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Overteased and Underwhelmed

February 26th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in How Not For Profits

To tease or not to tease? When in doubt, test without.

Sometimes teasers are like bad pick-up lines. And with the split-second decision your donor makes when she glances at your outer envelope, you don’t get a second chance to talk your way out of a poor first impression … you’ve already been round-filed.

In a recent two-week period, I received 58 pieces of mail. Discounting five self-mailer newsletters, all but four packages had teasers. Very few of them were understated.

Maybe that’s what made the teaser-free packages stand out. There are times, however — particularly with certain offers — when a teaser helps entice your recipient to open the package.

Premium teasers
Three of the 49 packages with teasers offered back-end premiums, and all of them used photos or a description of the premium — an umbrella, a blue-footed booby plush and an “I AM POWERFUL!” scarf.

With the six up-front premium packages, I received three sets of note cards, one zipper pull, a collection of wrapping paper and a bumper sticker. Interestingly, four of the six packages teased with a line about a “gift” or “surprise” enclosed; two said exactly what was offered inside.

I’m not sure how well bumper stickers are working these days, but I have hopes for Sen. Harry Reid ’s effort. The bumper sticker he sent me reads, “Give ’Em Hell Harry” with his Web site address.

Classic offers
Like premium offers, there are a few other classics that likely benefit from a teaser. Three teasers announced matching-gift offers — one was an annual fund, and two were personalized, local, door-to-door/neighbor-helping-neighbor drive teasers.

Three packages showed colorful membership cards through a second window in addition to using teasers pointing out the card, along with other directions and information about the contents of the packages.

After that, the teasers are a free-for-all. And not all good. Many did nothing but announce the fact that inside the envelope is a solicitation. Some teasers tried to be clever; others were real head scratchers.

The power of teaserlessness
As an illustration of when forgoing a teaser most likely is in a package’s best interests, consider what I received from political strategist and consultant Mary Matalin  a while back.

It’s a simple, baronial closed-face carrier with a live, presorted stamp and mailer’s cancellation. The addressing is done in a blue, handwritten font, and the automation barcode is moved away from the addressing down to the bottom edge of the envelope.

Inside, a four-sheet, eight-page letter signed by Matalin explains the plight of her friend, Scooter Libby . She tells me of his tireless service as Vice President Cheney ’s chief of staff and top national security advisor, and about his unwavering commitment to our country. Then she explains that, “Scooter’s world has come crashing down,” and he needs our immediate help.

The letter explains quickly but simply that Libby was put on trial regarding “supposed leaks from the White House.” All of us who followed the story know many people were involved, but the letter is concise and without all the details that could be confusing to recipients who did not follow it closely.

In a nutshell, it explains, “the sad truth is Scooter was tried for having a bad memory about conversations he had with reporters.” Then, and not surprisingly, the letter goes on to say, “The bottom line is ever since the Iraq war began there’s been a band of left-wing activists and liberal members of the media who are intent on bringing our President down. … Scooter has gotten caught in the political crossfire.”

Classic political rhetoric, yet in the context of the whole letter, it’s delivered without any shrieking. It’s not until Page 5 that I’m asked to help fund his defense. And I have to say, this letter is written brilliantly — it endeavors to make me see what happened and feel for Libby long in advance of making a request for a contribution.

The case for support is reinforced with an insert, “What Others Are Saying About Scooter Libby” with quotes that, while far more complicated than the letter’s explanation of events, bolster its points.

I can only think that any teaser on the carrier about Libby, or a legal defense fund or any of the specifics of the case would have had a negative impact and completely undercut the recipient’s experience and reactions once the envelope was opened.

Now, I don’t know if the package worked or not — but I applaud its creators for letting the letter do the work of making the case for support all on its own, minus a tip-off from a teaser.

More than ink on paper
Is there a growing trend out there, that no package is “complete” without a teaser? If so, that’s worrisome.

Without testing the must-have-a-teaser theory on a package-by-package basis, I raise a concern that teasers could hurt more than help. If a teaser doesn’t compel the donor to rip the envelope open, we should ask ourselves, “What’s the point?”

Being creative is fun, but I’ll take boring and effective over creative any day. And these days, if there’s a carrier all but guaranteed to get opened, it’s a plain envelope addressed by hand with a First Class commemorative stamp. You might go with a corner card or not, depending on your brand recognition. But instead of a printed logo, try addressing the corner card by hand, too.

Yes, it’s very expensive. However, even though it might be viable only for a select group of high-dollar donors, that doesn’t mean volume mailings to millions have to be compromised to death and end up looking mass produced, over-designed or overly clever.

Bottom line: When you’re struggling with the teaser and nothing seems right, my guess is you’re stuck in a teaser-for-teaser’s-sake rut. When in doubt, test without. You might be surprised at the results.

By Kimberly Sevillea creative strategist and freelance copywriter.

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What is a fundraiser?

February 21st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in How Not For Profits


Please don’t shoot me till I’m finished. And please, if you must judge me, will you do so by what I say, not by what anyone else might infer I’m saying? Thanks.


A few weeks back I wrote a blog about who is a donor.  Seehere. Who or what is a fundraiser is more controversial and perhaps less well understood. So when recently I read in the UK sector press some inaccurate comments about the fundraising credentials attributed to me and my colleagues, I bristled.


A fundraiser is anyone who, either as a volunteer or paid, works to raise the money, commitment and enthusiasm that’s needed to fuel good works. Full stop.


A hands-on fundraiser is any fundraiser who doesn’t just talk about it, but actually does it. Data-planners, copywriters, input clerks, creative strategy-formulators, major donor solicitors, fundraising directors, marketers, team leaders, envelope-stuffers, thankers and bankers, agency account executives and telephone and doorstep askers are all hands-on fundraisers. To name but a few. CEOs, board chairs and trustees could be fundraisers too, though they’re not often hands-on.


I am a hands-on fundraiser and proud of it.


So why would anyone say I’m not?


‘Joe Saxton of nfpSynergy said …he did not support the marketing message, did not wish to speak on the topic for which he had been assigned, and objected to the lack of practising fundraisers on the speaker panel.’


Civil Society, 8th February 2013


Practising means doing it day in and day out or, at least, most days. In the two weeks before writing this I was planning a major national appeal, writing thank-you letters, recommending changes for someone else’s direct mail appeals, planning strategy ideas for testing in street and doorstep fundraising, working on ‘the donor’s first 48 hours’, tracking database problems that contribute to poor retention, working with teams of fundraisers to perfect their storytelling skills and answering detailed questions from fundraisers around the world about their day-to-day activities.


Seems pretty hands-on to me. And I have been doing stuff like this consistently, for more than just two weeks. When you have shared as many exhibits on SOFII as I have, then I’ll be happy for you to tell me I’m not a hands-on fundraiser.


Wait, I hear you say. ‘But… you’re a consultant. You hold people’s watch for them, then charge to tell them the time.’


If only. Sorry, these days it doesn’t work like that. As you well know.


In the article series quoted above I was also called an old fart, a dinosaur and ‘not a fundraiser’. It was the last bit that hurt me. Though, my co-speakers-to-be Alan Clayton and Kevin Schulman, both in their early 40s, were similarly labelled and dismissed. How stupid of anyone to conclude that this line-up was composed of the old, the hands-off and the irrelevant.


Professor Adrian Sargeant may not be a hands-on fundraiser. But my goodness, where would our sector be without him? Putting him down for not being hands on is like cutting off an arm because it doesn’t help you when walking.


That said, I have learned something from this bruising experience. Fundraisers accountable to their boards and CEOs for delivering at the bottom line day in day out might well resent others less deeply engaged appearing constantly to hector them over shortcomings or to lecture them as to what they should and shouldn’t do. I’ll try to be more sensitive to that when offering advice in the future. Promise.


Sure, the structure of the Summit wasn’t perfect. The organisers (who speak for themselves, because I was not one of them) have already conceded that.


But dinosaurs, supposedly, have thick skins. I’m less concerned when blokes like myself are excluded from the ranks of ‘true’ fundraisers than I am when street and doorstep fundraisers and telephone fundraisers are excluded simply because they work for a commercial supplier. ‘True’ fundraisers routinely sneer down at these folk, despite the vital, difficult job they do, so they often feel marginalised and unappreciated by their peers. Yet these are the people who day in, day out, talk to our donors. Other fundraisers would be wise to reflect on how much they might learn from them.


My main point is, before jumping to assumptions based on limited knowledge or hearsay, surely a true professional should at the very least probe a bit to get to the truth, to find out what’s really going on?


Giles Pegram is a fundraiser. For most of his life a hands-on, creative, visionary entirely at the forefront of promoting effectiveness, diversity, equality, inspiration and innovation among the legions of fundraisers that over more than three decades worked with him at NSPCC. That much about him is chronicled publicly and is well and widely known. Seehere.


So why would Civil Society imagine that it should run an article on its website labelling him as sexist? See here. For the full sorry story, click on the two other links within the article.


This feature made my heart sink. What I read there is totally at odds with the character, convictions and integrity of the man I’ve known and worked closely with for over 30 years. As I went through the accompanying comments I was pleased to see many constructive and thoughtful contributions. I found myself in broad accord with Charity Chicks, even though I’m not allowed to be one (I’m long since over that).


But equally I was sad to see people I know chipping in with hurtful, often inaccurate, partial, recycled or selective comments too. Such was their ardour to condemn a supposed rampant sexist that what he actually said and the context of it scarcely mattered.


Of course Giles was foolish to even engage in any debate on the subject. For that, and any offence his unguarded comments caused, he’s apologised comprehensively. All he wanted was to introduce something significant that would move our sector on. He was making that his life’s mission. Instead he got caught up in something he never thought he’d have to do – self-justification. He wasn’t prepared for that at all. And he tripped up.


Our sector prides itself on a well-developed and robust sense of right and wrong. So was it right, or wrong, to publish that Civil Society article in the first place? At least without doing some simple background digging among those who know and have worked with the man, to establish what really lay behind such uncharacteristic sentiments? Was it right to leap on a story reporting unwise, unguarded utterances from a leading figure in our business then recycle them with accompanying criticism, knowing that doing so might destroy his reputation and ruin the last years of his working life? Was it right that he was interviewed when obviously caught off guard, that he was not given time or opportunity to form a right of reply and was not given any chance to correct what, in the light of day, were evident absurdities and contradictions in some of the things that, in haste or the heat of the moment, he might have said, to his own obvious detriment?


The outcome of this online fiasco is that the voluntary sector not only lost a much-needed innovative event, it also hurt and hugely damaged one of its genuine pioneers and in doing so looked foolish or worse to many outside our immediate circle. In my eyes at least it also lost some of its credibility and respect.


Perhaps we need to rethink the nature of modern chatter.


Now, I’m off to lunch with a potential major donor. Please wish me luck.

By Ken Burnett

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4 Reasons Your Nonprofit Needs a Monthly Giving Program

February 20th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in How Not For Profits


At the DMA Washington Nonprofit Conference earlier this month, I got the chance to speak about one of our favorite things – monthly giving.

Yet from some corners, I still heard this:

How did you convince your [board / boss / staff ] to invest in monthly giving?

For sure, monthly giving isn’t always easy. It takes an additional investment of time to implement a monthly giving program, to ensure gifts are processed correctly, to report on and fully understand your program metrics. But despite the challenges, your organization can’t afford to ignore it. Here’s why …

1. This is the donor climate we’re all working in …TA_Index_ResultsSummary_Q3_2012

For years now, the universe of donors has been shrinking, and the number of new donors has been declining even faster. Although this trend was certainly not improved by the recent recession, declines in donor numbers began as early as 2005 and there’s no strong evidence that we’ll soon see a dramatic turnaround in this trend.

2. At the same time, we’re seeing more and more donors acquired online. While there are some benefits to online donors – they’re often younger, richer and give bigger gifts – donors acquired online are harder to retain, even controlling for age and income level.


Together, the picture that emerges is that it is harder than ever to get new donors … and harder than ever to hold on to those new donors.

As development professionals, our mandate is two-fold: to do whatever we can to retain donors, and focus on upgrading donors to higher levels of support, so that as we’re spending more on those ever-harder-to-acquire donors, we can be sure that our investment will pay off.

And this is exactly where monthly giving can help.

3. Monthly giving improves retention. Although rates vary by organization,retention for one-time donors is around 41%. In contrast, retention of monthly givers is 70% to 80%. Acquire a prospect as a monthly donor, or convert a new donor to a monthly donor, and you’ve immediately improved your long-term expectations.

4. Monthly giving will upgrade donors.  Consider the following example …

One-Time / Monthly Comparison

We’d all be thrilled to have the donor on the left on our file; she’s a dedicated supporter who makes nice gifts several times a year. Yet by accepting a far smaller monthly contribution, we can increase this donor’s value by $85 annually – a more than 48% increase.

So next time someone asks if you think your organization can afford to do monthly giving, ask the opposite – can you afford NOT to?


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TDSB students surveyed worried about future

February 19th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in News and Updates

Toronto public high school students are more worried about their future than their relationships or family matters, and more than half of them say they’re losing sleep over their concerns, a new report suggests.

The Toronto District School Board’s latest census of its students showed that 73 per cent of students between Grades 9 and 12 say they are worried about their future, compared to just 46 per cent and 33 per cent of students who were concerned over family matters and relationship issues, respectively.

The report by Canada’s largest school board also showed that 57 per cent of students in those grades said they were losing sleep because of their worries, either sometimes or all of the time. About 66 per cent said they were under a lot of stress, sometimes or all of the time.

The wide-ranging 2011 census, which was released Tuesday and had responses from more than 103,000 of its students between Grades 7 and 12, examined their demographics and economic backgrounds as well as their attitudes and well-being.

The results of the survey will be used to develop a mental health strategy, said Shari Schwartz-Maltz, a spokeswoman for the school board.

This was the first time the board surveyed its students on mental health issues.

“What our research showed us is that there’s certainly a gap in the area of mental health and we need to focus more of our resources in the area of mental health,” Schwartz-Maltz told the Canadian Press.

“These surveys drive programming in our schools, they give us a snapshot of the way our kids are feeling and they drive what we do.”

Junior high students in Grades 7 and 8 were also concerned, with 59 per cent saying they were worried about their future, compared to 45 per cent and 29 per cent of students who were concerned over family matters and relationship issues, respectively.

Among the Grade 7 and 8 students who participated in the survey, 38 per cent said they were losing sleep over their concerns, and 40 per cent felt they were under a lot of stress.

CBC News

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Family Foundations Prepare for the Next Generation

February 18th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in News and Updates

As parents, we worry about our children. And if we have more than one, we worry about how they will interact with each other, not just when they’re young but when they’ve grown up. Independence is great; interdependence is what keeps them together when we’re gone.

Families of great means often try to encourage this interdependence through the creation of a family foundation, a nonprofit organization meant to give away money to charitable organizations. The idea is almost always that the act of giving to others will keep the family together and help them weather inevitable family discord.

The plans don’t always work out, but when they do, they can offer lessons to families of far less wealth about passing along shared assets to their children — be it the family business or just something that one generation hopes subsequent ones will share.

One issue that some families have encountered is that the types of philanthropy favored by one generation may not be the ones favored by the next — something that could cause strife if not addressed.

recent report, “Next Gen Donors: Respecting Legacy, Revolutionizing Philanthropy,” produced by 21/64, a philanthropic consultancy, and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, looked at how younger generations felt about philanthropy. It found that those who followed the baby boomers wanted to give to charities in ways that produced measurable change. The report also found that they wanted to be more hands-on with the groups they give to.

“The belief is that Gen X is cynical and Gen Y is entitled,” Sharna Goldseker, managing director of 21/64, said. “We found this high-capacity subset to be different, to be more involved and interested in stewarding their family philanthropy.”

Their desires will affect how grants are made by family foundations for decades. But the vast transfer of wealth from older generations will first have an impact on how family foundations function from within. Many are large financial organizations, but they are also a collection of family members with all the issues that any family has.

I hoped to learn more about how the generations were managing the transition.

BRINGING THEM ABOARD Succession in family foundations, not to mention family-run companies, used to happen when the founder died. With people living longer, this is happening less often, and the desire to use foundations to teach children and grandchildren about the family’s values is increasing.

As with many things with children, it’s easier to get them to do something if you’re interested in it, too.

Ms. Goldseker said the report found that nearly 90 percent of respondents cited their parents as their model for philanthropy. In her case, she said her parents started talking to her when she was quite young about philanthropy in general and, specifically, the Goldseker Foundation, started by her great-uncle, who made his money in real estate.

But she said she still had to demonstrate interest and competence to get a seat on the board, which she did in her late 20s after paid and unpaid work with various grant-making charities and nonprofit organizations.

Zac Russell, whose grandfather built Russell Investments, the money management firm and creator of the eponymous stock indexes, said he had wanted to be on the board of the Russell Foundation since he was 11 years old. He worked with the foundation’s chief executive and attended various next-generation conferences to learn as much as he could. Now 25, he will attend his first board meeting as a member this month.

“My interests have never been on the programmatic side but on how we fund those programs, how we invest accordingly, how we help people who are passionate about it,” Mr. Russell said. “I didn’t play soccer as a kid. I read The New York Times and The Economist to learn about investments.”

Younger family members are not always so eager to join the foundation. Nor are their parents or grandparents ready to have them.

Bruce Bickel, senior vice president for private foundation management services at PNC Wealth Management, said he runs a directors internship program to counsel family members. The program starts with a history of philanthropy and ends with their responsibilities as board members.

“The big thing that motivated me was to maintain the integrity of the family relationship,” he said. “The best thing a family can do is to use their foundation to help others and to keep together as a family.”

GIVING ALL A VOICE For the board to function well, every member needs to have a say. This may be somewhat challenging when older board members once changed the diapers — or managed the temper tantrums — of the younger ones.

Lisa Philp, vice president for strategic philanthropy at the Foundation Center, said families handled this issue differently. Some let younger members sit in on meetings but not vote. Others give the younger generation a separate pot of money as a test for board membership. But, she said, the most successful ones are the most open.

“The more the next generation actually gets to come on and be part of the decision-making, so it’s not just make-work for them, the better chance you have of getting an integrated flow of ideas,” Ms. Philp said. “You want to be mindful of keeping the next generation engaged.”

Katherine Lorenz, whose grandfather, George Mitchell, has been called “the father of natural gas shale drilling” by Forbes, said she was fortunate to be the right age just as her grandparents expanded their family foundation in 2004 to include their children and any grandchildren who were 25 or older.

Ms. Lorenz, now 34, said her family brought in outside advisers to help them formulate the objectives of the foundation, a process she credits with making it easy for the family to make decisions.

“Sustainability was an area we could all agree on,” she said. “What sustainability means to each one of us is a different question.”

The other challenging part was who got one of the 12 seats on the board. Her grandparents had 10 children, who filled up the board. But when her grandmother passed away in 2009, her seat became a rotating one for the grandchildren, and Ms. Lorenz’s mother and uncle have given up their seats so three of the 23 grandchildren are now on the board.

She said the system had worked smoothly so far, though she admitted there were difficult moments when family members sought grants for an organization and they did not get approved.

“We give the program director discretion to make what grants will best serve our strategy,” she said. “When she comes back and says this is not a good fit for this reason, most of us say this makes sense.”

Having that outside arbiter is one way to manage hurt feelings.

MANAGING CONFLICTS There are often as many issues floating around a board meeting as at the Thanksgiving table. Once the next generation has a voice, they may not understand that their voices are among many.

“The families who do it well are the ones who maintain the original mission statement of the original donor,” Mr. Bickel said. “Where you run into problems is when the next generation says, ‘Oh, goody, I want to do my own thing.’ No one’s said to them that their role is to maintain the priorities and preferences of the foundation.”

This is not to say they have to give to the exact same organizations as their predecessors, or that they have to honor those principles as a group. Mr. Bickel said he once parceled out the five giving areas of a family foundation to each of the five siblings because they could not agree on how to make grants together.

Mr. Russell, who comes across as wiser than his years, said one of the issues with third-generation members was that each nuclear family had different values and concerns from the founders. “We have four families, and each one has a different view on the world,” he said. “The question was how do we bring this together and trust it?”

He said the foundation’s mission statement, which focuses mainly on issues of environmental stewardship, had become a touchstone. “If you don’t believe in this, maybe it’s not right for you to sit on the board,” he said.

Of course, a big reason family members might not want to be on the board has to do with simmering family resentments. Ms. Lorenz said one thing she learned from working with other family foundations was that there were always going to be families who were more and less dysfunctional than yours.

“Doing philanthropy as a family can be really fulfilling and it can be really hard,” she said. “There will be fun and rewarding experiences. Other times, there will be really painful issues playing themselves out around the table.”

Her advice? “Bringing in outside people can really help.”


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Missouri college adds job readiness score to student transcripts

February 13th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in News and Updates

The rap on college transcripts is that they don’t tell employers much, thanks to grade inflation and the failure of conventional grades to predict performance on the job. So to try to give their students’ transcripts more heft, a two-year college in Missouri now includes not only their grades, but a job readiness score and their attendance rate as well.

Linn State Technical College’s employability rating is fairly extensive. Instructors assign a “job readiness work ethic score” to students in six areas: safety, trust, timeliness, work habits, interpersonal and citizenship. Those scores are listed on transcripts and added together for an overall final grade, all of which employers can see, along with ratings for attendance and, of course, academic grades.

Job readiness is scored on a four-point scale. For example, a student must be described as “respectful” and “polite” to land a four in the interpersonal category. Lack of civility and the use of “slurs,” conversely, are on the checklist for a zero in interpersonal. As for safety, which is optional for general education courses, students get points for looking out for the safety of themselves and others, and score worse for the careless use of tools and equipment.

The college rates students’ attendance on a 1 to 100 percentage scale.

Linn State is among few colleges that have attempted to signal workplace readiness to employers. One similar effort is underway at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, which is located in North Carolina and this year plans to begin issuing grades and certificates for “soft skills,” like punctuality and working well in groups.

Several observers praised Linn State’s bulked-up transcripts, which it began offering in 2009. All students currently receive the job readiness and attendance scores.

Melinda Mechur Karp, a senior research associate with the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, calls the idea intriguing and potentially valuable to both students and employers. “It’s sending a very clear message to students about what’s expected of them.”

On the hiring side, work place readiness scores could be more helpful than conventional grades, says Marcus Kolb, a program officer with the Lumina Foundation.

“The job readiness measure is probably the first thing the employer would look at because it might need less translation than traditional grades and immediately tells the employer something they probably really want to know,” Kolb said via e-mail. “This seems to suggest current transcripts are insufficient for employers — a key revelation traditional higher ed needs to acknowledge and adapt to.”

Value Add

Donald Claycomb, Linn State’s president, says the plan originally came from trying to respond to a widespread notion among employers around the nation that there has been a “deterioration of the work ethic” among new hires.

Linn State’s leaders didn’t just go with their gut. In 2006 the college polled the more than 300 members of its industry advisory committee (which now has more than 350 members) to see if they liked the idea of rating students on job readiness skills and attendance.

“Their response was overwhelming that we should do that,” he says, with 80 percent of respondents endorsing the idea.

The college then collaborated with various industry partners to see which skills are valued and how to rate students on them. For example, they studied work place evaluations from several employers.

Once Linn State had a draft job readiness score chart, it began experimenting with small groups of instructors who tried using it. The college made subsequent tweaks, and then launched the full-scale grading process in 2009. Most of the changes were in how to define attendance, such as what should count as an excusable absence, says Claycomb. Adjustments were based on the consensus among employer standards.

Some faculty members had concerns about the job readiness grading, mostly due to worries about how much additional time they would have to spend tracking students’ performance in the six categories. But Claycomb says those initial misgivings have faded. These days, he says many instructors like having another way to assess students, which he said also helps their teaching.

Students also like the new transcript grades, according to Claycomb — at least students who do well on them. In particular, he said students value getting some credit for performing well in areas besides their final grades in courses. And for some, a good job readiness score could help lift up the overall appeal of their transcript.

The key is whether employers actually look at the document. Karp says she was skeptical that transcripts factor much into the hiring process for technical jobs, although she also said it would great if employers did use Linn State’s transcripts.

However, many community colleges report that there is a hunger for colleges to help students develop their soft skills. And it doesn’t seem like a big leap for companies and others on the hiring side to encourage colleges to rate students for their employability.

“We are seeing more and more employers who are showing more attention to this,” says Claycomb.

Linn State is upfront with its students about the high priority it places on work force readiness, which is part of its recruitment pitches. “If it isn’t right for you,” Claycomb says, “then this isn’t the place for you.”

by Paul Fain

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Trend to measure learning outcomes is gaining proponents

February 12th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Information

What’s the value of a degree? To answer that question, a growing number of universities are adopting student learning outcomes as a means of ensuring the quality of their degrees, as well as helping students move between institutions within Canada and abroad.

“It’s a little bit of an international phenomenon,” said Donna Woolcott, executive director of quality assurance at the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance. The council was established in 2010 by the Council of Ontario Universities to assure the quality of university degrees and programs offered in the province. It approves all new programs and periodically reviews existing ones. Alberta, British Columbia and most recently Saskatchewan have also instituted councils to review new degree programs and make recommendations to the appropriate minister.

Concerns over the quality of a university education have been growing since the publication in 2011 of the contentious American book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, which called into question how much postsecondary students were learning. “There’s been a bit of a hue and cry, in the U.S. in particular, that maybe universities have been failing their students in meeting certain basic writing, critical thinking, team-work and leadership-type skills,” said Dr. Woolcott.

The trend has also been spurred in part by a proliferation of new types of degree-granting institutions and new ways to offer programs, such as online degrees and blended learning initiatives. At the same time, universities are facing growing demands for greater accountability. The most recent report of the Auditor General of Ontario called on the provincial government to work with universities to develop “meaningful measures” for student learning outcomes as a way to maintain teaching quality, to help students make informed decisions when selecting university programs and to prepare them for the workforce.

Dr. Woolcott said program development and review have traditionally focused on whether sufficient numbers of qualified faculty members are available to teach a program. “That’s still important, but now we’re asking much more what will students get out of the program, what will they come away with in terms of knowledge and skills and capacity to either go on to further study or to go out and enter the labour market.”

It isn’t an entirely new concept. Learning outcomes and competencies are common in professional programs such as medicine and business, often to meet accreditation standards. But now institutions are moving towards university-wide learning outcomes.

In December, the University of Guelph adopted five learning outcomes for all of its degree programs. They are: critical and creative thinking, literacy, global understanding, communication, and professional and ethical behaviour. The outcomes are designed to give students a clear understanding of the broad skills they will acquire in a program beyond knowledge and content, said Serge Desmarais, Guelph’s associate vice-president, academic. The learning outcomes will also help satisfy calls for increased accountability and meet the requirements of the province’s quality assessment board. Universities are used to operating with very little oversight but that’s changing, he said.

Quality assessment has been part of the discussions leading up to Quebec’s education summit meetings this winter. In Alberta, Mount Royal University put in place institution-wide learning outcomes in 1997. Since its transition to a degree-granting university in 2009, it has moved towards institution-wide “learning aims,” which are broader in scope, explained Theresa Matus, director of Mount Royal’s academic development centre.

Other universities, following in the footsteps of their international counterparts, are also considering adopting learning outcomes but the trend hasn’t been universally embraced. Some faculty members vigorously oppose learning outcomes, arguing that they are an infringement on their academic freedom and autonomy over how courses should be designed and delivered. Some faculty view the trend as the creep of corporate sector quality-assurance methods into education, threatening to reduce universities to little more than training institutions.

While learning outcomes may sound reasonable and benign, once implemented, they lead professors to design courses that produce measurable results, said Christopher Pavsek, associate professor of film at Simon Fraser University. “What you have then are professors who worry more about meeting their assessment targets than they do about actual teaching,” he said. “It completely transforms the way teaching works; it completely transforms the university and not in ways that are beneficial to education by any stretch.” Also contentious among faculty members is the use of American-style methods and tests to identify, implement and assess learning outcomes.

An issue for professors is that they don’t want to “give up sovereignty over what happens in the classroom,” said Alex Usher, president of Higher Education Strategy Associates. But, as more and more countries adopt learning outcomes, Canada will have little choice but to follow, he added. “If I want my students to be mobile, if I want to have international students, and as this becomes more and more of a global standard, it’s actually dangerous not to join in.”

European countries were early adopters of learning outcomes through the Tuning Process, an initiative now more than a decade old, that seeks to harmonize skills and competencies at the subject or program level. Its aim is to facilitate degree recognition, credit transfers and the mobility of students across jurisdictions. The approach has spread throughout many other parts of the world including Latin America, Russia, Africa, Asia, Australia and the U.S.

Last year, the American Historical Association launched a nation-wide Tuning project involving more than 60 U.S. colleges and universities to identify common elements that characterize history programs offered by participating institutions. The U.S. has experimen-ted with other methods of measuring learning outcomes such as the widely used Collegiate Learning Assessment and other tests designed to measure critical thinking skills.

Canadian institutions have for the most part rejected the use of standardized tests, but eight Ontario colleges and universities, including Guelph, are taking part in a pilot project funded by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario to assess the Collegiate Learning Assessment. HEQCO and the Canadian Bureau for International Education have funded Tuning feasibility studies as well, and HEQCO oversees the participation of several Ontario universities in a global pilot project known as the Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes, or AHELO, spearheaded by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But for the most part, Canadian universities are opting to go it alone rather than take part in multinational or multi-institutional processes, said Mr. Usher. Guelph’s Dr. Desmarais noted that some research and Guelph’s own experience administering the Collegiate Learning Assessment have raised questions about the test’s effectiveness. “The response rate is low,” he said. “Even if you impose it, students are not engaged in the activity.” Guelph is about to begin testing the use of e-portfolios and other tools to measure learning outcomes but, he said, it likely will be several more years before it settles on an institution-wide assessment tool.

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Webinar by Jonathan Gudema

February 7th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Webinars and other Training

Initiating the Legacy Conversation and Getting to the Ask

Planned Giving fundraising is about engaging donors in conversations about the legacy they will leave with your organization. Fundraisers need to know how, when, and with whom to initiate these conversations and, once that happens, know how to make an appropriate “ask.”  This session will teach fundraisers how to identify their best legacy prospects, develop a compelling legacy case, and craft a successful “ask.”

Tuesday, April 9th also at 2pm ET / 1pm CT / 12noon MT / 11am PT Register

About Jonathan Gudema, Esq.

Jonathan Gudema has over 17 years of experience advising non-profit organizations on planned gift arrangements and tax-advantaged charitable estate planning options. An attorney by training, Jonathan has played key roles in helping non-profit organizations manage planned giving programs, working with donors and their advisors in cultivating, and closing significant planned gifts.

Prior to co-founding PG Advisors, Jonathan was Managing Director at Changing our World, a U.S. top-three fundraising consulting firm, where he focused on planned giving consulting. As a member of the firm’s senior management team he led consulting projects and teams, and was director of outsourced planned giving for several major clients.

Jonathan also held senior position at several non-profit organizations where he was responsible for providing legal and strategic counsel for major fundraising initiatives. Jonathan is the author of The Planned Giving Blog which receives over 20,000 visitors a year and provides news and commentary on all things planned giving. Jonathan earned a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and a J.D. from Western New England College School of Law.



Jonathan Gudema, Esq.
Planned Giving Advisors, LLC

McMaster program gives high school students a taste of university

February 7th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in In The Spotlight

The idea is simple: give high school students a chance to experience university life and they might be more likely to attend university when they graduate.

And so far, the McMaster Reach Ahead program is working.

“We do know from our conversations with the students that a number of them were in the process of applying [for university],” Peter Joshua, superintendent of leadership and learning for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, told CBC Hamilton.

“They had made that decision to apply, so now we’ll see what happens.”

The McMaster Reach Ahead program had its first pilot group this past fall. The Grade 12 students from the Catholic and public school boards spent a semester getting a feel for life as a McMaster University student.

They took a university course every morning, while continuing their high school studies in the afternoon. Complete with McMaster ID passes and access to the campus, they were given a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of post-secondary students.

The students were chosen because, though highly successful academically, they might not have considered attending university before having such an on-campus experience.

“It could be a financial barrier or maybe no one else in their family has gone to university,” Joshua explained.

“There were those that had the potential but did not have the support at home.”

Although the barriers these students face still remain, the program was intended to motivate them to overcome these obstacles, according to Kate Elliott, a leadership and learning consultant for the HWDSB.

“It’s a little bit of ‘if you build it, they will come,’ ” she said. “By setting a goal, the students are able to come up with plans for how to get there. That might mean applying for scholarships or bursaries or just maintaining their grade level.”

Board mulling the program’s future

The board is now consulting to decide if the program will continue next year, but from the feedback they’ve gotten from the students, the trial run was a success. Many of those who participated in the pilot program have decided to apply to university and are anxiously awaiting acceptance letters for the fall 2013 semester.

Sandra Preston, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and director of experiential education at McMaster University, taught the students twice a week as part of their three-unit sociology class. She said she learned as much from the experience as the students.

“Besides meeting a bunch of smart, cool kids, I learned a lot about what students need to succeed in first year,” she said. “They were much more open about the challenges they were facing than my first-year students.”

Students discussed the transition between high school and university-level courses, pointing out how the change puts a heavy emphasis on critical thinking and independent learning.

There are similar programs at other school boards in the province and the HWDSB provides similar support for students interested in college or apprenticeships, Joshua said. He’s hopeful this particular project will get the green light again next year based on the success of the pilot.

“The whole plan is to give students a sense of what the next steps are, no matter what they want to do after high school.”

Kaleigh Rogers, CBC News

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Webinar by Bill Huddleston

February 6th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Webinars and other Training

Webinar: Raising Unrestricted Revenue with the Combined Federal Campaign

In this webinar you will learn what’s needed to apply to the Combined Federal Campaign, (CFC) which generates more than $250 million annually. You will also be taught how to use the CFC as part of your leadership development efforts and the 7 Keys to CFC Success, including the “three magic words” that can triple the size of donations to your non-profit.

Tuesday, February 19th at 2pm ET / 1pm CT / 12noon MT / 11am PT Register
Thursday, February 28th at 12noon ET / 11am CT / 10am MT / 9am PT Register

About Bill Huddleston

Bill earned his MPA in Non-Profit Management from George Mason University, and in  his Federal career served in many CFC campaign leadership roles, including deputy campaign manager, communications chairperson, and special events chair. He specializes in showing non-profits how to generate increased awareness of their story.

Bill is on the faculties of the Foundation Center and the Center for Nonprofit Advancement in Washington, D.C.  He is a frequent writer and speaker  on workplace giving and leadership development.

MPA in Nonprofit Management, George Mason University