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11 Tips On How to Write Original Appeal Letters

February 28th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Annual Giving, Fundraising

If your appeal letter isn’t pulling in enough money in the last few years, it might be the downturn. It might also be because your appeal letter reads like a grant proposal.

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinion, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” -Oscar Wilde

So how can you come right out and be more original with your appeal letters? How can you be brave and stand up and write something different than has been tried before? Follow these 11 tips. I found them at James Altrucher’s blog, then rewrote them for a nonprofit fundraising perspective.

1. Be Honest. Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says. So, what is the big thing that people think but never say about your cause? Maybe they’re thinking, “I don’t really know what you do” or “I don’t know why I should care about this” or “this problem is hopeless. Why don’t you just give up?” So say, “Should we give up?” that’s honesty.

2. Take out the first three paragraphs you write. See if it makes your story more immediate, more clear. Recently I did this for a nonprofit client and it INSTANTLY improved the story. Often your first three paragraphs are just a warm-up to the story. Your reader doesn’t need a warm-up. They need to be thrown into that story.

3. Read before you write. There are some benefits to having the biggest indie bookstore in the US in your town. For example, in the last three days I’ve read three novels, two by Dick Francis, and one by Lee Child. They are masters of suspense. Everything is urgent, and real. They help you write in short sentences, and write like your character’s life depends on it. If you’re a human services nonprofit, this is especially easy to see how it fits. But even if you’re an animal nonprofit, you can make it urgent and real. If you’re an environmental nonprofit like Columbia Riverkeepers, talk about how people are connected to the river. What happens when a river gets polluted? Who gets sick? And what can we do to help them?

4. Steal. Have you seen a good headline in a newspaper or magazine or on a blog post recently? HOW could you apply that to your appeal header? BTW I know a nonprofit consultant who swears by looking at the headlines in O magazine.

5. Numbers and facts are not intriguing – They’re confusing and people gloss over them. So, put them in only when absolutely necessary. People don’t talk about statistics as much as they talk about stories. A good story can travel around the block before you get that first statistic out of your mouth. 60,000 were killed in Pakistan in an earthquake last month. 6,000 were killed in Pakistan in an earthquake last month. Neither statistic has a punch. It’s as dull as your dullest history class back in high school.

6. Short sentences. People speak in short sentences. Don’t write like you’re making a grant proposal. Seriously. a lot of appeal letters read like grant proposals. Pretend you’re a gunslinger in an old western. They didn’t waste words. They made their sentences as short as possible. Like a gunshot. Speaking of which.

7. End with a bang. What will happen if your reader does not give to your nonprofit right now? Do they truly understand the consequences of not giving to you? Can you make that real to them?

8. Begin with a bang. How can you put your reader right in the middle of the action? “She started running through the forest. She could smell the pine boughs crushed under her feet. A wind blew up and threw her hair in her face. She kept running, her breath coming in ragged gasps. She knew she couldn’t go back. But where could she go?” I just made that up. Might be applicable for a domestic violence nonprofit.

9. Start in the middle of the action – I know, stories are supposed to have beginnings, middles and ends. Blah blah blah. Throw the reader in the fire with you right from the beginning.

10. Be specific – Vague stinks. Use the boring down technique. It’s not a gun, it’s a revolver. It’s not a revolver, it’s a Smith and Wesson revolver. It’s a pearl handled S&W revolver, It’s a loaded, pearl handled S&W revolver. Etc.

11. Write at a 6th grade level. Here’s a free tool for you to determine if your appeal letter is readable at a 6th grade level or below (that’s where most people are)

Horrors! I looked at many of my blog posts here and they are on the 7th and 8th grade reading level! I’ve got some work to do!

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013 at 6:48 am

James Altucher

PSE in California facing many challenges

February 27th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education

California is falling behind in its ability to provide higher education to its state’s citizens, particularly those who enroll outside the elite public and private universities found in the state, according to a report released Tuesday. “Boosting California’s Postsecondary Education Performance,” from the Committee for Economic Development, reviews the financial, economic and demographic challenges facing the state’s colleges and universities and finds that much of the stress is on access institutions that most students attend. Given limited chances for significant infusions of new funds, the report suggests that new ways of providing education will be key. “Without quantum increases in educational access, productivity, and effectiveness of the state’s postsecondary institutions, particularly those with broad-access missions, there is little likelihood that California will have the human capital to compete successfully in the global economy or assure its citizens access to economic prosperity and a middle-class life.”

Full Report

November 27, 2013

Gen Y earning less than their parents

February 26th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Information

Young adults are not to blame for their financial frustrations.

Their problem is an economy that has put them on track to be worse off than their parents. So much for the theorizing about them being spoiled, coddled and otherwise not as good as the generations that came before them.

“Young adults may see their parents having college degrees, owning a single-family home and having a certain standard of living,” said Markus Moos, a University of Waterloo assistant professor who wrote a study on 25-year income trends for people aged 25 to 34. “What they have to realize, given the findings in the study, is that they’re actually going to have a slightly lower standard of living than their parents.”

Prof. Moos looked at how earnings for young adults in Montreal and Vancouver changed from 1981 to 2006. His starting point was Statistics Canada data showing sharp declines in inflation-adjusted incomes in both cities. The next step was to see whether these declines could be explained away by socio-economic changes like today’s higher levels of postsecondary education and more workplace participation by women and visible minorities.

The decline in earnings for the young adults of Gen Y, also known as millennials, is sometimes dismissed as being a result of the fact that more of them are going to college or university. That means they get a later start in the work force than their counterparts did a generation ago, and thus are behind in salary.

But even after Prof. Moos adjusted his data for this trend, he still found young adults were making less than they did 25 years ago. He describes his study as using “statistical tools to show that somebody with the same degree, the same job and the same demographic profile is earning less today than they were in the 1980s.”

I reached much the same conclusion in myYoung Adults Really Do Have It Tougher column of last year. Now, an academic has further trashed the view that Gen Y’s problems are self-inflicted.

While based on the latest census numbers available, Prof. Moos’s study does not reflect the impact on young adults of the economic troubles of the past five years. But it’s a safe bet there has been even more Gen Y backsliding. Certainly, the economic factors cited in his study remain.

He says young adults have been affected by an increasing emphasis by employers on temporary or contract work instead of permanent full-time jobs. These changes affect even people working in low-paying service jobs like slinging burgers or coffee. “The study is actually able to show that somebody working in a job like that is earning less than someone who worked at the same kind of job 20 or 30 years ago.”

Gen Y is falling behind its predecessors, and it’s also getting poorer in comparison to other segments of the population, Prof. Moos said. From 1981 to 2006, a young adult’s earnings in Vancouver fell to below 70 per cent of the level for workers in older age groups, from 85 to 90 per cent.

The personal finance implications of Gen Y’s declining economic status are endless, but similar in theme: Those who have less money will bear more personal financial responsibility for their own well being.

Take retirement, for example. Temporary or contract workers likely won’t be members of company pension plans, so they’ll have to dig deeper into their paycheques to save for retirement. They may also lack health benefits, which means they’ll have to pay out of pocket for things like dental care. Other cost-saving benefits you get from working in a permanent full-time job often include a term-life insurance policy, a prescription drug plan and extended health coverage that applies if, for example, you get injured and need physiotherapy. The old personal finance rule about having an emergency fund to cover surprise expenses is a must for Gen Y, and yet these are the people who are least able to afford one.

The good news in Prof. Moos’s study, published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, is that an education is a big help if you’re young and you want the best possible advantage in the workplace. He found that someone with a degree earns more than someone without a degree, and this advantage has increased over time.

As covered in a column from 2013, your job and earnings prospects depend a lot on what you study in college or university. Smart educational choices may be your best defence against a job market where young adults are worse off now than they were 30 years ago.



MBA grads getting hired despite slow economic recovery

February 25th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education

A high percentage of recent MBA graduates are landing well-paying jobs, according to a new global survey, with the employment picture far brighter than in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown.

In the best showing since 2009, 92 per cent of the class of 2013 graduates from full-time, two-year MBA programs reported they were employed – up from 85 per cent in 2009 – according to a September survey of alumni by the Graduate Management Admission Council. By comparison, 82 per cent of respondents who graduated from full-time one year MBA programs found work in their field, compared to 74 per cent five years ago.

One explanation for the employment-rate difference may be that two-year MBA graduates typically have more work experience than those with a one-year degree.

“In a sputtering economic recovery we heard from employers earlier in the year [that] they are prioritizing MBA hires because they had to do more with less,” says Michelle Sparkman-Renz, director of research communications at GMAC. “They want the seasoned MBA talent with the strategic skills to help them make their decisions.”

Of those finding work after graduation, 57 per cent went into three sectors (products and services, finance and accounting, and consulting), with technology taking 15 per cent of new hires, up from 12 per cent in 2009. The latest data, based on responses from 915 alumni from 129 business schools worldwide, provide business schools with pointers on employment hiring trends, says Ms. Sparkman-Renz. “You want to coach them [graduates] for the hiring season to come and you want to set realistic expectations.”

The survey does not break out data for Canada, but the results are consistent with hiring trends here.

“We are seeing pretty robust hiring,” says Daphne Taras, dean of the Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Beyond the strong performance of her province’s economy, she credits the growth of co-op programs (with undergraduates and MBA students working for prospective employers before graduation) for assisting recent graduates in their job search.

This year, Edwards placed 66 undergraduate students in work terms (the equivalent of two four-month academic terms) compared with 15 in 2008, according to Brent Wellman, director of career services at Edwards. In 2011, the school offered co-op to MBA students, with three taking the option, expanding to five this year. The school reports that all the students enrolled in co-op landed jobs after graduation.

“Employers value the co-op experience,” Prof. Taras says. In growing numbers, she notes, Canadian business schools incorporate co-op and other experience-based learning into their programs.

The GMAC survey also highlights the impact of business school-trained entrepreneurs to the economy. Of respondents, 5 per cent identify themselves as entrepreneurs or self-employed. Significantly, 70 per cent of them have employees (typically two) and 78 per cent say they expect to add up to three new employees in the coming year.

Donor backs real estate centre at Haskayne

In 1979, Calgary builder Al Westman was wiped out by a high interest rate-driven downturn in housing. One year later, recalls son Jay, he and his father (now deceased) started again with $30,000 and one project. Today, Jayman MasterBuilt constructs 1,000 single family homes and about 400 multiresidential units a year, mostly in Calgary and Edmonton, indicative of a robust housing market across Canada.

With an eye to looming challenges for Canada’s residential housing market – worth $126.3-billion in 2012, according to Statistics Canada – Jay Westman this week pledged $5-million to further research and a new generation of industry leaders at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business.

“Today, a lot of conversation [about real estate] is based on opinion but it is not based on research and fact,” says Mr. Westman. “It will be excellent that we can have an institute that does that sort of [research] work moving forward.”

He has committed $5-million over five years for the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies.

He hopes the “biggest benefit” of the centre will be as a recognized North American provider of third-party independent research.

Last year, with industry funding, Haskayne introduced several electives on real estate and added more this year.

With the Westman endowment, the school plans to offer an undergraduate concentration in real estate and an MBA specialty in real estate in two years, says Haskayne dean Jim Dewald, a real estate business scholar.

“The industry has come to us and said they want better educated managers,” says Prof. Dewald, with intensification and thoughtful mixed-used development key issues for builders. He adds that the school is also responding to increased demand from students for specialty training in real estate.

New centre targets export growth of small and medium-sized firms

Companies with fewer than 500 people and less than $50-million in revenue account for 98 per cent of businesses and 60 per cent of the work force in Canada, estimates Industry Canada. But just 8 per cent of them have significant export business, according to Lorna Wright, quoted in a Schulich School of Business press release this week announcing her appointment as the inaugural director of the Centre for Global Enterprise.

The new centre will serve as a consulting, research and teaching hub for smaller enterprises to expand their global reach, according to Schulich in Toronto. Several founding members, including Export Development Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Nova Scotia and the Certified General Accountants of Ontario, are providing financial and other support.

With EDC, Schulich will offer its students a new certificate in managing international trade and investment and develop a national curriculum on “integrative trade” available to other business schools.

Schools deepen ties with China

Add two more Canadian business schools to those offering new specialty graduate programs in China.

In September of 2014, Queen’s School of Business and Hanqing Advanced Institute of Economics and Finance at Renmin University in Beijing will offer a one-year master of finance patterned on Queen’s current one-year program in Toronto.

Also next September, a new business-law program will be delivered by the Asia campus of the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey Business School in collaboration with the China University of Political Science and Law, also in Beijing. The jointly delivered executive MBA for Chinese professionals features case-based learning on leadership and legal practices in international business, according to a press release from Ivey.

Last month, working with China-based schools, McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management and the University of Alberta’s School of Business each announced new master specialty programs in global manufacturing and supply chain management and financial management, respectively, for Chinese working professionals.



The ‘Up and Out’ Fallacy

February 24th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Big-dollar donors don’t need to be protected from your regular mail stream.

I’ve heard the explanation so many times now that I’m sick of it. It goes something like this: “When our direct-mail donors give more than $1,000 in a single year, we move them out of the regular mail program and over to the upper-level or even the major-donor program. They deserve special treatment.”

The dollar threshold might be different from organization to organization, but the underlying thinking is the same: Once donors reach a certain giving level, they need to be “protected” from the regular direct-mail appeal program.

Unfortunately, the organization soon finds that revenue from these significant donors — who are now being “protected” — plummets. Moving direct-mail donors up and out of the program that acquired and nurtured them in their giving is a serious mistake. It reduces revenue and eventually causes the donor to question whether the organization values her participation.

So what should a fundraising manager do when a donor gives a significant, cumulative amount in a given year? Here are some ideas gleaned from my experience and that of my colleagues.

Identify significant donors
It’s true that some donors will percolate up from the masses and give much, much more. This is a good thing, and your fundraising program should encourage this type of upgrading. (By the way, it’s easier to upgrade giving by increasing a donor’s frequency of giving than by increasing his average gift.)

Fundraisers should set a line of demarcation that separates these larger donors from everyone else. For some smaller organizations, this threshold might be as low as $500 in annual cumulative giving. For larger groups, it might be $1,000 or even $5,000. Once a donor reaches your crossover point, adjust the communication stream, but don’t decrease contact.

Effective communication strategies
What you communicate and how frequently depends on your organization’s mission. Groups involved in meeting urgent human needs, such as homelessness, hunger, child welfare and international humanitarian issues, will mail much more frequently than universities or arts groups. What’s important is that you provide effective communications that nurture your relationship with donors and affirm their giving behavior.

If you effectively can communicate your message four or five times a year, then mail four or five times a year. More likely, your financial needs and your mission will require much more frequent communication with donors.

Those donors who’ve moved above your demarcation line need as much communication and as frequent contact as everyone else. Just because a donor now is giving more doesn’t mean he or she wants less contact with you. On the contrary, an increased level of giving often signals a desire for more dialogue and more participation.Rather than decreasing the number of communication efforts, consider substituting or even adding a special report or donor-affirmation mailing. A progress report or a special thank-you letter unrelated to a specific gift will build your donor’s loyalty without harming your revenue stream.

You also might want to ask each of your staff colleagues to call five to 10 of these upper-level donors twice during the year, once on the anniversary of their first gift to your organization and again during the holiday year-end period.

Above all, keep asking for financial support. Each year, these important donors should receive a blend of communications that ask for support, thank them for their gifts, report how their gifts are being used, and provide opportunities for participation such as volunteering and advocacy.

Give donors control
As with all donors, but especially those making large contributions, give choices and allow donors to control the relationship. This especially is important for baby boomer donors who’ve exercised choice and control their entire lives.

Ask your upper-level and major donors if they want to receive special reports or e-mail newsletters. Ask their opinions on issues and topics related to your organization’s mission. If you’re a local or regional organization invite these important donors to visit and tour your facility.

Personal representatives
One simple step to secure long-term relationships with significant donors is to assign a personal representative to each donor.

On every mail piece you send these valuable donors, include the name, telephone number and e-mail address of one of your staff members. You’ll be signaling how much you appreciate, respect and value your donors, and you’ll remind them that you want to maintain a dialogue with them.

Keep mailing
Remember, just because donors give a significant amount doesn’t mean you should protect them from the appeal packages that
motivated their enhanced giving. Keep mailing.

By Tim Burgess

March 2006

MOOC users mostly well-educated

February 23rd, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education

Most people who take massive open online courses already hold a degree from a traditional institution, according to a new paper from the University of Pennsylvania.

The paper is based on a survey of 34,779 students worldwide who took 24 courses offered by Penn professors on the Coursera platform. The findings—among the first from outside researchers, rather than MOOC providers—reinforce the truism that most people who take MOOCs are already well educated.

The Penn researchers sent the survey to students who had registered for a MOOC and viewed at least one video lecture. More than 80 percent of the respondents had a two- or four-year degree, and 44 percent had some graduate education.

The pattern was true not only of MOOC students in the United States but also learners in other countries. In some foreign countries where MOOCs are popular, such as Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa, “80 percent of MOOC students come from the wealthiest and most well educated 6 percent of the population,” according to the paper.

In other developing countries, about 80 percent of the MOOC students surveyed already held college degrees—a number staggeringly out of proportion with the share of degree holders in the general population.

“The individuals the MOOC revolution is supposed to help the most—those without access to higher education in developing countries—are underrepresented among the early adopters,” write the paper’s six authors.

Coursera has made accessibility a cornerstone of its mission as a MOOC provider. “We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education that has so far been available to a select few,” the company says on its website, and it offers financial aid to students who cannot afford the fees associated with some of its premium courses.

At the same time, Coursera has taken a hands-off approach to publicity, relying almost entirely on word of mouth (and its university partners) to spread awareness of MOOCs. It stands to reason that much of the hubbub about MOOCs has occurred in well-educated circles. Combine that with spotty Internet availability in underprivileged communities, and it makes sense that only the most privileged populations have had occasion to take a MOOC.

Andrew Ng, a founder of Coursera, says the company is aware of the demographic trends and is working on a number of projects aimed at helping reach more needy students.

“We’re fully committed to granting everyone a great education, and we recognize that we have a long way to go with regard to our long-term mission,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Chronicle, adding that reaching learners in areas with poor Internet access has been an especially difficult hurdle.

The trend does not mean MOOCs will never reach underrepresented populations, say the authors of the paper; it just means they have not done so yet. The researchers also caution that, because the study examined only a slim percentage of the students registered for Penn courses, let alone all MOOCs, “the survey may not be generalizable.”


Why So Many Successful People Were Bad Students

February 22nd, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education, Information

I’ll admit it. In high school, I was an uninspired student. I was passionate about my own hobbies and projects outside of school, but the day-to-day grind of classroom learning wasn’t experiential enough. A lot of the innovators I admire, it turns out, fell into the same boat:Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were all high school or college dropouts.

So at 16, with some savings and a loan from my parents, I decided to start my first business: a paintball supply company. While my classmates were enjoying summer vacation, I was getting real-world lessons in marketing and logistics.

By the time graduation approached, I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to entrepreneurship. But as I pored over lists of bursaries and scholarships, I found lots of opportunities for people interested in sports, music and drama … and really nothing for people like me. As a young entrepreneur, I felt I was stumbling in the dark without anyone to guide me. A little mentorship and guidance could have radically accelerated the entire process and improved the odds of success. The reality is that, even with lots of heart and perseverance and hustle, I still had to get pretty lucky to be where I am now.

This is why last month, I launched The Next Big Thing, a charitable foundation to identify the world’s brightest young entrepreneurs. Through the The Next Big Thing, I want to help those who are like me, “unconventionally driven.” And right now we’re seeking 10 promising innovators from the ages of 18-23 who will be selected for a special 6-month program in Vancouver, Canada.

The chosen group of young entrepreneurs will use my company HootSuite’s headquarters as a homebase to work on their individual business plans, connect with mentors (including Dragon’s Den-ers and Ted Talk-ers) and collaborate with partners like the Emily Carr University of Art + Design. And they’ll be supported with $10,000 each in grant funding so that they can focus their time and effort on turning their ideas into viable businesses.

Our goals are simple: Get tomorrow’s most promising entrepreneurs out of the classroom and into the business world. Remove the usual obstacles—grades, degrees and work experience. Reward ingenuity and accelerate the pace at which a good idea becomes a business reality.

After all, tomorrow’s economy depends on today’s entrepreneurs. In the US, new firms and young businesses account for approximately 70 percent of total job creation. Small businesses are the largest employer in the country, representing 53 percent of the country’s workforce and contributing to 46 percent of the nonfarm private GDP. One of the best ways we can ensure a more promising future for us all is to find new and creative ways to support our best and brightest young business leaders.

Thomas Edison, himself dismissed as dumb and scatterbrained in school, may have said it best more than a century ago: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Part of promoting youth entrepreneurship means finding ways to make sure young people don’t give up on great ideas too soon.

I hope this is a small step in that direction.

November 20, 2013

Ryan Holmes, HootSuite CEO

New US grads will experience a slowly improving job market

February 21st, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education

The job market for new college graduates will continue to improve slowly in 2013-14, as cuts in the banking and credit industries, as well as political uncertainty, hold back what could otherwise be robust growth, according to a new report from the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University.

Job opportunities will increase by 2 percent across all degree levels, similar to last year’s growth, says the latest annual “Recruiting Trends” report. Its findings are based on a survey of more than 6,000 employers.

Uncertainty over the federal budget and debt ceiling have many employers taking a “wait and see” approach, says the report. Only a quarter of respondents said they had definite hiring targets for 2013-14.

The job market for new graduates could have posted double-digit growth were it not for the financial-services sector, which has been shedding jobs, said Phil D. Gardner, principal author of the report and director of the research institute.

“That does affect college students because that’s a place where a lot of new college graduates start,” he said of the banking and mortgage industries, both of which are downsizing.

Hiring by Degree

Still, the effect of financial-services cutbacks was worse for new graduates at higher degree levels. The report predicts a 24-percent decrease in hiring for M.B.A.’s, even as enrollment in full-time M.B.A. programs is on the rise.

Hiring for master’s-degree recipients in other fields, already weak, is expected to contract by 4 percent, driven mostly by a lack of job opportunities in government.

Some employers, the report notes, are hiring bachelor’s-degree holders for jobs that used to require an M.B.A. At the bachelor’s-degree level, new graduates are projected to see a 7-percent increase in opportunities this year.

While a third of employers said they would train any candidate, regardless of major, the most-sought-after bachelor’s-degree holders were still those in business and technical fields. Accounting, marketing, and finance majors were at the top of the list, while computer-science and computer-programming graduates were also heavily recruited.

For Ph.D. graduates, the report says, opportunities outside of academe are expanding. Hiring for doctoral-degree holders is expected to increase by 26 percent this year. While the 300 employers who reported that they were hiring Ph.D.’s make up a small sample, Mr. Gardner noted, it is considerably larger than in the past.

“Eight years ago, I wouldn’t have even gotten 100 people admitting that they were hiring Ph.D.’s,” he said. Doctoral-degree holders are often courted by engineering and health-science start-up companies, he said, as well as companies looking for talent in big-data management.

Starting Salaries

One-third of employers said they would increase starting salaries this year. The average starting salary for a bachelor’s-degree recipient is expected to be $39,775 in 2013-14. “For the first time since 2008,” the report says, “we are finally seeing the recession’s grip on starting salaries ease.”

Starting pay for associate-degree holders ranged from $34,878 for those in health-services fields to $46,992 for computer-science majors. M.B.A.’s, meanwhile, started out making $59,491, on average, while those with a master’s in social sciences had an average starting salary of $42,874. Engineering and computer science Ph.D.’s had the highest average starting salaries, at $78,860.

While many companies have recruited mainly in the fall in recent years, more have indicated that they will renew those efforts in the spring, Mr. Gardner said. That’s a good sign, he said, but students still shouldn’t wait too long if they want to line up a job, as most employers probably will have met their recruiting goals by mid-March.

Internships are an important element of many employers’ recruitment, according to the report. Sixty percent of all companies that offer internships said those positions were primarily to identify and develop talent.

Employers are searching for candidates who can prove that their education will translate into real-world skills, said Mr. Gardner. Many company representatives, he said, commented that students were not prepared to enter the work force.

“This economy is not going to be one that embraces entitlement,” Mr. Gardner said. “It’s about, What can you do? And how fast can you learn how to do everything else?”

November 20, 2013

Justin Doubleday


Olympic Edition: Fundraise like a bobsledder

February 20th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Canada, Fundraising


When we asked Helen Upperton to fundraise for MSF Canada, we also offered her the support and guidance of our fundraising and communications teams. I figured the two-time bobsleigh Olympian and silver medalist could learn a lot from us. This was raising money, after all, which made us her pilots and brakemen, the elite professional marketing athletes and coaches controlling her fundraising sled in speedy runs down the narrow, twisting, iced tracks of fund development.

Well. Helen is a veteran fundraiser. A master, as are most amateur athletes in this country. They have to be. Meet the Helen of 2003. Today, she’s retired from bobsleigh, in demand, and is right now broadcasting from Sochi. How did she achieve her quest for the podium and all she’s achieved in the last decade? Training, talent, and donors. Donors, and knowing how to ask. She’s so good at asking I started writing down some of our conversations. I share some with you now in the spirit of helping athletes and fundraisers around the world in reaching our own human potential:

The need
As you progress through the system, in most sports the amount of time you must invest in your preparation to compete grows exponentially. Training and preparing becomes a full time job. At some point you’re faced with a choice: “If I want to the best in the world at this, I have to give up everything else.” But how will you afford to live with minimal income? You have to suddenly become a fundraiser as you train to be an elite athlete.

On grassroots fundraising

So, when I first started fundraising I was a nobody. No one would sponsor me and I had to think of ways to cover expenses like food, bills, equipment, and team fees. My very first attempt at fundraising was taking my bobsled to a golf course. This was 2003. We wore our speed suits all day in the blazing hot sun. It was embarrassing and uncomfortable but we needed the money. People could pay $20 to put their name in a raffle for a four-man bobsleigh ride down the Olympic track in Calgary. My brakeman at the time was Kaillie Humphries. She was the pilot that won gold in Vancouver 2010 when I won silver, [RD: and yesterday defended her gold in Sochi!]. You have to be creative.

After we raised the money at the golf course, about $10,000, I decided to go bigger. We were one year away from the Torino 2006 Olympics and I still had no sponsors. My parents helped me organize a dinner and silent auction with a teammates on the men’s side. I was so busy training that my family did much of the leg work getting some amazing auction items. We had box seats for the Rolling Stones, friends donated time-shares, and we knocked on local businesses’ doors. My dad had a friend who flew stunt planes and he put a ride in the auction. People were very kind, and we raised $20,000. The problem was most of the people invited to the event were family and friends and close contacts…the same people you keep asking for money over and over. You often feel guilty about it. In the end you just hope you did a good enough job telling all of these amazing people how big a part they played in the whole thing.

Ultimately, what I learned from doing these events is that it was also an opportunity to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise have. Many athletes have a hard time putting the work in to find support. Again, and I stress this, it’s all about building contacts and a good reputation on and off the field of play. You can’t just go around with your hand out asking for money. That’s not how business works. Learning to fundraise in amateur sports teaches you some pretty incredible skills that become very useful later in life.

About attracting sponsors
The hardest piece of this puzzle is that it is very challenging to become successful without financial support. But it’s very hard to get support if people don’t know you, or you aren’t proven: “I don’t want to be fourth again. Help me own the podium.” It was family and friends that helped get me to the point where sponsors were interested. I was twenty-six, a college graduate, and living in my parents’ basement with no car and no real job. You don’t have time to work and even if you did, who wants to hire someone who has six hours of training a day and leaves every October for five months? The athletes we see reach the Olympic podium in Canada are very determined, both on and off the field of play. The reality is, though, is it’s far easier to acquire sponsorship only AFTER you’ve reached a certain level of performance. I had a few major sponsors that really made a huge difference in my career: they came on board after I’d reached a ranking of second in the world and finishing fourth at my first Olympic Games. My major sponsors that came on board after Torino 2006 were Jennings Capital, B2ten, and Dilawri Automotive Group.


@Stephen_Cornish: “Dynamic duo! @RebsD & @HelenUpperton star fund-raiser & fast track medal winner make plans for @MSF_canada”

On Relationships and ROI
For years I invented, created, and searched for ways to return value to a sponsor’s financial investment in me. It was part of the pitch. I came up with no after no after no. What I realized later is that most sponsorships are through people you have an existing relationship with, or are building one. It’s all about connections and connecting. The truth is in amateur sport, a sponsor will NEVER get a good ROI. Our international competitions are barely televised, are more popular in Europe, the athletes are not well known (sports companies go after big professional athletes for better branding visibility so the companies that sponsor amateur athletes have no real marketing needs in the international amateur sports world. It’s an impossible sell. What you CAN sell is a journey. The incredible thing about the Olympics are the people that become a part of your journey. You become a representative of their business, and a symbol of their investment in the local community. It’s a motivational tool for their employees and a very unconventional partnership, that, in the end, offers everyone an insight into what it takes to stand on an Olympic podium. I built some wonderful friendships with my sponsors. They became part of my team. They were with me and my family when I was in tears one year before the Vancouver Olympics with two detached ribs and another fourth place finish at the World Championships. They were also there in the stands in Whistler when I climbed onto the podium to receive my Olympic medal. They see the struggle, the ups and downs, and they feel so much pride in what they are doing to help you accomplish your dream and help inspire a country though sport. When the dust settles, you look back and realize that none of it would have been possible without so many people. That human connection and journey of excellence is what you sell. And smart business leaders see the incredible value of what an Olympic athlete can do for a business or an organization.

My advice on attracting corporate sponsors? Be yourself, be marketable, be creative, and become a good public speaker…even if you need to find a coach! Most importantly: know that people want to feel like they are a part of something great. You just have to find a way to let them. Ultimately, your funding needs as an athlete is a story to sell, and like any type of fundraising, you have to convince people to be interested in whatever you’re selling.

On grasstops fundraising
B2ten is a group of business executives that sets up trust funds for the athletes they support. I was a B2ten athlete, and am ever, ever grateful. They use their contacts to help invest the money and offer incredible financial advice for athletes. One of their goals is to help create successful athletes and successful contributing members of society post retirement. I learned so much from them. They were and still are great mentors.

On a practical level, they bought me my bobsled before the 2010 games. It cost $80,000 to buy and probably another $20,000 in repairs and maintenance. The steel runners we use to race are about $10,000 a set and we need different sets for different weather. I usually needed three or four sets at any time. Then add in nutrition, therapy, training, and coaching expenses: it becomes astronomical when you start going above and beyond what the Canadian sport system offers.

Building your case for support
Mr. JD Miller, one of the business men from the B2ten group, helped me negotiate my sponsorship contract. He had the knowledge and experience and I was clueless! He did it at no cost. Because of him, I was able to solidify a great contract. Now, I hadn’t been to the dentist in seven years or something because I couldn’t afford it, and I didn’t have a car. Both a leased vehicle and medical coverage were written into my contract. I never even thought about that before. There are so many creative ways to get support. JD helped me to realize that you have to be specific. He said to me, “Ask yourself, what do you really need? What will make a difference? Prioritize them and then ask.” He gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received about amateur sport sponsorship: don’t waste people’s time. Know exactly what you want and what you can give. And ASK, never be afraid to ask! If the answer is “no” you’re no worse off than you are already. I became a bit fearless after that and it paid off.

Donor recognition
You also have to consider the majority of Canadians only cares about amateur sport once every two years when the summer or winter Olympic Games are held. So for me, Canada and the world only cared about bobsleigh every four years. That’s also the only time that you cannot display or promote any personal sponsors. That means the people who invest in your journey as an athlete have to be in it for reasons other than self promotion.

Winning and the donor journey

When you look back on your career, at how hard it was to go from nothing to the top of an Olympic podium or a World Cup podium, you realize how absolutely impossible it would’ve been without so many people. That’s the most touching part of the Olympics – the people that become a part of your journey. And you hope that somehow, you’ve managed to convince them that a piece of that medal belongs to them as well because you couldn’t have done it without them.

Final fundraising advice from a bobsledder
Don’t undervalue yourself as an athlete. Canadians have a tendency to do that when considering sponsorship contracts. Persuade people to invest in your journey, not just in you. Ask them to share it with you, become a part of your team. You want a partner, not a sponsor. Explain to prospects they can become a part of building a great athlete and great person. They will be helping inspire a country by investing in an athlete’s Olympic journey. Supporting an athlete shows they value the Olympics ideals of sport, fair play, teamwork, inclusion, and participation. These things have a hugely affect our country. Athletes are incredibly inspiring. Inspire your donors, encourage them, and become a spokesperson for their business. Also, carry business cards with you everywhere and talk to as many people as possible.You never know who you’ll meet and what role they’ll play in moving your career forward.

ON FEBRUARY 20, 2014 AT 2:00 PM

Technology both helps and hinders students’ studies

February 20th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education

Texting While Studying: New Study from McGraw-Hill Education Reveals That Technology Can Be Students’ Best Friend and Worst Enemy

New technology is improving studies for many students, but other students aren’t using mobile devices to their advantage, says a new US study by McGraw-Hill Education. Nearly 40% of students reported that the internet and social media networks are the biggest distractions while studying, and more than 50% of students said they used computers, tablets and phones for non-study activities, such as texting friends, while they were studying. However, more than 50% of students felt “better prepared for classes” and had “improved studying efficiency” as a result of study technology, while 45% of students experienced reduced stress related to studying and exams. The over 500 students surveyed were users of a McGraw-Hill Education adaptive learning tool called LearnSmart, which uses algorithmic technology to continually assess students’ knowledge, skills and confidence levels and then designs targeted study paths based on the resulting data to improve student performance.

From Facebook newsfeeds and text messages to frat parties and other extracurriculars, the number of study distractions today is unlimited, so how do college students focus on their studies to enhance their performance in class? New survey results illustrate how technology is improving the study process for many students but warn that students aren’t always using mobile devices to their advantage.

The third party study (“The Impact of Technology on College Student Study Habits”) commissioned by McGraw-Hill Education reveals that online activities and the use of mobile devices can either help, or in some instances, hurt the study process. Nearly 40 percent of students reported that anything online (primarily the internet and social media networks) is the biggest distraction when studying, and more than 50 percent of students said they used computers, tablets and phones for non-study activities while they were studying, such as texting friends.

But the good news is that students who take advantage of the latest study technologies, such as adaptive learning programs, report feeling more productive and less stressed. More than 50 percent of students felt “better prepared for classes” and had “improved studying efficiency” as a result of study technology, while 45 percent of students experienced reduced stress related to studying and exams.

More than 500 college students participated in the survey, which sought to better understand students’ study habits and the influence of learning technologies on studying. Other highlights include:

  • Students are using smartphones to study more than they’re using tablets.
    Surprisingly, 36 percent of students say they use smartphones for studying, when compared to 22 percent of students who opt for a tablet device or a computer.
  • Digital study tools are saving students time.
    67 percent of students said that digital study tools such as adaptive learning programs save them time—up to five or more hours a week—when studying.
  • Sleep is a necessary ingredient for academic success, and students using digital study tools get more of it.
    50 percent of students who regularly use study technology say that they use time they save studying to catch up on sleep – an important benefit, given that 64 percent of respondents said that it takes more than 7 hours of sleep per night to be an effective student.
  • Writing papers is the biggest source of academic stress for students.
    34 percent of students said writing a major paper was the most stressful, over 22 percent who claimed that taking a test was a more stress-inducing activity, indicating that the commonly known “test anxiety” may be lower than expected.
  • When it comes to laptops, most college students are using PCs.
    When asked which brands of electronic devices they owned, an overwhelming 71 percent of students said they owned a PC laptop, far outweighing the 20 percent of Mac laptop owners.

“Studying effectively – and with the right type of technology – is one of the best ways to ensure that students succeed in class,” said Brian Kibby, president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education. “But focus is the key. When used properly, study technologies such as our LearnSmart adaptive study tool can help students pinpoint their studying efforts with great precision, prompting them to review only the material they have not yet mastered and moving beyond the concepts they know cold. This instant feedback helps students arrive to class better prepared and engaged and leads to higher grades and exam scores.”

The students who participated in the survey are users of LearnSmart™, a McGraw-Hill Education adaptive study tool. LearnSmart seeks to personalize learning by using algorithmic technology to continually assess students’ knowledge, skills and confidence levels and then designs targeted study paths based on the resulting data to bolster students’ understanding in the areas where they need to improve the most. The platform helps students study more effectively, increase their retention of a particular subject and achieve better grades while allowing professors to use data analysis to tailor instruction and reduce administrative time. On average, LearnSmart helps C students become B students and B students become A students. More than 2 million students have used the LearnSmart platform, in which more than 1.6 billion questions have been answered to date. In this survey, approximately two thirds of students reported experiencing positive benefits from using study technologies such as LearnSmart.

“Technology has made such a positive impact on the way I study.  My study time has become shorter and the retention is greater. I truly enjoy the way it adapts to me and the accessibility,” said Ingrid Zapata, a student at Texas A&M University.

About McGraw-Hill Education
McGraw-Hill Education is a digital learning company that draws on its more than 100 years of educational expertise to offer solutions that improve learning outcomes around the world. McGraw-Hill Education is the adaptive education technology leader with the vision for creating a highly personalized learning experience that prepares students of all ages for the world that awaits. The Company has offices across North America, India, China, Europe, the Middle East and South America, and makes its learning solutions available in more than 60 languages. For additional information, visit

Survey Methodology
The survey was conducted by Hanover Research ( among 500+ U.S. adults, ages 18+, during August 2013, using an online survey.

Brian Belardi
McGraw-Hill Education
(212) 904-4827

SOURCE McGraw-Hill Education

Nov. 20, 2013 /PRNewswire/