Assess: Through our Pre-Campaign Study, Kinetic helped the organization frame its vision, assess its internal readiness to take on a campaign of significance and test the capacity and interest within the community and region.

For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a philanthropic foundation or fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy,” we are visiting with founders and leaders of philanthropic foundations, charitable organizations and nonprofit organizations to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Beem.

Matt Beem is the chairman and CEO of Kinetic, a Kansas City-based global fundraising consulting company. He joined the company in 2001 as executive vice president, becoming CEO in 2011 and chairman in 2019. Beem chairs the advisory board of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy in Plymouth, England, is an adjunct instructor of organizational behavior in the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), and is a senior fellow of UMKC’s Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership. He is an author and a featured speaker on fundraising and fundraiser compensation in the United States and abroad.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

I owe much of who I am today to the Boy Scouts of America. Scouting is part of who we are as a family. My dad, my two sons and I are all Eagle Scouts.

The powerful life lessons learned through Scouting began during my first 10-day campout at H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation. That very first night at camp, soon after my tentmate and I settled into our sleeping bags after the day’s activities, it began to thunder and lightning. About 30 minutes later, the heavy rain began, and water started pouring into our canvas tent. Not knowing how to fix the loose flaps at the bottom of the tent, I decided to tiptoe into the leader’s cabin and ask our scoutmaster for help. Being a young scout, I did not yet understand that the point of Scouting is learning how to solve problems on your own.

When I was unable to wake our sleeping scoutmaster by whispering his name, I shook him a little causing him to stir.

I explained our dilemma. Without moving he said, “Get some rope from the supply tent, find some sticks and rocks, and tie the rope through the two eyelets at the bottom of your two tent flaps. Then pull them out from the tent, tie a stick to the other end and put rocks on the sticks to keep the flaps pulled out from the tent platform. The water will run off onto the ground instead of into your tent.” I’ll never forget the clarity, brevity and maybe even a hint of frustration in his words.

My tentmate and I did exactly as he instructed. Of course it worked, and we stayed dry for the rest of camp. That rainy night, we both learned that when you ask for help, you often get guidance on how to create the solution yourself versus receiving the solution itself.

To this day, I do not ask for solutions, but rather for guidance on how to create my own, and I encourage my nonprofit clients to do the same.

Scouting also teaches that what we need to solve our problems is often right in front of us, we just haven’t thought about how to use what is there to achieve our desired outcome.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

  1. Show commitment. Early in my career, I knew I wanted to be a fundraiser, but there wasn’t a clear path into the profession, nor was it well understood at the time. Fortunately, having two nonprofit leaders as parents provided me with a template for how to forge a career in fundraising. Step one was to commit to the idea. So, instead of parlaying my summer internship into a full-time reporter job after college, I went to work as a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America.

Many questioned my decision, including my parents-in-law, who were worried I planned to become a full-time camp counselor. I assured them that my pivot to a new path was the first step in fulfilling my desire to pursue a fundraising career and ground me in the nonprofit world.

As a young professional, it is easy to question your resolve based on others’ influence. It takes courage to have those hard conversations and forge a path that requires a commitment to things that other people don’t yet understand or fully see the benefit of. Being a leader can also mean being a pioneer.

2. Be planful. One of the things I learned when I went through the Boy Scouts’ three-week training program was to plan your work and work your plan. I still embrace the concept and aspire to always use the resources in my environment to plan the things I want to accomplish. I learned early to scrutinize all demands against my plan. Doing so allows me to weed out the less important things and prioritize those truly important to achieving my goals.

3. Have the courage to execute your plan. Many people can commit to something and put a plan in place, but struggle with the execution out of fear of failing.

A neighbor once shared a phrase that resonated with me: “Every kick in the seat of the pants has an upward component.” His point was, even when you get knocked down, there’s something you can learn from it.

What I learned as I ventured into that execution piece was that it’s inevitable to make mistakes. When you fail, it’s not a failure. It’s a learning opportunity.

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

When I took over as Chairman of Kinetic from the founding entrepreneur, I quickly developed a formal leadership team. I asked them to think through the goals and vision I presented — both as individual members of the leadership team and as a collective. As we came to a group consensus, I discovered that the shared vision we developed as a team was much greater, more compelling and frankly, much more far-reaching than what any one of us had come up with individually.

The gifts, attributes and talents of our leadership team members emerged with new clarity as we began to tackle our initial goals and opportunities. So, a second great discovery was the ability that we had as a company to empower our leadership team to plan and execute their respective responsibilities. They have embraced their roles, established new goals and are leading us forward in even stronger ways than anticipated. It’s been very fulfilling, certainly to me as their leader, but also to us as a leadership team because we’ve seen when we combine each individual’s strengths, we can accomplish even greater outcomes.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

We’re fortunate at Kinetic because we have distilled our philanthropy around something that’s important to us individually and as a company: Support the fundraising profession through education. Years ago, when we began to think about our giving, it became clear our profession was very new, especially in comparison to fields like law, accounting and teaching. There were a lot of best practices relating to fundraising but not a lot of knowledge from empirical research or tools and resources to guide our work. For that reason, we decided more than two decades ago that our philanthropy would be to support the profession’s development and maturation through philanthropy to higher education institutions training fundraisers through education around best practices but also by creating new knowledge through the observation of donor behavior.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

As nonprofit consultants, we get to bring together the three actors in the fundraising and philanthropic process — committed volunteers, passionate donors and prepared nonprofit professionals. When we do that, we create a philanthropic process that’s not finite. It doesn’t have a beginning or an end — it’s kinetic, and it unleashes an organization’s power of philanthropy in a way that wouldn’t be possible without each of those participants.

The staff member ends up feeling satisfied because they have brought this committed volunteer and passionate donor together. The volunteer feels extremely gratified because they have helped a passionate donor move toward a giving decision that is often greater financially and much more meaningful in terms of what it will do. And the donor, of course, feels extremely fulfilled because they’re impacting something meaningful to them while making a measurable difference in a nonprofit’s mission.

Through our work, we get to ignite that change and growth, then watch the nonprofit evolve. I cannot imagine a greater calling or a more noble cause.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

As I mentioned earlier, one of our goals at Kinetic is to bring educational resources and research to the philanthropic community. The Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy in Plymouth, England, is the most recent organization to benefit from that initiative.

When I began working with the team that created the Institute, they were higher education professors at the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. They later moved to Plymouth University to create a center within the School of Business.

As they continued working in the higher education environment, they quickly discovered the limitations of working within another organization, particularly one with a broader set of goals and objectives that didn’t always match theirs. Through a series of conversations, I encouraged those founders to step away from the university to create their own charity, The Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, which is fully registered with the Charities Commission in the UK.

The Institute has exploded in terms of its global research and impact, not just in terms of the work fundraisers do but in terms of our understanding of meaningful philanthropy among those who are generous.

The organization extended its research beyond regular giving earlier this year, releasing the first-ever empirical report created from interviews with more than 50 ultra-high-net-worth individuals (those with a net worth higher than $1 billion). As we study philanthropy and work in fundraising, we are seeing that increasingly, more of philanthropy is given by a smaller and smaller share of all donors — primarily by that small subset of ultra-high-net-worth philanthropists who give to things they’re passionate about. This research will have a dramatic impact on the work that fundraisers and philanthropists engage in together globally.

I’m very proud of what the organization’s leaders have done and of the role Kinetic and I have played in giving them the courage, tools and capabilities to make that possible. Their success is just one example of Kinetic’s global reach and impact.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

There are three steps that we at Kinetic encourage organizations to take as they’re seeking to grow or start, especially when they’re passionate about a mission but not quite sure where to start.

  1. Assess the environment. If your nonprofit, for instance, wants to help individuals who are houseless, it’s important to understand the work other nonprofits are doing in that space. There must be an unmet need in that space or the person who wanted to start the nonprofit wouldn’t have been compelled to do it.
  2. Identify the unmet need. Look for the gap in services — where is there a need that’s not met? Figure out where you can step into that space and contribute in a way that is meaningful and makes a significant difference.
  3. Take action. As I said earlier, many people have great ideas and may even see the gap in services. To make an impact, thinking and planning must turn into action.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.

The three steps I shared above apply here as well: assess, identify and engage.

A great example of this comes from an organization we’re working with in Fort Smith, Arkansas: a charter school that will provide state-of-the-art arts education for the entire state.

  1. Assess: Through our Pre-Campaign Study, Kinetic helped the organization frame its vision, assess its internal readiness to take on a campaign of significance and test the capacity and interest within the community and region.
  2. Identify: Next, came identifying particular needs and opportunities. It quickly became clear there were more programs available to students in K-6 than at the high school level. To address that need, the school needed to offer high school programs. However, if a young person hasn’t developed artistic talent by the time they get to high school, they’re already behind. This led to the realization that younger students needed to be prepared for future opportunities, so the school also decided to create the state’s first arts-based preschool.
  3. Act: The organization knew a large family donation would be needed to make the campaign a success. The first conversation they had was with a family who had previously made gifts in the mid-five-figure range. Over the course of several meetings, the organization’s leaders shared the vision for the school and the difference the family’s donation would make. As a result, the family committed a significant seven-figure gift.
  4. Involve: There’s a phrase in our profession we speak often: “Involvement leads to investment.” Potential donors will want to be financially supportive when they have been asked to provide their thoughts, wisdom and advice to guide an organization’s plans. It’s essential to involve community members, volunteers, board members and others in your work. These groups can help identify and educate prospective donors and help shape your vision.
  5. Evolve: Undoubtedly, plans will have to change. You will inevitably encounter unexpected obstacles and opportunities, and you must be flexible to assess those and ask yourself tough questions. For example, this school in Arkansas initially set out to be a private K through 12 school but learned schools had financial barriers to participation. There were state financial support and significant philanthropy opportunities available that could help. They decided to move to a charter school model and accomplish their goals in a slightly different way to take full advantage of those opportunities.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

The key discovery I think we all made during the pandemic is that even though you have planned your work and you’re working your plan, flexibility and responsiveness are critical without permanently setting aside your longer-term plans.

When the pandemic started, we had to set aside the comprehensive goals that organizations set for their fundraising and major gift campaigns. The focus became on what was most urgently needed at that moment. For those whose mission and population were core to the pandemic, it was a small shift. Others, like arts and cultural organizations, were deemed less essential to the response, creating a tremendous need to prioritize things that were more near term and immediately important.

We helped many nonprofits make it through those tough times. Now, they have returned to reaching for their larger-vision goals. I’m proud to say Kinetic did not lose a single client because of the pandemic.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

Setbacks are a natural part of life. When a consultant doesn’t close on a large gift request for an organization or loses the opportunity to work with a new client, I let the disappointment settle for a day or two. Frankly, you have to feel the burn of that because it’s an important part of our organization. Once the feeling has dissipated a little, I will reach out and share the same thing I learned from my own setbacks. Simply put: Go out and find another success.

Babe Ruth struck out more than any other major league baseball player, but he went back up to the plate again and again until he hit another home run. We, as fundraising consultants, have to do the same, and so do our clients. We brush that dust off our sleeve, let the frustration sink in for a bit, then step right back out into that donor population and close a significant gift. It reinforces the fact that our mission is vital and is making a difference in people’s lives.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your nonprofit? He, she or they might just see this, especially if we tag them.

I’m a student of political leaders on both sides of the aisle, not because I’m political, but because I love to learn from their life experiences.

George W. Bush saw an opportunity to lead and make a difference, despite critics saying he was stepping in under the cloud of his family, who had already created a great legacy of political success. He stepped up, he stood up and he did make a difference.

Barack Obama is an amazing and intelligent man who despite having few opportunities in his early life always believed he had the innate ability and capability to actualize his gifts and talents to make a meaningful difference in the world. He talks a lot in his writings about how a single person saw opportunity in him and stood behind him; he was able to grow and become more impactful because of that. I respect him for never giving up and letting his innate ability and sense of potential inform and guide him.

President Biden has faced tremendous disappointment and pain in his life, losing loved ones and family members to tragic accidents and illness. He, of course, grieved because of those experiences, but through his grief grew his desire to become someone who makes a difference. He has led because of and through those tragedies, not in spite of them.

Doug McMillon is the current Walmart CEO. I worked with Doug early in my Kinetic tenure. My respect for him stems from his commitment to the company’s mission and his path of starting at the bottom of the organization as a college student and working his way up.

Doug has led with courage during a time of dramatic change in the retail industry, staying nimble as the company has grown. Most of all, he’s never lost his humanity. He knows everybody by name, and he takes time to express appreciation and gratitude for what they do. He’s the kind of leader I want to emulate, along with those three presidents I mentioned.

All of them have let their life experiences inform them and shape their courage and conviction as leaders. Our consultants at Kinetic try to live this model every day as they guide clients through the ever-changing process of connecting with donors.

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

There are several ways to follow Kinetic and the nonprofits we serve. We started the Power of Philanthropy blog several years ago, and it has continued to be a place where we disseminate our view of our role in the philanthropic process as the “unleashers” of organizations’ power of philanthropy. They can visit Kinetic’s website where they can sign up to receive our e-newsletters or follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook.

For those interested in learning more about the way we view philanthropy and fundraising and get a sense for how we tackle a tough problem, we are happy to schedule a free 60-minute telephone call or Zoom consultation. We will discuss the tough challenge they are facing and provide some initial helpful thinking and strategies. Just reach out to me through our website,

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.