Wednesday, September 30, 2009


"Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today."

-James Dean

Today marks the anniversary of the tragic and spectacular death of James Dean, a young actor whose style made him the archetype of cool and the poster boy for teenage angst. His break was in the movie "East of Eden." At the time of his death, Dean had just finished filming "Giant," his third film. His second film, and the one which has firmly placed him in the memories of many, was "Rebel Without a Cause," which was about to be released.

This somewhat prophetic quote can remind us that we are served by acting upon our dreams and fiercely striving to live the life we imagine. Do you believe in you Learning Center? Imagine its success. Then act as if your actions will make the difference (they will).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rebranding Update

Update on Rebranding

It has been some time since we spoke about the rebranding initiative that was described after the June meeting of the Learning Centers Board of Directors meeting. This is probably a good time to bring you up to speed because we have received number of inquiries.

  • At this point the Cornerstone brand is still a strong contender for these reasons:
  • It is among the few brands that is meaningful to Masons and non Masons alike.
  • It has been largely supported by those who chose to respond to our blog poll as well as the board of directors.
  • Although there may be other companies with the word "Cornerstone" in their name, legal registration for Cornerstone Tutoring is available in all states of our market.
  • The domain name is owned by us.
  • In testing with a diverse sample of non-Masons, the name has a positive connotation.

Now this is not to say that there are not a few places where the name may be an issue:

  • Grand Rapids has a fundamentalist college named "Cornerstone"
  • Pittsburgh has a ministry named "Cornerstone" in their building or adjacent to it

We acknowledge these issues and are developing an alternative workaround for these places.

So what are our next steps? The Learning Centers BoD does not meet again until December 10th. We are meeting in Lexington in advance of that to finalize recommendations. Along with that, we are developing a logo based on your input (the mutant elf logo image is gone).

What we need from you is an estimate for the cost of signage at your site, if you used the current logo in signage. Also, if you have any additional feedback, please send it along.

Finally, we are still wondering what to do about the Teddy Bear. The logo is not age appropriate for our students and may be an embarrassment to older children. However it is a solid rallying image among the Masonic community. We may continue to use the logo for Masonically-specific fundraising and PR. What do you think?

Success Story Reminder

The end of the month is almost upon us and I've received only one entry for the monthly success story challenge (win $100).

Its not too late to enter.

Friday, September 25, 2009

News You Can Use

Seth Godin wants us to Shake Things Up

It is probable that many of you have never heard of Seth Godin. If you are over 55 and/or the new culture of communication, web 2.0 or social media is a bit of a mystery to you, he hasn't gotten onto your radar screen. He is however a very smart guy and a keen visionary and business mind. His books are must reads in the knowledge technology realm.

I was struck by a recent posting in his blog. It calls the not-for-profit community to task for not using new ways to communicate to our greatest advantage.

Specifically he begins by stating that among the 100 top twitter users in terms of followers, not one is a charity. Further he goes on to say that even when he spoke to two of the country's most well known non-profits about ways to improve their connection to their constituents with social media both balked. In Godin's words, "After about forty five minutes, the meetings devolved into endless lists of why any change at all in the way things were was absolutely impossible. Everyone looked to the president of the group for leadership, and when he didn't say anything, they dissembled, stalled and evaded. Every barrier was insurmountable, every element of the status quo was cast in stone."

These are among the latent problems with non-profits: failure to keep up with market demand and to have the motivation to move ant the speep of change. Again in Godin's post," if your non-profit isn't acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you're failing in your duty to make change."

While one could quibble with Godin's choice of criteria (everyone who knows what Digg is gets a star), he is correct in principle. As it relates to our Learning Centers he is spot on.

Think about your condition. Status quo in terms of the past funding policies is over. Yet how many of you are still conducting "business as usual?" How many boards are still mired in inaction perhaps expecting that someone will bail the Learning Center out? I myself have heard that several boards have not done much of anything to change their activities or expand their circle of leadership under the belief that, "they (whoever they is) will bail us out."

My friends this thinking is wrongheaded and fails to embrace passion for our task at hand. Whether we like it or not we must all change and ask ourselves what we envision our particular Learning Center to be. Times of change are challenging, but these are the times that define our future.

For more on Godin, Google him.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


"If the infinite had not desired man to be wise, he would not have bestowed on him the faculty of knowing."

-Manly Palmer Hall (1901-1990)

I came across this quote in the pages of The Lost Symbol, the Dan Brown thriller that largely features the Masons.

Manly Hall was a name largely unknown to me, but he is known in Masonic circles. A 33rd Degree Mason, Hall is best know for has writings on ancient thought and Masonic sybology. In 1928 he wrote his best know work The Secret Teachings of All Ages. In 1934 he founded the Philosophical Research Society which continues to this day.

A good starting place to learn more about Ill. Brother Hall is Wikipedia.

This quote serves to remind us of the universality of "the faculty of knowing." All children are imbued with his, yet in some the faculty is hidden by dyslexia. Our continuing gift to humanity is setting free this capability so even children with dyslexia may attain the "wisdom" before them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ideas That Work

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A Walk Idea Worth Passing On

As many of the Learning Centers prepare for their walk event, I want to pass on a suggestion from New Hampshire that proved successful for them and might for you.

Last year a combined Walk of the Nashua and Seacoast New Hampshire Learning Centers raised over $9,000, a good increase from the previous year. Their best walker raised more than $1,000. How did they improve the event?

Simply, Aileen Cormier, the Center Director of the Nashua LC asked one of the Centers donors to donate a Wii game console as the prize for the person who raised the most money. That $300 incentive raised everybody's game. It was an idea that paid off.

You know, you don't need a donor to imitate Nashua's success, you could offer that or another enticing prize and simply buy it. In that case, put a minimum amount raised equal to the cost of the item to assure you don't lose money on it. Don't worry, it is rare that there is only one participant eager to raise the most, so the idea will pay off (and if no one raises the minimum, you can return the unused item).

In my days of conducting walk events. I created prize structures that offered prizes for different levels of fund raising, keeping the value of the prize at about 25% of the amount raised. I would have a sample of each prize on display at the event as well as inventory for people who had already collected their money. for the remainder, I informed the participant that the gift would be delivered once the funds were deposited. That way I only bought what I needed.

At any rate, this a "prize" idea you can take to the bank.

Calling All Stories

Remember, our success story contest is open for September. You might win $100 for your LC, like the folks in Cambridge did for August. The deadline is September 30.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

News You Can Use

A Sign (or Symbol) of our Times

Sometimes it is worth our while to shift gears and enjoy things. It is with this in mind that I purchased yesterday a copy of the new Dan Brown book, The Lost Symbol.

I have to tell you that this is a book that's hard to put down. I'm already almost halfway through the 500+ page work and I'd really impressed. Not just because of the energy Brown generates with his style of writing, but with his treatment of Freemasonry.

Now I am sure that there are plenty of Masonic Purists who will (accurately) devote much time to deconstructing the book and criticizing inaccuracies. But I think this misses the point.

In this book, Brown largely gets it right. In the first 100 pages he debunks many of the myths of the Craft. He even gives a very clear explanation describing the difference between a secret society and a society with secrets.

In short, Brown hasn't gone for the easy stereotypes in this book (he even mentioned that a character was a big donor to "Masonic charities."

Why do I bring this up? This book is going to be a big phenomenon. It should raise new interest in the Fraternity and all than we do, including the Learning Centers. Buy the book and read it. Give it to friends and then tell people you are involved with the Masons or a Masonic charity and see if this doesn't open a door to more discussion about the Learning Centers.

Let's make sure this isn't a "Lost" opportunity.

(If you want to read a review of the book, there is the LA Times review here.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


"Help others and give something back. I guarantee you will discover that while public service improves the lives and the world around you, its greatest reward is the enrichment and new meaning it will bring your own life. "

-Arnold Schwarzenegger

Today marks the anniversary of Mr. Schwarzenegger becoming an American citizen in 1983.
"The Governator" as he is now known is living proof of the American success story. Schwarzenegger parlayed success as a body builder to movie stardom. Barely able to speak English when he arrived, Schwarzenegger embraced his opportunities in this country to become hugely successful.

He expresses a passion for life and his appreciation for this country. "Everything I have, my career, my success, my family, I owe to America," he says.

His thoughts about helping others is a good reminder for each of us as we strive to support our Learning Centers.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ideas That Work

idea icon A different kind of tea party

With talk of tea parties in the news, let's take a look at the great success Milwaukee volunteers have had with their annual tea luncheon fundraiser. This year marked the sixth year for the event, with almost 200 ladies attending.

Milwaukee Learning Center board member Marcia Christensen said that Carol Dadaian, the wife of a Milwaukee Valley member, came up with the original idea. Since then, the idea has been passed along to the Valley of Indianapolis, where volunteers have also seen great success.

Planning began with a core committee of 6 members who were responsible for overseeing the different aspects of the event, including the dining room setup, kitchen area, fashion show and raffle. A hostess was assigned to each table and was responsible for inviting 7 ladies to fill her table. Each hostess decorated her own table with her own theme.

A highlight for attendees was the Milwaukee Valley members, dressed in tuxedos and white gloves, serving the ladies throughout the event.

"The ladies think it's so special to have the gentlemen serving them," Marcia said.

After the meal, a student and mother gave a short account of the good work the Center is doing. "It's important to the ladies there because then they know what they're there for," Marcia said.

After the Center presentation, guests enjoyed a fashion show put on by a local shop. The tea party averages between 200 and 250 attendants, and $10 of every ticket is donated to the Milwaukee Learning Center.

Volunteers have made changes over the years to help things run more smoothly. This year ladies wrote their names and table number on the back of their tickets. Instead of taking the time to announce the winners, the men drew names and delivered the prizes throughout the event.

One thing that hasn't changed is the cost for raffle tickets: volunteers still sold 12 tickets for $10 and 25 tickets for $20. "Keeping the ticket prices down on the raffle tickets themselves has really made a difference," Marcia said. "Other raffles we've been to have raised the price of tickets and haven't sold as many."

This year's event raised $5,000 for the Milwaukee Learning Center.

"I don't think there's any better reason to get together and do a fundraiser than the Learning Center," Marcia said. "We are providing children with the tools they need to have a successful life. It really touches me to think we can help them."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

News You Can Use

The Perils of Naming

Several of our Learning Centers have been named to recognize a generous patron of the program or a person of Masonic significance. Naming opportunities are generally a tried and true method of encouraging and acknowledging extraordinary commitment to the an effort or charitable program.

What happens however when the dark side of the person recognized is exposed? This is what happened in Auburn, CA recently. The town of 13,000 was left a 28 acre parcel of land in the estate of William B. Shockley for use as a park, provided it was named for him and his late wife.

On the face of this, it was a no-brainer. Shockley was a Nobel Laureate in physics and is credited as one of the inventors of the transistor. Who better to name a park after?

Unfortunately, it also came out that Shockley was a vocal supporter of the idea of eugenics, the discredited belief that intelligence in racially determined and which advocated sterilization of people deemed socially and intellectually unfit.

Well, you can imagine the uproar. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

Similar issues spring up from time to time - schools named for the founder of the Klu Klux Klan. Buildings dedicated to businessmen indicted for fraud or other crimes. It is impossible to entirely avoid the problem, but worth scratching below the surface to sidestep a possible problem.

You can access the August 31, 2009 Wall Street Journal article on the Shockley affair here (a subscription may be required).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


"Carry on any enterprise as if all future success depended on it."

-Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu
Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu

The Cardinal Richelieu was born on this date in 1585. He is perhaps the most famous minister and religious figure of Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century France. "The Crimson Eminence" as he was known, rose to First Minister of Louis XIII - essentially the world's first prime minister. He wielded awesome power and used it to quell violently domestic uprisings. He thus became the chief villain in Alexandre Dumas' books.

This quote is a brilliant message to all of us who care about our Learning Centers. The times we are in require your passionate actions today. The future of your Learning Center and the children we serve today and tomorrow are depending on you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ideas That Work

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Letter Writing 101 (part 2)

Last week I began this topic by providing 5 steps to begin crafting a successful fundraising letter. Those steps were:
  • Start with a need.
  • Determine if a letter is the appropriate vehicle for for your request.
  • Fire up your need.
  • Tell a passionate story.
  • Keeping the reader's interest in mind.
As we continue this topic, consider a few more points to ensure that your direct mail program is successful.

  • Test. What constitutes a successful direct mail appeal is this and only this - what is the return on the letter? Try your letter on a representative sample of your prospect base. See if the response is as good as you felt it should be. Better yet, you might try two different letters on two samples. Whatever provides the best response is the letter for you. It might not be the one you like best, but it isn't about what you like, it's about what works.
  • Make it easy to respond. Every mailing should have a clear return slip and envelope with return address. The response slip might have suggested levels of donation. If you do this, make sure that the prospective donors all fit the levels indicated. Nothing is more deflating than a $1,000 donor giving $50 because that is the top level on the request form. Better yet, you might want to talk to this donor personally.
  • Ask for a specific amount. This may be based on last year's gift or known capacity to give or whatever, but it is a good idea to ask for an amount, this sets donor sites higher.
  • P.S. - use it. It is an idiosyncrasy in most of us that we scan most mail before reading it. As a result, the postscript occupies valuable real estate, isolated from the rest of the letter. This is the spot to sweeten the pot with another emotional appeal or a special offer.
  • Don't be afraid of punctuation. This is important. In our rush to read, the writer needs tools to help the reader pay attention. Without the help of punctuation, I'd say,

    " The ability to grab the reader is hard indeed."

    Just remember, that like certain spices, a little can go a long way, so reserve this for the critical points.

Keep these points in mind when writing your next "Dear friend" letter and you may find you have a better response.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

News You Can Use

Making Lemonade from Lemons

Yeah, this economy is rough. The business cycle has been slow. Now things are looking up, but still things are slow. Can this be at all good for your Learning Center?

Well, in one way it may. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes how to wrest opportunity from this economic climate.

The article describes the plight of professional services companies that are reaching out to non-profits as a way to keep their staff occupied as demand for their services is slow. (Read the full story here.)

What this means for you may be high quality support for services you may now have gotten otherwise. The types of services you may be able to get pro bono are:

  • PR
  • Advertising and marketing
  • Web development
  • Video production
  • Event management

Be sure to look at both obvious service companies as well as large corporations, which may have staff or departments that are currently slow. A few tips may help:

  • Clearly define a project with a short (3-6 month) time frame.
  • Be prepared to be patient as this is a 'second priority' to paid work
  • Consider how this project may also benefit the service provider (visibility, contacts, etc.)
  • Make sure the project is something you really need.
Make your list of dream needs and who could help achieve these goals. Then reach out and ask for help. In this economy, you might be surprised.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


This inspirational account from the Cambridge Learning Center was selected for our first monthly Inspiration contest. (Visit here for contest details.)

Cambridge Center Director Jen Navicky said she was "absolutely delighted" when she learned her narrative had been chosen. "I think it's really important to communicate to all the Centers the success students are having," Navicky said. "I can't wait to let (the girls featured) know they won us a contest!"

In the following narrative, Jen Navicky shares the successes of two of her Center's earliest students:

Each spring I try and touch base with our graduates… These girls happen to be “firsts,” but they mirror many of the children who have attended over the past 8 years. They both spoke at the opening dedication ceremony in the Fall of 2001.

Megan Eckelbarger was one of the first 2 children tutored at the Learning Center beginning in April 2001. She was 10 years old.

Leah Green began in the fall 2001. She was also 10 years old. She became our first graduate. I remember when she came to me and said, “I have gained so much from this, and I think I can go on alone now. I want to give my spot to someone who is struggling as much as I was several years ago.”

Both girls are now 18 years old and are graduating from Mid East Ohio Career and Technology Centers in May. Megan goes to the Buffalo campus and Leah goes to the Zanesville campus. They graciously returned to share their stories.

Question: What do you remember about your reading problems before you started at the Learning Center?

Megan: I would come home and cry every night when I had to do homework. I loved school, but I just couldn’t do the work. I couldn’t read it. My mom went to the school to get me tested so I could be on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This only helped a little. My grandpa was a Mason and had watched my mom struggle with the same thing. He found out about the Learning Center and got me here.

Leah: I had lots of trouble in school especially when I had to read out loud. The other kids laughed at me. My mom had to go to school again and again and ask them to help me. My teacher, Mrs. McGuire, got me tested. Then I would go to a special room and read out of a book that was a little kid’s book. I was very embarrassed to carry it around with me. A neighbor, Mrs. Messino suggested that we contact the Learning Center because she knew what you were doing here.

When I asked them what they remembered about the tutoring sessions, they both felt the one-on-one tutoring helped them feel successful. In classes they felt like they were always behind everyone else. They also mentioned the work with the Layers of Language where we delve into Anglo Saxon, Latin and Greek prefixes, roots and suffixes. Latin words are longer and help to increase students’ vocabulary. Greek is usually used for scientific terms. Megan is finding this helpful for the complicated terms in the courses of the dental assistant program she is currently in. Leah even remembers the color of the cards she used and many of the details of the words.

Both girls remembered when things got easier for them in school. Leah remembers being able to read chapter books instead of children’s books. She was delighted with her success and would take things home to read to her mom. Megan remembers reading about famous painters. She took French in school and loved it. (French is Latin and Greek based.) She felt like she knew some of it before she began the class. She now enjoys reading to the children at her job in Zanesville.

Question: What do you see in your future?

Megan: I will graduate in May from the dental assistant program in Buffalo OH. Next I’m going to look for a job in a dentist’s office. I may also begin classes at (Ohio University Zanesville) in their radiology program. In the future, I plan to go to the expanded function dentistry program at Jefferson Community College. Someday I’d like to go to dental school and open my own dental office.

Leah: I will graduate from Mid East Career and Technology Center in Zanesville in the early childhood program. I want to help children. Next year I want to go to Ashland University. I’ve gotten an academic scholarship there and also to Muskingum College. I have had all A’s every nine weeks for two years and am President of the National Honor Society. I will complete a degree in early childhood intervention K-3; Special Education. Right now I volunteer at Central Elementary and work with some special education children. I want to be a role model for other kids who struggle. I think I can be a good example for them and encourage them to never give up. I’m proud to be the first graduate of your program and I have an obligation to help others.

Question: What would you tell other children who struggle and their parents?

Megan: Both my parents and my grandparents helped me. I’d like to tell parents that it helps their kids to pursue their goals if they have exposure to many areas. I had good experiences with my orthodontist and my eye doctor that made me want to do something similar to what they were doing. While we were tutoring, we joked about being “word nerds.” I’m glad I am one because it really has helped me!

Leah: I’d tell them, “Never give up!” This is very important for parents too. They need to keep advocating for their child. My mother was very important in my successes so far. I came a long way in a short time. I can remember when things began to get easier for me. I was afraid things would be too hard in Junior High and High School but I found I could do the work and I found many classes that I enjoyed like speech and language arts. This was a surprise for me.

Both Megan and Leah are mature, articulate and confident in their abilities. They avoided becoming discouraged because they knew they were smart but weren’t able to show this in their schoolwork.

I was particularly gratified to hear both Megan and Leah emphasize their work with Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Greek words. This knowledge improves vocabulary and reading comprehension but I hadn’t thought of the benefits when going into specialized programs like the dental program in Zanesville.

To overcome reading problems takes a complicated mix of efforts by many. Parents, the school, outside help, increased maturity, and meaningful experiences all have to be coupled with intense effort by the students. Our tutors are very proud to be members of the team helping these students. It is gratifying when all the factors fall into place.

Both girls and their family support systems are to be congratulated. They are the epitome of the wonderful 32ยบ Masonic program. They prove (once again) that our area is very fortunate to have this program funded by the Scottish Rite Masons.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ideas That Work

idea icon
Letter Writing 101 (part 1)

Today, while the first cool breezes of September kiss the pines and maples of the Lexington campus, I want to begin saying a few things about Fund-raising letters.

Fund-raising Letters are an art form. They are often not mail one eagerly anticipates receiving, yet when well written, they can move people to send money for things they might not have thought they really cared about. They may be both informative and evocative. Successful letter writing is a science and a skill. If you do it right, you may be rewarded with financial success (or maybe not). A bad letter means certain financial loss.

Let me start for the top then and offer you in the first of two entries, some advice about fund-raising letters:

  • Start with a need. What is the point of your letter? You will soon compose a rhetorical case which ideally ends with the reader responding to you (giving money, volunteering, etc.). As you begin, be clear you know what the need is and how you want the reader to respond. This is important, because uncertainty is the enemy of response-focused composition.
  • Determine if a letter is the appropriate vehicle for for your request. I knew a person who sent a direct mail letter seeking new board members. This is not a good use of the medium. A mass-mailed letter does not deliver the gravitas that a board membership invitation requires and deserves. Generally the same is true for major donations, which demand great personalization. Instead, letters succeed with a request for support that can be quantified at a convenient level - say, $50 memberships, or support of the 2010 walk program.
  • Fire up your need. Back when I worked raising money for hospitals a colleague (no longer employed) said she asked recipients a recent appeal to increase the cash on hand of the hospital where she worked. Ugh! Are you raising money to "keep the lights on"? No, you're raising money to offer another child, just as precious as your own child or grandchild, the one in a lifetime opportunity to have a future unhampered by dyslexia. The lights are simply the means to this end. Drill down to the bones of what you are offing and find the spark that will inspire the reader.
  • Tell a passionate story. The late anthropologist Joseph Campbell said that humanity is a race of storytellers. Most of us respond to powerful personal narrative than cold facts. Find a story that suited your letter. Tell it in an exciting way. Use the line of narrative from which to sparingly depart with relevant supporting information. And remember the reader. You want the reader to be moved, not bored.
  • Keeping the reader's interest in mind. Yes, you have needs, but if you write thinking only of yourself, I guarantee a poor response to your letter. Constantly bounce between perspectives when writing. As the writer, describe your needs. But then, get on the other side of the table and pretend you are a recipient of this appeal. Has the writer kept you interest? Is it clear what is wanted?

This is a good start. To be continued, September 8...