Thursday, January 25

Internet 2.0: Hype Or Wholly New

Every creation strives to be more like its maker. Just recently, while we’ve barely noticed, the worldwide web has been evolving into our own image. The old one-way information highway has turned into a busy two-way street with endless arrays of interactive forums. Instead of just searching and plucking, we now plunge into sites to add, edit, chat, and share. The sites take our lead and grow smarter and more human.

In late 2004 Dale Dougherty of O’Reilly Media bundled all the web’s new technologies and usages and coined the term “Web 2.0.” By 2005 the company’s founder, Tim O’Reilly, was heralding Web 2.0 as a revolution and gathering cyber pundits to back his case. They listed the changes: Britannica online to Wikipedia; personal sites to blogs and vlogs; rigid directories to ever-evolving folksonomy. By last November the first “Web 2.0 Conference” was held.

Meanwhile an army of equally well respected critics are calling Web 2.0 mere marketing hype.

So is Web 2.0 a true cyber revolution, only a technological landmark, or just fodder for salespeople and desperate authors in search of a good title? And more basically, what in the name of Napster is Web 2.0 exactly? In hopes of hacking out the answers to both of these questions, the New Jersey Technology Council is offering a roundtable, “Web 2.0: The Debate Is On,” on Thursday, January 25, at 4 p.m. at the offices of Oracle in Iselin. Cost: $40. Visit www.njtc.org. Deepak Khare, founder of Edison-based IT provider Caresoft, acts as a facilitator.

A true serial entrepreneur, Khare has founded seven businesses in the last 18 years, five of which are still flourishing. Raised in central India, Khare earned his graduate degree in mechanical engineering in the mid-1980s, just as the tech revolution was maturing. “Right out of college I switched to IT and have never looked back,” he says.

He founded Caresoft (www.caresoftinc.com) in l994 with a focus on serving emerging technology companies. The firm provides consulting, outsourcing, and software development worldwide.

Definitions for Web 2.0 are as many and varied as the experts willing to comment. While some may dismiss the term out of hand, no one is denying that the way we all use the web has vastly changed, and that many of the changes have come in just the past year or two.

2.0 = X?. Part of the trouble is that today’s web has too many heads to lasso into a single definition. The best hope seems to be to name some of the obvious ones and see if they are pointing in any one direction. Khare sees Web 2.0 as a catchall phrase for a bunch of technologies, including blogs, Wikis, podcasts, Really Simple Syndication (RSS), collaborative tagging, and Ajax, which is a a web development technique for enhancing user interactivity.

Each of these technological or usage landmarks indicates a marked shift in the web, and yes, says Khare, they do all seem to point toward a more service oriented architecture.

Wikis, sites that allow visitors to add and edit the content, are probably the most familiar to Internet denizens. Similarly, blogs, while initiated by a single source, have become web-communities where users — and handful or hundreds of thousands — actively discuss one or several topics.

Even the straight information stream has been transformed. Miss an ESPN radio segment, last Sunday’s sermon, or the keynote at your industry conference? No problem. It is probably available as a podcast. These media files can be listened to anywhere, any time, via any number of devices.

TechnoDemocracy. Human beings are not passive creatures. Bored with idly staring at TV, the younger generation turns to more interactive computer games. So it is with the Internet. We want to fix, share, and get involved with anything on the screen, and we forge new technologies that let our input be heard.

Search engines have morphed from rigid taxonomy, a labeling system created by professionals that is not easily manipulated by users, to an ever-evolving folksonomy, an open-ended, collaborative system of labeling. Instead of using set algorithms to trace fixed directories, engines may now react to the search paths of each user who visits the site. Each user tags and ranks the site. “This is a lot more powerful than merely ranking a site by its popularity,” says Khare, “because it adds human intelligence to a machine algorithm. People prefer to follow the human tagging and ranking rather than a machine one.”

If democracy is seen as the rule of the most energetic, then the new web has, not surprisingly, become the latest truly democratic platform. On the Internet everyone around the globe has freedom of speech. What is surprising is that such a systemless system has worked so well. Wikipedia, which launched itself as a collaborative effort of all computer-literate humankind, has become a valuable information resource. Still not fully accepted as 100 percent reliable, the user-generated encyclopedia is gaining respect, and is now frequently quoted by the largest newspapers,

Hype and bubble. “Clearly there is some smoke and hype around the Web 2.0,” says Khare. In 2005 MySpace, the ultimate standard bearer of Web 2.0 interactivity and social networking, sold out to French media giant News Corp. for $580 million. Last October Google, which is now in talks to partner with CBS, plunked down $1.6 billion for YouTube, a video website made up of a mix of user-generated material, advertisements, and network re-runs. Such high-figure deals have led several cynics to rename the Internet evolution Bubble 2.0.

Tim Bray, tech writer and CEO of software developer Waterloo Maple, claims that Web 2.0 is “vacuous meaningless hype.” He claims that, depending on how you look at it, we are somewhere between Web 3.0 and Web 8.0, and that the whole progression is part of a very steady, natural progression.

Perhaps where we place our signposts is less important than noticing the change in horizon. Khare sees a quiet revolution brewing. “I think this web evolution illustrates a survival of the fittest process,” he says. “Any technology or process that did not fit, did not catch on. But anything that allowed people to express themselves caught onto the people’s imagination.”

Business on board. Whether it’s for retail or business-to-business, Web 2.0 trends are tying companies more closely to their customers. Instead of the old static website, many firms have turned to interactive blogs that share product information among makers, sellers, and users.

Yet Khare warns that interactivity can cut both ways. Nothing so instills confidence as testimony from a satisfied customer. However, while only one customer in a hundred may write in a note of praise, every angry customer is inclined to loudly voice his complaint.

“I think one must Google oneself and one’s firm frequently,” suggests Khare. “If you find anything untoward, you need to counteract.”

Meanwhile, Web 2.0 is full of free, collaborative productivity tools, including Google Write, a Microsoft Word-like word processor that allows users not only to write reports, but also to share them with collaborators with a click of the mouse.

It has been said that all revolutions proceed in stages. Certainly Web 2.0 is an ongoing phenomenon. Like the human spirit that has designed it, the web is innovative and restless. It wants to move toward more social linking and more unfettered individual expression. It also provides examples of greed and inaccuracy. In short, it holds up a mirror that deserves a good glance every generation or so.

– Bart Jackson

Sorting Out An Estate

Clearing away the treasures — and trash — of a lifetime can be overwhelming, but many of us, at some time, will be called on to do just that. When parents or grandparents die, their children must decide what to do with everything, from the possibly valuable china and silver to the boxes of cherished family mementos and the drawers plain old junk. Before an estate can be settled, everything must be sorted.

Steven Serradilla, of Clear Your Space, has made a business of helping families with this difficult chore. An estate organizer, he assists families or estate executors in sorting through and cleaning out a home, either when a person has died, or in a “power of attorney situation,” where a person has been moved to a nursing home.

Serradilla gives a free seminar on estate organization on Thursday, January 25, at 7 p.m. at the Lawrence branch of the Mercer County Public Library. Call 609-587-2626. The workshop is part of a series presented by members of the Mercer County Professional Organizers.

The main asset in an estate is usually the home. “The family needs to keep focused on the end goal,” says Serradilla, “to clear the home and get it ready for sale.”

Clearing an estate is much like the old adage on how to eat an elephant — one piece at a time. “When you have a person who has died after living in a home for 40 or 50 years, the process can be overwhelming,” he says. Serradilla breaks the task into smaller bites.

Sorting. There are four basic categories to sort, trash; “treasures” that may be sold; useful items that will be donated to charity; and “bequeathed” items that will be given to family and friends.

He suggests starting the sorting process with the “non-living areas” — the attic, basement, and garage. “An old-fashioned attic is the traditional place to store treasures,” he says. This is where you might find the family mementos, boxes of photos, or other keepsakes or vintage items you might want to sell. The garage, on the other hand, is the place where people store useful, but not valuable items, such as lawn mowers and other tools. The basement, Serradilla has found, “is where you find the trash.”

After these areas have been sorted, move on to the living areas, including the bedrooms, kitchen, and living room. When sorting, he says, don’t worry about throwing out the trash. Handle that chore in one bite at the end of the process.

Serradilla recommends “staging” the sorting. All trash goes in one corner of the room. Another corner is designated for items that will be donated for charity, a third for items that will be sold, and a fourth for items that will be the bequests.

Serradilla is often asked to keep an eye out for deeds, insurance papers, and other financial documents. “This is not the time to set up an elaborate filing system for papers that will be thrown away when you are finished with them,” he says. Set up several boxes labeled “bills,” “insurance,” etc., and sort quickly into major categories.

Sell. But how can you tell what is valuable and what is trash? Consult a professional, says Serradilla. Once the home is sorted the next step is to call in an auctioneer or antique dealer to evaluate the items. “Never donate anything or throw anything away until a professional has looked everything over,” cautions Serradilla.

He does have a few basic guidelines. Books have little monetary value unless they are quite old or are first editions. Encyclopedias “are only decorative accessories” unless they are pre-1920s. The exceptions are “specialty encyclopedias, such as something specifically on literature or art,” he says. Magazines, also, have little monetary value unless they are pre-1920s.

Colored glass is more valuable than clear glass and a set of dishes has more value if the accessory pieces — the serving dishes, cream and sugar bowls, and gravy boat — are also there. “Just a few dinner and salad plates with nothing to match has little value,” says Serradilla. Kitchen gadgets from the 1970s have very little monetary value. “Every home I go into has a Presto fryer,” he says.

His final word on deciding what is valuable: When in doubt, check with an authority.

The sale of belongings can range “from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars,” says Serradilla. “It is often just enough to cover the costs of clearing the home,” he says. But remember, the main goal is the sale of the home. Even if the mortgage is long paid off, it continues to generate property tax, utility, and maintenance costs.

Choose an auctioneer. Everyone wants to find the auctioneer or dealer who will be able to get them the most cash for the items that will be sold. The phone book is probably the best place to start the search. However, choosing a name at random from the list is only a first step.

“You aren’t just hiring an auctioneer. You are hiring the auctioneer’s following, the people who come to his sales to buy,” Serradilla points out.

Auctioneers specialize in different types of items. He suggests attending an auction to see what types of things an auctioneer you are considering typically sells. “If he is selling loungers from Sears and you have a Chippendale sofa, he is not the dealer for you,” says Serradilla. And the reverse is true. An auction house whose customers are looking for antique Chippendales are not going to be interested in buying a 10-year-old sofa, no matter how perfect its condition.

Donate. Once the sale items are out the door it is time to call in a charity to take away items that are useful, but have little monetary value — the pots and pans, the rakes and shovels, and the furniture. One basic rule: don’t donate the “trash,” items that are broken, or have missing parts or are in poor condition. Pots without handles and torn or stained clothing should just be thrown away.

Look for a charity that will come to the home and pick up the items. The Vietnam Veterans, Purple Heart, the Salvation Army, and the Rescue Mission of Trenton are four area charities that will pick up, says Serradilla. There are some restrictions, however. Some of the groups will not take books, while others deal only with smaller items and cannot accept large pieces of furniture. For insurance reasons, some cannot go inside a home, so things must be left at the curb.

Take out the trash. When clearing a home you often end up with so much trash that setting it out at the curb is not an option. That’s why Serradilla recommends calling in a rubbish removal service that will take it all away at one time. The alternative is to rent a dumpster, but he cautions against renting it at the very outset of the project. “The rentals are usually for five to seven days, but if you keep it for several weeks the costs add up,” he says.

Serradilla has been organizing estates since 2001, and he has seen some unusual items — from bear skin coats to pornography, “a lot of it,” he says. “If you are into pornography and don’t want you family to know, keep it in a box with a label that says, ‘destroy the contents of this box upon my death!’”

Before opening his business, Serradilla worked for 11 years in investments and bond fund accounting at Merrill Lynch. But after being downsized in 2000, he decided to “take control of my own destiny,” and become an entrepreneur.

A book on organizing helped him decide on his next career. He not only organizes estates, but he will also help in other residential organizing, including moves and clutter control. “No one is born knowing how to organize,” says Serradilla. “It is a skill that must be learned and practiced.”

For the deceased relatives of Serradilla’s estate clients, it’s too late, but for anyone living with rooms full of newspaper towers, mis-matched plates, yellowed sheets, and costume jewelry that has not been out of the house since the 1950s, the time to de-clutter could be now.

— Karen Hodges Miller

Sunday, January 28

Leadership Retreat For Businesswomen: Making ‘Think Time’

Women usually have a lot on their plates, and the focus required to keep all the pieces in balance leaves little time for self-reflection. Claudia Monte and Diane Allen of CAM Consulting, a Crosswicks-based company that develops training programs for public and private sector organizations, have had a lot of experience observing high-performing women who attend their workshops in areas like professional development, communication, and leadership.

“We find that women really do struggle to find some balance, and assess who they are and where they are going,” says Monte, adding that many are in transition — whether that means looking at retirement, thinking about starting a business, or simply responding to personal life changes. “It’s not that they want to stop what they’re doing,” she says, “but they want to be able to do it more easily and to gain a better sense of who they are as individuals.”

As the two consultants thought about the best way to help women examine themselves and their goals, they settled upon a leadership retreat as the way to go. “We decided that for women it would be an incredible experience to get together and to step away — to get a sense of direction and of who they are,” says Monte. “Women don’t have think time. They are too busy because they are taking care of everybody else.”

Monte and Allen were also looking for an unconventional setting. “You can go anywhere and sit in a classroom,” says Monte. “I spend my life in those places.” Looking instead for a warm, relaxing, comfortable environment, they happened on the Stella Maris Retreat Center at the Jersey Shore, where they use a glass room overlooking the ocean and filled with comfortable rockers, that “allow people to step back and bond.”

Monte and Allen offer “Women’s Leadership Retreat: Developing the Leader Within,” on Sunday, January 28, at 3 p.m., through Tuesday, January 30, at 4 p.m., at the retreat center, which is located at 981 Ocean Avenue, Elberon. Workshops include discovery journaling, personal leadership effectiveness, the power of influence, successful communication and delegation, and focused thinking. Cost: $425.

Future three-day retreats are scheduled to begin on May 6 and on October 7. For more information, call Monte or Allen at CAM Consulting Group, 609-291-1937, or Ann Marie Rimmer at the retreat center, 732-229-0602.

Allen leads an interactive session on the power of influence, helping participants to understand themselves and use that self-knowledge to influence others:

Understand personal style. Using a personal style inventory, people can classify themselves into four major styles: logical, where a person tends to tear things apart and evaluate them; structuring, where a person approaches information step by step and imposes order on it; interpersonal, where a person uses verbal skills to communicate through feeling and affect; and creativity, where a person approaches situations by visualizing future possibilities.

“The inventory not only helps the women to understand themselves,” says Allen, “but also to observe others’ behaviors, which sets the tone for how to influence them.” By understanding another person’s style, she continues, “you see what is important to them in terms of getting a message across.”

Build rapport. This can be done by using body language, voice tone, facial expression, smiles, and eye contact. Establishing rapport means building a relationship rather than engaging in one-way communication. The goal is mutual agreement and not “this is what I need from you.”

Establish your credibility over a period of time. “How do you build trust with other people?” asks Allen. The answer is through trustworthy behavior, that is, “understanding and believing that what you say you’re going to do is going to be done. It means being honest about what you are able to accomplish.”

Confront barriers to your effectiveness. “Barriers to effectiveness are often rooted in fears,” says Allen. For example, women may be hesitant about asserting themselves with people who they feel are more powerful or knowledgeable than they are. Or they may be fearful about approaching certain topics at work or in social situations, worrying either about not knowing something or about saying the wrong thing. “If we work through that,” she says, “people are willing to take the next step and stretch themselves.”

Get your point across and secure involvement from others. Two behaviors are useful when communicating with others: “pushing” occurs when a person is in a telling role, communicating fact, data, or getting a point across, and its opposite, “pulling,” happens when a person needs to secure another person’s involvement. You “pull” people in by asking questions.

For pulling, says Allen, “you need to use powerful, open-ended questions, rather than yes-no requests. For example, if you want someone to fill in for you at an upcoming meeting, first you would “push,” saying, “I have a meeting coming up next Monday for two hours about marketing one of our new products, and I am unable to attend because of personal issues. Based on the knowledge you have about the topic, I think it would be helpful if you would be willing to attend the meeting for me. Is this something you’d be willing to do?”

Next comes the “pull,” with the open-ended question such as “How can I help you prepare for this?” Or, if the person expressed uncertainty about being able to fill in for you, you might say, “What is it that I can do to help you feel more comfortable with this?”

The retreats have been successful thus far, and communication has been part of each one. “You’ve got to go out and sell yourself,” says Monte. “Believe in your message and believe in yourself. Women, I feel, need to get out and let the world know who we are.”

— Michele Alperin

Monday, January 29

Non-Profit Websites To Further the Cause

A website is just another form of communication. So you need to know two basics just to get started — what you want to say and to whom.

Whitney Quesenbery, an expert in website development, says that nonprofits must learn how to use their people skills to communicate through their websites. “The people who run nonprofits are often people people, but they don’t know how to apply what they know about people to a website,” she says. “They think websites are about technology, but they’re not; they’re about communication and making connections.”

Quesenbery leads a workshop, “Websites That Work: How to Improve Yours,” at the annual Community Works conference, on Monday, January 29, at 5 p.m. at the Frist Campus Center, Princeton University. Cost: $28. To register, go to www.PrincetonCommunityWorks.org. For more information, call Dee Patberg at 609-924-2450.

Quesenbery offers a number of suggestions to nonprofits that want to create or modify a web site:

List your audiences: A nonprofit dedicated to curing a particular disease might want its website to reach potential donors, to inform the general public about the disease, to provide information and networking opportunities for people suffering from that disease, and to enlist volunteers.

Clarify your goals. “Often groups that are not particularly tech savvy treat a website as a goal in itself, which is like saying, ‘Our purpose as an organization is to make a great brochure,’” says Quesenbery.

In the case of a disease website, for example, more appropriate goals might include advocating for the disease, providing information about the disease (not only for patients, but also for kids doing research for school); educating consumers about the services the organization provides; encouraging donations; and providing volunteers with signup information.

Keep in mind the intensity of your audiences’ need for information. An example is the National Cancer Institute (NCI) website (www.cancer.gov), which Quesenbery helped to redesign. In the early days all of the National Institutes of Health websites, including the NCI site, were aimed at medical researchers who would be submitting grants. But then NCI realized that its actual mission was not to fund research, but to “reduce cancer and improve the health of the American people.”

As it put together its website, the institute realized that different segments of its audience had different levels of need for the information it would provide, and that those with the most intense need would have the greatest “natural persistence” in using the site.

So the website designers inverted the pyramid that NCI had originally used and started instead with the largest and most general audiences, and then moved to smaller, more specialized ones. Information for researchers was placed further into the website because they were likely to use the site no matter how it was designed or where the information they needed appeared.

The most general audience is made up of people who have cancer or want to know about cancer. Next come patients who have cancer and are looking for new treatment options. Third are researchers. Fourth tier users are already-funded researchers. Last are people interested in learning about workings of the NCI itself.

Connect your audiences to your website. You have to figure out how to best explain the work you do to the audiences you want to reach. For a Habitat for Humanity website, for example, you would want to include the stories of families who have helped build and then moved into Habitat houses. These stories would appeal both to donors, who feel they have put their money to good use, as well as to potential family partners, who may look at a picture of an involved family and think: “They are not so different from me: they are not destitute — they just need a house.”

When Quesenbery was doing research for NCI on the search engine patients use to find clinical trials, she had an “aha moment.” The goal of that section was to unite researchers who needed volunteers with people looking for treatment, but it wasn’t always working.

One patient she interviewed told her about what she had experienced while investigating a particular clinical trial: “I read about what it could do and called the research office. I talked to the head, and it sounded like they were interesting guys and excited about the research and its chances for success.” But here’s the clincher. The patient continued, “All the time, we were talking about him. I wanted him to talk about me.”

For Quesenbery, “a light bulb went off.” She realized that all patients really want to know what the research could do for them. Certainly the search by location of a trial, stage of cancer, and medications made sense, but she suggested adding questions about the person: Can you tell me a little about your medical condition? What medications have you tried? “I’m creating a little interview that doesn’t assume that people know about trials, but that people do know about themselves,” she says.

Answer the simple questions online. When you use an FAQ (frequently asked questions) section in your website, the goal is to clear the desk so that your staff can deal with the more complex issues over the phone and in person. So as you are developing a site, think about what you have to keep telling people, over and over again.

Take, for example, an organization that provides distance learning at a university level. What would potential students want to know even before they call up the office? What questions do your front desk people hear all of the time. If the answers include cost, how online education works, and what classes are offered, that’s what should go in the admissions website.

“If 80 percent of the people want to know the weather report for tomorrow,” says Quesenbery, “put it on the website.” That way the staff is freed up to answer the more complicated and interesting questions — and to concentrate on the business of running the non-profit, serving clients, and prospecting for donations.

Build the site. This the step that strikes fear into so many non-techies, and causes a number of them to postpone re-designs, but Quesenbery says it’s easy to find an experienced person to take care of the technical details.

Try it out. Get the relevant audiences to test the design before you bring the site live. If you are trying to explain to clients what you can do for them, make sure to bring clients in on the evaluation. Ask them: Does it communicate well? Is it attractive? Does it engage you? Does it speak to you the way you want to be spoken to?

Quesenbery, a New York City native, earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature at Bryn Mawr.

Her first job was in lighting design for a theater in New York, but when her husband’s company moved to New Jersey, she got a job at Cognetics in Princeton Junction. “I could write and they needed someone to write documentation,” she says.

It was at Cognetics, in the days before the Internet revolution, that she first heard about the science of usability. She was working on usability testing on an introductory disk for Hewlett Packard’s first laser jet printer. The project was based in Idaho, she recalls, and required phones, faxes, bulletin boards, and a few trips back and forth. Hewlett Packard also sent her videotapes, which she used to figure out what people had trouble doing. Like previews in the theater, she says, “you try it out and see what the audience does.”

Quesenbery turned out to be good at usability, and has been working in the field for 16 years. In 2002 she left to become a solo consultant because she wanted to work with “smaller companies where there was still an owner” and with nonprofits. “I didn’t want to have to manage people,” she adds. “I just like doing the work.”

President of the Usability Professionals Association, she is also a member of the technical guidelines development committee for the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency that oversees elections, where she is chair of the subcommittee on human factors and privacy. Of this work, she says, “It has been quite an eye opener.”

Quesenbery attributes her own abilities in “organization of information and communication skills” to her parents. Her mother was a librarian. Her father was an English professor in Augusta and then a dean at Swarthmore. When he retired, he left academe and wrote news for WABC in New York and Channel 12 in Philadelphia.

— Michele Alperin

The Care and Feeding of Donors

As hordes of shoppers swirled around midtown Manhattan this past Christmas, one rather seedy, elderly gentleman positioned himself against a building on 50th and Fifth and set out a cup for donations. His hand-scrawled placard read “Please Help: I Really Need a Drink.”

In this age when everybody seems to have his hand out, he figured unvarnished honesty was the best way to solicit funds.

In 2005 more than 500,000 new organizations filed for non-profit status with the IRS. Each of these, with hands out, is approaching a weary troop of good Samaritans and pleading for funds. Only a few will get it right and walk away with huge checks from major donors.

What is their magic formula? Could it actually be unvarnished honesty?

Professional fundraiser Janice Alderman answers these questions in her talk “The Art of the Ask: The How of Major Gift Solicitation.” Alderman’s is one of a series of workshops at the Princeton Community Works conference on Monday, January 29, at 5 p.m. at Princeton University’s First Campus Center. Cost: $28. Visit www.princetoncommunityworks.org. Approximately 200 area charities are expected to attend the conference with the aim of training and uniting volunteers, staff, and administrators.

Though claiming to have merely fallen into her fundraising profession, Alderman has spent nearly all of her two-decade, post-academic career helping non-profits raise cash. A native of Chicago, Alderman graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She then earned her master’s in public policy from Claremont College. She began her fundraising work with the United Jewish Appeal, first in Chicago and then in Washington, D.C., and New York. Later she served as vice president of Children’s Aid and Family Services in Paramus.

As an independent fundraising consultant Alderman has aided the Essex County CASA, the YMCA, and the Partnership in Philanthropy. She is also the president of Regent Books, a distributor of children’s books, newspapers, and periodicals based in South Hackensack, www.regentbook.com.

Many of Alderman’s clients come through her association with Partnership in Philanthropy (PIP) — a good initial contact non-profits can make prior to pitching the big ask. Partnership in Philanthropy’s simple mission is “to make good non-profits better.” The organization works toward this goal by taking on board a very only a few clients at a time — about 14 a year. Each is given an exhaustive list of services ranging from assessment and board profiling to hands on consulting and making an annual fundraising plan model. PIP also helps with links to donors.

Executive director Becky Denbo says that applications from non-profits are now being accepted. Organizations under consideration must have three years of continuous operation, six board members, and two full-time staff members. Visit www.pipnj.org for details.

Denbo and Alderman agree that if anything defines today’s donor, it is that while not less generous, he is definitely more cautious about parting with his money. He wants to know through whom and to whom every dollar is going. Non-profits need to keep this in mind in preparing a Big Ask campaign.

What’s for sale. Just like the gentleman on 50th and Fifth, all non-profits are beggars. They are asking for money with no tangible item given in return. This does not mean, however, they have nothing to sell their donors. Each non-profit offers the opportunity to participate in its own specific mission. The chance to take part, make improvements, and take pride in accomplishments comes with every donation.

Each non-profit needs to first determine who might be interested in its product and how can it can best present it to potential givers.

PIP’s Denbo notes that “donors now look beyond the mission. They want to know more than how many meals their money bought; they want to know the effect it is having on the community as a whole.” Testimonies and lists of anecdotal success stories can make the non-profit’s work concrete and compelling.

If the charity is a soup kitchen, choose that one woman who was nourished through an illness until she could return to her housekeeping job. Then follow up the story with specifics about her current contribution to society — money made, children supported, clients served, and make mention of how many people like her the organization has helped.

People only give money to those they trust. The organization must not only appear passionate and honest, it must appear efficient — very efficient.

It must be assumed that donors, along with the rest of humanity, turn to the Internet to check out bona fides. A number of groups, including the IRS, publish information on non-profits, including everything from officers’ salaries to the percentage of donations that are used for administration costs, and the percentage that goes directly to clients and projects. This new level of donor sophistication demands rigorous record-keeping from non-profits. Ducks must be kept in a row. Donors are watching.

Donor community. When a pitch has been fine-tuned, each non-profit has to draw up a list of potential donors. This exercise calls for inclusive brainstorming. The non-profit espousing green buildings, for example, might look beyond certified tree huggers, and reach out into construction trades, contractors’ vendors, public utilities (increasingly interested in energy conservation), state and local planning boards, Earth-Day-touting corporations in need of a PR opportunity, and so on. The list of possible donors should be broad. Research will prioritize potential top donors.

“All donors are individuals,” says Alderman, “but don’t disregard the demographic categories, particularly gender and age.” Men tend to have more largesse than women of the same age. However, they typically want more for it. Men are in love with naming opportunities.

The worst hope, according to Alderman, lies with women over the baby boomer age. These ladies typically have had to be very careful with money and remain very cautious.

Whoever the major donor turns out to be, each non-profit has the delicate dilemma of deciding whether to involve him or her in the organization. “This is tricky,” says Alderman, “but experience seems to bear out that women and younger donors expect to be asked to participate and may even be insulted if not asked.” Either way, such participation should be tailored to ability and left as an open option.

Proper cultivation. In making contact with a potential donor, the old adage applies — all business is personal. Studying the potential donor’s hobbies, concerns, and personality will help enormously in selecting the proper board member to make the initial contact. This opening contact person should almost never be the one who does the actual asking, Alderman says. Rather, he is the one who introduces his new acquaintance to the cause and at a gentle pace shows him the deeds and the needs.

Meanwhile, further research on the potential donor’s finances, houses and other assets, and prior donations will begin to bring an exact amount into focus. To show just how easily a solicitor can be swayed from the target asking figure, Alderman cites the story of a client who had sized the donor up for a $100,000 gift. When it came time to ask, before the solicitor was even settled in his chair, the donor proclaimed proudly he would write out a $25,000 check. Under Alderman’s council, the soliciting team stayed its course and urged the donor up to a higher figure.

Here’s the pitch. When the time is deemed right to actually ask for the money, Alderman insists it needs to be an inclusive event. Representing the non-profit, the initial contact person, the designated asker, and perhaps one or two involved others should attend. It is equally important that the spouse be present (if it is to be an individual gift) or business partners (for company donations). Too often a plum gift slips through the bottomless chasm of “I’ll have to check with my wife and let you know.”

Having this spouse or partner in the room allows the asker again to reiterate the cause of the organization and the specific improvements this donation would make. Naming opportunities can be laid out. The good solicitor is seeking a continuous relationship with this donor.

A donor may be happy to contribute $100,000, but might want to do so over a period of years. In the case of a business an advantage is the annual publicity each piece of the donation will garner. For individuals the appeal might be the gratification of multiple thank-yous and the chance to be actively making a contribution over time.

Pro or no? Professional fundraisers are often viewed as part of a slightly tainted group that one wouldn’t want to invite to dinner. Many non-profits resist their entrance into the organization with the feeling that they can raise their own funds just as well.

Alderman argues that you may be able to do arithmetic, but you still hire an accountant. Probably the biggest benefit from taking on a professional fundraiser is that he forces the board and staff to get seriously involved and fully map out a capital campaign.

Two basic selection criteria help in the initial winnowing process. First, dismiss anyone who wants a percentage of the funds raised. “All ethical fundraisers bill by the hour or by a flat fee for the project,” says Alderman. Secondly, visit www.cfre.org and make sure the candidate is a Certified Fund Raising Executive. Membership in this society assures a level of training and expertise, along with adherence to ethical standards.

Finally, Alderman recommends finding a personal fit with your non-profit’s people and mission. A quick read through Alderman’s resume shows that her personal passion is children. She would probably have better strategies and less of learning curve for a a family shelter than for a watershed association.

After several hours the mid-Manhattan solicitor with his “I Really Need a Drink” sign had pulled in half-a-cup of donations. Maybe it was the Yuletide spirit, the location, or the refreshing honesty of his sign, but he had done better than several competitors.

“Sometimes you get lucky,” says Alderman, “but there is no such thing as too much pre-asking homework.”

— Bart Jackson

Tuesday, January 30

Nobel Laureate For Einstein Lecture

The science behind the experiments that won the Nobel Prize for Princeton University molecular biologist Eric Wieschaus and his colleague Christiane Nusslein-Volhard, seems eminently straightforward. They wanted to know how the most basic processes of embryonic development map back to the chromosomes that control them.

The two scientists treated flies with mutagenic substances so as to damage (that is, mutate) genes that caused disturbances in early embryo development. Then, using a microscope where two people could simultaneously examine the same embryo, they analyzed and classified a large number of malformations caused by these mutations.

Although in the 20 years since these experiments took place scientists have gotten a better sense of what is going on during embryo development and how best to think about it, some of the basic processes are still not understood.

“The amazing thing is that you have an egg and a sperm that fuse into a single, little cell that doesn’t look very interesting or complicated, and yet is able to generate something as complex as you or I or any animal on earth,” says Wieschaus. “All of that complexity is present in this single cell, and we would like to know — how does it happen?”

Wieschaus delivers the Albert Einstein Memorial Lecture on “Understanding Embryonic Development,” on Tuesday, January 30, at 5 p.m. at Dodds Auditorium in Robertson Hall, Princeton University. The lecture, part of a long-running series, is sponsored by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Congress.

After randomly making mutations in genes so that every gene had mutated at least once (and maybe three to four times), Wieschaus and Nusslein-Volhard examined the types of mutations to figure out what the genes associated with the mutations actually did.

By looking at inheritance patterns, scientists were already able to match a particular mutation to a particular chromosome or section of a chromosome. After working with fruit flies for 50 years, they had identified the loci of adult mutations such as changes in eye color. Looking at mutations that affected development, maybe causing an embryo to die or to not make muscles, scientists would cross those mutations to a known characteristic like eye color to see whether the two were inherited together or in a random way. This would allow them to determine whether the embryonic mutation was on the same chromosome as eye color.

Another technique is also used to localize mutations, and therefore genes, down to particular regions of a chromosome. If normal DNA is injected into a mutant fruit fly embryo, it is incorporated and makes a new line. If it “rescues” the mutant, fixing the mutation, you know that the piece of embryo that was rescued relates to the section of the gene that you injected.

Wieschaus and Nusslein-Volhard were eventually able to identify 15 different genes that, if mutated, would cause defects in segmentation. From their work, observes Wieschaus, “you could piece together a picture of how development occurs and how specific genes control specific steps in development.” After they discovered that the number of genes involved was limited, and that they could be classified into specific functional groups, others in the scientific community began to look for developmental genes in other species.

Born in South Bend, Indiana, in 1947, Wieschaus moved with his family to Birmingham, Alabama, when he was six. His father, a sales rep for a company that made large equipment for the steel industry, quit that work when the youngest of his five kids turned 21, and he and Wieschaus’s mom spent a period of time sailing boats in the Bahamas. When they returned, his father, who “liked making stuff,” set up a construction company that both of his parents ran for the last decade or so of their lives.

Lots of parents may want to know how to raise a Nobel laureate. Weichaus says that his parents had everything to do with his success. “They did not direct me towards science in particular,” he says, “but they taught me that the central thing was to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. They also gave me the self confidence to follow up on my own choices. More than anything else, that self confidence has made a difference — in achieving long term goals and how I work every day in the lab.”

As a child, he of course wanted to do well in school and did his homework, but, he remembers, “I didn’t even know you could be a scientist. I didn’t know it was a job out there.” If he went to see a science fiction movie with a guy running around in a white coat, he was likely to think — that’s not me!

Wieschaus was good at math and science at the Catholic schools he attended, but was a reader and was also interested in the arts. As he wrote in his biography on the Nobel website, “I played piano and read books, but spent most of my time painting and drawing pictures. I dreamed of becoming an artist when I grew up.”

But his plans changed, almost through serendipity. His high school biology teacher, Sister Mary Ruth, noticed a program in Lawrence, Kansas, funded by the National Science Foundation to encourage high school kids to become scientists, and she said to him, “You know, you could do this.”

That summer he dissected animals for the first time, but he also discovered a community where he felt comfortable. “For the first time in my life I was with kids who were smarter than I, who cared about science, and who talked about books and art,” he wrote. “I felt as though I had finally found a group to which I belonged.”

The next summer two professors, Nancy and Dennis Dahl, invited him back to work in their neurobiology lab, where he removed vagus nerves from large land tortoises, stripping off the outer sheaths, and recording the electrical depolarization when they were stimulated.

He attended Notre Dame, and during his sophomore year took his first embryology class, which got him started on his quest into why cells in particular regions of the developing embryo behave the way they do. He graduated in 1969 with a degree in biology.

Moving to Yale University for graduate school, he worked in the lab of Donald Poulson, who in the 1930s and early 1940s had described the basic embryology of the fruit fly. In his second year in graduate school, he switched to Walter Gehring’s lab to learn in vivo techniques for culturing embryos. Halfway through graduate school, his advisor moved to Switzerland, and Wieschaus packed his bags and went along. He received his Ph.D. from Yale in 1974 and ended up spending about 10 years abroad.

For his postdoctoral work with Rolf Nothiger he moved to Switzerland, where he met Nusslein-Volhard as well Trudi Schupbach, his wife, occasional scientific collaborator, and the mother of his three daughters. In 1978 he moved to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, as did Nusslein-Volhard, and he stayed there until 1981, when he took a position at Princeton University, where he teaches genetics and embryonic development courses to undergraduate and graduates.

So far, scientists do know that communication between cells, via chemicals that cells create, controls embryonic development, but, says Wieschaus, “we don’t really know how it starts off.”

He uses an analogy to explain the puzzle. Imagine putting a bunch of people in a room and having them self-organize, figuring out who are the leaders and followers. We can imagine that set of processes.

“This is pretty much how we think, rightly or wrongly, of what must be happening in embryo, as we are analyzing mutants in the cell communication processes, and trying to piece together the process,” he says. But the scientists are having to figure backward from a mutated process to a normal one, which Wieschaus likens to putting people in a room with blindfolds and looking at how that would affect their self-organization process.

Wieschaus is hopeful, though, that with the whole scientific community working on the issue in different ways, eventually a consensus will emerge on how embryo development works.

— Michele Alperin

Help, Please

On Thurday, January 25, Mercer County will join the rest of the state in holding a Project Homeless Connect day to serve the county’s homeless. Project Homeless Connect is a one-day event designed to provide housing, services, and hospitality in a convenient one-stop model for people experiencing homelessness. More than 35 cities have replicated this model nationwide, and New Jersey will be the first state to coordinate Project Homeless Connect events statewide on a single day.

Mercer County’s Project Homelessness Connect will be held at the YWCA, 140 East Hanover Street, Trenton, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The success of Project Homeless Connect relies on community support — through the participation of businesses, corporations, hospitals, doctors and a variety of other providers, this one-day event is designed to positively affect the lives of many individuals who are homeless in Mercer County.

The event is taking place in conjunction with the HUD mandated Point in Time count of the homeless on January 25, when the Trenton/Mercer Continuum of Care (a consortium of homeless service providers) will band together to count Mercer County’s homeless. Holding Project Homeless Connect on the same day as the homeless count will allow Mercer County to reach out to and survey more of the homeless people in the community, while providing them with much needed services.

The Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness is a consortium of leaders implementing a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Mercer County. Information gathered on the homeless on January 25 will be used in that effort. Tyco International is the Mercer Alliance’s sustaining funder, and is a major sponsor of Project Homeless Connect. Additional sponsors of the event include Trenton/Mercer Continuum of Care; City of Trenton; Mercer County; United Way of Greater Mercer County; and Isles.

Donations of the following are needed: food, bottled drinks, bus passes, socks, coats, and cash. For more information, to volunteer, or to make donations contact Tarry Truitt at the Mercer Alliance at 609-844-1008 or ttruitt@merceralliance.org.

Facebook Comments