Thursday, August 27, 2009

News You Can Use

Understanding the Soul of Fund-raising

I know I can be a little repetitious in my sermons on fund-raising. I base my words on 26 years of experience in the field. I've worked with many organizations just like ours. The questions you have and the tactics you suggest often are similar to ones that I've heard or seen before.

In the end, the secrets to successful fund-raising are simple:
  • People generally need to be asked, ideally by someone whom they respect and who has already made a commitment.
  • People cannot give equally unless you ask for a gift that is the lowest common denominator of the group. Ask proportionately in accordance with capacity to give.
  • Individuals are by far the most generous donors, giving more than 8 out of 10 dollars donated.
More and more research is coming out which peers into the motivations for giving. One of the current leaders in this emerging field is John List at the University of Chicago. You can find an article on his work on the Crain's Business Chicago site here. A couple quick takeaways include research showing that the recession gave people more of an excuse for not giving than truly eroding capacity to give. Also, giving is highly social, and so have the right person asking is important. Finally, passive fund-raising, such as fliers and mail are not nearly as personal approaches like meetings and phone calls.

Remember the scarcest commodity most boards have is bodies willing to do the fund-raising. Consider List's recommendations as you plan for the coming year.


"If I felt any better, I wouldn't be able to stand myself."

-Maurice (Benny) Heater
Allentown Learning Center
Board Member

That is the general response when you ask Benny how is. He's not lying. You would be hard pressed to more enthusiastic person. Or one who loves the Learning Centers more. Benny is a constant source of activity and good humor. He is a Shrine Clown, and irrepressible joker. But when it comes to the Learning Centers he can get very serious. What we do your these kids is nothing short of miraculous, he'll tell you. As a result he is a fearless advocate, not caring even what Learning Center he's helping (Benny recently helped secure a $10,000 donation for Bloomsburg, PA)

The secret of his success is one part commitment, one part enthusiasm and one part good humor. It is this mix that inspired the following event at the 2009 Supreme Council Builders Council Breakfast:

Among the people being recognized at the event was Vic Frederick, whose motorcycle trip around the country raised more than $50,000. Several Learning Centers really worked for pledges for this ride. As a result, Reading LC raised $16,200. The Allentown LC raised $16,000.
When we announced this, Benny and his partner in crime George Nakonetschny approached the dais. They said that in the alphabet, "A" is before every letter in the alphabet. Therefore, Allentown would not be second to anyone. To ensure this, these great men, presented $3,000 to Vic, assuring their Learning Center had raised the most money.

At that moment, Russell Baker, stood up and committed $3,000 more for Reading. Not to be outdone Heater and Nakonetschny pledged $2,000 more to the delight of the 200 people attending.

The zest that Benny Heater shows is not because of the Learning Centers. He seems to enthusiastically greet every day. However, we should all be happy that Benny focuses a fair piece of this positive drive to benefit our Learning Center.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ideas That Work

idea icon

A recipe for success: a little bit of everything

I recently spoke with a board chair whose Center has undertaken a massive fundraising effort. At the end of the conversation I asked him if he had any fundraising advice for other Centers. His answer? Explore all the avenues.

Most likely the operating costs for your Center aren’t going to be covered by one donor or one event. That’s why I’ve put together a brief overview of some of the fundraising ideas we've covered on the blog. Check out the list below. Maybe there’s an avenue you haven’t explored yet.

  • Grants: Applying for a grant can be intimidating, but we’ve put together some materials to help streamline the process as much as possible. Download the GrantAID Kit here for templates, or check out some successful proposals we’ve done here. (Just be sure to register for the forum first if you want to download the proposals.) Keep in mind that the real key to seeing grants awarded to your Center is connections. If you don’t have a direct connection, at least contact the Foundation first. Read this article on the importance of making contact with foundations.

  • Major Gifts: As with grants, look among your supporters for connections to community members with major giving potential. Check out this post about how New Jersey supporter started the 5/10 Club for donors who have made operating gifts of $5,000 or $10,000. With a pledge of $10,000 or more, donors can be enrolled in the Builder's Council. For brochures and more information on the Builder's Council, Charitable Gift Annuities or Bequests, contact the Development Office.

  • Special Events: Staff members in Lexington have developed four major event kits to take you through the process of planning a special event kit. (Events include a walk, golf outing, gala and wine tasting, and kits can be downloaded here.) Of course, there are endless fundraising ideas. Check out this post on how one Center got parents involved in a yard sale. Choose events that fit your community. An event that worked for one Center may be not be worthwhile for another.

  • Sponsor A Child: People give to people. That's why Sponsor A Child is such an effective program. For $5,000, a donor can completely cover the cost of tutoring a child at the Center for one year. If $5,000 seems too high to ask some donors for, consider asking five donors for $1,000 each. Or start a Sponsor A Child club, outlined here, like the West Michigan Learning Center did. By accumulating donations until they reach the $5,000 needed to sponsor a child, the club helps donors feel like they're making a difference regardless of the amount they're able to give.
  • Connect: The Idea Hub Forum was designed for Center directors, board members and volunteers to provide feedback and connect with other supporters. If you’re feeling stuck, need inspiration or ideas, or simply want to be heard, register for the forum and start posting your thoughts.

  • Publicity: As we’ve seen from last week’s News You Can Use post, publicity is an important way to make your community aware and interested in the work your Center is doing. Have a special event coming up? What about a student or graduate who’s made some incredible strides? Contact your local television station, radio station or newspaper and let them get the word out for you!

  • Contests: We’re in the midst of our second Idea Hub contest, where you can win money for your Center simply by submitting an inspiring story. (Check out the complete details here.) If you're stuck, consider asking parents to put together a narrative on their child. Good luck!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

News You Can Use

Bringing the Case to the Airwaves

How many times have we said, "Our Learning Centers are our best kept secret?" The truth is that we need much more media exposure. It is very possible to get TV and newpapers interested in our work. It just takes passion and persistence.

Take as a case in point the work of Georgina Sible whose daughter graduated from the Altoona (PA) Learning Center. In March, she heard that Lexington funding for the Center was being halted in September, imperiling the future of the program in her town. This cased her to spring into action. Sible contacted the local newspapers and TV station and told them about the great work the Learning Center accomplishes as well as its plight. As a result news teams attended the March board meeting and pieces were run prominently in the news. You will find the article in the Altoona Mirror here and the TV article by clicking the image below:
Regardless the nature of your Learning Center's finances, we have a compelling story to tell. You can get exposure if you follow Sible's example:

  • Try to know who is the right media person to speak with. Sible says she watches the news regularly and sent an email to the reporter who generally covers this area. The response was almost immediate.
  • Tell the important points. The Center helps children with dyslexia. Free. At risk of closing. That creates impact.
  • Don't be afraid to be persistent. Passion about the issue often brings results.

It is too early to fully assess the impact of this media blitz. I am told that a foundation contacted the Learning Center and encouraged them to submit a proposal. Also, the registrations for the Dyslexia walk are up, including participation by the PSU Altoona men's and women's soccer teams.

Good news travels, so long and you are willing to deliver it!

PS- for another great video example, check out the coverage for the Nashua Learning Center:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


"Every man has the right to be all he can be, to know all he can know."

-Bishop John Heyl Vincent
Founders Day, 1888
Chautauqua Assembly

These powerful words drove a man and his movement more than a century ago in a way that ensures it endures to this day.

John Vincent began life of humble means in Alabama in 1832. He became a circuit riding Pennsylvania minister who spent more than a decade developing a new method of Sunday school. This passion developed into the establishment in 1874 of a summer training place to further educate Methodist Sunday school teachers. This place on Chautauqua Lake, NY became known as the Chautauqua Assembly.

The concept grew in scope as Vincent expanded his vision to include people who, like him, lacked means but desired to learn more. The Chautauqua Scientific and Literary Circle grew to a movement, with hundreds of thousands of people taking part in courses or enrolled in the Chautauqua College. Today the campus thrives every summer with all manner of people comming to celebrate knowledge, faith and the arts. For a glimpse of this impressive man please read this biographical sketch.

This quote is painted over the lobby of the Chautauqua Athenaeum, the grand hotel on the Chautauqua campus. I find it to be in keeping with our beliefs about the young people we serve, don't you?

Monday, August 17, 2009

idea icon "In Kind" of Help

During times when people's hearts may be larger than their wallets, it is important to consider ways they can do great things for your Learning Center.

In kind donations are gifts of goods and services that can directly satisfy needs on you budget or can be transformed into financial support. This support can really add up. Whether it is donated office equipment and supplies to offset your expenses or donated services such as advertising or facilities use, there are many ways to accept non cash assistance.

One of the obvious transactions for in kind giving is donations to support special events. These donations come in 2 ways:
  • Event facilitation - These donations reduce the overall cost of the event, increasing the cash net. Examples of this giving includes: discount of donation of facilities, meal or product donations (like wine for a wine tasting), music or performance services and many others.
  • Property and gift donations - These are the things that fill the silent auction tables and populate the yard sale events. In many cases, these gifts really make an impact in an event's bottom line.
So it is a great time to take stock of your community and expand your support through these special gifts. Event how-to's for a gala, a golf outing and a wine tasting are on the Learning Center Website.

Keep in mind however that there are significant differences in the tax-deductability of in kind gifts. An interesting article is posted on the IRS web site. On the Idea Hub Forum as is a receipt for for accepting in kind real gifts of less than $500 (gifts valued over $500 require a qualified appraisal). Additionally, the standards valuing used goods is tricky. The best resource for this is probably the Salvation Army site.

Overall in kind donations can be a great manner of support!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

News You Can Use

It May Not Be Rocket Science, But...

I came across a great interview in Advancing Philanthropy, July/August 2009. This is the publication of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Sandy Reese, a consultant in Loudon, Tennessee wrote the following advice to help get board members involved in fundraising...

1. Give them a firm foundation. Start by educating your board members. Make sure they know the basics. Share with them the principles of giving, such as:
  • People give money because they want to
  • People give to change lives
  • People give to support success, not distress
  • People give to make a change for the good
  • People give to people
  • People usually don't give unless they are asked
Put extra emphasis on the last two because they are the most important!

2. Share a simple system. Show your board that by learning a few easy techniques they can have a big impact on ongoing fundraising activities. Invite them to pick a place to start that seems comfortable to them, such as attending a special event, before they dive into major donor requests.

  • Technique 1: Raise money for the students, not the organization. Learn to talk about the organization in terms of its constituents and their needs, not the organization’s needs.
  • Technique 2: Tell the stories. Learn to tell a story or two about the great things happening at the organization. Tell about a personal experience.
  • Technique 3: Speak from your heart. Learn to talk about the organization with all the passion of your heart. If you believe strongly in this organization, others will, too.

3. Make learning manageable. Since board members are busy people, train them in a I5-minute segment at each board meeting. You can accomplish a lot of learning in short bursts at each board meeting. Here are some things you can do:

  • Have them pair up and share why they said "yes" to serving on the board. This helps them tap into their passion for the organization.
  • Have them tell each other a story about how the organization is changing lives in the community.
  • Have them share their thoughts about fundraising-what they are scared of and what they feel comfortable with. This helps them begin to overcome fear of fund raising.
  • Create a crossword puzzle with the words in the puzzle being answers and the clues being basic facts of your organization. For example, one clue might be "the number of children served each year."
  • Create a Jeopardy-type game around organizational facts.
  • Have them brainstorm about people in their sphere of influence whom they can talk to about your organization or send an appeal letter to.
Over time, this will help "bring them along" and increase their comfort level with fund raising in general.

4. Give them concrete ideas of ways to get involved. People respond best to specific requests. Ask your board members to tare a particular action instead of just "helping with fund raising." Ask them to:

  • Make their own gifts first. They will be much better at asking someone else for money if they have already given themselves.
  • Think of people they know. Think about their family, neighbors, people they do business with, and people they have fun with. They are all great potential donors.
  • Talk to people about the organization. Tell at least one person each week about their experiences with the organization.
  • Invite the executive director to speak to their civic group, church group or other similar group. By putting the staff in front of a crowd, they are helping spread the word about the organization.
This is really solid advice for every Learning Center. Apply most of it and you will be successful!


So hats — or fezzes — off as this deserving and largely unknown group moves into its new home on the former Bangor Theological Seminary campus.

- Renee Ordway, Bangor(ME) Daily News

This quote is the last line of a really wonderful op-ed that appeared in the Bangor Daily News July 4, 2009. Renee is a reporter for the News and also has a daughter who was on the list to attend the Bangor Learning Center when the Valley of Bangor suffered a dramatic and devastating fire on New Years Day, 2004.

I urge you to read this piece. I how you feel the same pride I do - for our committed peers in Bangor and for the entire program. The story of the Ordways is the story of all our families. We really change lives!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ideas that work

idea icon
Pledge the Web!

We received a really interesting approach from Dan Stolworthy who is working on the Seacoast, NH Dyslexia Walk.

He alerted us to this innovative site that provides pledge-raising sites for events like ours. The site is the product they are using is Pledge. This product which seems easily customizable, is $399 for a 100-person capacity. It may be an option worth considering. We'll follow up on this after the Seacoast event October 24.

You may also want to look at how Dan is customizing his site.

Good Luck, Dan!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

News You Can Use

70-Year-Old Relief Charity Adopts a New Name

The Learning Centers aren’t alone in their efforts to remake and rebrand themselves. A recent article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy recounted Christian Children Fund’s recent name change to ChildFund International. You can read the entire article here.

The similarities between ChildFund International’s efforts and our own are striking. The name Cornerstone Tutoring was chosen because it will be more easily communicated to the non-Masonic community than our current name. Similarly, Christian Children Fund chose to remove Christian from its name to help its sphere of influence reach to non-Christan countries.

The charities’ original names implied that they offered Christian programs or Masonic teaching for children. But ChildFund International phased out its Christian programs in the 1970s, and our Learning Centers provide dyslexia tutoring, not instruction in Masonic thought.

Even the rebranding process the charity followed is similar to our own. The article states that ChildFund International “conducted focus groups with donors, reached out to people who received help from the charity overseas, and discussed the idea with board and staff members.”

Anne Goddard, the charity’s president, noted that the change took time. “This is not something you do quickly,” Ms. Goddard states in the article. “Not only do your supporters identify you with a certain name, your staff identifies you with a certain name, and the communities we work in do. There was a lot of discussion; it was a slow process.”

ChildFund International hopes their name change will increase their donor base, especially among foundations and corporations.

What can we take from this? Change will always present a new set of challenges. But we change in hopes that with those challenges comes a floodgate of fresh opportunities.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Announcing the newest Idea Hub contest!

Sometimes all we need is an inspiring story to lift us up and remind us why we do what we do. That’s why we’re looking for submissions of your Center’s success stories.

Once a month, the staff at Scottish Rite Charities will choose the most compelling story submitted that month. The winning Center will receive a $100 donation and have their story featured in one of our Inspiration blog posts.

At the end of August 2010, we’ll post the winning stories from each month and have you vote on the best story. The winner will get a $500 donation for their Center.

Stories should be sent to Submit as many stories as you’d like each month – there’s no limit on submissions or the number of times you can win! Stories are due the last day of every month.

A few guidelines for submissions: we ask that you send in stories rather than letters, preferably in third person. There’s no word limit, and the narrative can be written by anyone (director, board member, student, tutor, parent, volunteer, etc.)

The deadline for the first monthly contest is August 31st.

More questions? Contact us at 781-465-3341 or

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ideas That Work

idea iconGiving Back

Last Saturday, the Lexington Learning Center raised over $2,700 at a multi-family yard sale. While the return was excellent, the real feat was the way Center Director Joyce Gillis got Center families involved with the event.

“It was a huge effort,” Gillis said. “It was a lot of work, but it was also kind of fun. It really had the effect of bringing Center families together.”

When the director learned that her Center’s funds would be cut, she posted an announcement in the Center waiting room asking for parents’ fundraising ideas and support. But she didn’t see a significant response until she approached parents personally.

“You have to go out and speak to parents and ask for their help. That’s what it all amounts to,” she said. “People like to be asked. Then it sort of snowballs.”

Gillis involved Center parents in every step of the planning process. She began by asking them to make lists of fundraiser ideas.

“The parents are the ones that benefit from the Center. In order for them to feel like they’re contributing, I thought we should get their ideas,” she said.

When a yard sale popped up on several people’s lists, the group chose it as their first fundraiser since they felt they could pull it together fairly quickly. Then they put together a list of items they thought people would be interested in buying.

Gillis sent out a mass email to active and former parents listing the items they needed and asking for donations and support. The director was up front about the Center’s needs. “I told them what the situation was, that we were in danger of closing, and that we would like as much help as we could possibly get,” she said.

Several parents donated items for the sale. One family brought in a truckload of their own things and a second truckload from a neighbor. Another supporter donated a wicker furniture set with a retail value of $3,000. The Center was able to get $750 for the set.

The event was held at a Center family’s home, and most of the items were stored in the family's garage until the day of the sale.

The director said part of the sale’s success was due to a massive advertising effort. Advertised as a Mammoth Multi-Family Yard Sale, the event was listed on Craig’s List, Facebook, community calendars and bulletin boards and the local newspaper. Parents also made fliers and signs and put them up all over town.

Gillis sent out several group emails asking for help in the days leading up to the sale. “I sent one close to the end when we still needed certain items, and another saying that we needed help the day of the sale,” she said.

She also worked to get students involved. When pricing toys, she would ask them what they thought a toy was worth. They also helped transport items for their parents.

Besides raising money, the event also raised awareness for the Center in the community. All signs, fliers and listings mentioned that the sale was a fundraiser for the Center, and Board Chair Ernie Pearlstein moved around at the event letting people know that proceeds went to the Center.

“It’s a way of letting people know that the Center is here and that there is a need,” Gillis said. “The funds aren’t falling from heaven.”

The director said that overhead for the fundraiser was very low since practically everything from signs to baked goods sold at the sale was donated. She said that she would definitely encourage other Centers to try a yard sale.

“It’s a way of bringing parents together. They’re working toward a common goal, and doing something of value to the community,” she said.

The Lexington Learning Center isn’t taking a break from fundraising. Supporters have a list of other events they plan to hold: next Saturday they’re doing a carwash.

Gillis said the future of her Center depends on families getting involved. “Up to this point there hasn’t been a lot of involvement from parents,” she said. “Getting them together is making a uniform group. They have a lot at stake. They’re trying to get help for their children.”