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4 Approaches to Make Your Subject Lines Work Harder

December 31st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Email, Marketing

Let’s face it – there’s nothing sexy about email subject lines.

While some might argue that there’s nothing sexy about email (and I would strongly disagree), there are certainly hotter and far more exciting topics to email marketers these days, like Gmail’s tabs and responsive design for mobile. In fact, if I use Google Trends to track search term activity over the past 90 days for “responsive design,” “gmail tabs” and “subject lines,” the average for “responsive design” is 875 percent greater than the average for subject lines. Even though Gmail only released the tabs feature in late July, the average for tabs search term activity is still 163 percent greater than searches for subject lines.

It’s not surprising that many marketers will spend far more time obsessing over “shinier” aspects of their email programs, like adding video to their email creative, incorporating dynamic content, or testing the perfect images. These are all great tactics and worthy of time and resources, but not at the expense of a simple A/B subject line test. Subject lines are the catalyst for email response and engagement. Every action that takes place following a message’s delivery to the inbox can be tied back to your subject lines.

In my opinion, subject lines are the hardest working element of your email program (but often the most ignored). It’s time to pay more attention, and if you’re not testing them, start now. At the very least keep in mind that mobile opens now surpass opens in any other environment, and the average order value by devicefrom mobile phones ($97.39) and tablets ($96.11) is higher than desktops ($91.86). Your subject lines need to work even harder to stand out in multiple environments amongst subscribers’ numerous on-the-go distractions.

Here are four tips for optimizing your subject lines to ensure they are primed to do the heavy-lifting:

1. Incorporate special characters: This is a great way to stand out in the inbox and use symbols to complement the purpose of your message. Research also shows that using special characters shouldn’t have a negative impact on your inbox placement rates and can make a measurable improvement in engagement rates, when compared to your other campaigns. However, beware of too much of a good thing. In other words, don’t overuse this tactic and consider using special characters sparingly and only for certain campaigns. It’s also important to match the character with the purpose of the message otherwise you can create confusion or run the risk of desensitizing your subscribers, leading to fatigue.

Consider these two recent subject lines I received as part of campaigns from the travel sector. Travelocity used an airplane character for a promotion on flights, while Priceline just used a square box unrelated to the offer. A character showing a car would have been more relevant:

Travelocity: ✈ Flights from $69 Each Way ✈

Tablet Hotels:  $15.47+/day Car Deals Without Bidding!

2. Personalization: Ten years ago, this tactic was all the rage; however whether to use personalization elements can actually be a pretty divisive topic. Not unlike other email marketing practices that have fallen out of favour, spammers have something to do with it. They’ve overused personalization elements (like first and last name), which have caused legitimate brands to stay away from doing anything that seems spammy.

However, personalization can make a positive impact on driving engagement and response when it’s used in combination with other data points that are unique to the subscriber. For example, a recent action a subscriber has taken, like browsing your website or making a purchase. Compare these four subject lines; the first two from Ticketmaster and Amazon include my name, but no other personalization elements. The second two have incorporated other data points for greater relevancy (i.e., Netflix is referring to a TV series I have in my queue and British Airways is referring to my club membership):

 

  • Ticketmaster: Margaret Farmakis, See it Live: Tickets on Sale & Special Offers This Week
  • Amazon: Margaret M. Farmakis: Books Top Rated by Customers
  • Netflix: Margaret, Scandal Season 2 is now on Netflix
  • British Airways: Ms. Farmakis, belonging to the Executive Club now means even more

3. Frontload: While the standard best practice used to be to keep your subject line length between 30-60 characters to avoid truncation at the various mailbox providers, that isn’t a hard and fast rule anymore as longer subject lines can be just as effective as shorter ones, and what works really depends on what resonates with your subscribers. For example, we’ve seen newsletter campaigns that are more effective when the headlines of the top stories are listed in the subject line and are as long as 100 characters, while shorter versions using only the newsletter’s name and date have been just as effective.

It all comes down to testing, learning what drives a response with your key subscriber segments and continually optimizing , however a good rule of thumb is to frontload your subject lines with the most important information first. This can be especially critical for subscribers viewing email on mobile devices and deciding whether or not they want to save your message for future viewing on a desktop, or if they’ll delete it unread. Time-sensitive content, personalization elements and action verbs are all appropriate to feature first.

4. Quick Action buttons: Gmail has created a way for your subject lines to work even harder. In fact, withQuick Action buttons, they might actually do all of the work for you. This feature, which was announced in May, enables you to include a call-to-action button right in the subject line of your email message so that subscribers can convert without ever opening the email. Quick Action buttons are only available for certain types of messages and you’ll need to register with Google and use schema.org markup. Below are some examples of brands using this feature:

 

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  |  September 25, 2013  

The Top 10 Creative Tips for Direct Mail and Email Marketing

December 30th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Marketing

Courtesy of “The Cross-Channel Copywriting Handbook,” by Pat Friesen

1) Tailor the copy length for each channel

No matter which type of media is delivering your message, the content needs to be as long as it needs to be to generate action from your targeted audience.

Lead generation direct mail copy is typically shorter than one-step sales or fulfillment kit copy.
Email content with the job of generating clickthroughs to a website is generally shorter than the page(s) it links to.

2) Keep the powerful P.S.

Tests show the P.S. is one of the most widely and first read elements in both B2B and B2C letters.
In fact, 30 percent-plus look at the P.S. first.

THE TOP 10 CREATIVE TIPS … FOR DIRECT MAIL AND EMAIL MARKETING
That’s why when I write a letter, I write  the entire letter first, then pull out a key benefit and move it to the P.S. where I know it will get seen first.

3) To promote the product or service, you must provide features and benefit

Identify the top three features/benefits of interest to the targeted audience.
What are the truly unique features/benefits?

Price?
Ordering specifications (size, color, etc.)?
Is it new? Improved?
A bestseller? Back by popular demand?
Also provide competitive advantages and disadvantages.

4) Compose a killer offer

Because the offer is what generates response, the writer must understand all the elements of your offer and why they are included (e.g., discounts, deadlines, guarantees, premiums, other incentives, delivery options, payment options, etc.).
Remember your offer is more than just a product or service, discount, or free shipping. It’s a package of elements bundled together to address key buying objections and push fence-sitters over the edge of indecision.

5) Convince with customer reviews

Both customers and prospects — consumer and B-to-B — rely on product reviews to make smarter buying decisions based on objective, user-provided evaluations.
Capture customer reviews online; then use them in all your media messages — space ads, emails, Web pages, direct mail, even radio and TV.
The most credible reviews address both positive and negative product and performance characteristics.
It’s also helpful to use an easily scannable rating system such as Amazon.com’s one through five stars.

6) Don’t neglect the “About Us” page

A good place to educate customers and prospects about who you are as a company is the “about us” page on your website.

A customer survey will tell you what people are looking for when they go to this page.

As part of a recent online writing assignment, I was told visitors to a particular B-to-B website look for how long the company has been in business and the breadth of its client base.  Those two points are now featured in the opening sentences of the “about us” content.

7) Create intrigue

Transform your outer envelope teaser with an intriguing command, such as “Do Not Bend” or “Do Not Destroy Without Opening.” Or make a statement that arouses curiosity, such as Untouched by Human Hands.
Your reader sees these words and wonders, “What does this mean? What’s going on here? I need to find out.”
The anticipation builds and the envelope gets opened. Apply the same technique to your email subject lines.

8) Use a deadline … and give it a name

Call it a “Black Friday,” “Cyber Monday” or “24-Hour Sale.” Name it “an Early Bird Discount” or “Daily Deal” like the email Dean & Deluca’s sends me. When I see the words “Daily Deal,” I immediately know I’d better open, read and respond to it NOW. Tomorrow is too late. Giving a deadline a name makes it intangible and concrete.

9) Test the color of the envelope

If you’ve already got a winning control OE and you’re looking for a simple test to bump response, test color.
Keep everything else about the mailing the same. If it’s white, make it blue. If it’s blue, test a color that reflects your brand. In the case of Southwest Rapid Rewards, you always know a mailing is from Southwest — no matter the size or shape — because of the bright yellow-gold color.

10) Capitalize on the ‘hot spots’

Every headline, subject line, sentence and paragraph has hot spots where the eye goes first. You want to put your most potent words in these hot spots (e.g., at the beginning or end of a sentence or paragraph), not buried somewhere in the middle. To make the most of hot spots, practice editing and rewriting headlines, subject lines, photo captions, envelope teasers, and the first sentence in your blog posts and letter.
Usually the fix is simple: “Get Your FREE Gift Now” becomes “FREE GIFT — Get Yours Now!” With only a few seconds to capture your scanner’s eye and interest, you’ve got to have the right word in the right place.

These tips were excerpted from “The Cross-Channel Copywriting Handbook,” written by award-winning copywriter Pat Friesen. The report includes 33 chapters on email, direct mail and web best practices for copywriting strategy, CRM, tactics & tests, and message copy. To learn more, visit the Direct Marketing IQ bookstore

 

Fiscal Crisis Reshaped How Donors Give

December 29th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

The sluggish economy is no longer a strong influence on how much donors plan to give, but the Great Recession has changed how Americans decide where their charitable contributions go, according to a new survey by Cygnus Applied ResearchOpens in a new window. For the first time since the economy hit its worst point five years ago, more than 80 percent of Americans now say that the financial crisis won’t affect their donations.

Texas community colleges create “stackable credentials”

December 22nd, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Education

Many community college students in Texas are getting jobs in the state’s turbo-charged oil and gas industry. But the energy job market can change quickly, so several Texas community colleges have partnered with the industry to create “stackable credentials” that allow students to re-enter college seamlessly when they need more training.

Efficiency is the goal of the statewide effort, which began three years ago.

Community colleges are working hard to keep up with petrochemical companies’ demand for workers. The jobs pay well, and many associate degree-holders earn $50,000 to $70,000 a year right out of college.

“We’re seeing people from all over the country and world moving here,” said Ian Roark, dean of career, technical and workforce education at Odessa College.

The two-pronged challenge for the colleges is to give students the training employers want and to make sure it matches up with offerings at other Texas community colleges. That’s because students tend to bounce around the state to follow energy-industry jobs. And they often enroll at a nearby two-year institution to get additional training when they relocate.

Several community colleges have teamed up to create a central core of 36 credits toward a 60-credit associate degree aimed at oil and gas workers. Those courses, which include 15 credits’ worth of accreditor-mandated general education requirements and 21 credits of specialized soft and mechanical skills training, are designed to transfer around the state.

The result is that students can avoid losing credits when they arrive on a new campus or re-enroll, said Lynda Villanueva, vice president of academic and student affairs at Brazosport College.

“They don’t want to have to start all over again, at the very bottom,” she said.

Certificate to Degree

The collaboration in Texas is about more than associate degrees, however. Community college leaders have created a full career pathway for the energy industry, complete with several layers of stackable credentials.

That approach, which is appears to be gaining steam in the academy, links a series of certificates and degrees in specific discipline. Each credential builds upon the previous one, and courses for shorter-term certificates count toward degrees.

Roark said students now have “multiple entrance and exit points” to community college as they progress in their petrochemical-industry careers. At each point they can earn credentials the industry has deemed valuable.

The first layer is a “marketable skills achievement award,” which ranges from 9 to 14 credits, said Jeff Parks, dean of industrial and applied technology at San Jacinto College. That short-term certificate shows that a student has the basic training needed to get an entry-level job. Certificates can be tailored to jobs in the energy industry or other technical fields.

Next up is a “level one” certificate, which usually takes a year to complete. For example, a basic certificate in process technology at Brazosport is 15 credits. Others can be more involved, with 18 or more credits.

Level two certificates follow. They tend to be somewhat-specialized 30-credit programs. Eventually students can wrap up 60-credit associate degrees in production or processing technology.

That’s not even the last step. Some community colleges have partnered with four-year institutions to create transitions to bachelor’s programs for oil and gas workers. Brazosport, for example, has a transfer agreement with the nearby University of Houston at Victoria for a bachelor’s in applied technology.

One reason for the push in Texas is so students who leave for jobs before completing their degree will hold some form of credential. Short-term certificates have some value in the work place, experts said, and can also help students get a head start on a degree if they return to college.

Many of the largest employers in the oil and gas industry, like Chevron or Dow Chemical, require new hires to hold an associate degree. But some will hire students as they work toward that degree, at intern pay levels that can be as much as $22 an hour, according to Roark.

Companies will also sometimes hire students with a level-one certificate. Students tend to return to college after working in those more entry-level jobs.

“They’ll get some experience there and then they’ll come back,” said Parks.

Thanks to the new stackable track, the 36-credit core is constant throughout.

“All of the credits will apply,” Villanueva said.

Hard Work

Stackable credentials sound like common sense. But creating the pathways is harder than it may seem.

“You are asking faculty to do some fundamental redesign,” said Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin.

Faculty members must work with their peers at other colleges to build a core curriculum, which must apply to a wide range of jobs in a career cluster. That might mean adding courses for the common core or changing how courses are taught at some campuses.

“The traditional academic system is not, frankly, friendly to stackable credentials,” said Roark, who called the process tedious but worthwhile.

Other states have joined Texas in giving stackable credentials a whirl. Perhaps most notably, North Carolina’s community colleges have created a green-jobs pathway across 58 institutions. The colleges eliminated 100 systemwide courses to build the stackable track.

The feds are also encouraging stackable credentials. The U.S. Department of Labor has funded the creation of stackable career pathways as part of $2 billion in work force development grants.

Parks played a leadership role in helping Texas community colleges design their energy-industry curriculum. The work started three years ago with a Perkins Leadership Grant, which is a state pot of money aimed at career and technical education.

At the time oil and gas companies were correctly predicting a big wave of hiring, Parks said. Some company officials had contacted community colleges to help them get ready. He and other college leaders used the state money to begin creating an associate degree for the field.

Community college faculty members and administrators joined industry representatives in reviewing a catalog of 1,100 courses to select ones that made the most sense for petrochemical-industry certificates and degrees.

More career paths are going to get the same treatment in Texas, said community college officials there. The allied health and information technology fields are likely candidates, among others.

Rey Garcia, president of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, said the creation of stackable credentials is an emerging trend.

It’s hard work, he said, in part because college must work closely with employers. And in states like Texas, where performance-based funding is being expanded, community college leaders will need to ensure that their institutions get credit for short-term certificates in funding formulas. Decisions about how to count a 15-credit certificate toward graduation rates have yet to be sorted out, he said.

Yet Garcia said stackable credentials are worth the effort, and pay off for both students and employers.

“We’ve just got to make sure we do it right,” he said.

September 25, 2013

USPS Pays Futurist to Assess the Stamp

December 21st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in News and Updates

The financially strapped United States Postal Service is paying a futurist more than half a million dollars to assess the future of stamps as the agency struggles to raise revenues.

The Postal Service will pay Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve, which describes itself as a futurist marketing consultancy, $565,769 to provide “analysis and recommendation on the future of stamps,” according to documents acquired by Federal Times, which provides news for federal managers.

The New York-based company was expected to make recommendations in October on ways to slow the decline in stamp usage.

Stamped mail, the most profitable business of the agency, accounts for 43 percent of its revenues. But stamp sales have continued to plummet as more Americans communicate electronically and pay bills online.

The Postal Service expects a 40.5 percent drop in first-class mail from 84 billion pieces in 2009 to 50 billion pieces in 2020.

“As part of its ongoing innovation efforts, the Postal Service regularly seeks advice and counsel from mailing industry, marketing and innovation experts,” said USPS spokeswoman Toni DeLancey in an email.

“This is an important activity that helps the organization anticipate changing mailing and shipping behaviors, as well as long-term changes to the evolving communication marketplace it serves,” she said.

Posted by  on 9/25/13

The “UnCollege” gap year

December 20th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Education

Why these students are paying not to go to university

You think postsecondary fees are expensive? What about paying to graduate from a program where there is no degree at the end of that tuition bill? That’s exactly what a group of 10 students are doing this year – three Canadians among them.

Following in the footsteps of the Thiel Fellowships, the UnCollege program was begun by Dale Stephens, author of Hacking Your Educationand a former Thiel graduate himself. Where Thiel provides a $100,000 grant to 20 young Americans, students who choose to pursue creative ideas rather than go on to formal postsecondary education, UnCollege asks the students to pay about $14,000 for an academic year. For that money, students get 10 weeks in a residential program in San Francisco, assistance with travel costs to pursue an experience they’ve chosen and networking assistance from mentors and entrepreneurs.

The program is divided into 4 phases: a 10-week residential program in San Francisco, called the Launch, in which students develop “meta-learning skills” and design the rest of their program; the Voyage, where participants live in a country where [they] haven’t lived and do not speak the language, doing things [they’ve] never done;” the Internship at an organization that fits the participants’ learning objectives; and finally the Project, which can be anything that leads to a tangible deliverable. The UnCollege students are guided along the way by entrepreneurs and other successful individuals who act as mentors.

UnCollege Website

SIMONA CHIOSE

The Globe and Mail

Published 

LinkedIn Sued for ‘Hacking’ Users’ Email Accounts to Spam Friends

December 19th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Social Media

Four individuals have filed a lawsuit against the professional networking site LinkedIn for “hacking” into their email accounts in order to send invitations to their friends.

The plaintiffs say that while they knew LinkedIn asks for users’ emails, the site does not make clear that it will bombard those users’ friends with up to three email invitations. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., alleges that LinkedIn violates the federal wiretap law as well as California privacy laws.

“For years, people have been complaining about LinkedIn’s emails,” Larry Russ, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told The Huffington Post. “This lawsuit is squarely directed at the marketing practices causing the public outrage.”

The suit alleges that it is unlawful to send advertising emails, which give the impression that the member is endorsing LinkedIn, without the member’s consent. It seeks to ban the practice and get financial awards of restitution for members.

The four plaintiffs in the case are Paul Perkins, a New York resident and former manager of international advertising sales for The New York Times; Ann Brandwein, a statistics professor at Baruch College in New York; Erin Eggers, a film producer and former vice-president of Morgan Creek Productions in LA; and Pennie Sempell, a lawyer and author in San Francisco.

They are seeking class-action status, with the hope of defining the plaintiff class as any member registered with LinkedIn prior to May 15, 2013, whose identity was used in endorsement emails. Russ said that thousands of current or former members could potentially apply for restitution if the class-action suit succeeds.

The suit says there are hundreds of complaints about email “hacking” and spamming on LinkedIn’s site. It quotes several of them.

“This makes me very upset and embarrassed! One of the contacts was a woman I haven’t touched base with for 10 years, and her husband just died – very awkward,” Meg Linker-Estes posted on LinkedIn’s Help Center on July 1. “I am only using Linkedin professionally, to make new job contacts. I CANNOT afford to be embarrassed like this.”

“Good to know I’m not the only one being hacked by linkedin, but extremely upset at the repercussions,” Robin Epstein posted on April 21. “one of the people on my contact list is mentally ill and the last thing I wanted was to invite her to be my connection on linkedin.”

More complaints can be seen herehere and here.

LinkedIn disputes the claim that it is breaking the law. “LinkedIn is committed to putting our members first, which includes being transparent about how we protect and utilize our members’ data,” LinkedIn spokesperson Doug Madey said in a statement. “We believe that the legal claims in this lawsuit are without merit, and we intend to fight it vigorously.”

 Posted: 09/20/2013 5:34 pm EDT

Olds College opens teaching brewery

December 18th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Canada, Education

Olds, Alberta, September 19, 2013 – Over 200 guests attended the opening of Western Canada’s first teaching brewery at Olds College, located in the Pomeroy Inn & Suites at Olds College, to get the first taste of Olds College beer! The President of Olds College, Dr. H.J. (Tom) Thompson was joined by Niagara College President, Dr. Dan Patterson, as they sipped on the first brew from the Olds College Brewery.

“This is not just a success for Olds College, it is a success for the partners who have helped us get to this point,” stated Dr. Thompson, “In addition to our gracious partners at Niagara College, the student interest and industry support we have received is encouraging.  New programs, especially those in new fields, are exciting, but provide challenges to introduce and get off the ground.  Continued support from our industry partners will help us continue to build a program that will give our students the best possible opportunities to learn their craft.”

The teaching brewery has state-of-the-art equipment and is attached to the Pomeroy Inn & Suites at Olds College, located on the north end of the campus in Olds. The brewery will also serve as a retail outlet and our own brews will soon be served in the hotel restaurant and lounge.  Olds College Beer will be available for purchase from our retail location, in kegs, cans, bottles, and growlers.

“We have four flagship beers that we are brewing,” explains Peter Johnston-Berresford, Coordinator for the Olds College Brewmaster & Brewery Operations Management Program, “but we will also have a number of limited release- specialty beers that will be brewed throughout the year, each of which will give our students an opportunity to experiment with ingredients and create their own unique beers”.

The Olds College Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management Diploma is one half of a unique Pan-Canadian experiment in Canadian brewing education.  Grown from a collaboration with Niagara College, the Olds College Brewmaster program will equip graduates for a variety of careers within the brewing industry.  The program will provide a mix of theory and hands-on practice, a long-standing strength of Olds College programs. With the addition of our full-time brewmaster Duncan Britton and brewery instructor Jordan Ramey, we can enhance existing programming and explore opportunities for development of online and continuing education applications.  Each instructor brings key training and experience that, together, spans all aspects of brewing; from food microbiology and brewing chemistry, to large and small brewery applications, to agronomy and business management. We are well on our way to make Olds College a Centre for Brewing Excellence.

With a full intake of 26 students in its first year there has been tremendous excitement around this new program here at Olds College. Along with the Hospitality and Tourism program that is now being offered in Olds, every student can get their start to finish hospitality experience all in one place!

For more information about this program or any other offered here in Olds, check us out at www.oldscollege.ca.

by OLDS COLLEGE COMMUNICATIONS on SEPTEMBER 19, 2013

US survey suggests students, employers remain skeptical of online learning

December 17th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Education

A recent telephone survey of 656 employers in 4 major US cities found that 56% would prefer a candidate with a traditional degree from an “average college” to one with an online degree from a “top institution.” About half of employers believe students in online programs learn about the same amount (49% same, 4% more), that online programs demand more discipline (45% more, 29% same), and that online programs are equally hard to pass (41% same, 13% harder). That leaves a substantial minority of employers, however, who believe students learn less online (42%), need less discipline (23%), and that online programs are easier to pass (39%). Fully 82% of employers believe that hybrid programs are better than online-only programs. On the other hand, a “nationally representative” sample of 215 US community college students said that online courses demand more discipline (61%) and are harder to pass, but 42% believe that students learn less. (Notably less than half of the students surveyed were taking any online courses, and in this small sample the margin of error is ±8%.)

SUMMARY

New survey data from employers and community college students raise important questions about the state of online education today. Both groups remain skeptical about the value of this fast-spreading mode of
learning.
Important findings from this research include the following:
1. Most employers would prefer a job applicant with a traditional degree from an
average school over one with an online degree from a top university.
2. Most community college students agree online classes require more discipline from
students, but they are split on whether they teach students the same or less than
in-person classes.
3. Many community college students who take online classes wish they could take
fewer than they currently do.

BACKGROUND

Online education is rapidly moving into the higher education mainstream. Colleges and universities across
the nation are embedding online education into their curricula and offering both hybrid and fully online
programs. Online products range from video lectures—some just for residential students, others (massive open online classes, or MOOCs) for the world—to sophisticated learning environments, like Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative. About a third of undergraduate students today take at least one of their classes online.

1. Online education promises to make college more accessible and, in the long run, more affordable for all
Americans. Research suggests that some forms of online education can result in equal or better learning outcomes for students compared to in-classroom instruction.

2.   At the same time, however, online classes may not serve all students equally well. In particular, those who are already struggling to keep up with their college work are more likely to drop out of online classes than classes taught face-to-face.

3. Separating hype from substance and tracking how online education is actually affecting students and other key stakeholders will be crucial as this way of teaching and learning evolves.

Public Agenda report (PDF)

 

 

 

Street Smarts

December 16th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

I found myself recently outside of the local Wendy’sOpens in a new window with our grandbeauty, Juniper, feeding french fries to a gang of great-tailed grackles that had gathered in the parking lot. Almost nothing tickles me more than a bird with a french fry. (I don’t know why. The birds just seem so happy.)

A man, late 30s perhaps, came into the parking lot and crossed over to Taco BellOpens in a new window on the other side. His deep tan, a bandana around his neck and the walking stick he carried immediately made me think “traveler.” Homeless by choice, as in the road is his home. Modern-day hobo. (All speculation, of course … but coming from the viewpoint of someone with experience — the majority of it good — with the phenomenon of “traveling kids.”) The dog that followed him, with a matching bandanna around his neck, kind of sealed the deal on my assessment of their situation.

Traveling Man wasn’t asking for money, but a car passed by him and the dog in the parking lot, then stopped. A passenger rolled down the window and held out some dollar bills. The man said a few words to the dog, who jumped around in circles for a few seconds and then ran over to the car and gingerly took the money with his mouth. He returned to his owner and put the bills in his hand. The owner waved at the car and said thanks.

I was dumbfounded and delighted. Someone who was leaving Wendy’s just then took a dollar out of his pocket and gestured to the man, who sent the pup over to retrieve the cash. Then I gave Juni a few dollars, and the dog repeated his performance for her. All the while, his owner thanked us over and over.

Finally, Traveling Man left the dog sitting obediently by the door while he went into Taco Bell. He came out with a bag, sat next to the dog, opened up the wrapped food and broke each item in half. He ate half. The dog ate half. A Taco Bell employee came out of the restaurant, and I thought for sure he was going to chase the pair. But no, he was just on a smoke break, and he handed the man a few extra napkins and (maybe) some cash.

The man drank something from a cup, then went inside and came out with a cup that he put down on the sidewalk and held upright while the dog slurped. When they were done, he gathered up all of their trash and put it into the curbside bin. Then man and dog sauntered away in the hot Texas sun.

What a blessing to have witnessed that scene! Acts of kindness flowing from all directions — human to human, human to canine, human to nature, etc. This is a much more direct example of philanthropy than is at work in most of the fundraising sector, but it does underscore some very important lessons for fundraisers: 1) If you want someone to give, you have to engage. Is there anything in your messaging that is the equivalent of this attention-getting pup? 2) Show gratitude. Always. 3) Stewardship is key. We impromptu donors saw exactly where our money went that day — and that it wasn’t squandered. Our intentions certainly are not to judge the people we choose to help, but it’s human nature to want to know our donations are being used judiciously.

Finally, whether you’re giving a dollar to a hungry brother or sister, $10 to a collection basket, $1,000 to an organization, or a french fry to a grackle, giving blesses the giver as much as the benefactor. Never forget that, because by facilitating the blessing of giving, you become a blessing yourself.

By MARGARET BATTISTELLI GARDNER

September 2013