like they are investing at a more significant level and making a difference in operations and efficiency as well as or in addition to the balance sheet.

Here are a few practical options for engaging these non-financial resources:

  • Invite a leader to speak at an outreach or fundraising event.
  • Invite a leader to review your business operations and offer any thoughts they may have – an outside perspective is never a bad thing.  Remember their feedback yields suggestions that you may or may not use.  Either way, the leader has been engaged, and you have been challenged to think in a different way.
  • Invite a leader to speak to your staff and/or volunteers about a particular area of their expertise or interest.
  • Invite a leader to serve alongside your staff and/or volunteers.

Rev. Hatch joked with us about his tendency to close three times before he was actually finished speaking.  That’s exactly what he did, and every time he closed he repeated this saying: “The giver always gains.”  Are you creating as many resource giving opportunities as you should be?

Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It

Does Your Mission Appear This Clear?

I was in two meetings with people representing two potential clients recently, and part of our conversations focused on the lack of unity in communicating their missions effectively.  This can be a struggle for every organization; not just churches and non-profit institutions, but all kinds of businesses from mom & pop shops to Fortune 500 companies.

Here are a couple simple questions to ask:

  • Can every staff person/volunteer effectively communicate the mission?
  • Can every customer, member, volunteer, alumnus/alumna, or any other end user effectively communicate the mission?
  • If “yes”.  Really?  Are you sure?

Here’s the first point to consider.  A mission statement is not a mission.  A mission is an actively executed portrayal of your mission statement.  Words without action are worthless.  At the same time, action without words to drive it is scattered.  One needs to provide the basis for the other.

In a time when more and more people are evaluating the ROI on their charitable time and money, it’s important to make sure that you can (and regularly do) effectively communicate how your mission is being executed.  This starts with having everyone within the organization on the same page.  This can be a process and there are often many different factors to consider (some people have been there since the beginning; some are brand new and have come from a different background; maybe you recently went through a re-branding and there is still some confusion surrounding the details; often there are only certain parts of your mission that are publicized and others are forgotten).  Whatever the case, it will take effort, frustration, challenge, and maybe a few hurt feelings to get everyone on the same page.  Once this is achieved, begin strategic and active engagement of your people.  Continue by making sure you are consistently telling the story of how your people are living the mission.  Communicate this through your leaders and by using testimonials from end users through video, email, articles, & blogs.

You cannot begin to raise money without making sure your mission is aligning with your people, and your people are communicating your mission effectively and consistently.  You may have some success with funding, but you’ll never realize your full potential if you can’t clearly communicate.   All givers need to know what difference their gift(s) are going to make in the life and mission of your church or organization.  Your high capacity givers in particular, expect it.  They are almost certainly being shown the impact of their giving by other organizations.  When they ask you what the difference in impact between a $250,000 gift and a $500,000 gift is, you had better be prepared to speak to that.  One of my colleagues and I are working with a client who has the special opportunity to have a similar conversation with a high capacity giver today.   He knows and loves his mission, he is prepared, and we are excited for him and for what this conversation could mean for the future of his church and its mission.

Accept your mission, make sure anyone close to your organization can accurately communicate it (and do so with a certain degree of vigor), and make sure you are repeatedly telling your story.  This energizes your staff, volunteers, and givers, and as a bonus, the consistent communication will help keep you accountable to focus and stay true to your mission.