Powerful Connections Touch the Soul

This is a talk I gave last night for Social Venture Partners Annual Meeting. It was a really nice event, full of interesting people, moving talks and inspiring conversations.

In this video, I ask what is becoming an increasingly interesting question to me:

Is it possible to have a soulful connection with an organization?

What do you believe?

Here’s a rough transcript of the talk:

The most powerful connections are the ones that touch our soul.

I had that kind of a connection with my grandfather. When I was a young boy and would occasionally have hard times, he would be there for me with open arms and a great big hug. I would feel the love pour in, and know that everything was going to be alright. Years later, when my wife CJ and I were getting married, my grandfather gave a toast at our wedding. He was 93 at the time and he had a hard time even standing up to give that toast, but here’s how he opened it. He said:

“Gideon has had his hands wrapped around my heart since the day he was born.”

I will never forget those words or the impact they had on me and the rest of the people, tearing up in that room that night.

The most powerful connections are the ones that touch our soul.

Our theme this night is powerful connections – and the question I would like to pose to each of you is whether it is possible to have that kind of powerful, soulful connection with an organization?

I believe the answer to that question is yes; that it is possible to have a soulful connection with an organization. I believe that’s true because I’ve had soulful connections with organizations – including this one – SVP.

My powerful connection with SVP started ten years ago, when, like many of you I finally relented to Paul Shoemaker’s steady stream of email and agreed to have coffee. We met for an hour or so, with Paul asking lots of questions about what I was interested in – and somehow, a couple weeks later I found myself sitting in a room with a dozen or so other people who’d also been convinced to join SVP’s first-ever environmental grant committee. That committee was a great experience, full of smart, interesting people who were very passionate about environmental protection.

One day, as part of my work on that grant committee, I had a meeting with the people at ONE/Northwest (which has since changed it’s name to Groundwire). So there I was meeting with the Groundwire staff at their offices in a marina just south of the Ballard Bridge. I’m about half way through the meeting, when suddenly it dawned on me that there’s no executive director at the table. Thinking that odd for a meeting like this, I asked about it. As the words “Oh, we’re in the midst of recruiting a new ED” hit my eardrums, something funny started to happen. Everything sort of slowed down and became hyper real. The light bouncing off the water from the marina outside added to a surreal feeling that was rapidly growing in me. And all of a sudden I realize, “that’s my job.” And sure enough, within a month, I had quit my job after nearly ten years at Microsoft and signed on as Groundwire’s new executive director.

I stayed in that role as executive director of Groundwire for over nine years – up until just this spring, in fact. That job was the best job of my life. It was the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. It shifted me from “corporate guy” to “social change guy” and I will always be grateful to SVP for being that catalyst – for helping me to tap something much bigger inside of myself. That is a powerful connection – one that touched my soul.

One of the first things I did as the new ED was begin reaching out to SVP partners to entice them onto the Groundwire board. Thirteen. That’s how many SVP partners have been on the Groundwire board over the last ten years. That might seem like a lot, and it is, but it’s only because if there’s one talent I have when it comes to running organizations, it’s surrounding myself with the best people..

Years later, and after a couple of tries, Groundwire was fortunate to to be selected as an SVP environmental grant recipient. The perspective I gained from also being a grantee helped me appreciate SVP all the more. Groundwire’s connections with SVP were real, they were honest. They were demanding, yet understanding. These weren’t just funders – they were true partners. Being an ED can be a lonely job and my SVP connections helped me realize I wasn’t alone – that there others with me who also cared deeply about whether Groundwire achieved its mission. That sense of fellowship was another powerful connection for me – the kind that touched my soul.

When I was a boy, my grandfather went to great lengths to teach me and my sisters the importance of giving back to our community in Salt Lake City. He also taught us the importance of building deep connections, powerful connections – the kind that touch your soul. I can’t help feeling he’s out there somehow taking this all in right now. He’s smiling at the amazing connections in this group and the impact we’re having in our community.

The most powerful connections are the ones that touch our souls.


  1. Gideon, this seems right in line with “The Networked Nonprofit” and your work:


    • Agreed, Diane. It is. There are lots of interesting points of convergence right now on these topics. I love the pieces now being pushed out by the RSA and found “The Networked Nonprofit” to be a good read, for sure. Thanks for stopping by.

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