New Head Announced at Saint George's School

Saint George's School, a premier K-12 independent school in Spokane, WA announced this morning its selection of Joe Kennedy to be the next Head of School. Currently the Head at West Sound Academy (Poulsbo, WA), Joe will follow in the footsteps of Mo Copeland, who has capably led SGS for the past decade.

ISA directed the search for Saint George's, engaging the school community in a thoughtful and intensive process.  SGS received over 50 applications, from which they selected seven semi-finalists that included current and former heads of school, division directors, and senior administrators from across the country. Following lengthy deliberation, the search committee identified three finalists with the professional expertise, personal qualities, leadership style and passion for education needed to move Saint George's forward to a new level of excellence. All three finalists made 2-day visits to campus, and the entire community had opportunities to meet and learn more about the candidates, as well as offer feedback to the search committee.

In his letter to the SGS community, Board chair Mark Ostersmith wrote, "Joe brings the key skills, personal qualities, professional expertise and broad experience that SGS needs at this important juncture in time.  He has a proven record of success – trustees, faculty, parents and colleagues in his previous schools speak of him with admiration and gratitude, citing his ability to lead a community through challenging times and build confidence in and commitment to the school’s mission." [Read the full letter and more about the search here.)

Congratulations to Saint George's as they welcome Joe Kennedy as Head of School on July 1, 2011!

Francis Parker Selects ISA

Francis Parker School in San Diego has selected ISA to complete strategic marketing processes.  A JK through 12th grade school, Francis Parker was founded in 1912.  We will begin our work in December.

Francis Parker School is committed to graduating students who embody those qualities essential for academic success and personal fulfillment — intellectual curiosity, creative thinking, passion for learning, ethical responsibility, self-reliance, community engagement, and global competence — by offering a balanced, challenging, and integrated K-12 educational program in academics, athletics, and the arts, all in a vibrant and diverse school community.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

I realize I am dating myself by invoking the well known slogan AT&T (then Bell) launched in 1979. But after reading an excerpt from John Freeman’s book, “The Tyranny of E-Mail,” I am convinced we would do well to revisit this Madison Avenue mandate. For just a moment, consider these facts:

  • 247 billion emails are sent each day – that’s 2.8 million a minute.
  • Information overload is calculated to cost the US economy $635 billion annually.
  • According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50% of the time the tone of emails is misunderstood.
  • The average corporate worker spends 40% or more of their time sending and receiving 200 messages daily.

Freeman likens this e-mail addiction to slot machines – you press the send/receive button like a gambler pulls down the lever, knowing you will get a reward (an email response) most of the time. The more you send, the more you can win. The impact of technology on humans, physically (our eyes are failing, our wrists are strained) and emotionally (the stress of facing a burgeoning inbox or finding time to tweet, post to your blog, and update your FB status) pales when we consider the continued rapid diminishment of human interaction and relationships. Freeman cautions, “Ironically, tools meant to connect us are enabling us to spend more time apart.” He goes on to write that, “By depriving ourselves of facial expressions and the tangible frisson of physical contact, we are facing a terrible loss of meaning in individual life. The difference between a smiley face and an actual smile is too large to calculate.”

This phenomenon has alarming implications for fundraising, or huge opportunities, depending upon how we respond. The more we utilize technology – email, YouTube, and Facebook – as the primary tools to cultivate, solicit and steward our donors, the more we risk losing that critical human connection. It is the impassioned plea aimed at stirring a donor’s emotions – “tugging at the heartstrings” – that can move someone to give generously. Sure, sending a quick email is efficient, especially if you can copy and paste it into multiple messages and check off multiple tasks on your to-do list. But does it bring the results you want? Does your donor feel more connected to you, to the school, and to the students? Do they feel appreciated and valued for their contribution? Does the fact that you didn’t make the time to personally call make a bigger statement than that email thank you that just landed in their inbox?

Think about it. Then pick up the phone and reach out and touch someone.  It will be worth the time, trust me.

~ Tracy

Ian Thoughts on Education and Innovation

I was recently interviewed for the new Change Agent podcast series by FMYI.  The podcast series is a part of a larger effort by FMYI to focus on small businesses that trend toward innovation in their industries.  In the interview, I discuss what I believe has changed  - and what has not changed - in the education industry, as well as cites important future trends to monitor.  Check out the video interview and read the article here.

Bertschi School Goes Grassroots - Literally!

A recognized leader in green building and sustainable practices among independent schools, Bertschi School is on track to open in January the first Living Building in Washington State and the first living building on an elementary school campus in the world. The building will have no carbon footprint, with net-zero energy and net-zero water thanks to solar energy, passive ventilation and rainwater harvesting.

Here's the really cool part, from a development professional's perspective. A "living wall" containing native plants will clean the water, which is then circulated back into the classroom. Bertschi is creatively using this image in their "Give to Grow" fundraising challenge aimed at securing the final pledges to finish their $1 million campaign. There is a mock-up of the wall in the school entry, which will "turn green" with the addition of plants as gifts come in. Volunteers distributed bags with kiwis (which will grow in garden adjacent to the building) with a pledge card to parents as they dropped their children at school this morning.

Bertschi has also launched a grassroots online effort through Facebook's Causes application in an effort to attract donors who support sustainability and teaching students about environmental stewardship. This is a great example of going beyond your school community to cultivate (no pun intended!) new donors. Check it out at Support Bertschi School's Living Building Science Wing.  Let it grow!

It's the Little Things

It's the little things that, collectively, make the big things when it comes to marketing.  As I traverse the country working with independent colleges and schools, I am convinced that it is the attention to both detail and a broader definition of marketing that elevates and enhances the brand.  The schools that get this right have really taken the time to think through their marketing communications from a broad and strategic perspective.

Why is that we have so narrowly defined marketing communications?  Ask most marketing communications professionals about their brand management and strategic communications, they will most likely respond by talking about their industry tools - website, social media feeds, videos, print media, and advertising.  Sure, these things are important - no doubt.  But, they represent such a limited view of your organization from a brand management perspective.  

Let's define marketing.  Peter Drucker once said marketing was simply "an exchange of value".  Phil Kotler defined marketing as "not simply devising clever ways to dispose of what you make, but the art of creative true value with the client".  Marketing is client-centered, which means that marketing is really about the overall user experience.  When you look at marketing from that perspective, it makes you think about some bigger questions:

  • What does our physical plant really look like?  Is it clean or well-groomed?

  • Is our signage confusing and get a visitor get around and find their way easy on our campus? 

  • When a phone call comes in, is the receptionist distracted or focused?

  • Is the lobby or waiting area of key administrative offices arranged in such a way that places the focus on the client?

  • How are key people in the organization dressed and ready for client interaction? 

Clearly, these questions are simply starting points.  I could make this list as long as the day is old, but the simple point is that the little things are really the big things.  A basic axiom of communication is that "one cannot not communicate."  All things are acts of communication and brand management.  To narrowly define your tools as the website, print media, advertising, or push emails simply misses the point.  

Think of any great marketing organization and consider these questions.  What does the way an Apple store is arranged tell you about their client-centeredness?  What does their product design tell you about what customers want?  Why are there no counters or lines?  

Great marketing communications starts and ends with the client, and it is the little things that matter.  


Where's the Vision?

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools main fall conference, which included a keynote to heads of schools and board members, as well as a marketing conference on the second day.  It was a great visit to the Philly area and I believe the talks were well-received.  The general focus of my talks were both on the importance and impact of vision on strategic communications. 

Where is the vision for schools today?  Interestingly enough, in all of our work with independent schools and colleges, fewer than 20% of them possess a vision statement when we initially work with them.  Sure, all of them have a mission statement but very few actually possess a vision statement.  What's the difference?  There is an enormous difference between a mission and a vision.  Try these definitions on for size.

Mission Statement = The reason for your organizational existence

Vision Statement = The successful completion of your mission rendered in terms of contributions to society

From my vantage point, very few organizations actually change their mission over time.  Sure, they might change the current language describing their purpose, editing the actual statement, but they really don't alter their general purpose or reason for existence.  But, since a mission is actually a "rear-view window" sort of glance, does it really help move an institution forward?

Most strategy planners would agree that vision is far more important to formulating strategy and empowering an organization to work together.  Imagine if Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have have shared his vision for equality ("I have a dream") or if John F. Kennedy, Jr. would not have shared his vision for NASA ("by the end of the decade we will place a man on the moon")?  It turns out that a compelling vision is what really drives people to work together and energizes a movement.  Why is it, then, that independent schools and colleges fail to articulate a vision if they are so important?

In my talks at ADVIS last week, I spent a great deal of time trying to show attendees the importance of how a compelling vision not only inspires an organization to move forward, but how vision really should inspire communication programs.  I used a bunch of our industry buzz terms - from strategic planning to identity - to try to articulate why a great communication program starts with an excellent vision.  I advocated that the following order is really the most important way to start a communication process:


  1. Visioning is the most important aspect of any organizational exercise.  It all starts with vision, and great visions are long-term, ambitious, and bigger than the organization.
  2. Great positioning is the result of a strong vision.  Positioning is finding that which is singular and differentiating about your organization.  And, keep in mind that positioning is competitor-centric.
  3. Strategic planning is the work of creating a three or five year plan that helps operationalize the vision and positioning platform for the current short term chapter of an organization.
  4. Marketing is the art of creating value for the client by turning that vision, position, and plan into a short-term strategic marketing focus.  And, keep in mind that value is in the eyes of the beholder, so marketing is a client-centric process.
  5. Branding is the cultural expression of organizational values.
  6. Identity is the visual expression of those values.
  7. Messaging is getting the talk points down.


Most organizations jump right in at #4 through #7 in this process, failing to get the larger picture in focus, rather than doing the important work of creating a vision. I believe that setting long-term vision is just as important in creating empowering communications as it is defining organizational objectives.  Vision is bigger than mission, because it is bigger than the organization and it answers the question of "why you do what you do", not just "what you do".  It is the why that is so important in not just developing strategy, but in creating compelling communications.

Does your organization have a vision?  And, how is it informing your communications program?  

All my best,



Speaking at ADVIS

I really enjoyed a great set of presentations today in Philly with the Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools.  There was a great set of heads of independent schools and their board chair counterparts that attended both a set of workshops and then my Keynote presentation on visioning, branding, and positioning.  We had the pleasure of being hosted by the new Episcopal Academy campus, which was a delight.  

All presentation files are posted on the Presentations page of our site - feel free to grab the PDF's for download there.

Winter Sports School Selects ISA

Winter Sports School has selected ISA to conduct a competitive market analysis and develop recommendations for its student recruitment activities and enrollment management planning. Based in Park City (UT), Winter Sports School's mission is to develop students with a passion for learning and excellence, in both academics and athletics. The school offers a college preparatory program that combines high academic standards with distinction in winter sports, focuses on the development of the whole person, and challenges each student to reach beyond his or her limits in all aspects of life. WSS graduates include Julia Mancuso '00 (Alpine Downhill silver medalist, 2010 Winter Olympics), Ted Ligety '02, (World Cup Giant Slalom Champion, 2008 and 2010), and Steven Holcomb '97 (4-man Bobsled gold medalist, 2010 Winter Olympics).


Fall 2010 Projects

We have some really exciting projects in process for the fall across our various divisions, from research to capital campaign planning to strategic planning.  Here is a quick snapshot of some of the exciting projects our team is working on currently.

Strategic Planning
Tabor College (Kansas)
Randolph School (Alabama)
The Independence School (Delaware)
Holton-Arms School (Maryland)
Bridgton Academy (Maine)
French American School of the Puget Sound (WA)
Ravenscroft School (NC) 
Parish Episcopal School (TX) 
Rabun Gap Nacoochee School (GA) 

Capital Campaign and Advancement Planning
Randolph School (Alabama)
Friends School of Wilmington (NC)
Hamlin Robinson School (WA)

Head Searches and Transition Services
St. George's School (Washington)

Enrollment Planning and Financial Aid Optimization
University of Great Falls (MT)
College of St. Mary (NE) 
Houston Christian High School (TX) 
Winter Sports School (UT)

Research Services
Parish Episcopal School (TX) 

Power to the People

We will be publishing our sixth in the Ten Trends series - Power to the People - on Monday, October 11 at our website.  The white paper focuses on the redistribution of knowledge and information in the Internet Age and specifically the impact on schools and colleges.  

As our society has moved from a colonial model (the power of information in a small minority) to a distributive model (the power of information to the masses), what are the implications for schools and colleges?  How do private schools and colleges - who charge a premium for the acquisition of knowledge and information - re-calibrate their approach in this new era?  We will explore these questions and more in this most recent white paper from ISA.

Watch our website next week as we publish our sixth in the Ten Trends series.

Same Old, Same Old?

Sitting in the first row on a flight from Houston to Huntsville this week, I had the opportunity to observe the flight attendant pop in a CD, which as we departed, launched into the "Please take out the passenger safety information card in the seat back in front of you and follow along" message. I quickly tuned out, as did everyone around me. But then I had an "aha moment," as I thought about the connection between this repetitive drone and the annual fund letters that are being penned as I type.

It's that season - when we all too often take out last year's letter that speaks to gap between tuition and the cost of education (I visualize the Grand Canyon) - and change the date and the name of the annual fund chair. The message is the same, year after year, just like flight safety spiel (unless of course you are flying Southwest and then it's actually humorous). Just as I stopped listening after 10 seconds, so will donors, unless the approach is creative, engaging, and tells me something I haven't already heard.

As you craft your annual appeal, I encourage you to step back and think about what your audience would like to hear. Donors want to feel valued. They would like to know how their money is spent and the impact of their gift. They appreciate engaging in dialogue, rather than being told what ABC School needs from them. And most of all, they want to feel a personal connection with the institution and the people there.

So, throw out last year's letter and start from scratch. A "passenger-focused" strategy has made SWA a top-ranked airline - it can work for you as well. Safe - and successful - travels!

~ Tracy


Two New Lighthouse Webinars Announced

We will be hosting two new Lighthouse Webinars as part of our 2010-12 series starting in October.  Registration for each webinar begins on Monday, September 20th.


  1. What's the Big Idea - Friday, October 15th at 10 AM Pacific/1 PM Eastern
    In the competitive environment in which many independent colleges, universities, and schools operate, sometimes excellent branding and communication just isn't enough to bolster the value proposition.  Market forces - such as competition, demographics, pricing, and the economy - require the school to develop a stronger case of support.  And, often, this gets at the heart of the program and the positioning strategy for the institution.   

    Sometimes, you need a Big Idea. 

    Join us on Friday, October 15th at 10 AM Pacific/1 PM Eastern for this critical session on positioning and strategy.  We'll walk participations through the concept of creating a Big Idea, how to develop a cogent positioning strategy, and how that Big Idea informs programs and services.  This session is excellent for college presidents, independent school heads, and their entire executive team and will feature ISA cases studies, as well.  

    Register here.

  2. Failure to Evolve - Friday, October 22nd at 10 AM Pacific/1 PM Eastern
    Many independent colleges, universities, and schools over the past decade have had a preoccupation with branding and communications.  These have often been viewed as the Holy Grail of enrollment management and have been viewed by administration as the primary driver of net tuition revenue models.  While these efforts are critical and we are not suggesting otherwise, are they often used as a band aid for a larger need?   

    Strong marketing and excellent messaging will not overcome a mediocre academic program at a high price mired in the past.  Our research and experience often leads us to a more fundamental issue.  From a programmatic standpoint, many schools and colleges have failed to evolve.  They have failed to maintain an innovative bent in their curriculum, delivery, and programs and have primarily looked to marketing communications and branding to drive their enrollment efforts. 

    Join us on Friday, October 22nd at 10 AM Pacific/1 PM Eastern for this critical session on how to inspire a transformational change in academic programs.  We'll walk participations through the challenges we observe on campuses across the nation, how to build a case for change within the faculty, how to influence change, and the right first steps .  This session is excellent for college presidents, independent school heads, and their entire executive team and will feature ISA cases studies, as well. 

    Register here.    

Each reservation is $99 and allows for unlimited user participation with one Internet connection and one phone or VOIP connection.  Gather your entire administrative or executive team and join us for the hour. There will be time for questions at the end and presentation materials will be available for participants as well.  

Hamlin Robinson School - On the Move!

Hamlin Robinson School (Seattle, WA) will open the doors for the first day of school at its new location! Moving to a more central and accessible location is a key component of the school's five-year strategic plan, which was recently completed with the assistance of ISA. The school entered into a long-term contract with the Seattle School District to lease the T.T. Minor Elementary facility, which is no longer used by the district. Congratulations HRS on this exciting accomplishment!

21 Things That Will Obsolete in Education by 2020

This article was fascinating when I first read it on the TeachPaperless blog site about nine months ago.  I am reposting this as we sit at the outset of another academic year in front of us.  Take a quick read and see what you think.

1. Desks
The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.

2. Language Labs
Foreign language acquisition is only a smartphone away. Get rid of those clunky desktops and monitors and do something fun with that room.

3. Computers
Ok, so this is a trick answer. More precisely this one should read: 'Our concept of what a computer is'. Because computing is going mobile and over the next decade we're going to see the full fury of individualized computing via handhelds come to the fore. Can't wait.

4. Homework
The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don't need kids to 'go to school' more; we need them to 'learn' more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).

5. The Role of Standardized Tests in College Admissions
The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn't far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

6. Differentiated Instruction as the Sign of a Distinguished Teacher
The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn't yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won't make you 'distinguished'; it'll just be a natural part of your work.

7. Fear of Wikipedia
Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it's time you get over yourself.

8. Paperbacks
Books were nice. In ten years' time, all reading will be via digital means. And yes, I know, you like the 'feel' of paper. Well, in ten years' time you'll hardly tell the difference as 'paper' itself becomes digitized.

9. Attendance Offices
Bio scans. 'Nuff said.

10. Lockers.
A coat-check, maybe.

11. IT Departments
Ok, so this is another trick answer. More subtly put: IT Departments as we currently know them. Cloud computing and a decade's worth of increased wifi and satellite access will make some of the traditional roles of IT -- software, security, and connectivity -- a thing of the past. What will IT professionals do with all their free time? Innovate. Look to tech departments to instigate real change in the function of schools over the next twenty years.

12. Centralized Institutions
School buildings are going to become 'homebases' of learning, not the institutions where all learning happens. Buildings will get smaller and greener, student and teacher schedules will change to allow less people on campus at any one time, and more teachers and students will be going out into their communities to engage in experiential learning.

13. Organization of Educational Services by Grade
Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.

14. Education School Classes that Fail to Integrate Social Technology
This is actually one that could occur over the next five years. Education Schools have to realize that if they are to remain relevant, they are going to have to demand that 21st century tech integration be modelled by the very professors who are supposed to be preparing our teachers.

15. Paid/Outsourced Professional Development
No one knows your school as well as you. With the power of a PLN in their backpockets, teachers will rise up to replace peripatetic professional development gurus as the source of schoolwide prof dev programs. This is already happening.

16. Current Curricular Norms
There is no reason why every student needs to take however many credits in the same course of study as every other student. The root of curricular change will be the shift in middle schools to a role as foundational content providers and high schools as places for specialized learning.

17. Parent-Teacher Conference Night
Ongoing parent-teacher relations in virtual reality will make parent-teacher conference nights seem quaint. Over the next ten years, parents and teachers will become closer than ever as a result of virtual communication opportunities. And parents will drive schools to become ever more tech integrated.

18. Typical Cafeteria Food
Nutrition information + handhelds + cost comparison = the end of $3.00 bowls of microwaved mac and cheese. At least, I so hope so.

19. Outsourced Graphic Design and Webmastering
You need a website/brochure/promo/etc.? Well, for goodness sake just let your kids do it. By the end of the decade -- in the best of schools -- they will be.

20. High School Algebra I
Within the decade, it will either become the norm to teach this course in middle school or we'll have finally woken up to the fact that there's no reason to give algebra weight over statistics and IT in high school for non-math majors (and they will have all taken it in middle school anyway).

21. Paper
In ten years' time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.



Are You Using Your Data?

You work hard to collect data, so are you using it wisely? Does your data help you predict enrollment, make informed decisions, or provide a helpful historical understanding of your institution? As we work with independent schools and colleges across the nation, we often find that few institutions are effectively utilizing the data they possess. 

We can help. A one-day, on-site institutional research audit often uncovers opportunities in data management and information systems for schools and colleges. We find that - with a little guidance - most independent schools and colleges can make the most of their data and create systems and structures that will perpetuate informed decision-making.

Got a question about how to use the data you collect? Give us a call and chat with Lisa Waiwaiole, our director of institutional research. She'll be glad to chat with you about options to improve your data and research.

I Just Want Her to Be Happy

Our firm has spent countless hours conducting interviews and focus groups with prep school and college bound parents over the past several years. We have poured over the responses in an effort to decode the decision process for parents as they embark on such a significant financial and personal commitment. We have learned a lot about this process and what matters most to parents from a generalist perspective, as we outlined last month with our white paper and webinar "Why Parents Choose Independent Schools". And, for clients with which we have specific research relationships, we have learned so much in institutional-specific, market-specific, or region-specific data. But, one finding lately seems to trump all the others in my mind and, while it puzzles and troubles me on one hand, it perhaps seems very logical on the other.

No matter how you slice it, parents just want their kids to be happy. Countless interview and focus group participants offer, when really pushed on the question of why they made the school or college choice they did, they respond with a desire to please their children and make them happy. Sure, they want a rigorous program, personal attention, and excellent placement - but not at the expense of their child's happiness, which trumps all other outcomes.  

And, yet there is one more finding that I see as equally as interesting.  While parents just want their kids to be happy, they really seem increasingly involved in their children's lives.  This generation of parents, often called the "helicopter parents", have caused colleges across the nation to give birth to new services and programs for parents, such as "Parent Orientation" programs or "Office of Parent Relations".  There is no question that the independent school or college parent today is highly involved in their children's lives.

Put these two qualitative research themes together and you have an interesting sociological stew bubbling.  On the one hand, parents just want their kids to be happy, but on the other hand, they just want to be involved in their lives.  This is either a bewildering or obvious finding depending upon how you examine it, but nonetheless, it still puzzles me.

Remember the old Peace Corp campaign from the 1970's?  They were selling "The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love".  Try selling challenge or hardship today to these students and their parents.  I'm not sure that will work.  So, the question is, do parents really just want their kids to be happy, and just want to stay involved?  I am sure there are two sides of this coin.

On the one hand, I personally understand the need to raise happy children. As a parent, I want my kid's life to better than mine - isn't that the American Dream? I want them to find happiness, peace, and purpose in their life choices. I want them to find joy in learning and discovery. I want them to view the future with hope and optimism. And, somehow I have equated all of those intangible outcomes of an education as a direct result of happiness.

Here's where I am puzzled. Some of the aspects of a rigorous education do not necessarily promote happiness. Isn't some level of pain, hardship, discipline, and toil key ingredients to the developmental sequence of one's life? I have to admit, I am growing suspicious that parents might be erring on the side of ease of parenting and playing a bit of role reversal.

There are many people that I have chatted with regarding this issue. Some say it is a generational issue. They point to the fact that students at independent schools seem to be making the choice of schools at earlier ages every decade as evidence. And, others take the contrarian view, suggesting that this issue is simple as parents wanting their kids to know life's blessings without too much hardship.

I believe the natural tension in this issue really boils up at the faculty level.  Have you ever seen a parent who was completely hands off on the admission or school selection process, but then becomes overly involved in a perceived battle of unfair treatment by a faculty member or school representative?  In many instances, the parent becomes actively engaged in making sure that their child has not been the recipient of too much challenge or unbalanced treatment from a school.  I have seen this issue countless times and am never sure exactly what to make of it.

What do you think? Are parents abdicating their role to their children, aiming to please rather than make the hard choices of a parent, yet still living vicariously through their lives?  Or, is this simply an age-old need of a parent wanting the best path for their child without too much pain along the way?

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.


But Will Giving Make Them Happy?

Last Sunday's New York Times featured a much-circulated article, But Will It Make You Happy, exploring the connection - if any - between material consumption (buying lots of things) and happiness. The bottom line: people derive more satisfaction from acquiring experiences than objects. (I feel much better now about my limited wardrobe, primarily unfashionable fleece from REI.) There were two things worth noting in the story for those of us trying to raise money during these challenging economic times. (Is the recession over yet?)

First, as people recalibrate their spending and discover the newfound joy of buying less, the motivation to keep up with the Jones' decreases significantly. The "endless cycle of one-upmanship" may finally be  broken. For those schools and organizations whose donors thrive on staking out a spot in the highest giving circle or purchasing a plethora of live auction items while in the limelight, this seemingly positive social phenomenon may have a downside. A big one, at that.

Second, people are seeking a human connection through their expenditures more than ever before. In return for writing that check, people want a warm and fuzzy experience - the stuff of good memories and Kodak moments. Stronger social bonds equal greater happiness and satisfaction. (An aside - a $20,000 increase in spending on leisure equates to the happiness boost one gets from marriage. No guarantee that a charitable gift in that amount will offer the same pay back...)

What does all this mean for the development office? In a nutshell, it's a good reminder that in our world it's all about the donor - their passion, their needs, and their giving experience. Hopefully the "new normal" of buying less and saving more will result in donors finding greater pleasure in giving to organizations that provide them with that desired sense of connection and meaning. In my humble view, it sure beats a new pair of Manolos.

~ Tracy