Tuesday, November 24, 2009

News You Can Use

Bad Charity, Just in Time for the Holidays

'Tis the season when humanity's heart warms most toward the condition of one's neighbor. Unfortunately swindlers know this and seek to take advantage of our empathy of guilt.

Take for example this case found in the New York Times...

The New York State Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, has filed a complaint over the practices of the
United Homeless Organization, citing that among other things, the organization:
"...does not operate a single shelter, soup kitchen or food pantry. It does not provide food or clothing to the homeless. It does not even donate money to other charities that do."
Apparently the group's founders pocketed most of the money donated to the organization through cash gift tables set up on street corners throughout the boroughs of NYC. In other cases workers paid the founders daily usage fees for the tables, aprons and large donation jugs and they kept the remainder of donations.

The organization was not a certified charity and maintained no financial records.

While hearing this type of story is sad, it should not shake our charitable nature. Rather, we should be more aware of the places we donate. Are they good stewards of my generosity? ( We know the Learning Centers are.)

Last year TimeOut New York fielded a question about UHO and ran an answer. At the end, Katie Martin, New York Philanthropic Advisory Service program manager for the Better Business Bureau was quoted and said," If you want to help [the] needy but find this whole thing fishy (it doesn’t help that UHO’s website is nonfunctional), consider donating to more-established organizations like Help USA ( helpusa.org) and Project Renewal ( projectrenewal.com )."

I'll bet there are other locally vetted organizations in your town who also do great work. This is the season to give. Let your heart be joyous.

Happy Thanksgiving from everyone at Scottish Rite Charities.


For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.
The eyes of all people are upon us.

- John Winthrop
1st Governor of the
Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1630

This is perhaps the most famous quotation of any of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which, famously, was officially settled by the Pilgrims in 1620. That fateful and ultimately successful experiment began a wholesale settlement of the region by the English over the subsequent years. John Winthrop, who was a Puritan was commissioned by Oliver Cromwell's court to preside over the territory as governor. He served on and off in this post for nearly 2 decades.

The importance of this quotation, part of a longer sermon to his shipmates upon the near conclusion of their voyage to theirs new home, was that it has become the primary citation of an idea known as American Exceptionalism. This idea promotes the view that America is uniquely enbued among nations with qualities and gifts that make it special. This is a notion later expanted by Alexis de Tocqueville and recently remembered in the words of President Ronald Reagan.

In a way we can metaphorically look upon our Learning Centers as "institutions upon hills." We inside each Center occurs exceptional things - uniquely successful to children in need. And, as then, the eyes of our communities are upon us. Will we let our Centers fail? Indeed not.

(For a great book about Winthrop and his contemporaries, you might look for The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell.)

Ideas That Work

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A Post-event Fund Booster

There are a lot of ways to boost the return on events. One way that is relatively inexpensive and is effective has been pioneered by Joe Fennick, supporting the Walk event they hold each October.

Last year, Joe had a goal of exceeding the previous year's fundraising. By the end of the Walk however, that goal was not attained. Joe noticed that a number of people who supported the previous event, had not stepped forward. Undaunted, Joe sent a letter to those past donors as well as fellow 33rd Degree Masons. In the letter, he described the event and the enthusiasm of the day, described the fundraising goal and its importance and asked one last time for their support.

The letter was very successfull, raising about $2,000 in additional donations. The event exceeded its goal!

You could employ a similar strategy for nearly any fundraising event. Giving a picked group "one last chance" to join in supporting the event may be just what you need to meet your financial goals.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

News You Can Use

Galas Dispense With Some of the Froth

With America in the midst of a recession, charities are cutting back on opulent fundraisers in lieu of more casual events, according to a recent New York Times article.

The article cites examples from several of New York’s upscale charity functions. (You can read the article here.)

Some of these charities and their cost-cutting measures may be out of our league, like the charity that saved $25,000 by omitting the draping from its party tent ceiling. But there’s still plenty of useful information to be gleaned from the article.

Replacing a multi-member band with a DJ, settling for simpler or artificial flower arrangements and reverting to a family style dinner instead of an elaborate three-course meal are all good ideas for cutting back. The article also mentioned looking for sponsorship donations from restaurants and wineries to reduce catering costs.

“(The recession is) bringing us back, and forcing us to be more creative,” said Frank Alexander, who created the d├ęcor for the Central Park Conservancy’s Halloween Ball this year. “This whole thing has been a learning experience.”

If you’re worried about drawing your usual numbers for your annual gala, or are looking for some guidence before throwing your first upscale event, check out the full article.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Happy birthday, Mickey!
“I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” -Walt Disney

Today is the 81st anniversary of the release of Steamboat Willie, the first animated film featuring synchronized sound. The date is also recognized by the Walt Disney Company as the birth of Mickey Mouse.

Few may realize that the beloved mouse and his famous creator have a Masonic connection. Disney was a member of the original Mother Chapter of DeMolay in Kansas City, and he later authorized Mickey to be named an honorary DeMolay. In 1986, 20 years after his death, Disney was inducted into the first class of the DeMolay Hall of Fame.

Disney faced several setbacks before achieving success. Although bright, he was labeled slow by some of his teachers due to his lack of attention in class. In 1923, he was forced to file for bankruptcy after being cheated by a distributor. And it was actually the loss of the rights to an earlier character he had developed which led to the creation of Mickey Mouse.

Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse have brought joy to millions. You can read more about Mickey’s career here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ideas That Work

idea icon Making Connections

West Michigan Center Director Nina Gorak is thinking outside the box when it comes to seeking support for her Center. Over the past few months, she has used connections to get thousands of dollars worth of services donated to West Michigan.

"Wherever I go, whoever I talk to, I just talk about the Learning Center," Nina said. “Whenever someone mentions ‘Gee, maybe I can contribute through this or that’ I make a note, and I follow up on it.”

For the Center’s recent Halloween Dinner and Dance fundraiser, she was able to get pro-bono work from several people and organizations in the community. Looking for help with designing the fundraiser’s print materials, she sent an email to one of her tutors who teaches art. Nina simply asked the tutor if she knew anyone willing to do some artwork for the event, and the tutor connected her to Deidre Wieszciecinski and Jennifer Maine, two recent graduates of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University. The graphic artists agreed to donate their services, creating the flyers, save-the-date cards and programs at no charge. They also recruited members of Kendall's branch of the American Institute of Graphic Artists, a student organization, to create the ballroom decor.

"The students of that club took this on as a project," Nina said. "They created
folded book decorations, including hanging folded book ornaments around a lighted paper chandelier over the ballroom dance floor. We used large folded books as centerpieces. The decorations were perfect to create our Halloween ball atmosphere."

The connections go on. Obtaining a liquor license for the event brought seemingly endless red tape, but Nina was able to enlist the help of a lawyer who serves on the Center’s Board of Governors. The photographer for the event, Heather Dixon, was a high school friend of a West Michigan tutor. The professional photographer offered her time and services for no charge.

West Michigan’s donated services don’t end with the Halloween fundraiser. When she wanted to set up an online donation system for her Center, Nina checked with the vendor who repairs her computers. He put her in touch with Shelly Gies, an insurance company manager who does web design on the side. The designer agreed to create the site without charging for her services. She set up PayPal for online donations and even designed the site’s logo. The total cost for the finished site was $55, which included registering the domain name and purchasing the website template and stock photos of children and tutors. You can check out West Michigan’s website at http://www.dyslexiatutoring.org/.

Perhaps one of the most valuable connections has resulted in production of a promotional video for the Center. Larry Taunt, Chairman and CFO of Regal Financial Group, serves as Nina and her husband’s investment manager. In a conversation with him about her work, Nina learned that Larry’s partner at Regal has dyslexia. Although the business already supports a successful fundraising campaign for cystic fibrosis, he offered to see what he could do to help. The connection led to Regal offering to film and produce a promotional DVD for the Center using the business’s new production studio.

“For someone to rent the facilities and staff would cost $15,000 per hour,” Nina said. “The staff there has put in days of work. I couldn’t even begin to estimate what the cost would have been.”

Connections also came in handy when Nina needed qualified individuals to speak on the DVD. Several board members will be featured, including Board Chair Dr. James Resau, a microbiologist & geneticist at Van Andel Institute, Vice Chair Dr. Steven Pastyrnak, division chief of pediatric psychology at DeVos Children's Hospital, and board member Dr. Wendy Burdo Hartman, a pediatrician whose daughter has dyslexia. Anita Smith and her daughter Jennifer, a West Michigan graduate whose book Dyslexia Wonders was published this year, will also be speaking, along with Nina and former student Jeffrey Drake-Todd.

The video will explain dyslexia, tell what the Center does to help and end with an appeal for donations to support the program. It should be completed by the end of this year.

There’s no secret to seeing results like West Michigan.
“I just asked,” Nina said.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

News You Can Use

The James Irvine Foundation in cooperation with the Chronicle of Philanthropy just released a new report entitled, Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector. This report describes the coming years as being very challenging for organizations that try to maintain status quo in their approach to their market and their worlds. The trends as described in the study and summarized by the Chronicle are:

Shifting demographics. With new generations making up a growing share of the work force, charities must learn to share leadership with younger workers, the report says.

Technological advances. Social-media technologies provide charities the opportunity to gain greater exposure, but they also require groups to be comfortable giving more people within their organization a chance to speak out.

New ways to collaborate. With the advent of new technologies, organizations can just as easily work with an individual located across the world as they can through traditional coalitions and alliances, according to the report.

Greater interest in service. Last year’s presidential election spurred interest in volunteerism, but nonprofit groups need to keep in mind that people have many different reasons for volunteering and ought to tailor their opportunities to individuals’ interests.

Blurred lines between nonprofit and for-profit. Greater emphasis on corporate social responsibility and the emergence of businesses whose primary aim is to do good are challenging the nonprofit field’s traditional identity but are also creating opportunities for new partnerships and collaboration, says the report.

This monograph is a must read for our boards and staff. When you read this, take an honest eye to your board and the way you do business. Are you integrating youth into your leadership? Is social-media technology (or even email) facilitating communication with in the board and to your universe of stakeholders? Are you operating from silos of one-person, one task or collaborating to maximize your strengths for the events or activities you do for your LC? Are you assertively seeking new volunteers on their terms? Are you willing to explore ways to build revenue in addition to charitable donations?

Please discuss among your boards.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


"A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops."

-General John J. Pershing

Today is Veterans Day (or Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, depending upon your nationality or preference). It is a day made solemn by the sacrifices of millions of American sons and daughters, among the world's multitudes - a time to reflect and appreciate the freedoms and opportunities their measures of courage have protected for us to enjoy. This day of honor is especially poignant this year as we morn those soldiers massacred at Ft. Hood last week. To all our vets, Thank You!

General John J. Pershing, a Mason, was the commander of American forces during World War I. His troops' victories in the Second Battle of the Marne and the Argonne have been marked as critical to the ultimate victory of Allied forces in the "War to End All Wars."

I take from this quote Pershing's understanding that the quality of our leadership ability has a profound impact upon our outcomes. As leaders of our Learning Centers we must all ask ourselves,"Am I serving as a competent leader of my Center? Am I inspiring others to do all they can do? Or, am I showing ambivalence and disinterest that is leading my Learning Center nowhere?"

Demonstrating leadership, event modest leadership, can work wonders. As board members and staff, it behooves us to remember that.

Nuts and Bolts

Grant Update
In recent months we have noticed some of the same grant questions and issues coming up that we’d like to address. We have included an explanation of how to handle confusing budget questions, a GrantAID update and a reminder of time constraints when preparing a grant.
Please feel free to call or email anytime. We’re here to help.

The Corporate Umbrella
Operating under the corporation’s 501 (c) 3 can pose a challenge for individual Centers applying for grants. A yearly audit is done for the entire corporation (32nd Degree Masonic Learning Centers for Children, Inc.) but not for individual Centers. Many grant applications ask for budget information, revenue, etc. from the audited financial statements, but including these numbers can be confusing and seem inflated because they pertain to the entire corporation.
Our solution for this has been to contact the foundation directly and ask if they want the corporate numbers or data from the individual Center. If you need more explanation, please contact us.

LOI Changes
We have made another change to the GrantAID Kit. The last three paragraphs of the Letter of Intent have been updated to reflect funding changes. You can download the updated Letter of Intent (LOI 2009) from the Learning Center website here (scroll down the page to view the GrantAid documents).

Please be aware of the time frame if you need assistance with preparing a grant.We are always willing to help, but please respect the fact that we are supporting 55 Learning Centers. As a result, we may not be able to accommodate last minute calls for help. Starting to work with us 90 days before a proposal is due assures our ability to best help you. If you are caught in a last minute rush, consider whether waiting for the next funding cycle is possible. You may stand a better chance for success by waiting until the next grant cycle than by throwing together a rushed proposal.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thoughts on Ultimate Giving

Gender and Bequests

It has been assumed for years that women are the most common donor of bequests, but a study just released sheds new light on the differences and motivations of bequest donors by gender.

The study, conducted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) find that contrary to current thought, men and women are just as likely to make charitable provisions in the wills. Their motivations at times are similar, in others, different.

The study states that about 15% of adults have included charities in their estate plans. Factors that increase the likelihood of this include religious participation, age and marital status. The highest likeliness is among single people who are between 40 and 64 that attend services once a week.

Differences are subtle. Women are more likely to be motivated by helping those in need. Men are most likely to support causes that they have had a personal relationship with. Both genders are motivated by the effectiveness of the charity.

What we can learn from this is that we have an opportunity with bequest giving from our Masonic board members and volunteers. The tool to use is the Cornerstone Society, the planned gift donor club of Scottish Rite Charities. The points that will motivate these male members would be reminding them of their association with Freemasonry and the Learning Centers. Also important to reinforce the effectiveness of the LCs and how it helps kids who have few or no alternatives.

If you are interested in reading more the study can be found here. If you need Cornerstone Society brochures contact the SRC offices at 781-465-3326.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


This month’s inspiration contest winner was the Lancaster Learning Center. (For contest details click here.)
The account below, submitted by Lancaster board member Joy Smith Linton, was written by former student Jonathan Celli, who graduated from the Center in May 2006. Now 16, he presented his story at a Center fundraiser in October.
Jonathan received his 3 years of tutoring from Lancaster Center Director Michael Hall. "Jonathan is a very gifted young man," Michael said. "What I did was organize and scaffold the information already in his head so he could access it."
Jonathan prepared his address to help others understand the Center from a student's perspective. His ability to see his dyslexia as a gift is a testament to our Centers' life changing work.
"What is dyslexia? Is it a problem, a disability, or an obstacle that just stands in the way? Without the 32 degree Masonic Learning Center, my answer would be that it is all three; with your help, the answer to this question is quite simple, it is a gift.
You may be familiar with some others who had the gift of dyslexia: Thomas Edison, who left formal schooling after three months to be home schooled by his mother; or Albert Einstein, who left school at age 10. Unhappy with the school's program, he turned to a course of personal study.
I can understand that. My local public school system saw me as someone to be retained. Unlike Edison and Einstein, I had the Lancaster Learning Center, which saw me as someone to be re-trained. I needed retraining because when I began formal reading instruction I was not able to understand the teacher's approach. The methods used assumed things, like an ability to recognize rhyming words... and to do that, you must be able to distinguish differences between letter sounds... some of us just didn't come wired that way! Dyslexia did not negatively impact my intelligence, it just enables me to think differently. All dyslexics are different, which means we must be taught to read one on one. That kind of individualization is not a school's strong point either.
Dyslexia does, in fact, present itself as a challenge, but not a challenge that cannot be overcome if you receive one on one instruction and work with teachers trained in methods that meet the needs of the learner. I did receive help from some other organizations and teachers, but when I encountered the Masonic Learning Center something changed. Not only did the program bring me up to grade level, it increased the speed of my reading and also helped me to understand the material as a whole. When I completed the program I left not only with improved reading skills, but also with an opportunity to fulfill my dreams. This program gives those of us with dyslexia a new beginning and a chance to achieve goals that had seemed unattainable. It unlocks minds with wonderful potential that can benefit both the student and the community.
This summer I spent almost two weeks at Villanova University as part of the National Youth Leadership Forum in Medicine. Those students invited to attend have demonstrated an aptitude for, and an interest in, the field of medicine. The Masons' investment in my learning to read was the key that opened that door for me. I am not yet sure that a career in medicine is for me, but I am sure that whatever path I choose, it will have been paved by the generosity and efforts of others like you - Masons who are building a better tomorrow one child
at a time.
I will begin regularly volunteering for the Center in November because I want to assist you in providing an opportunity for others to get the help I know they so desperately need. I have also walked in all but one of the Center's walk-a-thons... and I only missed that one due to a school commitment. I will be there tomorrow to once again support you in your efforts to build. I stand here before you as proof of what this program can do. I only hope that I have helped you to see the possibilities and hope you give to children with dyslexia."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

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"Room" for Fund-raising Success

I have heard from a number of Learning Center board members and staff concerned about long term funding of their Centers. Some folks have spoken to me and the SRC team here about how to, "raise the 100,000 we'll need in three years." While I appreciate the fact that these are really fluid times and it looks likes the best solution is a home run to keep the doors open in a couple of years, it is more productive (and more likely to be successful) seeking support over a few years, rather than only one.

Here is an innovative example of this philosophy at work in Bangor:

The Bangor Learning Center is moving into a new space after having lost their home in the Masonic building several years ago when a fire burned it down. The fund-raising committee of the Bangor board considered how to "sell the training rooms" to raise additional funds to cover their costs in 2010 and beyond.

There was one drawback with this idea - the board did not believe they could dedicate the rooms for enough of a donation to merit a perpetual naming opportunity.

Instead the folks in Bangor agreed to take a different approach. They decided to seek named sponsorship of each training room in exchange for a 4-year pledge of $12,000. With 8 training rooms, the $24,000 per year this program can generate is a solid addition to the Center's annual events and major gifts efforts.

The program is seeing success. Several sponsors have already committed to the program. The long-term visibility and impact this sponsorship has is a very attractive inducement to larger possible donors.

The Bangor Center is new, but that doesn't mean you can't initiate a similar sponsorship program for you Center, regardless its age. Contact me if you want some advice.