Tools for Supercharging Your Nonprofit with BizPlan Builder Burke Franklin

Burke FranklinBurke Franklin is the creator & CEO of, best known for BizPlanBuilder® software which has sold more than 2 million copies.

“It’s crucial that your innovations succeed in our world. This means that your business must be profitable and sustainable – without you losing control, your mind or your shirt!” he says.

Burke graduated from UC Santa Barbara and has worked for a number of tech companies in Southern California and Silicon Valley.

He says he started making real money after he launched his own company and now has 40+ years of sales, marketing, and management experience.

Along the way, he was elected to the White House Conference on Small Business and nominated for Ernst & Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year.”

His idea of changing the world is providing the business tools you need to help you change the world.

Burke has now taken all of his content from 30 years of successful windows apps and experience and remastered it into a seamless cloud-based collaborative online dashboard.

Michael Gerber (E-Myth) called it, “The customizable encyclopedia of everything you need to know about your business…!”

Burke’s book, Business Black Belt, applies lessons from 37 years of personal development workshops, martial arts, flying, and real-world business success to building companies.

Podcast highlights…

  1. What is a conscious business?
  2. Why is personal purpose important?
  3. What are some conscious business strategies that can impact profit?
  4. What are some examples of “Building a Conscious Business”

More information at


Read the Interview

Hugh Ballou: Greetings, friends and neighbors. We’re back for another episode of The Nonprofit Exchange. It’s a space where we have interviewed leaders for seven years. Like the British composer/conductor Ralph Vaughan Williams is known to have said, “Music did not reveal all of its secrets to just one person.” That could be said about a lot of things, like leadership development and tools to develop your nonprofit.

Our guest today is a long-time friend, who we became separated for a while and reconnected recently. I have looked under the hood of his car, and all the wires are connected. It’s pretty amazing. We are going to share some tools with you that are pretty amazing and in my view are absolutely essential tools for creating the business part of the nonprofit that you are responsible for leading.

I am going to throw it to Burke Franklin. I’ll let him tell you about his background and what he does.

Burke Franklin: There is a bit of a story to it; otherwise, this would sound like an accidental business to end up in. I like helping people build conscious businesses, so they can start by accident but end up consciously managing it. What I mean by “conscious” is knowing what the right thing to do is. You’re aware of what triggers you. You’re aware of what affects other people. You’re aware of your impact on people. I want people to build businesses that have a good impact on the world. The idea if is you have an idea that you think can contribute to the world, I like making tools to help you turn that into a successful company.

I was working in Silicon Valley selling electronic components for Texas Instruments way back in the early ‘80s. I decided I wanted to be on the other side of the desk and try being a buyer. I got a job at the Sharper Image catalogue as the electronics buyer. It was a guy gadget thing. They sent out six million catalogues a month; it was quite an operation. They liked how I described the products to the catalogue department and invited me to be a catalogue copywriter. I would be saying, “rugged titanium steel casing” and that stuff. I did that for a while. It was fun. But seeking to make some more money, I found a job selling word processors in Silicon Valley before PCs and Macs. When PCs and Macs came along, that blew away the word processor business. Then I started making literature, sales brochures, catalogues that I wished I had to sell the word processors with, taking the concepts from Sharper Image to Silicon Valley.

Long story short, a friend of mine calls me up one day and says, “I need a business plan for Apple. Apple wants to buy my engineering software. They want to be sure that I’m going to be in business in a few years to support it, upgrade it, update it. If I had a business plan, I can demonstrate my plan to stay in business.” I helped him put this together. I didn’t think much of business plans at the time. I saw it as a glorified brochure or document. It wasn’t meant to be read as a novel; it was more of a reference so different people within Apple with different responsibilities, biases, fears, expectations, we needed to cover all the bases so my friend’s business would come across as certain. The SBA did a survey that of the businesses that failed, 60% had no business plan. Apple must have known something like that, which is why they wanted to see it. If you watch Shark Tank and see the contestant floundering on the stage there, they will invariably ask them, “Do you have a business plan?” If they did, they could answer the questions.

Long story short, we got the deal with Apple. Over the next year, other people asked for help with their business plans. They had some brilliant ideas, but their strategies weren’t convincing to investors. I helped them with some strategies on how to do that and filled in the blanks, made it make sense, added the components that were missing. They were winning their deals.

I realized along the way that business plans have a similar fundamental structure. It’s like how we’re all humans. Even though we’re all different, you can go to the hospital and we are fundamentally the same enough so a doctor can work on all of us the same way. I thought I would take all this content I developed for my clients, combine it, redact anything proprietary, and instead of leaving blanks so you could figure out what to say, I left a variety of options of “Here’s how one might finish this sentence.” It’s easier to edit than to write from scratch. If you were faced with a blank sheet of paper, you’d be wondering what to say. But if I have something already there for you, you can figure out how to tweak it. It makes it easier psychologically.

That became our BizPlanBuilder business planning software. Over the years, we added MarketingBuilder, PublicityBuilder, ManagingBuilder, SafetyPlanBuilder, a bunch of sample business contracts, and hundreds of spreadsheet tools to do the math I certainly couldn’t do in my head. It enables you to figure out how to make better data-based decisions. Even if they are your assumptions, you can see how they can add up and make a difference. We had 10 products in 3,500 stores, doing $12 million in business with 30 employees. But the goal was always to have everything working alike, working together in one big dashboard. As the internet technology improved over the years, we are in our third revision of our dashboard with all of our products integrated. It takes about five minutes to learn how to use it.

You write a business plan. It’s great for a nonprofit because you need a strategy. This helps you put all the pieces together. Most donors come from business, so they are expecting some kind of business plan. It makes it much easier to explain what you’re doing over and over again to everyone when you know what you’re doing. Like Hugh will tell you, when you’re leading an orchestra of 100 musicians, it’s helpful that everyone has the same sheet music in front of them. Otherwise, I don’t know how they would do it.

Hugh: That’s how you got here. It’s pretty amazing what you have created over the years. In my 32 years of working with leaders, these are entrepreneurs running a business, it might be a for-profit business or a tax-exempt, for-purpose business or a membership organization or a religious institution, one common factor is they don’t have the road map to success. At SynerVision, we call this a solution map.

I want to declare up front that BizPlanBuilder and SynerVision are working together. We are going to offer this to the nonprofits we serve as an add-on because it takes the hard part out of how to think about this, what to say. It gives you a jumpstart. Here’s what it looks like and you can add your own language to that.

One of the complaints, objections I get, which are excuses, are people say to me, “I don’t have time to write a plan.” That’s one of the prevalent excuses. The other one is, “I don’t want to write a plan because it will limit my creativity.” What do you say to either one of those?  

Burke: Good luck with that. I hear those kinds of things, too. It’s covering up, “I don’t know how.” They don’t realize the benefit of having one, too. The business owners who have plans and who have had businesses in the past with and without plans will all tell you that you need a business plan, or else you’re toast. Why else would they ask that on Shark Tank? These guys are sharks. If they are going to invest in your business, they want to invest in people who have their act together. That’s a reality show, meaning they deliberately will put buffoons on there and people with crazy crackpot ideas. Only one in five will be an example of a success story. Those are the ones the sharks jump on. That’s because they have their act together. That’s the point.

If you don’t have time to write a business plan, you have to take time to explain to every single person what you’re doing. You want your people to know what’s going on. There is a Marine Corps general whose law is that your least paid person is probably your highest visible brand ambassador, meaning the receptionist probably gets paid the least in the company. But who represents you and answers the phone? Even that person needs to have a sense of belonging in the business. If everyone has read the sheet music, has read the plan, understands who the partners are, what the products do, their competitive advantages, why they’re here, the purpose of the company, what the CEO and the management team is doing in a place like this. What skin do they have in the game? What do the investors want? As an attorney told me way back when, you want to design your business so everyone gets rich the same way or wins the same way. In a nonprofit, you can see this is a big business. It’s much easier for the leader of the business if you take the time to articulate the plan and get it on paper. In this case, it’s software. You can change it.

The other objection, if anybody is susceptible to bright, shiny objects, I sure as heck am. It doesn’t preclude you from pursuing a bright, shiny object along the way. It does help you keep the object in perspective. Is it more important to take this deviation to pursue the bright, shiny object, or should I stay the course and keep doing what I’m doing? It’s kept me in my business for 30 years. It’s software. I can update software. I don’t have warehouse or shipping problems. It helps you stay the course with the thing you really want to do. If the bright, shiny object is the pivot you really want to go, you can weigh it in the financial model and see if it makes sense. The whole thing is to take two steps forward, or at least one step forward, and not one step back. Take one good step forward. It’s the benefit of this overall. It’s as easy as it’s ever going to be to write a business plan.

Hugh: You got invited to attend a business growth conference years ago. The person presenting said, “Burke, you have a software. Talk a minute.” You were teaching that class. You’ve done a deep dive into the concepts. We either don’t have it, or we put too much faith in a piece of paper. The way I perceive we are going to work together, we are not selling a product. We are just telling you about a system and why it’s important. If it makes it easier for you, it’s crazy inexpensive to find a tool that helps you accomplish a task. It’s a way to think about the future and how to get there.

A solution map is my version of a strategic plan. You and I have had conversations about these terms “business plan” and “strategic plan.” They are plans. Where do you want to be, and what are the components? Fundamentally, a business plan is a summary overview that you will give to a funder. You work with entrepreneurs raising capital for their business. We are working with nonprofits to apply for grants or get sponsorships or major donors who want to invest in the lives of people, not a return in their pocket, but a return on the lives of others. It’s a transformational investment.

The rubrics and mechanisms and parts of the business plan or the academic piece that a funder looks at to make sure A) you have done your homework, B) where does the money go, C) what is the outcome? They need to see the overall picture. If it’s too wordy, too complex, too long, it will backfire on you. What we will help people do is think through how to create the essential message.

You have been kind enough to create a portal for SynerVision, and you have also added some tactical things on my request. You take the business plan and add the action items and accountabilities and processes. I am excited to hear about the marketing plan and operational documents. I can’t tell you how many nonprofits don’t have any of these things in place, like personnel documents and board documents.

I want to talk about the essential piece of doing the planning. Let me do a scenario with you. I have an idea. I take your system and plug in some of the ideas and print it out and go to my board. I have seen over and over where the leader does everything and goes to the board, and the board says, “Not on your life. That’s your idea.” Part A is being clear on the arrival point. Part B is taking it to the board for a conversation. So the leader doesn’t overfunction, we can input it. Then we nuance it with the board. There is an engagement piece where we are partners in creating it. Why do you think it’s important for all the stakeholders to have some input and be a part of that conversation?

Burke: Looking at it from the CEO level, I don’t know what the shipping guy does every day. I’m busy with my head in the clouds looking forward. I’m a year down the road. I’m talking to investors. I’m doing high-level stuff. You could put a plan together. I remember in Silicon Valley years ago, there was a telco where everything about it was amazing, except they couldn’t connect the last 100 feet to the house. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. To avoid a catastrophe like that, you really want to engage everyone. The shipping guy even suggested we use second-day air for everything because it always got there next day air anyway, and it was half the price. Good for him. Who knew?

Anyone running the company, if you say you need the team to buy in, they will cringe. The team has to buy in! If you want your team to buy in, have them contribute to the plan along the way. They might come up with the same ideas you have, but they will come up with other ideas. Give them the credit. If it’s their idea, they will support it and make it happen. If it’s all your idea and you shove it from the top down, everyone will resist you. Or at least most people will. If there is any discussion or disagreement, it happens in the document so you can sort things out. If you have an idea you want to get on the list, you can get it in there. It may not be the top priority, but at least it’s there so you can see, “We have considered it. My idea is on the plan.” You want the diversity of ideas.

We can get into diversity and inclusion. Diversity is far more than skin deep. I want people who come from different backgrounds and perspectives. I will tell you that I think I’m the smartest guy in the room. It’s been humbling over and over, so I will never say that again. Other people have had some great ideas. I would write something down, and someone else would say, “I can perceive that this way.” How do you come up with this? That’s the beauty of having a diverse culture on your team. You’re getting ideas from all over the place. If you want more customers and more people to buy from you, pretty good idea to cover those bases. To me, it’s a no-brainer.

Hugh: It’s both ways. You know what the people in the organization know, and they know what your ideas are. We create the accountabilities and systems together. One of the great overfunctions that leaders perform and get burned out is they do too much. There is a scenario with a leader whose head is in the clouds. There is the opposite scenario where the leader has his head in the basement doing everything so they can’t see the clouds. There is an advantage to that leader being able to see the whole picture and when you have conversations with the doers, then they can do because they know what’s expected, and they know where to plug in. Bottom line, it’s an engagement tool for nonprofit leaders. When they say I don’t have time, they don’t have time because they spend all their time telling people over and over what they can write down and what people can read for themselves.

Burke: The other thing that comes to mind is there is the what, why, and how. Often you have a goal. Here is the what. I know why I want to do it. I immediately get my head down working on the how. Often it will happen some other way than how I thought it was going to happen. As a leader of the company, if I have a why for something or ask the question, and someone comes up with the what, and different people come up with ways as to how, I am less invested in how it’s done. I just need it done. If someone comes up with an inefficient way, an inexpensive way, an easy way, their way, to do it, and they will do it, getting it done is more important than getting it done my way. Who knows what you’re going to bring forth? If someone says, “We need this what,” and I ask “Why?” and the why is good, because that is what is motivating, then we can fight over how to do it. You’re letting your people come up with how to do it, and it will get done. That’s the important part: getting it done.

Hugh: If you go back to the orchestra analogy, I step on the podium. Boom. Podium is from the word “podus” for foot. You stand on a podium. One of my pet peeves is people misuse words. I step on the podium, and I open up the music score. Everything that is going to happen is written in that score. Everybody in the orchestra has a part for them. it’s their action plan. I have the strategy. There is the action plan. They will implement. I will lead.

Before I step into a rehearsal, which is like a board meeting, we don’t often rehearse for success though, we have to define what kind of meeting it is. It could be an implementation meeting. We have the strategy; we are going to do implementation. Even the best strategy is a piece of paper. It’s the integration. We have things we can integrate. The first duty and delight of the leader is to be prepared. Part of it is you are so well-versed in all of these that you can nurture and transfer it to others. We call that delegation. It’s a paradigm we have to get over.

It starts with this word “nonprofit,” which is a lie. We don’t make profit, but we have proceeds. We need to generate extra proceeds in order to grow our enterprise, to pay people so they can eat, to develop systems, and to do the work we’re called to do. The catalyst under this is the structure of what we do together. Having it virtual also means you can update it on a regular basis. We have created a plan. We start working. After a while, we have learned a few things. What are your thoughts on evaluating, revising, and updating the plan?

Burke: The system is totally modular. If it’s a marketing thing you change, or it’s a demographic profile you want to update, you open up the page and make some changes. What is the point of that? You can also make an announcement to the company that we have learned some new things about demographics. You can inform the donors or potential donors. You could make it into something like helping more people. It’s worth keeping it updated. The nice thing is having it all in one place. You don’t have some random folder with demographics and another random folder with a hiring plan. It’s all in the same place. Any time you want to see what the plan is.

You think of building contractors. They have the blueprints in the trailer on the site. What are we doing with the plumbing again? Oh yeah, it’s got to hook up over there. It’s complicated. These things are really complicated. If you have built a business before, you know that. These are all the tools to manage these complications, especially to share the changes in complications or whatever you’re doing with other people around you.

I am going to presume they are all wanting to help you. Everyone I worked for, I tried to help everyone the best I could. The ones who were the most difficult to work for were the ones who kept everything in their head. They didn’t give me any ideas. We’re going in this direction. If I found something out in the world that would help us go in that direction, I wouldn’t know it because I didn’t know we were going in that direction. I have to wait for them. The bottleneck is the leader. Nothing gets done. They are the ones who are angry because nobody is helping. Well, what do you expect? It’s a matter of respecting that you have intelligent people working for you who are trying to help you. It’s that concept of pronoia. People are conspiring behind your back to support you. There is paranoia, and there is pronoia, behind your back trying to help you. If you want to take advantage of that, give them the sheet music and update it.

Hugh: The other excuse I mentioned, and it’s more prevalent in community organizations or charities. I don’t want to limit my creativity, so I don’t need to put it into a plan because I feel like I’m going to be restricted. My response to that is musicians have a system. Because we have a system, it’s the container for creativity. Now we don’t spend our energy trying to figure out what to do. We spend our energy figuring out how to be creative about doing it. It’s a reverse paradigm. The more you lay down the tracks, the more you’re able to implement.

For three years, I taught middle school general music. Everyone had to attend. You can imagine there are some middle schoolers, especially boys, who didn’t want to be in a music class. I had to be real creative in doing a lesson. You couldn’t turn your back. You had to be very clear. You had to be clear about the benefit and engage people in meaningful conversation. I survived, but what I learned is if I had done the plan, just because I had two sixth grade classes didn’t mean they were going to be the same at all. Because I had done my lesson plan, I knew where I was going, and I knew the parts of it. I could revise on the fly, and I could see my plan wasn’t working. I had spent time with it.

Your point earlier on, Wayne Dyer used to say, “We go from believing to knowing.” We are taught to believe. Believing is like a note your mommy pins on your jacket and sends you to school. Knowing resides within you. It’s a little bit of heavy lifting to put your brain to work, but once you go through a few simple steps, your knowledge of your ability to see accelerates dramatically. Talk about the process of planning and how it benefits leaders.

Burke: Let me say this. The first catch word is plan. I don’t know where I’m going or how I’m going to get there. I know I need to go somewhere, and I need to know why, but now what? I’d rather take a couple steps down the yellow brick road and see what happens.

Hugh: Burke, we’re guys. We don’t use maps. We just drive somewhere.

Burke: I don’t need no stinkin’ directions. Honey, it’s okay. I’ll just keep going. We’ll go down this road. It’s getting darker, and we’re running out of gas. That’s okay. We’ll figure it out. I don’t need to stop in here and ask these guys who live here where to go.

Back in my original idea, it’s never really about the plan. It kind of is, but it’s a tool to gather, organize, and share your ideas. Think about this. If you are going to write somebody a check and invest in their business and donate to their nonprofit, what do you want to know about this organization? Investors ask this all the time: Why your product? Why now? Why from you? Those are three fundamental questions anyone will ask you. Some of this is to address that. It’s a comprehensive brochure if you will to cover all these bases so you can answer the questions. The chain is as strong as its weakest link. You have to have it all coordinated together.

If you remember Buckminster Fuller, famous philosopher, architect, engineer, geodesic dome guy, known by his friends as Bucky, he said, “A mistake in the plan requires an eraser. A mistake in the field requires a checkbook.” You can work a lot of stuff over in this elaborate brochure you’re creating for your business. Ours starts out more progressively. It’s not intended to have every idea all figured out. You’re not going to. But as you progress and grow, new things loom onto your radar screen as things you need to consider. We have ideas for how to think about them. Even ideas you think are bad ideas, we say, “Don’t do them. But if you do, here’s how to say it.” Nevertheless, that’s a minority. It’s a thinking tool. It’s like your brain trust for your business. The whole thing contains that. You’re really looking for a management brain trust that you can work with to contain and not be distracted by bright shiny ideas.

Along comes a company that says, “We want to sell you our resume product. It’s doing really well in retail. You can put your brand on it and sell a resume product.” I thought to myself, Let me get this straight. I’m selling a business plan for entrepreneurs building their own business. If I take on this resume product, even though it looks good and it’s done great in retail, everything going for it in that regard, the only fundamental flaw in the ointment is it’s a resume product and I am helping entrepreneurs start their own businesses. What am I saying by offering a resume product? If all my other products fail you, you can always use our resume product and go get a job. I don’t think so.

I’m more of the school like with Cortes, who says, “Burn the ships. We have 800, and they have 10,000. We’re burning our ships because we either win or die.” That’s my philosophy. You have to be all in on our business. I learned this in martial arts. If I’m not in the ring in heart, body, and spirit, I get whacked. Consequences are immediate.

If Hugh doesn’t have the right music in front of someone, and everyone is playing in C and someone else thinks they’re in G sharp, you have a serious problem with the violinist in the third row. You can’t have that. It gums up everything. It’s a coordination document. It’s a selling tool. It’s a planning document, but the planning is like your real purpose is to create this brochure piece to get everyone working together in harmony if you will to use Hugh’s metaphor.

Hugh: For the supporter that you want to present to, it’s a clarity piece for yourself. You’ve worked with entrepreneurs presenting to investors. Nonprofit leaders are presenting to investors as well, but they are philanthropists writing you a check. Philanthropy takes several forms, but one very tangible form is saying, “How much do you need?” That conversion is building a trust. What you have described here is the process of creating clarity so you can speak directly to the question. Your document has presented the objections before they have a chance to bring them up. You have already answered them because you have gone through a system. What about that?

Burke: You probably realize you are competing with other nonprofits for donors’ philanthropy. The donors have lots of money, so they’ll donate to everybody. They cannot donate to everyone, and they won’t. Like any investor, they will bet on the jockey more than the horse. If you have three organizations feeding donkeys, I’m going to donate to one of them. Which one will I donate to? I will donate to the one who has their act together. That’s why Apple wanted my friend’s business plan. That was their one key bellwether of whether this company will be around in the future or not. Do they have a plan, and are they executing on it?

We said earlier that since most of these donors have a lot of money, they probably made it in business. They want to see that most of the money goes to achieving whatever it is you’re doing. In this case, feeding donkeys. If 90% of the money goes to administration and overhead and 10% of the money goes to carrots and vet bills, that’s not exactly the nonprofit that I’d want to invest in. If I’m interested in saving donkeys, I want as much money to go to carrots and vet bills as possible. Which one of you guys is doing that? Show me. Prove it. Name names. You’re building a case. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to spend a few days going through your business plan to sort out how to build a case to get everyone on the same page and dazzle the donors with what we’re doing and inspire them to want to give.

Hugh: Absolutely. It’s a credibility piece that shows that you have done your homework, your preparation. There is a relationship-building piece, but there is also a fact piece. When you’re making a presentation, do you print the whole thing, or is there a way to export a summary document? When you talk to someone, we have had lots of presentations over the years with professional fundraisers. Many of them say you leave the stuff in the car and talk to someone first. At some point, they will ask for a document when they’re serious, and you need to produce it. What does that first document look like?

Burke: The first thing you start out with is a 30-second elevator pitch, assuming the proverbial elevator is no more than three floors. You’re not in New York City going up 60 floors. You’re going up three. It has to be quick and tight. The elevator pitch is for the investor or donor to say, “I’d like to hear more. Would you come into my office? Or do you have a summary plan?” It’s all about getting that appointment.

If you have a two-page summary, meaning one piece of paper printed both sides, because psychologically it’s one piece of paper, even though it’s printed on both sides. You have that. You go into their office with some kind of keynote or powerpoint slide show where you can really make your case. Now they get excited and are interested in writing a check. Let me ask you some questions. This is where the Shark Tank guys can tell if you have written a plan or not because if they start asking questions and you start floundering, now you have a problem. You don’t have your act together. I’m not sure you can deliver. That’s why Apple wanted my friend’s business plan. They wanted to be sure he could deliver.

The next step would be to think through the whole thing. You don’t know what they will ask you. You don’t know what they have been through in their life. “I worked at this telco that got everything right except for the last 10 feet to the house, and it died. How are you not doing that?” The ideas that these people come up with never ceases to be amazing. But if you have thought it through, you are definitely ahead.

You don’t walk in with the whole plan. You walk in with a two-page summary that says here’s the problem, here’s how we’re fixing it, here’s how many people have it, here’s what we think it’s going to cost to do it, here’s how we think it’s better. Why this product, why now, and why us. Here’s the people behind it and what we have done before. Here’s our advisors, our directors, maybe our volunteers, and our other donors. A brief two-page overview. If they are interested from there, they will want to dive deeper into what you’re doing.

Hugh: We have a question from Bob Hopkins. He’s from Dallas, Texas. Burke is out there in California.

Burke: Hi, Bob.

Bob Hopkins: Do you have a book? Or is it just a dot com?

Burke: It’s a dot com. It’s all done online now. It’s a business plan system. I could show it to you, but it could be overkill.

Bob: Do you offer your consulting expertise?

Burke: We do, sure. There is a done for you. There is a DIY. And there is a done with you, where we can help you wherever you need it. We have other consultants in our network who can do that as well.

Bob: You don’t look very old to me. Therefore, I could probably be your grandfather. Let me ask you this. I raised money in the ‘80s and ‘90s and have had businesses, nonprofits and for-profits. What has changed in 20 years?

Burke: The fundamentals haven’t changed a whole lot. If you’re going to donate or invest, you have the same questions and concerns. The way we address it these days, I could have you log into the page on my website and have you read the business plan. You can click around and see exactly what you want to see. You will always get the latest version of it. You can click into the spreadsheets and adjust the numbers if you looked at it your way. Some of the technological capabilities have changed. Videos, keynote presentations, the information that’s provided that you need to have. The education of the people you’re supporting, be it investing or donating, it makes them smarter so they are more appealing and will be more successful.

Bob: Do you have a lot of competitors out there who do the same thing you do?

Burke: Every one of our products has a zillion competitors to it. You can get free things from Score, the SBA, SBDCs. It’s like our table of contents and a bunch of blank pages. It says, “Describe your management team here.” For all you know, you’re looking at Antarctica. It’s just a blank sheet of paper. We actually have the text that you could use because it’s copied from real business plans with some ideas built in and some commentary along the way. Plus videos of me saying, “You’re in this management team section. Here’s what investors and lenders are looking for.” I take a minute to five minutes to explain that portion you’re working on. There is a lot of help and guidance and ideas in there to help you get this done. We anticipate a lot. We have watched Shark Tank. We have been to angel investor meetings. Here are the questions these guys ask and the objections they raise. We help you get ahead of that. It’s a compendium, a gathering of knowledge and wisdom. It’s a knowledge base you can tap into to put together a good business. It’s more than just a plan; it’s putting together a good business that you can operate.

Bob: Do the same tools exist for nonprofits as they do for for-profits?

Burke: I’m sure they do. A number of nonprofits are using our BizPlanBuilder. We had someone pitch Rotary International and got a quarter of a million dollars to rescue a tribe of Pygmies in Africa. Go figure. Who knew. The plan enabled them to put that together convincingly to get the money.

The nonprofit is a tax status. It’s not a management style. In effect, you’re running a business. Some of the words have changed. Profits are proceeds. Investors are donors. Employees are volunteers or staff. Customers are beneficiaries. Nonetheless, you still have to get money in to do something. The more efficiently you can do that, the better.

The other tools like the employee manual. I don’t care who you are. You still have to have employee policies in place. Likewise with all your safe work practices and safety plan, we’re trying to help people do something good in the world, succeed at it, and not be taken down by many of the things that take down a lot of companies, which is unfortunate, but not lately with all my stuff.

Hugh: Bob’s a little older than you are, but he’s not old.  

Burke: I doubt you could be my grandpa. For what I’m worth, I’m 64. Sometimes I feel older. Sometimes I feel younger. I haven’t done any work. Just being here, just being healthy.

Bob: I’m not even old enough to be your father.

Burke: There you go.

Hugh: We are running a tax-exempt business with a lot more rules than you do with a business. We have to comply with IRS regulations for obvious reasons. People get a tax deduction for helping us achieve our mission. Mr. Rash is here in Virginia with me. You had a question.

J.E. Rash: Thanks for your presentation. I find it very interesting. We’ve been a nonprofit for 41 years. Needless to say, we have done business plans and strategic planning. I have a couple of questions for you. First of all, how often do you review your business plan? What are the signals that indicate it’s time to review and adjust? Every day, you might have new ideas, but that keeps changing the direction of the organization.

Burke: You could make a separate list of bright, shiny objects that are distractions just to have them on paper and get them out of your head so they aren’t driving you crazy. You want to review an annual part of your plan once a year, somewhere in the late fall, to rethink next year. If you’re in the process of pitching investors or donors, you will review the plan a lot because you will go through it, answer their questions, fix something, add something, resequence something, subtract something. You will dial it in pretty fast. As you onboard new people, you want to go through it with them. Part of it is for your own edification, and also for the opportunity to give some updates you hadn’t thought about in the last couple months maybe. Every quarter, review it with your people. Certainly once a year, as you’re thinking about what you want to do next year-

I can go off on a tangent for a moment. We’re told we learn from our mistakes, which is true. Mistakes are painful, expensive, and embarrassing, so you don’t want to do that again. I will assert there are an infinite number of mistakes you can make. There may be a handful of ways of doing things right. If you can study your successes and learn who was there, who wasn’t there, what did we do, what did we not do, what did we include, what did we exclude, what did we do differently that miraculously got this thing to work this time so we can replicate that. That stuff is where you’re going to go into your plan so you can dial that in and get a sense of what’s working and what’s not and how to keep going with that. That’s another useful application of it: to look at what worked for you and replicate that.

J.E.: We do most of our work internationally, specifically in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, in addition to other regions. We also do work with the State Department.

Burke: How do you do that? That’s insane.

J.E.: We train entrepreneurs and social innovators to use what we used to call cutting edge technologies but is now business development and leadership for social good. It’s all around universal values. We have been successful at that. I’m wondering how you tailor your work. We’re helping entrepreneurs in leadership training. We have been leaders for 40 years in cross-cultural programming and projects. In training, I’m not so sure we always integrate the cultural nuances.

Burke: Well, I’ve been to Africa a few times myself and the Middle East once. It’s definitely an entirely different world than America by a long shot. That’s what makes it interesting. They have certain parameters they have to deal with, be it climate, weather, supporting different equipment and resources, and more. That is where you need their input because you’re in their backyard. How do you take some of these universal business principles and deliver something they can use? You need their input. You have to ask them for it. If you are showing them this structure, “Here’s what we think is going to work with you guys. What do you think?” They can say, “I love this part, but that other part over there is not going to fly.” I don’t know how they would say that in Africa, but in Texas, they would say, “That dog don’t hunt.” You need to engage them. Having this document that everyone can access and work on, they can make their contribution to it very easily. That’s what you’re looking for.

J.E.: I agree we have to listen a lot and find the experts in their communities. One thing we do find is some of their experts don’t have the same basic knowledge and expertise we might find in our country. It’s a careful step-by-step process to elevate what they do have and become sensitive to what they have to offer. Thanks.

Burke: Thanks for the question.

Hugh: Really good questions. That brought up the idea of culture. I talked earlier about the cooperative and collaborative planning with all of your stakeholders. What Mr. Rash was talking about, I did say we live in the South. We have different ways of doing things in the South. You’re in California. It’s a different world. I think the implementation of the concepts is where we start bringing in the people to talk about the how. But the first part of it, you started with the why. What’s the problem? What’s our solution? How do we do it differently? Then you go into the process of implementation. All too often, people want to start with here’s what we’re doing without knowing the why. Going through the system you have prompts people to think about those points other people need to know or they won’t support you.

Burke: There is a section for the SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, which most business plans don’t include. Strategic plans sure do, or they should. We include it in there because investors or donors will want to know what you’re good at, where are you in trouble, where are the risks in this thing. We have a section on risk. I am a big fan on revealing risks because there is going to be some assumption there may be some risks. You want to cover all these things because you want to be up front about it. If you’re not up front about it and someone calls you out on your risk, it seems like you’re hiding something. That’s even worse. I have found it to be successful. As I screw up, I’m up front about it. The sooner you cop to it, the better. There are places in the plan where you can reveal what the weaknesses are. You’re telling the investor, “You’re vulnerable here, but with a million dollars, that vulnerability goes away.” The donors’ money helps remove risk in the business as well. You want to share that with them.

Hugh: We haven’t talked about risk on this show in my memory. In an equity investment pitch, the investors are required to sign a statement of risk. You tell people right up front it’s a high risk because you’re an early stage company, so you may lose your money. We don’t do that in nonprofits. Part of it is the myths we have inherited. The myth of we can’t take risks. Businesses can take risks. If we are going to get ahead, we need to innovate. We can’t spend money on marketing. That’s a myth. We can’t pay good salaries. That’s a myth.

There is very little difference, as Bob asked. If we treated a nonprofit more in a business manner, maybe the businesspeople would respond to us in kind. They’re aware of the risk. Maybe they’re not comfortable perceiving it to you because they don’t want to pop the bubble, but they sure aren’t going to fund you. The points you brought up are things we must get on the table and talk about. I have learned some things today, and I have been doing this for a long time.

The different components we have in the BizPlanBuilder. There is the business plan, and you’re adding some tactical stuff that would make it a strategy document. You had personnel. What other things?

Burke: There is a CRM system built into that subscription. It’s as good as any. We’re not trying to compete with SalesForce or InfusionSoft or Ontraport. It’s not marketing automation. You’re not going to keep track of your volunteers and VIPs and those kinds of people in a marketing automation system. It’s a cool thing to have.

If you get the full subscription, there is an employee policy manual. There is a section of documents if you need to let someone go. You never know what’s going to happen. That is a bugaboo that gets people. If you are going to fire someone, remember to do it with dignity. You must enable them to save face. That is the one key ingredient that will fetch a lawsuit faster than will make your head spin: If you embarrass them or violate their dignity. There are documents to make sure you don’t do that. Plus a brief lecturette on that subject.

We have a set of documents for collecting money that people owe you. You could modify those in such a way to remind the donor to send their check. Or if someone does owe you money for services rendered, you need to collect. There is a whole collection sequence there.

There are sample press releases. You want to keep the world informed of what you’re doing with the benefits of how you have succeeded and how you help people.

There is a safety plan. OSHA will show up with what they consider a courtesy call. The courtesy visit means they are looking to see if you are making any violations. You are a fat, juicy source of fines they can collect. You want to be sure you have a safety plan in place to demonstrate you are trying. You will learn some things you need to do to make sure no one does anything dangerous. All these things apply. A minimum OSHA fine is anywhere from $7,000-$13,000. You don’t want to waste your donors’ money on that or all these other wasteful things.

The business plan also includes a PowerPoint presentation. You can download keynotes from all sorts of places, but they don’t explain what they’re doing. They’re not explaining the sequence of the pitch, and ours does. You will put in your graphics and say what you say, but you will do it in a conscious way so you know where you’re going from here. When you’re on Shark Tank, you can explain this and they will be jumping out of their chair to write you a check at the end.

There are little pieces like, “Would you be an advisor for us?” There is a letter inviting these guys to be advisors or directors. And other back-up peripheral things to make the whole thing work smoothly and help you do it the best you possibly can. You have everything there.

Hugh: I gotta go to BizPlanBuilder and do my due diligence. I am pumped. *Sponsored by EZCard*

What do you want to leave people with today?

Burke: I wrote a blog recently on persistence. If you are in real estate, it’s all about location. If you hear from business and investors, it’s management. Every success book I have ever read, it’s all about persistence. People don’t realize it, but Walt Disney pitched Disneyland 600 times. You can imagine in the process of pitching Disneyland 600 times, his pitch got better, his plan was more refined, and he sorted out who the kinds of people were who would be most receptive to what he was doing. Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken, not so lucky. It took him 1,117 times before someone said, “Come into my restaurant. Let’s do your chicken.” This guy started out at 65 years old with his social security check. That would be like if next year, I went out and pitched chicken 1,100 times. Jack Canfield talks about pitching Chicken Soup for the Soul, a world-class best-selling book. He had to pitch it 153 times.

If you’re worried about pitching a dozen times and they don’t like me, what’s wrong with me, yes and no. It’s either your deal needs to be fixed, you need to find a better audience, you need to dial it in, you need to review your business plan. But it’s persistence, persistence, persistence. It’s kind of like a test from the universe. If you really want to do this thing, prove it. I have been in that place myself. Persistence, gotta keep going. George Lucas, when he produced the first Star Wars film, he had produced other films, but with that one, everything went wrong. If you watch the Netflix documentary, everything went wrong. But the rest is history. He figured it out.

Hugh: We’re making history. Be persistent. Burke Franklin, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. You can check Burke and all his tools out at

Burke: Thank you.

One Comment

  1. Russ Dennis November 10, 2020 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    Great interview Burke! Thanks again Hugh for bringing in the best!

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