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Use Your Newsletters to Keep Donors Loyal, Focused and Giving

July 31st, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Email, Fundraising, Marketing

You’ve seen it happen: When we stop putting energy into relationships with family and friends—relying on past interactions to hold us together—those relationships tend to fall apart. Like your college roommate or that work friend from your first job.

Relationships with organization’s donors require the same kind of focus and energy for the duration—if you want to keep them happy, involved, and giving.

Unfortunately, recent research suggests that most fundraisers are doing a poor job of maintaining connections, with donor retention rates at an all-time low of 39%.  That means your organization could be cut from the give-to list at any point.

But there is a proven approach to stopping this fatal attrition—placing hyperfocus on relationships with existing donors to keep them close. That’s mammoth potential, and your donor newsletter is a vital tool for bringing it to life.

Here’s how to put your newsletter into play:

1. Share, don’t ask.

The primary goal of both print and e-newsletters is to reshape your donor relationships from transactional to one that’s more personal, productive, and long term—the big three of donor retention.

The only way to get there is to get beyond the ask. After your prompt thanks to a donor for her first gift, you want to invite her further into your organization. Make her feel acknowledged, appreciated, and right at home, just as you would the first time you invite a new friend into your home.

In much the same way, your newsletter invites donors in to experience your organization’s (and community’s) personality, promises, and values in a rich, close way.

2. Connect your content and your people.

Think of your newsletters as opportunities to visit with a donor. Your print newsletter (vital if your donor base skews heavily toward older supporters) is like a rich, immersive visit where you have the opportunity to get into deep conversation. (In many cases, an occasional print newsletter can actually help your organization stand out.) On the other hand, your e-news is more like a quick drop-in.

Stories form the core of your newsletter. Prioritize the elements donors focus on most: photos, headlines, photo captions, and articles. Here’s where you show what your donors’ gifts have accomplished and tell how much you appreciate them.

Send this version of yournewsletter in both formats only to active and recent donors so your voice stays clear and focused.

3. Keep it all about donors—with an imaginary editorial board.

It’s tough to remember that your organization is just one small part of your donors’ lives, especially when you live your job. But consider your personal donations—how often do you think about the organizations you support?

Keep your donors front and center with an imaginary editorial board composed of personas (aka profiles: how-tos here) representing up to nine of your most important donor segments.

Then, get to know your editorial board members by surrounding your desk with these profiles, and keep them in front of you while you write. It sounds hokey, but it works!

4. Make it easy to recognize and remember.

Using a different mix of written and graphic content, and sometimes even different layouts, for every issue is the most common error in print newsletter production. Ugh!

Although this “use whatever we’ve got” or “let’s keep it from getting boring” approach might make it easier for you to get the newsletter out the door, you’re making it tough for donors to recognize it at a glance (that’s all the time you get) and absorb it.

Instead, create a content formula or mix based on your donor personas’ wants and interests. Consistently following this formula makes it easier for you to find and craft the content you need and for readers to recognize your newsletter at a glance—increasing the odds that they’ll read it.

Follow these steps to strengthen your relationship with donors and increase retention rates.

Tue, May 20 2014
By Nancy Schwartz

Camels Aren’t Good Fundraisers

July 30th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Although the original source has been lost over time, the maxim lives on: “A camel is a horse designed by committee.” Most likely, you have your own camel story — the fundraising activity that sounded good at the start but metamorphosed over time to barely resemble the original plan — let alone accomplish the original goal.

When it comes to direct-mail and email copy intended to raise money for a nonprofit, adding a camel to the fundraising team is dangerous. In other words, the more people who edit the copy, the less likely it is that the end product will accomplish the original intent. There are three “camels” fundraisers should avoid when possible — and when that’s impossible, at a minimum go on record as being opposed to.

Camel No. 1: The construction crew
The job of fundraising copy is to take the donor from wherever he or she is right now and help that person move to the ultimate destination: giving a gift. This is best accomplished when there are few (or better, no) distractions along the route.

When this camel is allowed to be part of the fundraising team, the route becomes less clear. Your donor will be given multiple off-ramps as he or she progresses through the copy: “If you haven’t already seen our latest video, be sure to go to www.Wow!Let’” or “If you haven’t already read the article in our latest newsletter, you may want to check that to really understand the impact this project is having in our community.”

Avoid constructing anything that takes the donor’s attention off the need and how he or she can be part of the solution. Otherwise, you may end up at the destination all alone, wondering where on the journey you lost your traveling companion.

Camel No. 2: The protector
Some fundraising copy gets wrapped up in enough protective covering that it collapses under the weight of the armor. Maybe you’ve seen a variation of this note written in the copy margin from your protection-oriented camels: “Well, we really aren’t able to help everyone who comes to our program, so it’s better to say, ‘When you give, you will help us provide various solutions to the segment of people who participate in our programs and have achieved a certain level of commitment to rectifying the situation that has held them back from optimizing their future possibilities.’”

It’s not usually that obvious, but “wiggle words” can be overused. They are sometimes necessary. For example, if the program is being developed as you write, you may say that you will be “doing things like …” as opposed to being highly specific. Or, “While homelessness continues to be a program in our city, for people like Jose and Sandy, our program has been a lifesaver …”

Yes, you need to be honest when writing fundraising copy. That’s non-negotiable. But continue to fight the battle against the protectionist camels. The last impression you want to leave your donors with is that there is a problem and you’d like to solve it — but you really aren’t able to do so. Remember the story of the little boy tossing starfish back into the ocean; no, he couldn’t save them all, but his action made a difference for those he could.

Camel No. 3: The equal opportunity champion
This camel wants to be sure no project of your nonprofit is left behind. That camel’s input sounds a bit like this: “Yes, the letter is about our work to rescue porpoises, but we also are working with seagulls and pelicans. They deserve mention in the copy too.” Or, “Our donors know all about our porpoise project; let’s add a paragraph that talks about the work we do to manage kelp forests. That’s showing some amazing scientific benefits, but it hasn’t been getting as much coverage in your copy.”

Remember: That’s why you have a newsletter. Newsletters cover numerous topics, help donors understand the scope of your work and learn more about specific projects that excite them. But your fundraising appeal needs to help the donor focus on what you want him or her to do right now. (And that’s give a gift.)

Packing your copy with every pet project doesn’t honor those projects and the people who make them so successful. Instead, it harms your ability to raise funds — funds that help your organization continue to pay for all the projects you do.

Despite the recent rise of the camel’s stature in advertising, remember that camels make bad fundraisers. As much as possible, limit the number of people who provide actionable input to your fundraising copy. Others may contribute and you will give consideration to their input (and you should — no fundraiser is infallible), but make sure the final decision for copy content is limited to as few people as possible, and that those people understand fundraising basics.

This old dog knows that sometimes an organization’s worst enemy in fundraising is its own people who insist that camels make good fundraisers. It’s a challenge, but balancing Team Camel is critical for fundraising success.

By Pamela Barden |  June 05, 2014

6 fundraising myths

July 29th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

We started Community Forests International from scratch. We saw a problem and wanted to be a part of the solution. For the first few years we limped along – volunteering our time, working out of public libraries and around our kitchen tables. I recently posted abouthow to start a social enterprise, so you know how to get started, but what do you do when you realize your good idea needs funding? We learned the hard way and now we’re looking to share our hard lessons with the next generation of social entrepreneurs. Here are 6 fundraising myths we busted along the way.


Myth #1 – If you build it they will come…

That phrase came from a fictional movie about ghosts playing baseball – it’s not true. No one has to care about your cause and no one has to make donations. Building an organization and putting together a team still doesn’t mean that anyone will support you. When we first got our charitable status we thought we were finally going to raise some real money. We put together a newsletter and sent out an update to over 1000 individuals stating that we could now issue tax receipts – Community Forests International was open for business.

We didn’t get a single donation.

It was a big shock. We had a great project in Pemba, Tanzania. We were working with local communities to grow and plant trees. Climate change is a global issue that affects everyone so why weren’t people jumping at the chance to support our cause?

Myth #2 – People can relate to your work

So here’s the thing – it’s your work, your cause. When we started we worked almost exclusively on a small island in the Indian Ocean called Pemba. Very few people could relate. No one had even heard of the place, so why would they want to support our efforts? Even though we were doing good work it was our project and no one else’s.

Although you can never expect anyone but yourself and the group you work with to have the same degree of ownership over your cause, you have to find a way to share that sense of ownership. Our first wave of donations came from Canadian tree-planters – our peers here in Canada that could understand the act of planting trees. Supporters need to feel like the cause is their own, and that’s a good thing because your cause is going to need all the energy you can harness. Look for ways that people can contribute beyond just giving money. Ask for advice, share ideas, find a mentor. Even ask potential supporters how they would raise money. Relate specific projects to real people. In order to garner support you need to connect.


Myth #3 – There are mystery donors out there with tons of money for your cause

There is no mystery philanthropist out there waiting to support your cause. In the very, very, very, rarest of circumstances you’ll receive an unsolicited donation, but unless you’re a part of a huge charitable machine you’re going to know each and every one of your supporters. And if you don’t know them already you’re going to have to get out there and meet them. At first your support will come from friends and family. We depended heavily on our friends and family when we started. We borrowed their cars and tools, scrounged meals with them, and secured part-time, flexible work with them in order to pay the bills. Our closest network funded our early work and we will be forever thankful to all those that put up with us in the early years.

Myth #4 Your supporters are ATMs

We don’t really have “donors”. I mean technically we do, but just as our early donors were mostly friends, most of our later donors became friends too. Your supporters are not ATM machines. They are real people that decide to spend their money on your cause and they require something in return. Several of our supporters have become very good friends and have formed personal relationships with our team here at CFI. In fact, they are our team. We call on our donors for advice and moral support and if they don’t like or understand what we’re working on then we rethink our course of action. If someone supports our work, I want to know why and will reach out. Often people want to be involved and/or have a personal connection to what you’re working on. If you’re working to serve community, you’ve got to know and listen to the community around you.


Myth #5 – You know how to talk about your work.

You don’t. Consider these descriptions about a garden project we currently run near our HQ in Sackville, NB:

  • CFI’s Food Forest harnesses perennial polyculture plant systems in order to provide nutrients.
  • CFI’s Food Forest showcases 7 years of permaculture gardening.
  • CFI’s Food Forest garden shows new ways to grow fresh and healthy produce.
  • CFI’s Food Forest could change how we grow and produce food.
  • Never go to the grocery store again

All of these phrases talk about the project differently and all of the statements are true. Some of them you may understand, others not. I don’t know how to talk about our work until I know how you want to talk about it. Stay away from buzzwords and jargon and only use them if you hear them from your audience. This is especially true with proposal writing. When we write proposals here at CFI we try to forget our own language altogether and learn a new way of speaking from our potential donors. If you want to connect with supporters, language is key.


Myth #6 – People know that you need their support.

If you don’t ask, people don’t know that you need their help. The people around you have to know what you’re working on in order to support it. Asking for advice or insight is a great way to share what you’re working on while providing ownership to potential donors. I hate asking for money, so I rarely do. Instead I ask the community around us to help us build our mission, help us create solutions to some of our most pressing environmental challenges, and when it comes time to fund the work we all pitch in to raise the funds together.

Hope this helps in your own fundraising efforts. It’s been a long and hard journey, but well worth the blood, sweat and tears. If you’re thinking about starting your own social enterprise, do it. The world needs you! Feel free to contact me @pembatrees or through the comment section below if you’d like to keep the conversation going.

- Jeff Schnurr
CFI’s Executive Director

To help our furry friends, don’t give nationally

July 28th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Annual Giving, Brian Lacy

With 70 million households in America owning pets, it’s no surprise that the TV ads with sad music showing needy cats and dogs tug at our heartstrings.

Americans give hundreds of millions a year to national animal charities. Sadly, a good chunk of that money isn’t going to help those animals. It’s going to pay a racketeering lawsuit settlement.

Last month, several animal-rights groups including the Humane Society of the United States agreed to pay $16 million to settle a suit over their alleged behavior in a different lawsuit.

The payout settles claims that they’d engaged in illegal payments to a witness as well as bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice and other wrongdoings. That’s on top of $9.3 million the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals paid in 2012 to settle.

The conduct at issue is far from cuddly. Animal-rights activists sued a circus company over a decade ago, claiming elephant abuse. That suit was thrown out after years of litigation, with the court calling it “frivolous” and “vexatious.”

In its dismissal, the court pointed to a scheme by which the activists had paid the key witness in the case nearly $200,000. That witness had also lied to the court, and so naturally the court found him to be discredited and essentially a “paid plaintiff.” The animal-rights law firm representing plaintiffs was even sanctioned by the court.

You wouldn’t know any of this is going on from those ads with sad dogs and cats.

In fact, a lot goes on behind the scenes at national animal groups. Not all of it is bad. But many of these groups have troubling priorities.

As a 30-year veteran of the animal-welfare community, I know there’s a difference between local and national groups that the public does not understand.

One reason is the similarity in names. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, is separate from local SPCAs.

The Humane Society of the United States, or HSUS, isn’t affiliated with local humane societies, and only 1 percent of the money it raises goes to local pet shelters.

I used to work as director of education for the Humane Society of the United States.

Everything always seemed to revolve around constant fund-raising, with publicity second and lobbying also important. Direct care of animals was far from the main priority.

Unsurprisingly, then, the overhead of national animal groups can be quite high.

The independent charity evaluator CharityWatch finds that the ASPCA spends up to 35 percent of its budget on overhead. HSUS is worse, spending up to 45 percent of its budget on overhead. That adds up to tens of millions in fund-raising expenses.

Essentially, lots of money is spent on fund-raising in the name of some crisis. Then much of that money gets pumped right back into more fund-raising on the next crisis.

The big winners are the firms that send out the mail and make the commercials. The animals? Not so much.

In contrast, I have worked for local animal control and with local humane societies for most of my life. These groups need money, but they just aren’t as good at marketing themselves as a large national group with mega-sized direct-mail and TV campaigns.

These local organizations are too busy providing hands-on care for animals in their communities.

National awareness or lobbying campaigns can serve a purpose. But donors need to know where their money is going.

National groups wouldn’t raise as much money if their ads didn’t show dogs and cats, but instead the highly paid executives, lawyers and lobbyists who get so much of the cash.

The tear-jerking ads from national groups should come with a warning: If you want to help pet shelters, give to your local ones directly.

That’s a disclaimer these ads will never voluntarily include, but it is a message that any animal lover can spread to others.

June 3, 2014
By Diana Culp

Diana Culp is the managing director of the Humane Society for Shelter Pets, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a sustainable base of local support for the nation’s network of local pet shelters.

Offers Wanted (in Donor Newsletters)

July 27th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Email, Fundraising

Excerpted from Making Money with Donor Newsletters

Sprinkle offers across your newsletter. Offers give your donors new things to do.

Like discover: “What’s it really like to be desperately poor? Sign up for our Poverty Simulation. See for yourself why it’s so hard to break the cycle.” (Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte, N.C., makes this offer.)

Like grow: “You can be the mentor that changes a child’s life.”

Like contribute in a new way: “Join us in this special campaign to. …”

The dictionary defines an offer this way: “to present something for someone to accept or reject.” Here are some common charity offers:

  • Subscribe to an e-mailed newsletter. “Stay fully up to date, with our FREE …”
  • “You’re invited” to a celebration
  • “You’re invited” to an exclusive presentation: “A handful of people will receive my personal invitation to this revealing look at …”
  • “You’re invited” to a behind-the-scenes tour
  • Discounts “if you act now.” (Everyone loves a bargain. It’s the “greed” emotional trigger at work.)
  • Membership (“Your family membership entitles you to unlimited visits …”)
  • Special member-only previews
  • In an e-mail: “View this wonderful, new video …”
  • Promoting planned giving: “Receive your free, informative brochure about charitable bequests … and see how endowed funds can perpetuate your values forever.”
  • Challenge or matching gift campaigns
  • “Become a monthly donor and …”
  • Naming opportunities in capital campaigns
  • Exclusive updates from the CEO: “There is a special group of people I make sure I contact at least four times a year … and you’re in that group.” (Remember the chapter on flattery?)
  • An invitation to join an exclusive society, such as the President’s Circle (ditto, the flattery thing)

Offers in Newsletters: Stirring the Donor Pot

Successful donor newsletters include offers in every issue for three reasons:

  • Offers help strengthen your bond with that fraction of donors (10-30 percent, maybe more?) who are “truly true believers” and might want to become more involved (like, say, volunteer or take a tour).
  • Offers create a feedback channel so donors can tell you how much they like you. (Most charities? Stay humble. I’ve read the research: donors are far more skeptical of your effectiveness than you assume. They think you’re inefficient. They think you waste money. You’re guilty until proven innocent in most donors’ mind.)
  • Offers can seriously boost philanthropic revenue. Not every donor supports you just once annually. Some will make multiple gifts a year, but you have to ask, in your newsletter.

Buried Offers = Low-to-No Response

If you were omniscient and a skilled communicator … and you could see tens of thousands of nonprofit newsletters at one time … you’d soon detect a self-defeating habit.

Omniscient, you’d quickly notice that more than 95 percent of the offers in nonprofit newsletters are made at the end of an article; an article, research shows, that very few will read in depth.

I call it the “buried offer” habit. The typical formulation: “For more information, call or e-mail …”

But is anyone listening by that point, at the end of an article? Maybe 10 percent at best? (And research says I’m being unrealistically generous.)

Assume that no one reads your articles. Treat every offer like a little ad. Make sure your offers are easy to spot and jump off the page, visually.

Road to Rewards: Change Your Response Device from Passive to Interactive

Interactivity has its rewards, as every top-tier marketer knows. Interactive in this discussion means you give your target audience a way to tell you what they think of you.

What follows: a true-life demonstration of the gains made when a charity changed its response experience from passive to interactive.

In 2009, WPBT2, the public broadcaster in South Florida, sent out its annual appeal to current donors.

The reply device included the common “giving string”—a series of amounts the donor could choose from. The common giving string concludes with a fill-in-the-blank option labeled something like “other.”

Not this time. This time, on the WPBT2 reply device, instead of “other,” it said, “Surprise us!” And a big, blue circle surrounded that option, drawing the eye.

That one change in the giving string—from “other” to “surprise us”—had an extraordinary effect.

Given the opportunity to express their love of WPBT2—customarily one of the 10-most watched public television stations in the United States—donors responded lustily: the average annual gift increased by almost 20 percent.

What had happened?

  • By adding “surprise us,” WPBT2 made its otherwise generic (hence banal) reply device into something exciting and interactive.
  • By adding “surprise us,” WPBT2 invited its current donors to demonstrate exactly how much they loved the programming, through the size of their gifts. And the target audience savored the opportunity.

Tom Ahern
© 2013, Tom Ahern. Excerpted from Making Money with Donor Newsletters. Excerpted with permission.

Tom Ahern is recognized as one of North America’s top authorities on nonprofit communications. He began presenting his top-rated Love Thy Reader workshops at fundraising conferences in 1999. Since then he has introduced thousands of fundraisers in the United States, Canada, and Europe to the principles of reader psychology, writing, and graphic design that make donor communications highly engaging and successful. His consulting practice, Ahern Donor Communications, Ink, specializes in capital campaign case statements, nonprofit communications audits, direct mail, and donor newsletters. His efforts have won three prestigious IABC Gold Quill awards, given each year to the best communications work worldwide.

More med students opt for GP track

July 26th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Canada, Education

Years of work by medical schools has changed students’ perception of family medicine, and that could make it easier for Canadians to find a family doctor.

University of Toronto medical students in training. Photo by University of Toronto.

Last march, the University of Calgary issued a press release with some big news from its medical school: 45 percent of graduating students had chosen family medicine as their first choice for a residency program. It’s a dramatic turnaround for a school that saw just 18 percent choosing the profession in 2008.

Then, more good news. In the first round of “matches” between grads and residency programs – a dating-type service organized by the Canadian Resident Matching Service – U of Calgary’s own family medicine residency spots filled up, as did those at Queen’s University, University of Toronto and University of British Columbia. The phenomenon was unheard of in previous decades.

“For most students in medical school, they think being a family doctor is about doing [prescription] refills and hand holding,” says David Keegan, undergraduate director of the department of family medicine at U of Calgary. His program and many others across the country have been working for the past several years to change this perception and to improve how they teach family medicine at the undergraduate and residency level. The results of their efforts are starting to emerge.

The U of Calgary medical school garnered $14 million a year in provincial funding for family medicine initiatives, mainly for the residency program. Exposure begins before the very first day of medical school, with a one-day event called Med.Zero. Launched in 2011, it exposes new students to fresh ideas about being a general practitioner – it’s different every day, you can work in the Far North or in ER, you can deliver babies and save lives by spotting early signs of cancer and heart disease in your patients. The soon-to-be medical students at Med.Zero also learn how to put on a cast and suture a wound.

U of Calgary also moved the family medicine offices from a mall adjacent to its clinic to a central location in the main medical school building so that students would pass by it every day. It started sending first-year students into the field to see family doctors at work, and it hired more general practitioners as lecturers.

At the University of Alberta, 41 percent of its undergraduates selected family medicine as a first choice, up from a slump of 20 percent a few years ago. Lee Green, chair of the department of family medicine, says hiring more family doctors as professors and lecturers does more than simply promote the profession: it also makes for better curriculum.

“Students in their first and second years are learning the basics of how to be a physician. They don’t need to learn from a specialist,” says Dr. Green. Who knows more about the bigger picture when it comes to broken bones, the flu, eyes, and heart health than a family doctor? “A generalist can better teach it,” he says.

The push to promote family practice extends beyond Alberta. In Quebec, the university-affiliated hospitals filled 424 residency positions in family medicine this year, up almost 16 percent from the previous year. In Ontario, the province’s six medical schools have been part of the decade-old Family Medicine Expansion Project, a multi-layered collaboration with the provincial government that included pay raises for GPs, the introduction of family health teams and the use of electronic health records.

“It’s a lot better to be a family doctor in Ontario today,” says Stephen Wetmore, chair of family medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University. More residency spots have opened and funding has been available to find and train doctors in the community to take on residents in their practices.

Like U of Calgary, Western University runs a pre-med day of family medicine clinical skills, and has been doing so since 2008. This and other initiatives promoting family medicine have led to 43 percent of the undergraduate class making family medicine a first choice at Western.

At Queen’s University, the family medicine expansion project turned the 18 residency spots from a decade ago into 30. The school added more community teaching sites, mostly in rural areas, with a director overseeing each site to make sure every placement is top-notch. Residency classroom time includes new courses such as Nightmares, which addresses how to cope with having very sick patients. “We’ve got these exciting new programs and the word is getting out,” says Karen Schultz, director of the Queen’s family medicine program.

Canadian medical schools are bolstering family medicine for good reason: they know that GPs should make up 50 percent of all doctors. “When you have a health system that’s balanced between family doctors and specialists, the overall healthcare system performs better,” says U of Calgary’s Dr. Keegan. Moreover, having too many specialists can lead to unemployment for their graduates. (As an example, the Canadian Orthopaedic Association says 50 percent of newly trained orthopedic surgeons in Canada can’t find jobs.)

But even though schools are training more family doctors, there’s still a shortage of primary care physicians.  A recent Health Council of Canada survey estimates that seven percent of Canadians, about 2.5 million, don’t have a family doctor.

When today’s bumper crop of new family practice residents starts working about two years from now, that situation could improve. But once the profession is rebalanced and medical education is made better as a result, those who’ve advocated for these changes worry the momentum and funding could start drying up.

“This is an ongoing priority,” says Dr. Keegan. “If we lose sight of that, we will slide back.”

June 11, 2014
by Diane Peters

New documentary tackles rising US college costs

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

The filmmaker Andrew Rossi seems drawn to industries in decline. (Or alleged decline, anyway.) Rossi’s 2011 documentary “Page One” chronicled The New York Times’ efforts to withstand a brutal media climate. His latest venture, “Ivory Tower,” which debuts Friday in New York and Los Angeles, casts its lens on another institution in crisis: the world of nonprofit higher education.

A challenge journalism has faced with the advent of online media is that it costs too little for consumers: readers no longer expect to pay. And if information “wants” to be free, it’s hard to cover a print newspaper’s operating costs. Higher education’s problem, Rossi’s film argues, is the reverse: college now costs so much that its mission as an engine of social mobility, as a bridge from adolescence to adulthood, has been disrupted.

Rossi’s team could not have known that the documentary, which was first screened at Sundance, would hit theaters two days after a bill that would have allowed student-loan borrowers to lower the interest rate on their debts died in the Senate. Public concern about student debt has mounted. Americans owe more than $1 trillion in student-loan debt. Aggregate college tuition and fees have soared 1120 percent since 1978 (a much-touted statistic in the film). Rossi’s effort, it seems, has appeared at an opportune moment.

In an interview, Rossi chalked up rising college costs to two trends: first, decreased state funding for public universities, and second, increased spending on campuses, the lion’s share of which has gone to non-academic personnel and non-academic projects.

Undergirding both trends, he said, is a shift toward a political and cultural understanding of college as a private good rather than a public good.

“In the film we see that in the period of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, conservative governors like Ronald Reagan began to suggest that the state should not be subsidizing intellectual curiosity,” Rossi said. “This coincided with a move to shift budgets so they were not so heavily invested in funding state universities.”

Those funding trends have led institutions to behave more like businesses – by engaging in lavish building projects to attract students as consumers, for example, he said.

The film examines how student-loan debt figures into these broader higher-education trends. In many cases, Rossi said, student loans offer “an alternative subsidy” that “creates a vicious cycle in which the institutions are chasing the student loan dollar.” By increasing spending on campus, institutions can attempt to gain prestige and thereby attract more students – and more student-loan money.

Whereas “Page One” employed what Rossi called a cinéma-vérité approach – following individual characters such as the raspy-voiced media columnist David Carr to create a portrait of an institution from within – the filmmaker thinks of “Ivory Tower” as “more of an essay than a single narrative.” The film intersperses beer-soaked party footage, the camera at times becoming flecked with foam, with sober graphics illustrating rising tuition and rising debt. In one sequence, Rossi tracks an outbreak of activism at the (formerly) tuition-free Cooper Union, where students occupied the president’s office to protest the institution’s decision to begin charging tuition.

A range of higher education authorities, from the vanguard (the presidents of Harvard, Stanford and the University of Virginia) to the upstarts (“disruptive innovation” pioneer Clayton Christensen, the Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun), offer their views. The film’s moral voice, however, is the Columbia professor Andrew Delbanco, Rossi said.

“He is representing the ideal of college, what we hope it can aspire to be,” said Rossi, who read Delbanco’s book College during pre-production.

Rossi’s stroll through the groves of academe touches on a range of institutions. Harvard, the usual suspect, appears, but so does Deep Springs, the 26-student ranch/college located in the California desert; the historically black women’s college Spelman; and the 60,000-student Arizona State University, among others. The film also features community colleges, although only briefly. And in some segments Rossi trains his lens on anti-institutions, such as the Thiel Fellowship, a program that offers young people $100,000 to forgo college for two years, as well as the concomitant UnCollege movement.

Nearly every corner of American higher education gets footage, with one exception: the for-profit sector. Rossi said his omission of for-profit institutions was deliberate. He wanted to examine “the mission of educating students in its purest form and not look at how trying to increase shareholder value complicates that mission,” he said.

Nicholas Dirks, the chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, said he thought the film’s sidestepping of for-profit institutions left its discussion of student debt somewhat decontextualized.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that there is a student debt crisis in the U.S.,” he said. But – as the political scientist Suzanne Mettler argued in her recent book Degrees of Inequality – for-profit colleges and universities are largely to blame, Dirks pointed out. Mettler found that 25 percent of federal money for higher education goes to for-profit institutions, and alumni of for-profit colleges make up half of all student-loan defaults.

“When you show the statistic of student debt cresting above $1 trillion, and it did, a lot of that is not being talked about in the film,” Dirks said.

The chancellor said he felt the documentary put too much blame for college costs on the institutions themselves, and not enough on the “abdication of funding not just by the state of California but also by a lot of other states.”

“The argument in effect, I think, is that colleges and universities have gone out of control, that they have seen the marketplace for student tuition as limitless, and that with very few exceptions they have begun to abandon the great traditional mission of devoting their resources to the moral education of the student body,” Dirks said of the film. “The notion that we’ve all just swallowed the tuition and assumed that the way out of our problems is to build climbing walls and raise the price of tuition is not helping us advocate for values that I think Mr. Rossi would probably share with those of us at Berkeley, who are trying to continue this tradition of being great but also being open to a really diverse student body.”

Dirks said returning to the “grand old model” of states funding public higher education – a model California at one time exemplified – “would be a wonderful goal for people to work towards.”

Rossi, however, said that state funding was no panacea.

“I think that the financial model of higher education needs to be re-designed,” he said. “The idea that state funding can forever keep pace with the spiraling costs of certain universities and colleges that are leading the way in terms of tuition … is not completely realistic.”

The film ends by inviting viewers to take part in a social action campaign, offering a link to a student-loan activism website based off the film.

“I believe that students do not have to be victims,” Rossi said.

June 13, 2014

Sex, drug crimes up on US campuses compared to 2001

July 24th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education

The number of sex offenses reported at American colleges and universities went up in the last decade even as overall campus crime decreased, according to an Education Department survey that also suggests high schools are safer than they used to be.

The report released Tuesday said 3,330 forcible sex offenses were reported on campuses in 2011, the latest data available for colleges and universities that researchers have analyzed. That was a roughly 52 percent increase from the 2,200 reported a decade earlier, according to the report. But the number of campus crimes in every other category, such as burglary and car theft, declined during the same period.

The report acknowledges the steady increase in college enrollment that occurred during that period — census data show nearly 21 million students in 2011 compared to roughly 16 million in 2001 — but says the number of crimes reported on campus nonetheless declined for all categories but sex offenses.

The survey primarily focuses on crime and safety at the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, where fewer crimes were reported than 20 years ago, according to the report.

Of students ages 12-18, 52 per 1,000 reported being victims of a crime at school in 2012, compared with 181 per 1,000 in 1992, according to the report. Away from school that rate fell from 173 per 1,000 to 38. Males were more likely than females to be victims of crime, and students in urban and suburban areas were more likely than their rural counterparts to have experienced crime.


The report draws on data from different sources, including the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and campus surveys. That means data for some statistical categories were available for as recently as 2012, while others — such as for fatal violence in schools — were not.

At elementary and high schools, the report identified 31 homicides or suicides — though not necessarily of students — between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011, that occurred either on school grounds, on the way to or from school, or while attending or traveling to or from a school-sponsored event. During the 2010-11 school year, 11 school-age children were killed at school, and there were three reported suicides, the report said.


Though the 31 violent deaths for the year represent a sharp drop from the early 1990s, Tom Snyder of the National Center for Education Statistics, an Education Department center that collects and analyzes education-related data, cautioned that it was hard to draw meaningful conclusions about any trend. The data were compiled, for instance, before the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a gunman killed 20 students and six educators.

“If you look at the data, there’s no real pattern. These are random acts of violence, and they don’t seem to fall into patterns over time,” Snyder said.

The report also briefly analyzes crime on campuses of colleges and universities. It finds that the number of on-campus crimes reported to police declined from 41,600 in 2001 to 30,400 in 2011 at public and private two- and four-year schools. Despite the overall drop in crime, the number of disciplinary referrals for drug and alcohol violations rose between 2001 and 2011.

The report is a joint publication of the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Link to NCES Report

Huffington Post

6 Ways to Give Your Readers a Helpful Hand

July 23rd, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Fundraising

Donors rarely read. First they glance. Then they scan. If you want them to read, you need to give them a hand.

That’s why we always include a P.S. It’s why we keep paragraphs shorter than seven lines. And it’s why we sometime include “handwritten” margin notes. (I put the word in quotes because what we usually mean is that we use a font that’s meant to simulate handwriting.)

“Handwriting” immediately gets attention and makes the letter look a lot more personal.

That’s the theory anyway.

Unfortunately, sometimes, we take for granted the extra power “handwriting” can add to a letter and overlook one little detail: Most handwritten fonts don’t look like handwriting at all.

Now, most readers are willing to grant you a certain amount of verisimilitude, but you’ve got meet them halfway. Here are six ways to give your readers a helpful hand (I apologize in advance to all you art directors — I’m about to make some sweeping generalizations about different fonts, but I promise it’s all in search of the greater good):

  1. Make it legible, especially for older readers. Think of all those wedding invitations that come in “elegant” fonts like Edwardian Script. They may look very high-tone in that context, but even in short doses they can be a struggle to read. It’s unlikely your donor’s even going to bother trying.
  2. Use it sparingly. ”Handwritten” copy should be the Sriracha sauce of a package. Use just enough to spice up the page and make it interesting. But too much is too much. Just use it to call out a few hot items, and quit while you’re ahead.
  3. Make the font fit the signer. You’d be surprised how often someone in the collaborative creative process hears, “Use a handwritten font,” and just plugs one of the three or four standard ones so often defaulted to. But watch your mail pieces and you’ll marvel at how many different CEOs seem to have the same handwriting and how much that handwriting looks suspiciously like Brush Script Std.
  4. Make it fit the signature. It’s fortunate that so many letter signers have illegible scrawls for signatures. That gives you a little more leeway in trying to find a font that looks like your signer. But you still need to match, not just the style, but the weight, the slant, the curve and even the gender, to meet the reader’s expectations. In her mind, at least the male CEO of a camping and hunting trade association is going to have a hand that looks more like Bradley Hand than the Giddyup Std.
  5. Use it uniformly and consistently. This is another detail that gets overlooked more than you might think. Once you’ve established a “hand” for your letter signer, don’t forget which one it is! Put it on the list of standard operating procedures, and use it for that person every time. Donors (more so than prospects) are generally willing to suspend their disbelief up to a point with “handwriting,” but don’t press your luck.
  6. Remember there are alternatives. Of course, if you can get the letter signer to actually write the notes, it’d be a wonderful world. But that doesn’t usually happen. There are plenty of vendors, though, who can create alternative handwritten fonts to fit your needs, and autopen can be a great solution in certain circumstances. We often find someone, either in the client’s organization or ours, whose penmanship fits the need and have that person write the note.

The purpose of “handwriting” is to enhance your message by drawing your reader more deeply in and showing her what parts of the letter to read first. But if it becomes a distraction, or she becomes discouraged trying to decode a font like Bickham Script, you’re defeating your own purpose.

June 16, 2014
By Willis Turner

The All-Inclusive Trap: Why Your Business Should Think Twice about One-Stop Software

When I travel, I’m not really an all-inclusive resort kind of person. I understand the allure – It’s nice to have everything taken care of and just kick back with a margarita. But it’s never quite that easy, is it? Sometimes you’re stuck with food you don’t like or the atmosphere feels canned or you just want to be able to make your own choices.

And that – by way of analogy – is exactly how I feel about enterprise software. We’re living in an era when all-inclusive business software is rearing its head again. Back in the day, these kind of comprehensive suites were de rigueur, designed to handle everything from marketing to sales and customer service, all in one package. They were billed as seamless, end-to-end solutions for bringing diverse business function online and into the digital age.

The reality, of course, was often quite different. A suite that was great at handling customer relations management might be a stinker when it came to marketing. One might excel at e-commerce but be a dog when it came to sales. The problem was you were locked into the whole shabang. These end-to-end solutions also tended to be enormously complex. Implementation was costly, training was time-consuming and switching to a different vendor was a nightmare. Once a business locked into a particular suite, they were essentially stuck with it.

Then along came the cloud in the late ‘90s, which helped to change everything. The convenience of the cloud – no need for servers, or hardware or mega-suites – gave companies newfound freedom to cherry-pick so called “best-of-breed” software for particular jobs. So the sales team could evaluate and sign up for exactly the SaaS (software-as-a-service) tools it needed, as could the customer service team, the marketing team and so on.

The revenge of monster suites 

Over the past several years, however, an arms race has quietly accelerated among software’s biggest vendors. Their aim: to bring the end-to-end software model to the cloud. These companies are offering clients ever more extensive suites of products. Even Salesforce, for example, once the poster child for focused, best-of-breed solutions, has expanded from its initial sales cloud to offer a service cloud and a marketing cloud, each packed with a full suite of associated products. To be clear, these new suites aren’t closed in the old-fashioned sense – They do integrate with outside applications (thousands, in fact, in the case of Salesforce). But at their core is a fixed set of components. Venturing outside – even for superior software – often becomes a huge headache.

The result is a classic case of software history repeating. The new wave of “all-inclusive” clouds come with many of the very same caveats as old-fashioned, end-to-end suites. Some of the native products will be great, others will inevitably leave something to be desired. But, to one degree or another, you’re locked into the core offerings. This inconvenience is compounded by the fact that – by design – these core products generally don’t play well with outside programs, especially competing ones. (This is akin to Apple’s “walled garden” approach, i.e. designing devices and apps that don’t integrate with third-party products.) So if your marketing team has a favorite program or your sales team has come to love a particular piece of software, they may well be out of luck, depending on the suite you choose. In other words – to continue my travel analogy – many big vendors today want you booked at their all-inclusive software resort, whether you like it or not.

In praise of open ecosystems

But there is hope. Just as big software vendors are consolidating offerings into monster suites, there is a counterpush among independent vendors committed to a very different idea: preserving an open ecosystem. These companies design software that’s compatible with as wide a range of applications as possible. Their offerings are built to plug-and-play with third-party products and apps and exchange data freely. They boast open APIs so collaborators and even competitors can build off of their platform, adding integrations and specialized tools.

The result is that clients aren’t locked into a single, defined suite of services; instead, they can incorporate the tools they are already using and familiar with or whatever promising new tools come on the market. The CMO can choose the specific, best-of-breed applications that best serve his team’s needs and the VP of sales can choose the applications that best serve her team’s needs. When built right, these tools are mutually compatible, sharing data and functionality through smart integrations.

This is the approach, for example, that I’ve built my company around. Hootsuite is the core of an ecosystem that integrates with hundreds of best-of-breed marketing, sales, social media and customer service apps, from marketing automation tools like Marketo to customer experience apps like Zendesk, sales tools like SugarCRM, social networks like YouTube and Instagram, and more. The ecosystem is exhaustive, not exclusive: If there’s a great tool out there, we find a way to work with it.

This idea of open exchange transcends business software – It’s the essence of the digital era. The Internet flourished precisely because its working parts were compatible with one another and information flowed freely through open, standard protocol. The growth of walled gardens – proprietary silos of information, sealed off inside apps, social networks and devices – has of late challenged that paradigm. In one respect, the new wave of proprietary monster suites from big software represents a similar kind of threat.

But there is a safety valve. The very transformations that Salesforce and other cloud giants ushered in – low-cost, subscription software, streamed over the Internet – ensure that their quest for enterprise software domination will run into some serious hurdles. These days, the best solutions for specific office needs are literally a click away. Cloud-based, SaaS products – for customer support or sales or marketing or even social media – are easy to sign up for and try out. Superior tools tend to gain a following organically, often bypassing the IT department entirely. In democratic fashion, the best rise to the top. In this climate, the idea of companies locking themselves into high-priced, limiting suites of software seems quaint and a bit backward. After all, who wants to be stuck in some cookie-cutter all-inclusive when there’s a whole world out there to explore?

June 16, 2014
By CEO at HootSuite