Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ideas that Work (102)

idea icon Keeping things simple

Thanks to all of you that contributed comments to the Century post and survey. On behalf of the the team at Scottish Rite Charities, I appreciate that you find this blog to be helpful to your efforts on behalf of your Learning Center. We will continue our work to support you. As requested, we will try to keep our postings to the point. We'll get a little more grant information up as well. As for today, however, I am going to give you the most useful information I have learned in my 27 years in the field:

Make your own gift first. Make a gift that is personally important and bespeaks your role as a board member of your Learning Center. And make it a straight out donation, not an event participation (the Learning Center shouldn't need to incur fundraising costs for your donation. Besides, the expectation on most dynamic boards is that you give and you participate as well as you can - one doesn't absolve you from the other).

The rationale for this statement isn't simply monetary. Most non-profits do not have a generous body like the Scottish Rite behind them. They need to have their closest allies ante up first to set a base of funds. The board is the closest set of allies. Second, the most important role of most boards is to ensure the financial stability of the program. Often that means asking others for support. If you aren't well committed to the LCs financially, how likely will you be to ask others to donate generously?

Do you want to get a leg up on your fundraising? Take the base you've gotten from Lexington, add to it personally generous commitments from the board. Have board members ask former board members to give as well. That is a good starting point that then defines the height of the remaining fundraising goal. I have found that the more you can acquire your reliable gifts and lower the net goal, the more easily attainable the ultimate goal is.

Good luck.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ideas That Work (101)

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The Canton Learning Center has found an Idea that Works.

Last month marked the Center’s 7th annual Teddy Bear Rock. The 1950s style sock hop is open to all ages and features dancing, ‘50s themed food, and even an Elvis impersonator.

“Everyone has a great time. We have kids from 3 years old and adults up to 80, and they’re all out there dancing and having a good time,” said Center Director Carol Jones.

Bad weather threatened this year’s event, forcing volunteers to reschedule it for the following week. Carol said she thought rescheduling would kill the event, but she was pleasantly surprised when it still raised over $6,500.

A planning committee made up of local Scottish Rite members, their spouses and board members, head up the event. They decorate the Masonic temple ballroom with crepe paper streamers and retro rock and roll posters to look like a ‘50s style gym.

The event raises money serveral ways. There’s a jail, where attendees are locked up and can only be released if someone pays to get them out. A used book sale and table sponsorships also add to the proceeds. 

A highlight of the night is the basket auction, which brings in about a third of the funds. Center supporters, including everyone from Eastern Star chapters to local businesses, donate themed baskets that are sold at a silent auction. The bid sheets include a starting bid and bid increments to ensure that the baskets go for a legitimate price.

The size and value of the baskets vary. A few of the basket themes over the years have included scrapbooking, fishing, art supplies, pasta, dinner for two, movie night, and even an exercise-themed basket, complete with a workout mat, weights and an exercise DVD.

“The baskets are always fun,” Carol said. “People come up with different themes, and we get some really neat ones.”

This year more than 40 baskets were donated, raising over $1,800 dollars.

Almost everything at the event is donated, from food to services. Volunteers sign up to donate food items like hamburgers, hotdogs, buns, fries and nachos as well as beverages.

One couple owns an old fashioned milkshake machine that they bring every year and donate the ingredients for shakes and sundaes. The Elvis impersonator and disc jockey volunteer their time each year.

Committee members have discussed changing up the theme. But for now they’re going to stick with what works.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Post of the Century (100)

What more would you like?

I have to say that our hundredth post seems too soon. It feels like its May again and we just started the Idea Hub. Yet the past 8 months or so have been dramatic ones for the Learning Centers. Over the weeks we've found some good dialogue, shared some useful ideas and highlighted a number of very gifted children.

The participation you have demonstrated related to our rebranding discussions has been both substantive and important to our decision making. And while the more impatient among us chafe that no decision on that front has been made, I must admit that a hasty bad decision is far more difficult to overcome than a tardy good one. Your participation through the Idea Hub has slowed, yet improved our process.

As we move on to our next hundred postings, your advice would be deeply appreciated. What would you like us to cover more of? Is there anything you want less of? Is this site supporting your efforts? Do you want to hear from us more or less?

Please take a minute and complete our 6 question survey. You can find it here. It will help us make the future of the Idea Hub 100% better!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rebranding Update (99)

One more time, your input, please

I thought that as we brush off the snow from the current storm hitting New England and the dust from a long weekend, you might want to use this forum as an opportunity to comment on the issue of the Learning Center branding.

As reported in December, the process of rebranding has been brought to a subcommittee of the Learning Center corporate board of directors. A team led by Eric Ginette has been provided all the responses you have provided this office up until now as well as all the research put into the process to date.

I understand that this subcommittee plans to make final recommendations that may include a formal motion that will determine the future brand of our charity.

While no firm naming conventions are currently on the table, a few broad themes have been discussed - paradigms that might effect a final recommendation. If you have any thoughts on these issues, you might weigh in by commenting to this posting.

  • Should the name primarily lead with a Masonic connection or not (perhaps followed by sponsored by...)?
  • Should the program be a "clinic", a "program", a "center" or something else?
  • Is keeping the "teddy bear" a good idea? If so, should it be changed in any way?
Please share your thoughts, we appreciate your input.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ideas That Work (98)

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Tutor Training: More Bang for Their Buck

We’re all looking for ways to stretch our dollars further.

A recent article from Business Week states that while the worst of the economic crisis seems to be over, 2010 isn’t going to bring a surge of corporate philanthropy. Corporations are more focused on giving strategically, finding causes that are in line with their purpose and that bring the greatest returns. You can check out the entire article here.

How does this affect our Learning Centers?

When looking for corporate donations, we need to be sure we're broadcasting the far-reaching benefits our Centers provide to their communities. Are you asking for a donation to help improve the quality of one life, or many?

I am not in any way downplaying the importance of helping a child. But in a tight economy, let's show potential funders know how far their dollars will go by highlighting a critical part of our Centers’ work – the tutor training program.

Consider what comes from providing free Orton-Gillingham training and certification for college graduates. To receive certification, scholars must tutor two students at the Center. This helps shrink the Center's wait list and reduces operating costs that come with paying tutors.

If you’re applying for a grant, consider highlighting the tutor training program in your request. When a foundation doesn't give to general operating support, a request for funds to train more tutors might be the way to go. Contact Grants Administrator Catherine Cox at ccox@scottishritecharities.org for examples of tutor training proposals.

Once scholars receive OG certification at our Centers, they can take their training back to their classrooms to help more children, tutor privately in their own communities, or come on staff at the Centers. However they choose to use their training, educators certified at our Centers are equipped with tools to help many more children than our Center walls could contain.

Sounds like a pretty good return on investment.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ideas That Work (97)

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The "Write" Way to Fundraise

As the new year commenced I received a large package in the mail. No card was included, simply a gorgeous calendar of floral portraits and a pad of writing paper with the teddy bear logo of the Learning Centers. The Monroe Litho logo on the calendar and the address of the Rochester (NY) Learning Center told me all I needed to know - Stephen Whittaker's fundraising project for his LC was in motion.

Ill. Brother Whittaker, Active for the state of New York works at Monroe Litho (the calendar is their annual showpiece demonstrating the extraordinary quality of their work) and is a solid supporter of the Rochester Learning Center. Always looking for a creative solution to problems, Whittaker found and idea to support the LC that was literally under his nose. Looking at a promotional pad of note paper, he thought that this would be a great fundraising opportunity - one that could engage students and board alike.

With help from his associates and friend in the business, Stephen produced 650 2-pad sets of paper. He set the donation price at $10/set and built a distribution network of families board members and Masonic friends. "Each board member took a case of the pads (14 sets)," said Wittaker. "Most of the kids in the program and their parents took sets to sell, also. This became a good way to get everyone involved."

The goal for this program is to net $5,000 without a lot of work.

While you may not have a printer on your board, the principles of this success in the making are worth considering.
  • gather the resources you have. What resources do your contacts have that can be translated into an efficient fundraising project?
  • focus on your network. Include the current and past families of students/ scholars.
  • set a reasonable goal. $5,000 is both reasonable and relevant. Avoid goals being too low to matter or too grandiose to achieve.
Success might be right under your nose.

ps: Happy Groundhog Day!! (unfortunately we're in for another 6 weeks of winter)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ideas That Work (96)

Welcome to 2010!!

The tinsel is down. All the presents unwrapped and the party hats stowed away. Now, with only Groundhog Day to celebrate for the next month, the Learning Centers are chugging away.

You will notice a few changes in the Hub over the coming months. First and foremost we will be making the format of the blog a bit more loose. While we will remain committed to a posting of Ideas That Work on Tuesdays, we will play additional weekly postings by ear.

Over the next few months you can expect occasional surveys to better understand your circumstances. Additionally, we are encouraging a few people to provide "guest postings" to broaden out our topics.

This means that if you want to stay on top of things, it would be a good idea to subscribe to the blog and get each new posting in your email. You can subscribe here .

From the team in Scottish Rite Charities, we wish you a profitable 2010!

Ideas That Work

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Success begins with the Board

As the playing field for our success changes (as it inevitably must), each board must look within itself and determine if it has the right people to drive the program forward. This is a hard self-assessment, but it is entirely essential if your Center is going to thrive in the years to come.

The following was sent to me earlier this month. It comes from Guidestar, a great resource for donors and non profits. You can read the whole article here.

New Year's Resolutions for Board Members:
  1. Get more engaged. Your nonprofit needs you to pay attention to your job as a nonprofit board member. Nonprofits don't need disengaged bosses. (And yes, you are the boss—you're the legal fiduciary guardian of your nonprofit. The staff—through the CEO—reports to you.) Your favorite nonprofit needs YOU to lead, to question, and to act!

  2. Have a bias toward action. DO something. Your nonprofit needs more than talk out of you. Don't be one of those board members who thinks his or her only job is to come to meetings and pontificate a bit. Look for real actions you can take to help the cause. Ask the staff what they need you TO DO this month, this quarter, this year.

  3. Think big. You're not going to change the world, save the environment, feed the hungry, change your community, by thinking small. And there is great power in a big, wildly exciting vision! You attract people—and resources—to your cause. Energy is everything when you are trying to create change.

  4. Be optimistic, no matter what. Ban the handwringing and naysaying. Negativity is self-defeating and deadening. It wipes out energy and passion. It deadens momentum. Be the board member who has the point of view of abundance rather than scarcity. You'll influence the rest!

  5. Go back to your vision over and over and over. It will keep you excited, focused, passionate, and results oriented. If you feel jaded or bored, ask yourself why you really care about this cause and this organization. You'll fan the flames of your passion and your energy. You'll feel deep personal satisfaction when you see the results your organization is creating in people's lives.

  6. Be the catalyst; be the provocateur. Challenge, challenge, challenge the status quo. Remember Jack Welch's quote: "If the change is happening on the outside faster than it is on the inside, the end is near."

What great advice. Now let's get to work!