Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kettle Record

Stretching back well over forty years manning a kettle every season has been a Sears family tradition. I have not missed a year since starting in 1967. In past years Jonathan, Josh and I would take a kettle for a whole day, which given our schedules has not been possible for the last two years. Tomorrow I will out again, but it will not be near the 60 hour record that was recently set. My respect and hat is off to the various people who stood for so long.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Christmas Message and Greeting to Family and Friends

Earlier today I sent a Christmas greeting and message to my staff. Upon reflection I realize that the message and greeting is equally applicable to both my family and friends. I am posting the message as sent to the team and allow family and friends to allow their own filters to make the necessary slight adjustments.

During our family’s first Christmas in Iowa people were taking issue with the City hanging only white lights in the Ped Mall, along downtown streets and for calling the seasonal decorations “holiday decorations”. While the City had been using religious neutral language for years, the decision to switch to all white lights crystallized concerns about the change in lights further destroying Christmas.

Our little congregation was not immune from the debates. With several members asking for my view I elected to address the matter the first Sunday of Advent. Interestingly, on the Friday afternoon as I was refining my thoughts the local newspaper asked my opinion as they were polling various religious leaders for an article that Sunday. Fifteen years later the essence of my response to address to a wider matter still shapes my thinking.

While the birth of Christ is at the heart of the season we recognize that the church adopted the Roman solstice festival to tell the birth of Christ story. Since other cultural, pagan and Christian rooted, traditions became attached as Christmas progressed to its current state in the USA and Canada. In those countries Christmas is more of a cultural holiday than a religious holiday that calls the faithful to reflect upon their faith, examine their own lives and relationship with their neighbors. It is such a cultural event that people of non-Christian faiths are readily engaging in its activities and affirming elements of message.

There is little doubt that Christmas as we celebrated it today has become so overlaid with cultural characteristics ranging from gift buying and exchanging to parties, from Santa to a day off work, from family gatherings and travels to festive decorations in the home and at work, from bargain shopping to days jammed full of special activities. The season is so full and filled with trappings that pausing to reflect upon the message of Christ…redemption, inner and interpersonal peace, and no one is beyond the hope change, and taking joy in life…is lost.

We must also affirm that while Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Christian faith is an Easter faith, not a Christmas faith. The Christian message and hope is grounded in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and upon the resurrection morning. While the angels called us to celebrate the coming of hope and salvation, they were pointing to the work of the cross and the resurrection.

While Christmas is a wonderful cultural and religious holiday that I greatly enjoy, I noted my concern that both the congregation and I could so readily be caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season, be so distracted by the ancillary cultural aspects that we would not take time to pause, reflect upon the meaning of the Christmas message and to reach out generously to others in peace. Hence I was far more concerned about the spirituality of our congregation than about cultural controversies such as the color of the lights or greeting phrases.

That Sunday afternoon as I read the paper I realized they quoted me far more than I expected and more extensively that any other person, clergy, civic and non-clergy. Seeking to detach myself from the controversy I feared that I made myself and the Army a target. Fortunately, to my surprise, not only did receive no negative calls or letters, we received only positive comments. At the January ministerial many of the clergy thanked me for altering the focus.

Each holiday season since, I continue to remember the response. I value each member of our development team. I appreciate your dedication to helping others, for your grace and passion. My desire is in keeping with my 1996 reflection, that you will take time to reflect upon Christ’s message of hope. I pray that the reflection will be more than just a short moment or two to read the Christmas story. Though this is our busiest time of the year, as we arrive at Christmas Eve and Day, I encourage you … no, I implore you to set aside your job. Forget all that you have to still do, any and all work issues. Focus upon the essence of the season, enjoy time with your spouse and family.

I hope you will affirm your love for your faith and values. Affirm to your spouse and family that you love them and hold them dear. I hope you will dedicate afresh your heart and mind to be generous towards all, to seek to be a builder of others, to be a vehicle of hope and grace.

May the joy and peace of the Christ child fill your life and heart. May His presence be with you and all whom you love. May you have a wonderful and joyous Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Babe Homeless?

If you had a home and job in town A and while traveling to point B your car broke down, and as it could not be repaired for a few days, would staying in the Greyhound bus station for a night or two (hotels all full) mean that you are now homeless? Why or why not?

Would you consider yourself homeless if you were stranded at an airport due to a storm closing down flights for the night? Why or why not?

If you traveled from home to visit another town, arrived to discover when you arrive late at night that the hotel you had booked was over-sold, and so are all other hotels, if you stayed the night in your car, would that mean you are homeless? If you were given a tent to pitch in the local campground, what would that say about your status? Are you homeless or not? Why or why not?

In neither case, would I consider myself “homeless”. Nor would I consider you “homeless” as you have a home. I doubt that most of my friends or family would see themselves or their friends in such situations as homeless. You may be without traditional shelter but your state is temporary, and you do have a home whereas those who are truly homeless lack the means or ability to secure their own permanent shelter. To count amongst the homeless those have a home but are temporarily not at home and are sleeping in alternate locations would do an injustice to understanding homelessness and addressing those who are truly homeless.

Joseph and Mary had a home in Nazareth. Joseph had a profession. Since they were looking for hotel accommodation in Bethlehem does not that suggest that they had the means to pay for room. While they could pay for a room, all rooms were full. They were not destitute per se. If none of us would see ourselves as homeless, why then do some preachers and Christian say that Joseph and Mary were homeless? Should we not allow our dramatics to push us to go beyond what the text states, that though they had the money, by the time they arrived the hotels were full that night (they may well have had a hotel room a day or two nights later)?

Further, if we twist/embellish well beyond the text, are we doing it justice and in doing so are we being faithful to it? If we are embellishing and adding over the text other teachings that are beyond the text and add incorrect elements, are we being truthful and thereby not keeping the faith with the text that we turn to teach us eternal truths?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Value Voter Conundrum

The Republican primary race has been most interesting to observe as candidate after candidate postures themselves to court and please evangelical and tea-party voters. Given Mitt Romney is a Mormon and Mormonism is considered a cult and heresy, the evangelical Christians, and many tea-party members are facing a challenge as to which Republican candidate to support. I wish it were otherwise, but a canadate's religion still impacts a canadate's acceptability.

A series of non-Romney candidates have risen and then fallen. No doubt many statements are pandering in nature rather than firmly held core values. While the challenge is to keep from being fooled by shallow emotional appeals or false statements of piety, when “value voters” stress and emphasis religious piety, the typical chameleon politician will put on that mask.

Early flag bearers have been found lacking the necessary skills and balance to be President. Some have uttered views that sound right but lack an ability to argue their way out of a paper bag. Two who have balance and thoughtful positions are not considered as they lack the dynamism of an evangelical preacher that value voters prefer.

The latest non-Romney hope, Newt Gingrich and thrice married serial adulterer, is presenting a conundrum for the value voters who hold the sanctity of marriage so high, and living out those values tend to see it as one of the bedrock elements. Twelve years ago value voters and evangelical Christians lambasted Clinton, then called for his impeachment over the matter of being an adulterer. Clinton the example of what many evangelical preachers encourage from their congregants in such situations, the Clintons worked through matters and remained married, and Bill Clinton changed his life.

Gingrich is not only twice divorced but the manner in which he announced the end of his marriage to his two wives is highly troubling. Further troubling is that Gingrich’s first wife and children had to turn to their church for financial support for a period when he did not provide child support. Value voters are troubled further in that not providing child support goes to essential character and fathers not fulfilling financial obligation to their children is another major issue with value voters.

There is little doubt about Gingrich’s golden tongue. As one of the fathers of the current political climate of winning at all costs he put that tongue and his disarming smile to use in spinning things that sound thoughtful and intellectual. Gingrich is skilled in positioning himself to be highly appealing to Value Voters. But Value Voters are left wondering if what they are hearing is well contrived spin designed to seduce them.

Hence, these same voters find themselves in a box, they want to support Geingrich but doing so goes contrary to what they have argued in the past as being bedrock values.

For a host of reasons Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and Adams were wise in noting that we must be take care not to align our faith with our religion.

At the end of the day, I hope that the Republicans will give the nation a viable choice. Unfortunately, I do not see much of the current slate of current or former front runners as a solid candidate worthy of my consideration.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Family Pictures

After church today was the taking of the annual family pictures. I had the designated photographer use my camera for our family picture. Then I took a picture of Jonathan and Maggie. After the family photo was taken, we headed off to Prime Time, a local sports bar, for brunch where there is good food and a host of NFL games at a time that are on the various large televisions lining the walls. Hmmm...I wonder if we could go for brunch on New Years and watch three bowl games at a time? Or dinner?

Here is the 2011 family picture.

Jonathan and Maggie's first Christams picture.

Lastly, Saturday evening Evie retired while I was looking through marketing ssignments from the George Mason University marekting class in which I have been involved this past semester. After about a half hour Hypatia and Darwin disappeared. Below is a picture of what I found about twenty minutes later. By the way Hypatia is experiencing her first heat, and it will be her last.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Evangelical Church and Racism

Ever so slowly I'm working my way through Robert Putnam’s "American Grace", in which he examines the nature of religious life and its interaction with politics throughout the last one hundred years. Putnam’s work is filled with survey data, demographic trends and basic observations which gives one much food for thought. The work articulates in a coherent manner volumes of data confirms various of my observations and of which is that the evangelical church entering a period of significant decline. Also the book is making numerous new connections such as the correlation between religious attendence declines in young adults and the level of politically activity the evangelical church.

Putnam demonstrates that following WWII religious life in North America across all denominations underwent a dramatic increase. Soldiers returning from the horrors of war attended all churches at a much higher rate than prior generations. The mainline churches plateaued and then started to decline in the late 1960s, a decline that has only slowed in the last decade.

As mainline churches went into decline the evangelical and fundamentalist church grew (the two groups though similar are not identical). Interestingly the Canadian churches saw some of the same patterns as their American brother and sisters, but not to the same degree. The Canadian fundamentalist churches did not increase as much as the evangelical churches and the Canadians growth came in three surge waves versus the four and larger surges experienced by their American counterparts.

As the mainline church suffered dramatic declines that corresponded with each growth surge experienced by the evangelical church, the evangelical surge was primarily transfer growth. Hence, the evangelical surges were for the most part movement of existing church attenders than the “conversions” of unchurched “heathens.”

Putnam demonstrates that the surges in the American evangelical and fundamental churches corresponded with four sociological-political events; the birth control pill and sexual liberation, ERA/feminist movement of the mid to late 70s, civil rights movement, and the Roe v. Wade ruling. As mainline churches being less judgmental about the use of the pill and sexual liberation, they suffered lost of people and the more dogmatic evangelical and fundamentalist churches gained. Roe v. Wade and mainline churches talking about empowering women to become business and church leaders (an female ordination), drove another group of conservative leaning families out of the mainline churches to evangelical and fundamentalist churches that provided clear directives and kept the issues simple.

If one looked at it from a marketing perspective, a perspective evangelicals would reject, evangelical churches captured these families by shaping their message to appeal to those who need less equivication and more rigid frameworks. The evangelicals distinguished themselves by speaking against each of issues (ie: contraception is contrary to divine law, a woman’s place was in the home raising the family, women in the military on the front lines blurs the distinction between men and women, sex must be saved for one’s marital partner, etc.). Though the language and postions on various issues has changed, the evangelical buzz from that age continues to be part of its core language is that they stand for “traditional family” values and preach only the Bible.

Putnam’s data clearly indicates civil rights with the integration of schools and the office was also a major cause for the shift. While mainline churches marched with Dr. King and other civil rights activists, encouraged their members to support integration, evangelical leaders for the most part took a contrary postion. They not only shied away from advocated for civil rights but it was not uncommon to hear pastors and evangelical leaders speaking openly against civil rights or quietly despairingly of integration and reinforcing stereotypes. For the Canadian reader, this is the one element which was for the most part missing from the Canadian scene.

Evangelicals would argue that their different message was not a marketing decision but as being faithful to the preaching of the Word. I concur that it was not a marketing choice. Yet as on all but abortion the evangelical church has changed its message significantly on each of the three areas, faithful preaching of the Word rests on shaky ground. Even on abortion the mainline church membership and pastors have as diverse positions just like the evangelical members and pastors. Rather than marketing and faithfulness to the Word as being the cause, the root is that evangelicals (and fundamentalists) are naturally disposed to being more politically conservative and that in the two decades of significant social shifting, the more conservative elements in the mainline churches found greater identification with their more conservative evangelical friends. Hence, in turbulant times the strength of bent of one's politics tended to determine where one worshipped.

As noted, the Canadian scene was different regarding civil rights. Not only did I not experience despairing comments about race relations in my evangelical congregation, its leadership spoke that equality between races was a biblical principal. Our congregation was not alone as high school friends in other evangelical churches were hearing the same message. Hence subtle despairing comments I heard in my Kentucky dorm and heard at the college from my peers, and some faculty, was perplexing. Though the college leadership acknowledged that integration must happen, its steps were measured least they offend their more conservative alumni and funders.

Today I understand the issues more fully than I did then, that racism was part of the American evangelical and fundamentist scene throughout the 60s, 70s and early 80s. It was more blatant in the 60s and more subtle later, and though rarely as blatant or as widespread, thirty years later it still exists in a subtle manner. Though the majority of the criticism and caricatures of President Obama does not involve racism, one has to be void of sight and intelligence not to understand that some caricatures and criticism are racist in nature and motivation, and that too many of those individuals fill leadership positions in a fundamentalist or evangelical church on Sunday.

As remanents of racism continues to linger as a part of the evangelical church I was not surprised by this story about an evangelical church voting to ban an interracial couple from membership and participating in a worship service…

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Keystone and the Decision to Depend On Mideast Oil

Though America has said it wants to rely less on imported oil from the troubled Middle East, it is a shame that America in the Keystone decision has elected not to buy oil from its economically and politically stable neighbor.

Nearly two weeks ago the Obama administration announced that it was delaying approval of the Keystone pipeline as yet another study needed to be conducted (reminds me of governments pushing a topic into an endless series Royal Commission as a means to delay something unduly or even kill it without saying so). The Obama administration has made a misstep on this matter. Studies have been done which have addressed various environmental concerns.

True no pipeline is risk free of spills occurring. No off-shore or even on-shore, oil rig is risk free of spills, nor are tankers that come along our shores and to our ports. The hundreds of thousands of gasoline trucks that travel contain higher risks of that a modern pipeline using the state of the art technologies. Do we stop trucks from traveling the road, tankers bringing crude to our shores, or do we stop drilling? No. Instead we manage risk in a thoughtful manner by learning from past miscalculations and utilize the best technology that is reasonable.

Will the Obama’s administration stall the development of the Alberta oil sands? Anyone who is an opponent of the Keystone is badly mistaken if they think it will end or even slow down the development of the oil sands project. Let’s make no mistake the oil in the tar sands will be coming out of the ground! It is a matter of to whom will the oil be sold, to the USA or to Pacific Rim countries which have robust economies that rely heavily upon imported oil such as Japan, China and Australia.

The question Canada should be asking of the American administration is simple, is the United States prepared to take delivery of the oil within five years? If the answer is not yes, but maybe eventually after we study the matter further for a few more years, then the Canadian response should be straight forward…announce that Canada will sell elsewhere and to that end will be adding to its pipeline infrastructure to the west coast as Canada has made a commitment to sell its oil to Japan, China and other Pacific Rim countries. Of course the American reaction to loosing such a quantity of oil so close at hand will be negative. The Canadians can readily reply that America was the preferred buyer but when America was not willing to commit, Canada elected to allow the free market determine that the oil would be going to other countries.

For Canada there are two economic advantages for selling tar sands oil to China and Japan. Both countries are willing to pay a significantly higher price than the Americans. Hence, Canada would have more net income, some of which could be used to decrease the crude it sells for internal consumption. Lower internal crude prices would enable Canada to have lower gas prices than the US and thereby giving Canadian firms another competitive advantage as a result of lower energy costs. Also, the pipeline would travel further across Canadian soil and the tanker port would be on Canadian shores all of which mean more jobs for Canadians than would be an pipeline running to the USA.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Penn State Football and Joe Paterno

Yesterday, Penn State won its first game in almost 46 years without Joe Paterno as its coach. People in the know saw signs that this day would come either at the beginning of next season or the next. That it came mid-season after being fired is the shocker and the reason is heart-breaking.

The press has been all over the Sandusky sex story and Paterno’s illustrious career is forever tarnished. Questions regarding when he knew, what he did, why he did not do more will continue to be analyzed and debated. Those who are strong Paterno fans will continue minimize his culpability. On the other side, there will be those on the opposite size who will forever consider Paterno guilty of a tremendous crime and held just short of being the actual perpetrator of the sex acts. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle.

One thing that concerns me somewhat is that Paterno’s actions are being judged by 2011 expectations and standards, not by the American understanding and standards of the mid 1990s. While most of the existing laws regarding reporting of suspicions were already in place when Paterno was informed about Sundusky showering with young boys, what had not been fleshed out in the public’s mind was what is “reasonable” suspicion and how aggressive one should be on reporting that suspicion. In the intervening years “reasonable” has become defined more broadly and clearly so as to include that which was reported to Paterno. Only in the last five to ten years have background checks, working with children and reporting processes come into place at the street level.

Today, any suspicion or concerns must be reported and when reported it is expected that authorities will conduct a complete investigation. Today, it is expected that reporting something generally to one’s superior and walking away is not acceptable conduct. If one’s superior does not contact the authorities, then the reporter is responsible for taking such a step. Clearly Paterno did not meet these standards and he should have done more. Back then, such action were being done, but the expectation to do so was not at today’s level.

Throughout his career Paterno has preached doing the right thing in all aspects of one’s life even when it is most difficult and could cost you dearly. Paterno has noted he should have done more, and that statement may be his lasting epitaph. Child abuse is very significant, and must be taken seriously. We must not dismiss accusations lightly and when work related they must be reported not only to our supervisors but also to the authorities. Regardless of the laws and the understanding of the laws a decade or more ago, aggressive reporting has always been the right thing to do. In that regard Paterno did not measure up to what he drilled into his teams. With the score tied in the dying seconds of the game, Paterno fumbled the ball on the 1 yrd line with a poor handoff.

It would have been nice if Paterno had recognized the significance of his inaction and announced his immediate retirement, but he did not do so possibly because he thought he could ride out the storm or that not doing more to protect the children was not a major misstep. I commend Penn State’s Board of Trustees for dismissing Paterno. It needed to happen.

Paterno’s firing also sends a strong message, that no person regardless of his/her accomplishments, reputation or accumulated power is immune from being dismissed for a single egregious action. This is a good signal to send and reinforces a good message, that one egregious action outweighs all one’s accomplishments and can bring forth one’s dismissal.

Paterno no longer at the head of the Penn State football program also signals the end of an era, the coach for life. Very few coaches at the top tier schools in the NCAA have been in their positions for more than twenty years. I may need to be corrected on this but I think the new Dean of top tier coaches are basketball’s Jim Boeheim at Syracuse with 36 years and in football Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech with 25 years…neither of whom has anyone close to that number of years as coaches. Today the pressure to win each year is powerful. Alumni and fans will accept one or two bad years if you have been consistently at the top, but having three, people will start to call for your dismissal. Hence, head coaches with twenty or more years at the same school which is the past was not that uncommon will become increasingly rare.

Are shorter tenures a good thing? I’m not sure as it signals that the almighty dollar and winning are king principals that stand well above graduation rates, character building and players not running afoul of laws and NCAA regulations. I fear that we will all be poorer in the end with the win at all cost measure.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Right To Privacy

Strict Constitutionalism, interpreting the United States Constitution strictly within its initial understanding and context, is a judicial philosophy has increasingly held sway in the United States and is reflected in the judges appointed by both Presidents Bush. This week the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in a case which not only demonstrates that the shortcomings of that philosophical position but the outcome will have major significance to the nature and future of a person’s right of privacy.

The police secretly installed a GPS tracking device to the car of Jones, a man they suspected to be a major drug dealer. For a month from afar and well out of sight the police tracked Jones’ movement. His vehicle became a 24/7 surveillance tool of the police. The police did not need to task teams to watch and follow Jones. After a month the tracking led the police to a large cache of cocaine.

In United States v. Jones, Jones is arguing that the government improperly and without a court issued warrant invaded his privacy. The government argues that they did not need to have a warrant as that provision only pertained to tapping telephone calls, and besides Jones was moving along public roads and functioning various other tasks in other public space.

On the surface the government’s argument seems logical. Using such devices frees up resources and saves the tax payers money. The government no longer needs to task a dozen or more officers to follow suspects in cars and wait outside buildings watching for a suspect to leave. Now the police can place a device on a car, allow a computer to track movements and have one officer review in minutes a day’s worth of movements. One officer could monitor hundreds of people’s movements, instead of it taking many to monitor one.

Forty something years ago when the Supreme Court ruled that wiretaps were required, similar arguments to those of today’s government were used. Today’s Court is facing the ramifications of modern technology and processes that were never dreamed as possible by the original authors of the Constitution. Holding to a strict reading and holding to original context would do a disservice to the Constitution and common sense. The Court was established for the purpose of not as a bulwark against change but as a vehicle to make rulings in light of fundamental principles within an evolving social, political and technological context.

Privacy is a fundamental principle. At issue is whether technology like cell phones, GPS devices, computers, online monitoring, can be used to negate a person’s privacy within a free society. The Court has long held that it is a reasonable expectation for a person to hold that their telephone conversation is private. In its telephone wiretap ruling the Court ruled that as a check against widespread and unwarranted listening to our private conversations. Once again the Court is dealing with these issues. If the Court accepts the government’s position, there is nothing to prevent the government from using our cell phones, OnStar, car engine monitoring devices, GPS devices and other current and future technologies to track our movements second by second. If the government wins, employers and others could then do the same. In short, the Fourth Amendment’s right of privacy will become minimal.

Friday, November 04, 2011

SunTrust and Distrust

A few weeks ago Bank of America announced that they were going to charge a debit card fee of $5/mo. The BoA got into financial difficulty started when subprime loans it got stuck with as markets for buying up such mortgages froze as default rates climbed. BoA’s difficulties increased as derivatives and other risky overly leveraged investments (many leveraged as much as 40 to 1) decreased in value. High flying profits turned into mega losses. To avoid the collapse of the American financial industry BoA, along with other major national and regional banks, were bailed out by the federal government.

With the downturn on the economy, many banks have had a downturn in their profits. Decreased retail sales means fewer transaction fees they collect from retailers on credit card and debit card transactions. Decreased bank deposits mean lower deposit value for the bank to use for investments. Decreased car sales and home sales create decreased income from loans. On top of that add increased loan and mortgage defaults.

Using changes in credit card regulations BoA decided to institute a $5 debit card fee by collecting from account holders a fee, thereby collecting on both sides of the transaction. The transaction fees are being instituted to help return the profit margins of the bank back to its pre 2008 levels. Let’s be clear BoA, who along with several other national and regional banks, is a major factor behind the current economic difficulties being experienced in the economy. Seeing an opportunity to increase their profits, several of banks followed BoA’s lead and quietly instituted their own debit card fees.

SunTrust was one such bank to follow BoA’s example. After SunTrust started to receive a high volume of customer complaints and account lost (many smaller banks were not following BoA’s lead), SunTrust announced Wednesday that it was refunding debit card fees already charged and have no debit card fees. The bank quietly engaged in a slight of hand…it modified its fee structure significantly, a modification that will yield it even more money. SunTrust increased is account maintenance fee to $17, from $15 (up from $10 in the pre-2008 period).

The account maintenance fee at SunTrust was waived if you had payroll direct deposit (that is only if the accountholder asked as some accountholders were still charged the fee when they had payroll direct deposit). Maintenance fee can still be waived if you maintain $5,000 in the account throughout the month (the account pays no interest).

Hence, through elimination of the payroll direct deposit waiver and the increase in the monthly maintenance fee, the bank will start to make even more money than just from the $5 fee. The changes hit the blue collar, entry level white collar worker and students. The changes keep goal of upper management at the bank intact, to keep their own mega bonuses as strong as possible.

Like the debit card fees, the new fee structure was not announced in any email to customers, posted on any signs at the bank or in any press releases. Instead, like the debit card fee, the new fees were quietly listed on the fee structure and customers will only discover the change in mid December, when they receive their November account statements are released.

Evie and I have been SunTrust customers since moving to DC from Iowa. On balance we were happy. In watching what has happened with debit card fees and the new account fee structure, we find ourselves unable to do what is central to SunTrust’s name, trust. If we cannot trust a firm with how it handles its fees then we cannot trust it to hold our accounts. Therefore we are moving all out banking to TD Bank, which is the American branch of Toronto Dominion.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rose Colored Glasses and History

It is a truism that those who forget history and its lessons are bound to repeat it. Repeating the errors of the past repeatedly occurs and supports the value of a well rounded balanced history program in our school systems. While forgetting history can be an issue, a more common problem is the tendency is an unbalanced ahistorical view of history.

This unbalanced view is found in glorifying past events and/or people well beyond reality, and to dismiss or worse overlook the negatives that would dampen the glorification. Such a process is known as hagiography, which is currently taking place within some political spheres in the United States with regard to Ronald Reagan whereby his words and views are being held so high that they are considered and used as if he and his words are as infallible as Holy Writ. Further, a host of his actions, speaches and statements are taken not only out of context but are being reinterpreted to mean something beyond what he meant while disregarding his words and actions that are contrary to "what Reagan said."

It is not just Reagan that is misused, but it happens with all sorts of historical figures and events across nations and the centuries.

Equally or even more dangerous tendency is our interpretion of the past through rose colored glasses. Much of it is innocent, but it too ultimately opens us up to being mislead. The greatest danger of rose colored glasses is when its purveyors masterfully cherry pick through past events, statements, etc. to justify present actions and views even though that which is selected may actually speak contrary to what one is advocating. When in the hands of golden tongued craftspeople playing upon people’s emotions and fears use rose colored cherry picking for insidious ends. The cure against such modern day snake oil pitch people, whether they be businesspeople, politicians, or churchmen is to constantly read, study a broad array of solid thoughtful historical items.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The United Nations and the United States Being a Christian Nation

Within the American evangelical church for more than two decades there has circulated the claim that the United Nations no longer considers the United States to be a Christian nation. This claim is used to bolster the sermonic statements that the United States is in a period of moral decline, so much so as goes the argument that even the United Nations, a secular group, cannot recognize the United States as being Christian.

Any preacher or Christian leader who makes such regarding the United States is either showing that they are uninformed and are uncritically repeating false statements they have “heard” and accepted as being true. In other words, they are engaged in the same activity, spreading rumors and fear mongering, that they proclaim from the pulpit as being wrong. If the preacher/Christian leader is not uniformed and accepting uncritically the statements, and truly know what they are talking about, then they are willfully misleading their listeners. I prefer the former than the latter.

While it is true that the United Nations does not list the United States as a Christian nation, the same body does not list Iran or Saudi Arabia as Islamic nations or India as a Hindu nation. The United Nations has never changed the religious classification of any nation as it does not make such judgments. When the United Nations was being established in 1944 the founders recognized that the body should not evaluate the nature or quality of the nation’s religious activity, or make any such judgments in any form.

As to the changing religious life of the United States, it has evolved over the decades and will continue to evolve in the coming years as it does in every nation. The degree to which the general citizenry is more or less “Christian” is a highly subjective value judgment. That said, surveys over the decades by Pew Research and Faith Matters clearly indicates that the number of people claiming faith in keeping with traditional evangelical definitions is in decline.

In a few subsequent posts I will note some trends in religious life. Is there a decline in religiosity and spiritual faith? Maybe there is a decline, or it may be a shifting way of defining faith, just as the older generations in the 50s and 60s were concerned about lack of religious respect and spirituality from the teens to 30 yr olds of that era due to the manner in which they were dressing, being willing to go to movies, going out to eat at a restaurant on Sunday after church, going for a swim on Sunday or even put gas in their car…all of which the older generation felt were violations of keeping the Sabbath holy and contrary to holy living.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Three Businesses Lost My Business

A wise businessperson keeps at the forefront of his/her mind is a fundamental fact, consumers have a host of options and a bad experience can cause the businessperson’s customer to take their business elsewhere. A manager/owner her forgets this fact will lose significant business, and possibly so much so as to put their business at risk.

Most people accept that mistakes are made, but when they are, consumers expect adequate redress. Inadequate redress is nothing short of poor customer care. While it is true that I will accept poor customer care if the results are clearly superior (quality of product and price), on a whole such superiority is rare. Hence, when all things are equal I rarely patronize a business from which I receive poor customer care.

Following are three recent negative experiences with for profit businesses that my friends in the nonprofit sector can readily apply to their work too.

In May I had to select a place for two upcoming business dinners. Hence, our family wen to an Italian restaurant, Da Domenico, in Tyson’s Corner. Evie and I go there from time to time, and I thought I would look at it as an option for one or both dinners. Shortly after we were seated, the waiter asked if we were interested in appetizers. We declined noting that none of us were interested. After getting our orders he returned to the subject of appetizers and said that they were lovely, and he would put together two samplers that were not listed on the menu. He suggested that there would not be too much of any single item and the price was reasonable. I made a big mistake by not asking for a specific price, which the waiter clearly took advantage. What came to our table of five were two good sized platters, more of a party size, from which we ate no more than a third.

When we received the bill, the platters turned out to be about 35% of the total bill. Further, when I asked for the doggy bag from the platters I was informed that they were tossed out. That was in May…I selected two other restaurants, albeit more pricey, for the business meetings. This particular restaurant in Tysons received that night the last dollar I will ever spend there.

The second poor customer service experience occurred three weeks later in early June when I went to American Lube for an oil change. For the most part I have used this shop four to five times a year for the last eight years. In the last seven months or so the establishment has undergone management change. During the most recent visit they mistakenly put in the more costly synthetic oil. When I noted I had not asked for that oil and would only pay for what I requested, the manager explained the synthetic oil was ordered by the customer ahead of my car was put into mine too by mistake. What would you do?

A mea culpa, leave the oil in the vehicle and charge for the regular oil would be good customer care. Instead, the manager did everything wrong. I was given two options, pay for the synthetic oil or wait for the correct oil to be added. I refused to pay the extra. As the drained synthetic oil would be sent out for recycling you would think they would leaving the synthetic oil in the car? At the end of the day, they not only increased their costs of the extra oil, but cost themselves a regular long-term customer.

Lastly, over the last week Evie have been in the process of changing our place of residence. Driven by value and customer service factors, it is a move that was settled this past fall.

The complex in which we reside has undergone four ownership/management changes. The first management firm was warm, helpful and customer focused. If you needed something, they listened and sought to do something to help. When they needed something from you their call or note was respectful while still accomplishing their business.

While the current management is better than the prior one, their customer care is far from being the best. Retaining good customers/tenants is a key to ongoing business success. Long-term tenants are even more prized, or so you would think. Over the years we have had various repairs done. A bathroom drain leak damaged a spot on the ceiling and wall in the dining room. While the leak was fixed, they did not return to repair the plaster. Last fall another request yielded the repair but the paint did not match. We suggested that we could move the furniture from the wall so that the whole wall could be repainted to which we received a flat and cold “no”. Management explained that painting happens only when an apartment or townhome is being prepared for a new tenant.

In the same conversation I noted that we had been there for ten years and as long term tenants it would be nice to have the ten year old carpet in the living room, hallway and stairway replaced. We received the same answer as with the painting even though we were willing to move the furniture out of the space in question. It stands to reason that the longer you remain the more the quality of the carpet wears and the walls fade, and after eight or in years it would be prudent to start replacing some carpet and painting the walls too.

With the same message we made our decision. So we are moving and with Jonathan getting married, we are taking the opportunity to downsize, move a little further out and save some money too.

Those who have attended the Disney Institute would have heard again and again the importance Disney puts upon creating a positive experience for its guests. When something does not measure up, they do not overreact but they will do what is reasonable to leave the guest feeling positive. They have solid customer care.

Donors too can have a bad experience…slow receipts, misspelled names, wrong donation amount, doing a mea culpa, etc. In those moments care must be taken to listen to the donor as well as those being served, accept responsibility, weigh their observations and see what where we can do a better job going forward. Care must be given to not dismantle what is working, but refining is always possible.

While at the Disney Institute I was struck afresh by how Disney values listening not only to their guests but their cast/employees too. They are willing to listen, evaluate and incorporate ideas from all levels of their cast and from guests. They work hard to create an a good guest experience by trying to look at everything they do from the customer’s common experience. There some things Disney cannot change, such as long lines for certain rides and crowds, but they have gleaned ideas from cast and visitors alike as to how they can make the overall experience positive for their guests. Teamwork is valued throughout the organization and outstanding ideas can come from the insight of the newest employee in the most minor position.

Whether it be a nonprofit or a local business, customer service is critical, for without it, the organization’s or business’ health is at risk as donors and supporters can take their money elsewhere. Clients can look elsewhere for meaningful help and thereby cause the rationale for the service and agency to decline. Listening and creating a positive environment for all is a noble yet demanding goal that can be readily be achieved, IF we are willing to listen and change too.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Customer Care and Nonprofits

In the market place, the quality of customer service can make or break a business’ success. In most cases if customer service is neglected, there is significant harm to the company’s bottom line. Rare is the business that so dominate their market that it can afford to give little attention to customer service. People have various options which means when they are dissatisfied they will take their business elsewhere. This truism has struck home in recent months.

On June 18 I posted a blog about a failed donor call from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. On so many levels I was disappointed with the caller and the experience. I am not against receiving calls from nonprofits, but the issue is how the call is conducted. The caller should be respectful and be careful to listen to the donor. Above all, never be pushy. A pushy approach may yield more donations in the present, but it will leave several donors like me feeling more negative about the organization. Negative experiences significantly increase the likelihood that the donor will soon be giving their donations elsewhere.

Not listening and a pushy sell works against the Foundation in my case in that they received a lower gift now at the cost of a larger later. At the end of the call my impression about the Foundation was not broken but significantly shaken. When I emailed the Foundation’s Director of Development I received a short apologetic email saying that the type of call I described should not have happened, and that she was looking into it. The email sounded fine, but the actions after the email would tell if I will continue to give or not to the Foundation. Clearly the much larger gift that would have gone their direction in October is going elsewhere. Also, sound fundraising fundamentals would call for a follow-up engagement email, or better still a phone call, from a development staff member asking if I had any questions or wanted to have some more information about a project or program of the Foundation. The follow-up which should take place two to four weeks later tends to help smooth the trouble waters and draw the person closer to the mission of the organization. A follow-up on a complaint email is the perfect not follow-up leaves the relationship at risk and can send the message that they organization is not concerned whether they want the donor's friendship. If I hear back, they are not only likely to retain me as a donor, but would likely move me to give two to three times higher than my largest gift.

Businesses have long learned that it is seven to eleven times more costly to attract a new customer than retain an existing customer who has had a bad experience. The same holds true in the nonprofit world. Unfortunately all too often the truism is not fully appreciated by nonprofit administrators and development staff.

When a donor expresses disappointment it is an opportunity not only to address the issue but also the opportunity to draw the donor closer to the heart of the organization. It is the opportunity to have follow-up calls and/or emails to not only report on what has been done but also to learn more about the donor and tell them more about the organization’s work. I suspect such follow-up will not be forthcoming from the Foundation for if the first was to be coming, it would have come already.

Being involved in the nonprofit world I fully appreciate the diverse demands, the ebbs and flows that exist in the field. That said, we who are in the development field must take such complaints as opportunities to cultivate a relationship, and if done correctly the effort normally will deepen the relationship and commitment to the organization. That said, great care must be taken to not overpromise.

My experience with the Williamsburg Foundation stands in contrast to recent communication received from another organization, the Civil War Trust whose work I have only recently come to know. Evie, Josh and I recently gave several gifts to the Trust, for two of which we were to receive premiums. Normally I’m not interested in premiums but I was interested in these twos, and as for professional interest was tracking to see a) how quickly the premiums would arrive, and b) how quickly the thank you letters would arrive. At least twice a year I conduct acknowledgment tests within my organization to keep vendors and local staff on their toes, and compare how we are doing against other groups (for the most part, since using lockbox processes we have started to do well against other organizations).

The one premium arrived about two weeks after the gift was given, which is very good for a premium. Evidently the Trust had issues with the second premium as it still had not arrived weeks later. Needless to say I was really starting to wonder until I received an email explaining that the Trust had a supplier issue. The email was excellent customer care and speaks well of their attention to such matters as some organizations may have waited and waited.

As mentioned above, customer care within the nonprofit industry is inconsistent, and arguably generally lacking, particularly when it comes to small donors…of course most organizations fall all over themselves to give attention to the five and six figure donors, and sometimes four figure ones too, a subject which I may write about in a future blog.

Since many of my friends who read this blog from time to time work for nonprofits I would encourage you to give attention to customer care. Take a look at how the phones are answered and messages taken. Are callers passed from one office to another? How are donor’s acknowledged? How are complaints handled and resolved. Are we expecting donors and clients to conform to our processes rather than listening to them? We need to ask ourselves, if I was an outsider, what impression would I have of my office and organization?

In the next few day I will post about my experience with three local businesses and how they lost business due to poor customer care. There are lessons in what they did wrong that can be learned whether we work in the for-profit world, government services or nonprofit sector.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Burial, Cremation, Heritics and Limits on Divinity

The other day while reading James Michener’s Chesapeake there is a passage about the bodies of “heritics” being burned. The passage remined me of how archaic misbegotten religious notions are passed down uncritically from generation to generation shape today our lives and thinking. While it is diminishing in our society, there has been a strong reluctance against cremation due to an ancient religious teaching.

Burial is rooted in the belief in the resurrection of the dead. If there is no body to be resurrected, then the person cannot be resurrected to have eternal life or so goes the reasoning. Hence, for more than millennia, religious and civil leaders burned the bodies of “heretics” and major political opponents. The pronouncement that someone was to be burned served as a strong control over the middle age masses and burning protected the leaders from seeing their opponent in the afterlife if an injustice was carried out on them in this life…after all they assured that there would be no body for God to resurrect and correct the injustice. Today, the effects of such thinking linger effect in the number of people who see cremation as abhorrent.

For me, the ancient rationale for burial contradicts the Christian teachings about God being all-powerful, just and wise. It suggests that God is limited in his power by suggesting that the God who created the universe is powerless to resurrect someone if there was no physical body. Further, burning the bodies of heretics also suggests that God’s justice and power are limited in that the human activity makes it impossible for God to correct an injustice.

Over twelve years ago Evie and I have told our sons that we are to be cremated.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why I Could Never Support a Politician Like Sarah Palin

In yesterday’s post I noted that the politics attracts some people of questionable character but not all are of unsavory as there are a good number of honest brokers who have not been seduced. I noted that we, the voter, must give due diligence to weed out the former and seek the latter.

Regardless of my political leanings, I was the recipient of a mailing a year ago from one politician that very quickly disqualified her from ever being considered as the recipient of my vote. The letter contained a survey with five questions that recipients are encouraged to return.

One of my ongoing concerns is the way politicians of various parties and levels twist and intentionally obfuscate information to manipulate the public to support them or the issue they are pushing, and pushing not always for reasons that are apparent to the voter. One issue that greatly concerns me, and which I believe the public does not appreciate, is how push polling is being used to convince (manipulate?) the person being surveyed into coming to one and only one conclusion, and then to use the results to make claims on political talk shows and on the campaign trail that a large number of my and your neighbors feel about something, and if I think differently I am in a small minority and better rethink my views.

Most telephone push polling last three to five minutes and contains twelve to fifteen questions. The organization sounds innocuous enough or patriotic, but they are often fronts for an organization or party with an agenda. The first three or so questions are normally demographically related and are followed by two or three qualifier questions. If the person answering the survey answers the two or three qualifier questions in a particularly manner, the survey may well end quickly and before the primary questions are asked. If they are answered in another way that survey often moves quickly through two or three set-up questions before getting to the two or three primary questions.

The set-up questions are carefully crafted to draw the person to respond and think in a particular direction and thereby answer the primary questions in the way the survey designer is seeking. If the person being surveyed sends mixed signals with the qualifier questions two or three more set-up questions may be added.

One of the signs of push polling is not only how the wording moves you in a certain direction but also in that they require only a simple yes or no answer. No somewhat or gradient scales are used as are done with neutral and academic polling. Being forced to give only a yes or no answer is a telling sign of a push poll.

The survey in the letter not only has all the signs of push polling but also includes hot button words and demonizing language, another sign of push polling and driving people to think and feel along a particular line. The letter says that the author is interested in their views and will use them to help shape the Republican party.

What turned me off was the second paragraph in the letter inviting the recipient to join millions of other Americans in expressing their views and frustrations. The second paragraph reads, “If you think Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are doing a good job running America, the put this down. This Victory 2010 Survey isn’t for you.”

I already viewed Sarah Palin with a high degree of askance for stepping down as Alaska's governor in her first term to respond to "the higher national need" (code for...I'm a hot item and I will make as much money as I can). Any small vestige of a chance of supporting her vanished in the second paragraph.

In light of the second paragraph for Palin to on to say in the letter that she is not only interested but needs the public’s views is disingenuous. The second paragraph and the nature of the survey disqualified her from ever being considered for my vote. She does not want my honest views or yours. She only wants to have her own views reinforced by a choir of loyal supporters who do not think independantly. Regardless of the person's party a politician like her will not have my support.

We already have too many politicians seeking to manipulate how I and the public think and feel. The country does not need another, particularly one who does so with such unashamably bold craseness. We need honest brokers who wrestle with weighty issues, who are willing to listen, to change their mind and work for the overall interest of the whole country.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Scoundrels, Ballots and Power Trips

Politics has always been a cutthroat endeavor. For millennium men, and in more recent decades women too, have manipulated the public through misrepresentation, obfuscation of facts, inflaming people by playing to their more base fears and with carefully crafted public relations machines that help to project one persona while in private another and a contrary persona exists. They have manipulated the power system for their own personal gain, those of their friends and those who give them the most money to get elected.

We only need to look at the recent scandals to see this…and I am not just talking about those who are caught but the reaction of the opposition and their own party to their unsavory actions. I find it appalling and hypocritical that those who defended and kept a “family values” Senator in power after it was discovered that the Senator was visiting high priced prostitutes regularly, and maybe paying for them out of campaign contributions, were the first voices to attack a man of the other party for sending a nude picture of himself to several women. I was gravely disappointed that a Senator who covered up sexual harassment and an offer another Senator had with a woman who worked for him and delivered money to hush her received to calls for resignation from his own party. It happens with all parties…defend my party member, explain away his actions, and if the actions were wrong then minimize their significance while aggressively attacking the other party on the same, overplaying it, keeping the story going with the press by adding to the feeding frenzy.

Politics by its nature draws scoundrels and vipers. By its nature, it seductively boosts egos and inflames libidos. Power and the money are corrupting. Hence some cynics state that the only honest politician is the one who was not elected. I am not quite so cynical as there are politicians of every stripe across the globe who provide honorable service to their constituents and country. It is incumbent upon us, the voters, to cut through the clutter, to cease holding the view that my guy is always right, and that we seek people to be in office who consistently put the needs of the country ahead of the needs of their party, their friends or those who are filling their campaign coffers. We need to be diligent to not be unduly influenced by the politics of fear, image projection, the sound bite and the misleading obfuscations.

We do not need angry demanding movements who shout and press an agenda that more often than not is too narrow and unbalanced. An angry demanding movement is easily inflamed, co-opted and reactionary. Instead, we need thoughtful reflected voters who research issues, speak cogently to their elected officials and weight a host of issues when casting their ballots. We need voters not only hold our election officials accountable but who push beyond the superficial campaign image to give due diligence before casting their ballots.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Crossman Broke Camp On Saturday

Yesterday the Crossmen broke camp and hit the road. At the end of this video you will catch of glimpse of the bedroom. Could I live like this day after day from Memorial weekend to mid-August? No way, but Josh doesn’t mind. Their first competition is in Indianapolis on Tuesday June 21, Fairfield Ohio on Wednesday, Pittsburgh PA before coming to Washington DC on Friday for a show in Arlington on Saturday night…and then on to Old Bridge NJ. Evie and I will be helping on the food truck on Friday evening and Saturday. Josh will meet Hypatia at that time.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

On All Levels, A Failed Donor Call

Shortly after I arrived home on Friday I received a call from Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a Virginia non-profit which we have supported in the past. After thanking me for my past support the caller did not interact with me, or tell me anything about the organization. Instead he immediately asked if I would pledge to increase my level of support. As a fundraiser I found the call to be most interesting. The caller made several mistakes which ultimately resulted in him settling for a gift that is about 20% of the size of last year’s gift and well below what I would have likely given later.

When the caller asked if I would give at a particular level, about 33% above last year’s gift, I noted that it would be a reach this year. I also noted that I would definitely give but it was too early to say the size since I normally make decisions about gift at that level in October/November. I implied that the gift would likely in the range of last year’s, but would not make a decision in June. Yet the caller asked if he could put me down that day for pledge, send me a pledge card for an amount just above what was given last year and if I could immediately return the pledge. Again, I noted that I only make that size of gift only in the fall.

By this point in the call the fundraiser had made some fundamental errors. First, he was not listening to the donor. I said, a) I would not give at the asked level, and b) that I gave the assurance that there would be a gift in October around the level of the last year. The caller not only did not acknowledge either statements but worse seemed have not heard them which lead to the next error, not engaging the donor as to the donor's desires and plans.

Hence, the second error the caller made by not picking up on the statements when a gift decision is made and not asking if he could call back in early to mid October. Such a request is normally received positively from committed donors as it works from the their timeframe. It also received well by the donor as the caller is acknowledging what the donor's statement and the donor's intentions. This was a perfect moment to engage the donor, to draw the donor closer to the heart of the organization. A less bonded donor could be driven away.

A judicious and donor centered fundraiser would have turned the conversation into a victory by talking about teh organization and why I like supporting it. The fundraiser could have but did not ask if I had any questions or if he could send me any information about the Foundation's work and upcoming projects. Instead, the caller made his third mistake, settling for a far lower gift.

His third mistake was being focused upon the sale rather than the donor. Hence, to make a sale (gaining a pledge that day to be paid in two weeks) the fundraiser settled for a far smaller gift. The fundraiser was in a transactional frame of mind…make a sale, secure a pledge at any level so that he could send a pledge card and add another tally. To this end the fundraiser went on to mention that a gift at $35 would allow me to receive Colonial Williamsburg's magazine for another full year. He then asked if I would commit to give a $35 pledge and pay within two weeks.

There had been numerous stop lights along the way but the fundraising speed through them on. I decided to see what would happen if I replied that if he wanted me to right then to pledge $35 to be paid immediately that I would do so, but that the gift would be the only gift for the year. In other words, I warned him that the ask was premature, and that he was about to get a little now rather than more later. He thanked me for the $35 pledge rather than giving in the fall. He thanked me and said the pledge card would arrive in the coming week.

As noted, the fundraiser was in a transactional frame of mind...make a sale and secure a commitment to give today at any level.

Since Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is a classy organization, I have observed the Foundation and some of its work for several years. I have even used the Foundation in three studies as positive external comparison points for units within my own organization. I have felt it was the type of first class organization to which a fundraiser would be honored to be attached. I was greatly disappointed with the call and the fundraiser.

The message left me wondering if the unproductive call was a training issue or if my positve impression of the Foundation's development program is unfounded. There is another question that lingers in my mind…that Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Colonial Williamsburg is in such dyer straights that they need cash now so badly that they are willing to sacrifice future larger gifts for smaller gifts today. Dyer finanical straights is definitely not a message or question you want to leave in a donor’s mind.

Am I turned off by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation? Dissappointed, yes. Turned off, not really. Colonial Williamsburg is a cause worthy of support, and I suspect that it is either a training issue or that the Foundation farmed out the calls to an outbound call center...and the wrong call center at that.

Whether it was an internal staff person/volunteer or a call center, the fundraiser did not serve the Foundation well. The fundraiser was out to make a sale, conduct a transaction, gain his short-term goal, and not build a relationship with the donor. Thanking me for my past support was not at the heart of the call but only the jumping off point. I am sure that the fundraiser was happy with the result as he made a sale even though it cost the organization more money in the long-run. A donor centered fundraiser would have focused on the donor and secured the larger donation 100 to 120 days later.

For those friends who read this blog, many of whom are within my organization or are fundraisers other nonprofits, I would note that using outbound call centers can be effective if they are selected well for organizational fit and with proper success metrics in place.

If the Foundation used a call center they have not been well served by the center they is a firm that I would never use. There are call centers that work well for nonprofits and are sensitive to the differences between the profit and poltical sectors and traditional nonprofit sector. One must be mindful of the call center appraches as some make hard sells. Even when you think you have the right center continue to monitor their texts and randomly listen in calls (a common feature that can be done remotely) as they are being conducted.

By its nature fundraising has a transactional nature to it, particularly direct mail. Direct mail by its mass processes is highly transactional but can be less so when correct analytics is coupled with donor cultivation processes. Whenever one is talking live with a donor, even an annual donor who gives at a low level, it is the perfect opportunity to move beyond the transactional nature of fundraiser. Whether it is a call such as this, or a donor visit, conversations with a donor is an opportunity to build and enhance the relationship between the donor and organization. It is the the opportunity to learn learn a little more about the donor, to record what you have learned on their file, to educate donor and be educated on the donor, and to project your organization’s ethos and mission. Every conversation, even a call to say thank you can be the opportunity to draw the donor into the heart of your organization. The fundraiser failed to do any of these things and as the expression at that moment of the organization, the Foundation too failed to measure up to being a donor centered quality organization that I believe it to be.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

General Family News

Posting some general family news is overdue.

·         We enjoyed our Memorial Day Weekend trip in our RV. Though I stayed in it for two nights at camp in late April, this was the first weekend away and a full test of all systems. One the way home we dropped it off at the Ford dealer for the annual state inspection. Other than oil changing (vehicle and generator) and only replacing a side light was the only work that needed to be completed.   

·         Josh left for San Antonio TX the Friday of Memorial Weekend. Another summer with the Crossmen is underway. This year their first competition is on June 21st in Indianapolis. The next night they in Fairfield OH, followed by a show in Pittsburg on the 23rd before coming to the Washington area.

·         We spent Mother’s Day weekend and last weekend in Leola with Evie’s mother who turned 83 last weekend.

·         We, along with Hypatia, will see Josh on the evening of 24th and around meals on the 25th as we will volunteering on the Crossmen food truck that evening and Saturday. The Crossmen are staying at the Suitland HS in MD ahead of Saturday’s completion at Wakefield HS in Arlington VA. Rather than sleeping on the school floor or driving across town for home will be staying in our little rig for the night.

·         After the Crossmen show on Saturday night, as Josh heads to northern NJ for a show we will head to Annapolis for a week’s vacation and camping. We have yet to go in that direction and we thought it was about time. With the cost of gas, the wedding and moving we are not taking any long trips this summer.

·         Last night Jonathan and Maggie brought Ally over to spend the night with Hypatia. Once the initial introductions were over and ten minutes or so of watching each other they started to do to things together… see Evie’s report entitled “Gal Pals” on her blog

·         After some whimpering Hypatia settled down Saturday night in her small carry crate. Around 2:40 she started to whimper…time to take her out to illuminate, which she did and was rewarded with a treat. The next whimper wake-up call was just before six. Duty fell to me both times to take her out to the grassy areas. We were pleased by how the night progressed…of course teaching her to signal that she needs to relieve herself and to do it outside is only started.  

·         Today will be our first visit to the pool for the season. For about two hours as we try to deepen what remains of our tans, Hypatia will experience her first time alone.

·         In mid July we take possession of a new apartment. With Jonathan getting married we are downsizing as well as saving money. The new place has much more grace, less dense and very dog friendly. Movers will be moving our major items on July 22nd. As the movers get paid by the hour, over the prior week we will be transporting boxes and miscellaneous small items to the new place. As we started packing a month ago much of the non-last minute item work has been completed.

·         With moving we will not be taking a week in July as we do normally. This year will go out the second week of August…where has yet to be determined…as well as the second week of September.

·         Jonathan and Maggie continue to refine their plans their October 8th wedding. The wedding will be at 10 AM with a luncheon reception. Invitations should be going out at the end of June. They have already been talking with the priest about involving various members of the family in the ceremony. They are looking at going to Jamaica for their honeymoon.        

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Hypatia, the newest member of our family is named in honor of Hypatia of Alexandria, a fourth century mathematician, philosopher and astronomer. Her philosopher and mathematician father was the librarian of the great library of Alexandria.

In an age when women were rarely educated, Hypatia was one of the leading intellectuals of her age. Herself a teacher, Hypatia taught students at what we would consider today the university level, several of her students went on to be civil, scientific, education and church leaders. Several of her students helped define the church’s evolving theology. Hypatia taught Synesius of Cyrene, and continued to correspond with him after he became a bishop. Synesius was one of the prime shapers of what we know today as the doctrine of the trinity.

She was not only known for her work on conic sections, much of which not only advanced the concepts of hyperbolas, parabolas and ellipses, but her teachings continue to be taught today in high schools and colleges around the globe. Further, in any age Hypatia would be considered to be an outstanding mathematician. She invented the plane astrolabe, the graduated brass hydrometer and the hydroscope. Over thirteen-hundred years later Descartes and Newton extended her teachings further. On the sociological level this independent woman also did the most unlady-like thing, driving her own chariot.

Her violent death in 415 in Roman Egypt at the hands of a Christian mob must be understood in the context of the age. Christianity only became accepted in 311, in other words open acceptance of Christianity only occurred just before she was born. By 385 Christianity was starting to grow not only in great numbers but also in political influence. While the producers of the 2009 movie Agora took liberties with the timeline and sequence of events, the movie does nicely catch the political dynamics and societal tensions of the age between Christians and non-Christians, and the violent encounters in the 390s between the two populations.

The Church was beginning to dominate the public square. Pagan beliefs and teachings even those held by individuals like Hypatia, who was more of an agnostic or atheist than anything, were not only being challenged but were being persecuted…interesting development that those who were persecuted did some of the same things to others that were done to them.

Hypatia found herself at the center of a religious as well as a political struggle. If the influence of Cyrus, who became bishop of Alexandria in 412 and who would later be canonized as a saint, was to increase the pagan Hypatia’s influence upon students and society in general needed to be neutralized or better, ended completely. The church was already settling into being male dominant and a strong female who had great influence upon the minds of her students was a challenge to the church leadership.

All the dynamics behind her violent public murder is unclear as various accounts and fragments of accounts are not consistent in their details. What is clear is that she was murdered by Christian monks, monks who were encouraged (possibly ordered by Cyrus and remains a question and stain upon him until today) and protected by local church leaders and that the church celebrated her death.  What is most interesting is that though demonized by the Church as an ungodly influence, she was instrumental via Synesius to helping the Church to define its understanding of the trinity (yes, like today politics were hardball and vicious back then too…and strongly practiced by church leaders.)

Due to her influence as a teacher in an age where strong intellectual women were viewed with askance, the Church also vilified Hypatia as being a demonic libertarian seductress…for how else could she have gained such an impact upon men. Yet, most interestingly centuries later is that some Christian leaders held up Hypatia as an example of intellectual womanhood and virtue.        

It is after this extraordinary woman that our beagle pup is named. Below are some pctures taken on the drive home.

Is Democracy At Risk? Can We Learn From Rome?

Last year’s trip to Italy rekindled an interest in refreshing my knowledge of the Roman Empire, a glorious empire that dominated the Meditation and much of “civilized” Europe. All empires go through a life cycle of rise and decline. Though causes for both the rise and decline of any empire are numerous and can be debated, with Rome the decline highly involves three primary factors:
a.  Corrupt leaders who used their positions to advance their own wealth and power as well as those of their family and friends
                b. Centralization of power in the hands of Caesar and the leaving the Senate marginalized as a paper tiger
                c.  A military industrial complex that increasingly dominated the society and the budget of the empire to the point where the military, and a handful of public works which more often than not were either military driven or designed to placate the poor with entertainment.

Threats from outside were real, but Rome declined due to internal reasons and when it moved away from what had given rise to the empire.

News reporters and commentators, and political leaders at all levels and of all persuasions in modern democracies need to be heedful of what happened in Rome. The citizenry likewise needs to be heedful of the lessons.

To remain vibrant and strong, modern democracies ensure that all branches of government civil discourse, freedom of information and the exchange of the same, and each branch in the checks and balance process are vibrant and well. Consolidating power in the hands of one or two leaders is unhealthy and moves any country down the Roman pathway.

When Congressmen, Senators (or MPs in Canada, England) are expected/required to fall in line behind their leadership (President, PM, House or Senate Leadership) on all but minor matters a democracy is under threat. Thinking that what is good for the party is good for the country is dangerous thinking…it is dangerous is like a driver driving at a high rate of speed and thinking that they are too skilled to have an accident. Party winning at all costs stifles independent thinking, civil discourse and undermines a democracy.

When a party membership is reluctant to call out its leadership for potentially immoral or criminal conduct, or when it gives them passes for what they would consider most unacceptable if done by those of the other party, democracy is under attack. When leaders say that their number one priority is to defeat the opposition in the next election and to obstruct as much of their other party’s agenda as possible, democracy is eroded and slipping away. The good of the country should never come above the good of the country. When an is attack, even ones the attacker had proposed in the past, primarily because it is put forward by the opposition, democracy is starting to become a shell.

When people are appointed to the judiciary, particularly to the highest court in the land, mainly because of narrow political beliefs on a handful of issues ranging from the highly questionable unitary executive doctrine to abortion, the checks and balances within that democracy is being lost. The court system, including the highest court, should not be used as an extension of a political position for if it were, not only is democracy threatened but so is justice itself.

Any country which does not give attention to lessons from the past is at risk of repeating the same mistakes. Are our democracies vibrant and on a sound footing? While for the most part they are solid, I fear that they may not be on as firm as we believe.     

Friday, June 10, 2011

Lapsarian Debate Continues to Speak to Today's Church

A few statements earlier today drew my mind back to the lapsarian debates of the 3rd and 4th centuries when the church wrestled with what to do with those who under the threat of civil persecution, torture and/or threat of death renounced their faith. Following Constantine’s Edict of Toleration most of those who renounced their faith quickly returned…some privately continued to believe contrary to the public statements they gave publically. Could they truly be restored or once they denied their faith were they forever condemned to hell?

Though most tended to argue for restoration, the most challenging element of the debate related to priests who renounced their faith. Could these former spiritual leaders be restored? Was it possible that they were still saved regardless what they said under physical and emotional threat? Some questioned whether they were saved to begin with for if they were how in the world could they deny their faith in Jesus Christ? If they were not saved, or if their salvation was deficient, then what does that say about those who were saved/baptized by such priests? If they were not saved, then how could anyone who was “saved” under their ministry be a Christian?

At the end of the day the church decided that salvation/baptism were effective independent of the priest. Salvation/baptism’s efficiency depended upon the faith of the individual and the power of God, not the purity or non-purity of the priest. Hence the church concluded that God can and does work in and through non-believer leaders whether those leaders are in secular positions in the world at large or in holy orders within the church. Since then this conclusion has been the orthodox position of the church.

There is a tendency today for Christians to forget the orthodox position and imply in its language that the church’s ministry can only be fulfilled and fully effective if it retains only dedicated Christians. Besides being rooted in mystical and holiness teachings, this fallacy is also grounded in the human bent to shape simplistic thinking.

Clearly those who have made a personal commitment are in the best position to be faith teachers such as preachers, and congregational and denominational instructors. That said, if whose in those positions are later to be found lacking, the impact they may have had upon the spiritual life of others is still in effect and valid. In a host of positions ranging from social workers and counselors to finance and fundraising staff is still effective even if they are filled by non-believers. The central issue is their willingness to understand, respect and support the mission. Another key is leadership who are mature in the faith as well as committed and spiritually attuned to the mission as such leaders are critical to helping the church remain focused upon its spiritual ministry..

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Secrecy, The Antithesis to Memorial Day

The National Riffle Association strongly implies that freedom and democracy are only guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, not the ballet box. They rightly note that there are countries that have ballet boxes but they lack true democracy as voting by the citizenry is a shame. The NRA is correct as holding elections does mean that democracy and personal freedom will be the result. That said, there are countries where guns are in the hands of many of the citizens, and at a much higher rate than the United States, yet there is chaos and a lack of personal freedom. So the gun is not the guarantor of freedom democracy.

Personal freedom is rooted in an open democratic process with vigorous civil discourse wherein ideas are debated, argued, clarity sought, common ground recognized, consensus is found via compromise and where differences are respected. Such a democracy is threatened when demonization of one’s political opponents and winning at all costs replaces respectful civil discourse and nation building.

Another threat to democracy is undue secrecy. When government business is discussed and decided in secret, the democratic process is eroded. I am not talking about military secrecy, or private dialogue between peers, or the leaders with their primary counselors. Democracy is under attack when meetings with special interest lobbyists and high power supporters take place in secret to author legislation. Legislation is best when it is put through the rigor of open debate, where differing viewpoints are aired for public observation and enquiry. Democracy is undermined when elected officials are unable to learn who has participated in the private meetings. Leadership should not ignore freedom of information requests or feel that such legislation should not exist.

Democracy by virtue of its nature is defined by public participation in the shaping of public policy. Hence, lack of government openness and civil discourse are the antithesis to democracy. Secret meetings are also the antithesis to who we honor and why we honor their sacrifice every Memorial Day.