Thursday, October 29, 2009

News You Can Use

Now that's a Walk!

We are just about coming to the conclusion of this year's dyslexia walks. In some communities our walks have been very successful. However, it never hurts to imagine bigger. So to lift our sights, consider the Crop Hunger Walk, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
In 1969, an ecumenical group of several Bismark, ND churches came together for an event to take a stand against hunger in our world raising awareness and funds for international relief and development, as well as local hunger needs.

The first event was humble, but the idea fired peoples passions. The idea spread across the nation. This year more than 2,000 Crop Hunger Walks are taking place, raising about $17,000,000!

Few enterprises are this successful overnight. Consistency and persistence contribute mightily to longterm success. Maybe our walks haven't raised $17,000,000 this year. We are mere babes when compared to this old-timer. But we can reach higher - one step at a time.

Read more about the Crop Hunger Walk in the LA Times.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be never so vile. This day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day. "

-William Shakespeare
Henry V

October 25 is St. Crispen's Day and is the anniversary of English King Henry V's defeat of a much larger French army at Agincourt in 1415.

The victory against overwhelming odds inspired The Bard to pen this moving speech for his drama. It is a fitting call to arms for any band of "warriors" who have a challenging task that can only be accomplished by teamwork and selflessness.

Well, we band of brothers and sisters, we have a worthy effort in our Learning Centers. If we work as one and confidently apply ourselves to the needs of our Centers, we can overcome anything. Our purpose is great and our results are life-changing.

Saints Crispen and Crispinian were themselves brothers and third century evangelists from Gaul, martyred in Rome in 286AD. They are, among other things, the patron saints of lace makers. You can read more about them here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ideas That Work

Board Leadership and "Skin in the Game"

Last week in my rebranding post I wrote that my recent survey of chairs of our boards of governors garnered 29 responses. I went on to snipe a little about the 26 chairs who didn't respond, going so far as to opine that, "these are always the same Centers."

Well this small comment provoked a passionate response from one chair. While I don't think the chair's identity furthers the point, I will share with you key points of the message:

"This [the rebranding process] is one of the turning points in the Learning Center’s history that could have a positive or negative impact. The decision made in a few weeks will be with us for at least a decade or two, so it must be acceptable and workable to entice donors, future students, applicants for the scholars program, etc...."

"The purpose of this email is to say 29 Learning Centers out of 55 participating in the survey is not acceptable with something this important. This is the future of our Learning Centers and must be taken seriously... I am truly frustrated with this high number of non-responses."
This chair gets it. Unfortunately, I fear we are risking our program in places where our leadership may be complacent or ambivalent.

To our surprise, over the past two months, I and members of my staff have fielded a number of calls from Center Directors. They are calling in great distress because they believe their Learning Centers are being driven into the ground (and out of existence) because their boards are doing little or nothing to secure their financial needs. These directors have sought and continue to seek guidance and any advice and support we can give them so they could save their Centers.

This situation, while troubling, is by no means universal. In fact, a good number of our Centers' boards are very active, creative and committed. I think immediately of Columbus, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Nashua, and Central New York, to name only a few. But truly, there are others at risk.

In hindsight, we might have developed the funding system for the Learning Centers differently. The system that was in place through last year, with little reward for extraordinary activity and little punishment for inactivity by local boards, has contributed to the weakness now evident in the boards of some Centers. With a change of funding that is the rule for the foreseeable future, this weakness is dangerous. The Center Directors who've called believe they see this problem in their boards and are truly distraught.

Commander John William McNaughton often talks about people who have "skin in the game." He defines this as visceral commitment to any project. Center Directors are deeply involved in the activities of the Centers. That is why they are among the most concerned - often going above and beyond because they can't abide with the idea of their Learning Center closing.

As a board member, ask yourself, "Do I have skin in the game? Am I willing to do whatever it takes, whatever is within my ability, to assure that these children with dyslexia will still have a Learning Center next year and beyond?"

If so, the time for action is now. What your Center needs now is more - more local funds, more quality individuals who can share the load, more communication to the general community about who we are and what we do. Here are 5 things every committed board member can (and should) do to secure the future of YOUR Learning Center:
  • Participate vigorously in the business of your Learning Center, attending meetings and Center events
  • Speak to a service group using the DVD and guide provided by Scottish Rite Charities
  • Identify 2 people whose involvement in the Learning Center would help improve its financial success
  • Donate to your Learning Center as if this is one of you closest charitable priorities
  • Ask 3-5 people to join you in financial support of your Learning Center at a personally generous level
If you are willing to do all you can do, you can rely on the fact that those of us in Lexington supporting the Learning Center program will provide you all the support and advice at our disposal.

If you are not, you may be placing your Learning Center and the children who rely on it at risk.

Please add comments to this posting. This is a critical issue that deserves our discussion.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

News You Can Use

Look Folks, We're not doing too Bad

It seems that articles that describe the impact the current (or recent) economic slump and its effect on charities are coming our regularly. I noted this one form the Hartford Business Journal.

A recent interview with an executive from the United Way described a survey conducted in central and northeastern Connecticut herein one in three charity executives expressed concern that their program would have to close.

What Susan Dunne of the UW sees is the economy has caused many donors to cut funding, while demand for many services has increased. She estimates that perhaps 1,900 jobs are at risk.

While this might bode ill for all charities, I think this can remind us that our position is not nearly that bad. Consider our blessings:
  • Our overhead is minimal. Most non-profits have to raise funds for administration and overhead, increasing their challenge. Because of our Centralized model, each Center is only raising direct case funds, lowering our overall need.
  • We are not reliant upon governmental aid. The article states that direct donations account for only 20% of the organizations' income. A lot comes from local and state governmental sources, which are really unstable in this economy.
  • Most of these organizations have little or no reserve. Our history of raising Board Restricted Funds gives many LCs a cushion to protect us from the severe potential economic environment.
  • The Scottish Rite Benevolent Foundation provided a $60,000 front end infusion of funds. In the rest of the non-profit world, this would be a god-send.

Yeah, things aren't as they were. But they are a lot better than what most non-profits are facing. Our hurdles are lower than most. All we have to do is take flight.


"...with the purchase of this cookbook you have helped to change children's lives by opening the world of reading to them."

-from Our Most Loved Recipes
Youngstown Learning Center

We eat, drink and sleep this program!

In 2006, I participated in a series of training sessions to provide support to the boards of our Learning Centers. One session was held in New Castle, PA. Evelyn Dearing, then Chair of the Youngstown board of directors described a new fundraising program they had completed - a cookbook with lots of local recipes and even a section in the back where the students contributed recipes and stories of their success. I bought a copy. It has been a fixture in our Lexington office since then.

Well the team at Scottish Rite Charities from time to time peruse this book. Someone came up with the idea, "Why don't we have a pot luck luncheon using only recipes from this book?" Well, This Monday was the day. Bridget stated us off in the morning with Apple Pecan Muffins (page 165). I made started lunch Crab Bisque (page 57). Our main menu consisted of Chicken Roll-ups (page 138) and Broccoli Salad (page 48) made by Maryann and Bacon Cheese Potato Skins (page 20) courtesy of Leslie. Catherine provided Pumpkin Cake (page 203) for dessert. If that wasn't enough, Bridget completed the feast by making Cookie Dough Brownies (page 241) which came highly recommended as it was a blue ribbon winner at the Canfield Fair.

Lunch, which for this staff is usually cold sandwiches or leftovers eaten over the keyboard, was transformed Monday into something wonderful. We took our time together to talk and laugh and relish the tasty treats our friends in Youngstown collected to benefit our work to help children with dyslexia.

In the midst of the effort we are making to secure the future of our Learning Centers, its easy to overlook the joy we should all take from our successes and the people who work with us. Please keep that in mind as you help your Center. Take a moment and smile. The transformations you are making possible today are inspirational.

And if you need any more help, you can find the Cookie Dough Brownie recipe that launched us into sugar induced bliss here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rebranding Update

Rebranding...The Votes are in

There is a book recently published titled: The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. The book, written by James Surowiecki, posits that the knowledge, perspective and experience of many can under certain circumstances contribute to better thinking than can the work of a few.

The rebranding process may well prove to be an example of this belief in work.

First, let me thank the many of you who have to date offered your advice to this process. Your suggestions were offered with sincerity and varying levels of passion.

Ultimately, 29 of 55 boards responded to my survey request (it's always the same ones that don't respond). This is what can be concluded:

- There is widespread concern over the name "Cornerstone." This concern includes:
  • Competition with a college and national evangelical ministry
  • Abandonment of our Masonic heritage
  • Lack of uniqueness in the name
Additionally, usage of "tutoring" over "center" is a concern in Pennsylvania where efforts are underway to be included in a state funding program that does not support tutoring centers.

- The name 32nd Degree Masonic Learning Centers is very unwieldy. While several LC boards have stated a preference to keep this name, a number of those don't use the full name in their public communication.

- The issue about keeping the bear logo is contentious. The discussion can be summed up by the conversation I had at a LC board meeting a couple weeks ago. The board members who were Masons strongly supported the bear logo and could not understand the suggestion that it does not reflect the age range of our users nor that older boys might find it embarrassing. They were quite surprised when the board member whose teenage son graduated the program explained that as much as the boy regarded the program he "would not leave his house" wearing the bear.

So the logo dilemma remains one of internal, largely Masonic esteem for the bear and utility of the logo when directed at external audiences.

As a result of this entirely healthy discussion, your collective intelligence has moved the rebranding process - we will NOT use "Cornerstone" in our name. Furthermore, unless circumstances in Pennsylvania change categorically against our efforts to qualify for their state funding program, we will no longer consider "Tutoring" in our name.

Now we have 4 new choices based on the recommendations forwarded to us over the past 2 weeks. Please let us know your thoughts:

a. 32nd Degree Masonic Learning Centers for Children
b. Scottish Rite Dyslexia Centers
c. Scottish Rite Centers for Children with Dyslexia
d. Compass Centers for Children with Dyslexia

I have asked each Board Chair to respond, but please feel free to comment (let us know your LC)

Further more, we recommend the development of a new logo for public consumption, but would continue to use the bear as a symbol of Masonic support of the Learning Centers.

What do you think?
a. I think that makes sense
b. I disagree. Here's why:

As we continue to profess through this blog, your input makes our charity smarter and stronger. On behalf of us all, thanks for your participation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

News You Can Use

Give.. You'll feel like a Million Bucks

This posting comes from the new book by Dr. Thomas J. Stanley, the author of The Millionaire Next Door. His new book is, Stop Acting Rich…And Start Living Like a Real Millionaire. In it Stanley breaks down the difference between how we think millionaires act and consume and how the majority of them really do act.

There appear to be a number of very relevant observations in this book (which I have not read, but now intend to). The most salient to me is the statistic Dr. Stanley presents that millionaires are more apt to give 10% of their income to charity. Apparently, there is a relationship between this habit and the avoidance of "impediments to wealth," which the author defines as expensive homes, cars, designer clothing and such.

Another tidbit from this book is that 25% of millionaires living in houses of less than $300,000 gave away 10% of their income annually. Of those living in houses of $1,000,000 or more the percent that were this generous was 25% less.

Furthermore Stanley's research finds that those who gave away 10% or more recorded that they were happier than the group as a whole.

The book also points to educators as a surprisingly robust source of millionaire. About 385,000 of our teachers have reached the status of millionaire. In short, the book sems to say that living prudently and finding joy in what you give to others is the roadmap to wealth and happiness.

Good advice!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


"How lonely it must be for a boy not to have a man to talk with, or a man to provide some type of inspiration and direction."

-Frank S. Land
Founder, DeMolay International

October 12 marked the birthday in 1244 of Jacques DeMolay, the best known prior of the Knights Templar and the Order's historic martyr.

The Knights Templar were one of several martial orders predominantly organized to seize and protect the Holy Land and Christian interests in the Middle East and elsewhere, to protect pilgrims and to convey financing of the noblity of Europe who when on Crusades.

DeMolay saw work in Acre, but rose prominently on the island of Cypress where the Knights Templar had a strong fortification.

The strength of the Templars truly was amplified by their role as fiduciaries for kings seeking to "liberate" the cities of the Holy Land. This power became their downfall as Phillippe IV of France became heavily indebted to them. During the schism of the Catholic Church in the 14th Century, a Papacies was seated at Avignon, France. This Pope - Clement - was considered by many to be under the control of King Charles. On Friday, October 13, 1307 Jacques DeMolay was arrested and most Templars hunted down and all Order property confiscated under seemingly trumped up charges of heresy and scandal. The elderly Prior was tortured. He ultimately confessed and urged his Templars to confess as well. In 1312 the Order was abolished. The following year, DeMolay, now having spent almost six years imprisoned, was sentenced for life. He then recanted his confession and was burnt at the stake the following year.

This is the story of chivalry and courage that inspired nine boys, encouraged to start a club based on improvement and camaraderie by Mason Edwin S. Land in 1919, to choose the name "DeMolay."

Though our effort differs greatly from the one prompted by "Dad" Land, we could easily restate his quote:
How lonely it must be for a child not to have the ability to read or effectively write, no comprehension of our bounty of written resources to provide some type of inspiration and direction."

Now, as then, Masons and like-minded people are working together to help our future generations.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ideas That Work

idea icon
Another Walk Idea...

Note: I am taking a week's break from discussing the rebranding process. I gave the board of governors' chairs until this Wednesday to respond to the survey in that was featured last week. I received a number of well-thought responses. I still have yet to receive response from roughly half the board chairs and hope they will respond by tomorrow. Remember if you don't respond, you will have to abide by decisions made from the input of others.

This time of year is the typical conducting our dyslexia walks. It amazes me that the walks are currently in their sixth year of operation. As with any event proposed for use in many locations, it is successful in some places and not the best thing in others. As with any event, a successful walk relies on enthusiastic volunteers, a decent body of people who will sponsor the event and participate in it, and a manageable site to hold it.

There are a lot of walk-type events. In some cities there are so many that gaining a foothold may seem impossible. Fortunately, there are ways to tweak the walk so it reaches a slightly different audience. Also there is an almost infinite universe of special events that might better suit you.

In this case the Waterbury Learning Center's volunteers successfully tweaked the model.

Chairman of the Waterbury LC, Charles Yohe, write and explained how the in the Hartford area, they decided to conduct a Walk/Run:

"The Valley of Hartford, AASR decided they wanted to do something on an annual basis in support of the Learning Center and the chairman of the Family Life committee, who is a 5K participant decided that they should do something different from a Family Life perspective. So, on July 25, 2009, the first ever 5K Race/Walk was sponsored by Valley of Hartford in Newington, CT. One hundred forty-eight runners took part in this first year event and all expressed a desire to come back and bring their friends along next year. We even had a runner from San Francisco, CA who was visiting in the area.

"The total donation to the Learning Center after expenses came out to almost $4800. This was due in large part to the generous support of sponsors and the donations of food items for the participants. I donated my sound system, music and support as a mobile DJ and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. We had support from the DeMolay as well as spouses and family members. There was also a Child ID event on site as well.

"The event chair told me that he was contacted by the owner of a weight loss clinic who was going to encourage his clients (50+) to come and walk. The entrance fee was $15 per person and we had a professional chip timing system which we leased for the day. The plan is to make this a yearly event close to the last Saturday in July (2010 is July 24th). The local police and EMTs were on hand and were very complimentary on how well the event was run. The town of Newington has several 4'x8' billboards to announce various items of interest and gave the AASR the free use of one of these billboards in the center of town.

"So, in additon to the Walk for Dyslexia Awareness, we now have a 5K Run/Walk. We've already held one 'post mortem'/advance planning session for next year's event, with another session scheduled for October 18th. The current plan is to lease the timing equipment for the next 2 years and then purchase our own system which can then be leased out to other organizations who are holding 5K or 10K races. A timing system basically pays for itself in 3 years, even if it is not leased to others."
Great work! As a fundraiser for two hospitals, I organized Run/Walk events. They are generally successful in bringing more people to the event if you advertise the run in running publications and web sites ( and are 2 well known sites). Walkers and sponsors are really the reliable sources for funds, but an event with a good crowd keep the excitement high and brings people back year after year.

Remember too that scheduling is essential. If there is a huge walk or race already scheduled for the day you want, you might give the established event the date. Chances are your walk/run will suffer from the competition.

Please send me any innovations you have used to help your walk event succeed. This spring we may host a webinar incorporating your good ideas.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

News You Can Use

Taking loss in perspective

I write this after having read an article about recent decisions at Harvard. Bloomberg News recently reported that Harvard Management Co., the endowment investment arm of the Ivy League school is in the process of jettisoning a number of their outside investment managers.

It appears Harvard is retrenching after its recent experience in the market. Last year the Harvard endowment lost 27 % of its value, a really huge drop that has serious implications for is current and near term plans.

Over the years, Harvard has been pointed to as an example of how to invest. They bragged a sixfold return from 1990 to 2005. Over the fiscal year ended June 30, their endowment lost $10 billion. Yes, BILLION.

This loss, combined with the very illiquid nature of many of their investments, has put unusual pressure on the university. Expansion projects have been imperiled, cut or halted.

I saw that the average return on our Board Restricted Funds for the Learning Center Fiscal year that ended on August 31,2009 was -7.6%. Negative return (losses, to you and me) are always hard to stomach. Sometimes a little perspective can make one feel better, though. It is a tribute to our investment strategies that we didn't lose more in this economy than we did.

When you consider the plight of our smart peers at Harvard, you can appreciate that our BRFs are pretty well managed.

Read the Bloomberg article here.

JUST IN: (10/9) The New Yort Times, obviously in fear of being scooped by the Idea Hub, just ran a feature on the cutbacks a Harvard. No cookies for Crimson!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


This month’s inspiration contest winner was the Youngstown Learning Center. (For contest details click here.)
Center Director Dorothy Tesner was excited to hear that her Center’s submission had been chosen.
“It’s such a joy to realize that the sincere appreciation of this child and family could touch the heart of someone beyond the walls of our Center,” she said.
Autumn Stowers is 13 and attended the Youngstown Learning Center for 2½ years. Since finishing her tutoring in 2007, Autumn has been on the merit roll at school and has even been asked by her teacher to peer tutor some of her friends in class.
“If it weren’t for the Center helping me, I would not love school as much as I do now and be as happy,” Autumn said.
Autumn’s mother called the Learning Center a godsend. She said that her family never would have been able to afford private tutoring and is incredibly grateful for the Center’s life-changing work.
“You’d never believe my broken child is the the confident lady she is now,” the mother said. "She came to the Center broken and left a warrior."
As Youngstown Center secretary Cari Marshall observed, that’s exactly what our Centers do. They teach children to be warriors, arming them with the skills to battle reading, learning, school and life.
Congratulations to Youngstown on their win. And don’t forget, for your chance to win $100 next month for your Learning Center, submit a success story to by October 31.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ideas That Work

Rebranding, Continued...

Last week's posting about rebranding the Learning Centers was our second most read posting ever. It is a strong endorsement of your commitment to the Learning Centers and your desire to do all you can to help improve your Center's success.

We received a lot of responses last week, about the "Cornerstone" brand. The feedback is appreciated. It was skewed to only 8 Learning Center Boards, however. The points brought up however deserve the full participation of our body of boards, so today the post will cover a few related topics.

First, based on the quality of responses last week, it is obvious that a full poll of the Learning Centers is important before making recommendations to the Learning Center parent board of directors. As a result, I sent an email yesterday to each board of governor's chair asking the following 3 questions:

1. Regarding naming:
  • a. I/we like the name “32nd Degree Masonic Learning Center for Children” best.
  • b. I/we like the name “Cornerstone Tutoring for Children with Dyslexia” or “Cornerstone Centers for Children with Dyslexia” best.
  • c. I/we want to see a name change, but do not like the “Cornerstone” brand. (If you wish to propose another idea, please do so.)
Follow-up question: By what name do most people call your 32nd degree Masonic Learning Center for Children?

2. Where do you foresee most of your future donations coming from?
  • a. Scottish Rite Masons and Bodies
  • b. Masons and Masonic Bodies
  • c. Non-Masons
3. What is the biggest challenge your Learning Center currently faces? What are you doing differently to address this challenge?

We are only taking one reply per Learning Center, so if you want to weigh in, please contact your chair.


As for the replies from last week, a couple expressed concern that we are turning our backs from the Masons with the new branding ideas.

Let me say categorically it is not our intention to take the Masons out of the Learning Centers. When we sought new brands for the program, first and foremost, the brand had to bear Masonic symbolism. Further, the full brand ends with ..."a Scottish Rite Masonic Charity."

The objective in this exercise is assuring that there is clarity regarding the purpose of the charity (helping children with dyslexia) and that it is not confusing to non-Masonic constituencies.


Finally, regarding the logo. We Scottish Rite Masons have a lot wrapped up in "the Bear." Much of the recognition in this program Masonic-wise is tied to the Teddy Bear. However, the image is not typically associated with young people 8-17 years old. The recommendation to change the logo reflects this finding. Perhaps after all we'll find that loyalty to the logo trumps the research. Your voice is important to this decision.

Throughout this process, we encourage and will be strengthened by the intelligent discussion we are seeing related to the rebranding effort. We appreciate your input. It clearly is aiding our thinking.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

News You Can Use

Danger of taking things for "Grant"-ed

As you know, the folks here in the Scottish Rite Charities office are enthusiastic about grants for our Learning Centers. We are always looking for good prospects. We've developed abundant materials to help the Learning Center volunteers apply for grants. Our staff are always happy to work with a local Center that is seeking this support.

Why do we work this way? We are bullish on grants for our Learning Centers. The Learning Centers are attractive to funders because of their success and their cost-effectiveness. Generally grants should augment your funding sources.

A cloud on the horizon has arisen however. The Chronicle of Philanthropy predicts that 2010 will be a down year for foundation giving. The reason for this is the poor stock market over the past 2 years. Their problems reflect the fact that foundations are largely endowments and rely upon a regulated return of their assets. The losses of 2008 and 2009 will affect foundations in 2010 suggests the Chronicle.

What does that mean to us? Well for one, still attempt to aquire grants. The environment might be more challenging this year, but we still have a good story to tell and are quite funding worthy. Even if you don't get funded today, a good proposal may put you toward the hear of the line in 2011, when giving should rebound.

If you are receiving grants already, this is the time to keep a close relationship with your donor/foundation. Make sure you are communicating with the foundation and providing positive feedback. In a time of scarcer funds, the foundation might look at all recipients and prune back those recipients that don't appear to using the funds best.

For more information, read the entire article here.