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Building vs. Borrowing Credibility

April 13, 2021

This week, I’m continuing to celebrate 10 years of ADDO by thinking about the key lessons I’ve learned over the last decade.

Today, I want to take us all the way back to the beginning. 

It was April 2011, and Garrett and I were dreaming about what ADDO might look like. We chose the name ADDO because it is the Latin word for inspire.

We knew we wanted our work to inspire people today to impact tomorrow.


This vision birthed two programs. The first was a leadership conference designed specifically for young people called the ADDO Gathering, and the second was a program designed to take people to Cuba. Let’s go ahead and call out the obvious: these two things don’t necessarily connect, other than the fact that we were passionate about them and they both involved inspiring people.

We decided to hold our first ADDO Gathering in July of 2011, and we needed to do two things to prepare for it. First, we needed to create content that was relevant for the next generation, and we felt confident we could do this well. We had already successfully grown the largest collegiate charity of its kind in the Southeast, UGA HEROs, and we had created a dynamic study abroad program for college students. We understood how to appeal to the next generation, and we were good at it! 

The second thing we needed to do to prepare for the ADDO Gathering was to find investors, donors, and people willing to be a part of the vision. Unfortunately, this was more difficult. For all the credibility we had to reach the next generation, we had much less to convince an older audience—the people who actually had the resources we needed—to be a part of this vision.

To reach the next generation, we had built credibility. But the only way to reach the supporters and champions we needed was to borrow credibility. And we were fortunate enough to borrow credibility from some of the best leaders in our state.

We reached out to Dr. Betty Seigel, beloved former president of Kennesaw State University, the first female president in the University System of Georgia, and the longest-serving female president of any university in the United States. We worked with former US Senator Johnny Isakson, an incredible leader who was respected on both sides of the aisle. Ike Reighard, the ultimate connector, mentor, and friend. And last but not least, Coach Vince Dooley, who has been a champion for Garrett and I specifically for a long time. 

While we did not have all the credibility we needed, we borrowed credibility from these amazing leaders. And in borrowing their credibility, we benefited from the years of work, experience, and network they had earned. When you borrow something, you take it with the expectation that you will return it in good shape. The same is true with credibility. Borrowing credibility from these individuals carried a weight of responsibility. In protecting their reputation, we began building a firm foundation for our own.

Here’s my challenge to you this week. If you’re in a position where you need credibility that you don’t have, think of people or organizations you can borrow it from—who could vouch for you? Who is willing to put their name on the line for you? 

We’re ten years in, but I certainly wouldn’t say we’ve “made it” yet. There are times when we still need to borrow credibility, but we are also starting to be in a position where we can lend our credibility to others. I want to be the kind of leader (and ADDO to be the kind of company) that these mentors were for me and Garrett. 

So here’s a second challenge: If you have credibility to give, are you sharing it with the next generation of individuals and organizations?  We need one another to pursue our global visions for a better future.


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