Archive for November 2012

5 things I learned about school fundraising

November 27, 2012

Last year, I got involved with my son’s elementary school by writing teacher bios for the parent-teacher association, attending family night fundraisers, and chaperoning field trips. This year, my son is at a different elementary school, and I decided to take on a bigger challenge. I volunteered to coordinate one of the first fundraisers of the school year: the Foodland Give Aloha campaign.

It’s my first experience with fundraising, and I was inspired by a public school that achieved amazing results last year. I adapted their planning ideas and set a modest goal for the campaign.

We got off to a late start, but the PCNC (parent-community networking center) coordinator worked hard to get the word out in parent emails and the Student Council worked hard to generate student buzz.

After weeks of preparation, a month of worry and anticipation, and weeks of satisfaction, here’s what I learned about school fundraising:

1. Choose a fundraiser that is easy. The fundraiser collected all the money for us and even matched a percentage of our donations, so our money would stretch farther. They offered to put a banner for us in their store (though we missed the application deadline). And they promised to deliver a check within one month of the fundraiser’s end.

2. Consider the timing. Our fundraiser was only during the month of September, creating a sense of urgency and giving us a limited time to focus our energy. It was early enough in the school year that parents weren’t worn out from fundraising.

3. Wow them at the first meeting. People were only vaguely familiar with the fundraiser, but I went to the first meeting with two things to “wow” them: a large poster of the school mascot to measure our success in reaching our goal, and an amazing fundraising result from another school. It’s not just parents that you have to convince; wow the parent-teacher association too, instead of assuming that they will support your fundraiser because it’s a good one.

4. Get kids excited. Nothing compares with a child’s enthusiasm – and nagging. We motivated students with an ice cream party for the class with the highest contributions. We coordinated with the Student Council to get the word out, and they came up with classroom announcements, flyers, and a poster that measured the amount of class donations in ice cream scoops.

5. Communicate early and often. We told parents and the community why we’re raising the money and how much we wanted to raise, spelling out how to make a donation and offering small prizes (like a $25 gift card or a school t-shirt). We sent out email updates and mentioned the fundraiser in the school newsletter. We followed up with a “last week to donate” reminder. At the end of the fundraiser, we thanked everyone who helped with the fundraiser, told parents how much we raised, and shared the names of the prize winners.

The results: From $0 raised last year, we exceeded our $3,000 fundraising goal. We had about 15% parent participation, and received 21% matching funds from Foodland and the Western Union Foundation.

What are your most effective fundraising tips? What is the most innovative fundraiser that has inspired you to contribute?

Be safe, be smart, and be aware

November 20, 2012

The winter holidays are coming up, a barrage of Thanksgiving, winter break for students, Christmas, and the New Year. It’s a time when we are spending money more freely, if we can, and a time when we may not be as alert to criminals and danger.

Here are a few reminders to help keep you safe.

Safety Tip #1: Think like a thief

Try to break into your own home, suggests home security blogger Chad Coakley. This will show you where the weaknesses in your security system are that may have previously escaped your notice.

Safety tip #2: It’s in your hands

Keep your keys, ID, and bus pass close at hand. When catching the bus or riding in a cab, keep your bus pass or fare in your hand, so you won’t have to open your wallet. At night, keep car keys next to your bed while you sleep. If you think someone is trying to break in, you can press the “Panic” button on your key ring to set off your car alarm, recommends Ira Lipman in his book, “How to Be Safe.”

Safety tip #3: Keep it locked

Lock your doors, windows, and garage door even when you’re at home, suggests the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Don’t leave keys “hidden” outside your home, and use quality locks – preferably deadbolt locks. In hotels, use the door chain or bolt lock whenever you are in your room, use the peephole before opening the door to visitors, and never mention your room number in a public place or leave your room key on restaurant or bar tables.

Safety tip #4: No days off from keeping safe

If you’re going on vacation, mow your lawn before you leave. Ask a neighbor to pick up flyers, newspapers, and mail left on your door, and park in your driveway while you are away. Load your car right before you leave. Label your bags with your name and address, but use your work address or the place you’ll be staying, suggests Ira Lipman in “How to Be Safe.”

Safety tip #5: Practice describing a person

How observant are you? At home, work, and school, and on the go, play a “describe the suspect” game. Don’t look into a person’s eyes, suggests the Honolulu Police Department in a brochure, “How to Describe a Suspect.” Instead, pay attention to facial features: the shape of the head, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, hair style, and ears. Look for distinguishing features like marks, scars, moles, and facial characteristics. Observe their clothes, footwear, and jewelry. Listen for speech patterns. Your observations could be crucial in identifying and prosecuting a suspect.

Safety tip #6: Be prepared to protect yourself

Almost anything can be a weapon: a shoe, high heels, a book, a heavy backpack, declares Lipman. Ordinary items like keys, a pen or pencil, a corkscrew, pepper, lemon juice in a squeeze bottle, or hairspray can be used against an attacker’s eyes.

Are you safe enough? How do you keep yourself and your belongings safe when you are at the beach, shopping, or traveling?

A two-minute business class

November 13, 2012

Can you condense two years of study into 101 lessons? Michael W. Preis did just that in his book, “101 Things I Learned in Business School” (2010), with illustrations by Matthew Frederick. It’s a small book with one-page facts, explanations, and advice, about basic business principles. It’s loosely organized and punctuated by black-and-white graphics.

I further distilled and arranged their lessons into 10 basic principles for entrepreneurs and small business owners. It’s a two-minute business class in business and economics:

1. Start-ups: Business is not a single field of endeavor. (#2) Successful small business owners have to master accounting, finance, marketing, production and operations, organizational behavior (management and hiring), and economics.

2. Pricing: Set prices according to what the customer will pay, not necessarily according to costs. (#92) It’s vital to know the costs of bringing a product or service to the customer and also the competition’s pricing, but best to set a price based on the customers’ perception of value.

3. Sales: A business buys a copy machine because it needs copies, not because it wants to buy a copy machine. (#52) A good salesperson first seeks to understand the true nature and extent of a customer’s problem, and only then offers a solution.

4. Marketing: A feature is a fact. A benefit is how it helps the customer. (#54) Benefits, not features, ultimately sell products.

5. Customer Service: Complaints can be good things. (#55) When a customer tells a business where it failed, he or she is doing the business a favor. A complaining customer usually wants to continue doing business with the company, and when their complaints are resolved quickly and satisfactorily, often become very loyal.

6. Purchasing: Good, fast, or cheap: pick two. (#72) You can’t have it all. If you want high quality work performed quickly, you’ll have to pay a higher price. If you want work done quickly at a low price, you’ll sacrifice some quality. If you want high quality work for a low price, it will take more time.

7. Management: Tell others the result you need, not how to get it. (#79) A good manager acts at two extremes of scale: they ask for general values (make it functional and fun) or they ask for specific details (make it weigh less than 13 ounces and finish it within three months), leaving it to employees to come up with a solution.

8. Time Management: When overwhelmed, try doing fewer things, but doing them better. (#80) There are important tasks that must be done promptly, unimportant tasks that must be done promptly, important tasks with no particular rush, and unimportant tasks with no particular rush; and sometimes there are things that seem crucial but may not need doing at all.

9. Business Growth: There are three ways to grow a business. (#11) You can increase market share, grow with the market, or expand into a new market.

10. Business Valuation: Not all capital is economic. (#5) A business’ value is more than just the money in the bank. It has intellectual capital (proprietary information and in-house knowledge), human capital (employees’ talents, skills, and knowledge), social capital (human relationships), and brand equity (reputation).

What are the important lessons that you’ve learned in business and management? What do you wish someone had told you when you first got started?

A better oath of office

November 6, 2012

Today is Election Day, and I’d like to thank everyone who made the effort to vote – and all of the candidates who took a risk and had the drive to run for public office.

Every Election Day, there’s a chance to start over, to get right, to make things better. And though our newly elected (or re-elected) mayors and Hawaii legislators won’t assume office in until January, I think that we should start their public service with a better, more meaningful oath of office.

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Hawaii, and that I will faithfully discharge my duties as ….. to best of my ability.”  

This is the oath of office that public officers (including the governor, lieutenant governor, Hawaii legislators, board of education members, and appointed officials) must affirm before taking up their responsibilities, according to Article 16, Section 4 of the Hawaii State Constitution.

It’s a short oath, and I find it a little lacking. Hawaii residents and taxpayers deserve an oath that clearly states what we expect from our public officers, and what they are agreeing to when they ask for our vote or seek an appointment.

This is the revised oath that I propose for Hawaii’s public officers:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Hawaii. I will safeguard the rights and freedoms of Hawaii residents and citizens. I will serve my full term, barring poor health or family illness. I will treat taxpayer money carefully and spend it frugally. I will take responsibility for the actions and decisions I make. I will faithfully discharge my duties as ….. to the best of my ability.”

What does our current oath reveal about what we expect from our public officers? Should we expect more? Could a more specific oath change the mindset of our elected officials?

“A History of the World in 100 Objects” by Neil MacGregor

November 3, 2012

Could you teach history through 100 objects? What objects would you choose and what stories could they tell us? A teaser article in the December 2011 issue of “Reader’s Digest” really hooked me!

“A History of the World in 100 Objects: From the Handaxe to the Credit Card” (2011) was written by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum. It’s a record of a BBC Radio 4 broadcast, which originally relied on the narrator’s vivid details and the listeners’ imaginations to envision each object – just as the artist Albrecht Dürer relied on descriptions and his imagination to create “Rhinoceros” (object #75), a woodcut print in 1515.

The book tells a history of the world “by deciphering the messages which objects communicate across time” (page xv), viewed through “objects that tell many stories rather than bear witness to one single event” (page xvi). The objects, all found at the British Museum, span human history, covering the world, aspects of human existence, art, science, and whole societies.

MacGregor acknowledges that few organic objects have survived; delights in the changes made to objects to change their meaning; and marvels at the new understanding made possible by science. He hopes to give us “a truer understanding of the world” (page xxv), sharing with us a common humanity, and posing the question, where do things from the past belong now?

The book is arranged chronologically, from 2 million BC to 2010, into 20 chapters, with color photos of each object. There are maps at the back of the book showing each object’s location, as well as reference notes.

Here are four objects that surprised and impressed me:

* I was impressed by the Jomon Pot (object #10), a clay vessel made around 5000 BC in Japan. It has coils of clay with fibres pressed into the outside, and gold leaf lining the inside. It is connected with new cuisines and a more varied diet, and was given new life centuries later as a mizusashi (water jar). The pot is particularly relevant for me because I am taking a ceramics class.

* The Chinese Han Lacquer Cup (object #34) from AD 4 is a small serving bowl that shows us the link between art and government. The bowl lists six craftsmen and seven supervisors involved in its making, a testament to specialization, mass production, industry, and bureaucracy.

* I was gratified to find a Hawaiian Feather Helmet (object #87) presented to Captain James Cook in 1778 among the objects, with vivid red, yellow, and black feathers. It is an emblem of fatal misunderstandings between Europeans and peoples of the world. The feathers are a symbol of divinity; the feather-work conveys sacred power and supernatural protection. The helmet has special meaning for modern Hawaiians: it is a symbol of Hawaiian chiefs, a lost kingdom, and a hope for sovereignty.

* One of the most famous art objects chosen for the book is Hokusai’s The Great Wave (object #93), an 1830s Japanese woodblock print. Beautiful and vivid, the blue wave is potentially deadly for the men cowering in the three fishing boats; Mount Fuji is unreachable. It is an image of instability and uncertainty, a warning about impending changes to Japan and the power of foreign influences. Before this, I saw only the beauty of the wave, not the threat to life, freedom, and even identity.

“A History of the World in 100 Objects” is a little overwhelming; it’s a massive book with over 600 pages, but it offers fascinating details and insightful observations. I learned about history and also gained a better appreciation for these objects, most of which I would pass by in a museum with very little thought.

If the book intimidates you, visit the BBC website at to listen to the broadcasts, see the objects, and explore the timeline. Beyond world history, the book poses an interesting question: What objects would you chose to tell your life’s story?