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Improving organizational communication

By Scheiderer Partners

Some recent work by Scheiderer Partners should lead to improved communication between the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System and its members.


Cynthia Scheiderer spent a good chunk of the summer auditing the office’s communications, examining its website and other documents, interviewing staff, recently retired members, and other stakeholders of the system, and comparing the retirement office’s communications to those of cities around the country.

The audit found that the system was doing a number of things well, but also recommended specific steps the office could take to improve its communication with city employees and retirees.

Cynthia presented a report about her findings to the system’s Board of Administrators on September 12, and Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess, who chairs the board, wrote about it on his blog. Burgess noted that “The actions highlighted in this audit, when implemented by staff, will greatly improve the interaction between SCERS staff and City employees, retirees and beneficiaries.” He also called the audit a “thorough review” that provides “a strong example for other City departments to follow. Those of us in public service must always be asking ourselves: who are our direct customers and how can we better serve them?”

Do you need to improve your communication with your audiences? Scheiderer Partners can help you, just as it is helping the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System.

Headed off to college

By Scheiderer Partners

Residence halls are opening up across the country as students return to college and this year’s class of first-year students leave the nest for the first time.

College TransitionsIt can be a stressful time for students and families alike. I wrote an article for the August issue of Alaska Airlines Magazine with helpful pointers for students making the transition from home to college for the first time. I spoke with student affairs professionals from half a dozen colleges around the Northwest, and it was interesting to hear how similar their advice was.

The main point for most: make a friend. Students who form a good connection at school, whether it’s a faculty member, staff person, or another student, are much more likely to stick with it and succeed. Other points of advice were to take advantage of the orientation programs offered at the college or university, and check in with your roommate: you don’t need two big-screen TVs in a small dorm room!

One area where the approach was different was in the matching of roomies. Some colleges have a computer system, others do it by hand. Some seek a close match of interests, others do pairings almost at random. All agreed, however, that there are a few types of folks that shouldn’t room together: don’t match an early-bird with a night owl, a neatnik with a slob, or a smoker with a non-smoker. Students can work through most other differences.

Good luck to all students at the start of the new academic year! Scheiderer Partners is pleased to work with colleges and universities as they strive to make the experience the best possible one for students and their families.

Read the full article.

Of astronomy and the humanities

By Scheiderer Partners

Last month Astronomy magazine published an essay I wrote on its blog site, “The Local Group.” Oddly enough, this has me thinking about the humanities.

Recently there has been much talk within the astronomy community about the lack of interest in the hobby among young people. My essay is about my own personal journey in the hobby. I had great interest in space and astronomy even as a little kid. I was good at math and science in school. Yet ultimately I was drawn to a humanities field. I love to write, majored in communication in college, and have spent more than 30 years in journalism, public relations, and public affairs. Only in the last 10 years has my interest in astronomy flowered into active participation in observing. I also write about astronomy on my blog, Seattle Astronomy.

Theodor Jacobsen Observatory, University of Washington

There is a similar discussion going on in education about the fact that there are not enough young people going into science and engineering to fill good available jobs. Music and arts education are sometimes devalued, and public policy discussions about education often pit STEM against the arts and humanities. I find it disappointing when the debate is framed in that way. Both are important.

Scheiderer Partners is in touch with both our scientific and creative sides! Our clients include higher education, arts, and science and engineering organizations. A recent project was to work for state funding for Washington MESA, a program that helps students from groups underrepresented in math, engineering, and science enter and excel in those fields. We’ve also worked with our partner Seven November for the University of Washington School of Drama, and do marketing for GreenStage, Seattle’s Shakespeare in the Park company.

There are good STEM jobs available, to be sure, but many employers are also looking for people who are good at expressing themselves and who are creative thinkers, the sorts of skills honed in a more traditional liberal arts education. There’s also great evidence that music in particular feeds the brain’s ability to grasp math. And what are we without art and culture?

There are several articles in the July 19 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education about the state of the humanities these days. They make for interesting reading.

Gladly, more people seem to be understanding that humanities are important. At a legislative forum during my work for Washington MESA, one person testified that we should not focus on STEM, but on STEAM, adding an A for arts. A later speaker advocated for SHTEAM, to put humanities into the mix. The acronym could get out of hand in a hurry, but the sentiment is good. A well-rounded education prepares one not just for a job, but a quality life. Let’s support both, full STEAM ahead!

Mastering the art of balance

By Scheiderer Partners

Goals are important. How hard are you willing to work to achieve yours?

Saint Martin's University President Roy Heynderickx hoods Joe Skillman on commencement day in May.

Saint Martin’s University President Roy Heynderickx hoods Joe Skillman on commencement day in May.

Our new paragon for driving to the finish line may be Joe Skillman, who completed his master’s degree in teaching at Saint Martin’s University this spring. Greg interviewed Skillman for a profile article in Insights, the university’s magazine. The story is well worth publication.

Over the last three years, Skillman has welcomed two sons into the world, held a teaching job, split a youth-ministry gig, sold a house, moved in with his in-laws, bought a house, and moved again—all while maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average in the academically rigorous Secondary Teacher Alternate Route program at Saint Martin’s.

There was a certain amount of urgency to all of that. Skillman had the teaching job, but only on a conditional certificate. He had to earn the full certificate before the conditional ran out, or else give up a gig he really loved. So he plowed through the STAR program, skipping luxuries like summer breaks, to accomplish his goal. Now he’s enjoying a summer with no required reading!

Skillman’s is a nice story about what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. You can read Greg’s article here.

Case story: Family Equality Council

By Scheiderer Partners

Nonprofits and foundations make a difference not just through what they do. They also make a difference with what they say. Is your organization using its credibility on behalf of your community? Here’s how one national nonprofit stepped up to advocate for—not just serve—its families.

Context and opportunity

When Family Equality Council came to LightBox Collaborative for communication guidance it was poised to jump to a new level of work on behalf of families. The organization was approaching its 30th anniversary, emerging as a national organization after a history dotted with name changes and periods of rapid growth. Its programs were rock-solid; they had built a strong constituency by providing connections, information, and resources for families. Well-attended events allowed families with moms and dads who are gay to network, share, and learn from each other, just like any gathering of parents. On the strength of these programs, they were ready to accomplish more.

Strategic approach


Effective communication rests on alignment of words, deeds, and intentions. LightBox Collaborative looks at this as a pyramid. The Family Equality Council was doing a lot of things right. They have a strong foundation of BEing, and were DOing great work. The challenge was finding ways to SAY all of that in a consistent and unified way.

We focused on creating overarching, foundational messages that keep the spotlight on results and not just the day-to-day work. It is clear that Family Equality Council’s sizeable constituency, solid programs, and long standing in the community earns the organization a great deal of credibility. This gives them the opportunity to step up and be an effective advocate for social change—not just for parents who are gay and their children, but as a voice for all families, no matter who is part of the family. They recognize they can use their strong voice to influence policy and culture. We worked with them to create messages that would resonate in the public square.


Steve Majors, director of communications for Family Equality Council, calls the work with LightBox Collaborative “transformative.” “We now have functional, aspirational, and relevant messaging about our work and the impact of our work. We have been able to infuse that into all of our communications to every possible stakeholder you can imagine—board, staff, media, public education campaigns, and partners in the movement. For the first time in our history, we speak clearly and concisely about why we matter and what we do.”

By taking a stand and speaking up, Family Equality Council and its families have advocated for and won state and federal policy changes in the areas of foster care and adoption, relationship recognition, safer schools, health care, employment, housing, and immigration.

What about your nonprofit or philanthropic organization? Talking about the difference you make in the world can help create lasting change for the people that your programs serve. Like Family Equality Council, is your organization ready to take a stand and speak up?

Cynthia Scheiderer is a LightBox collaborator who for years has worked with people in and from foster care and adoption, and also with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender—which makes Family Equality Council one of her favorite organizations ever. Cross posted at LightBox Collaborative.

Makeover for a classic tagline

By Scheiderer Partners

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

We expect that most of our readers know exactly whose tagline that is. That’s why we were intrigued to read this article in The New York Times, prompted by this one from The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that the United Negro College Fund (now known as just UNCF) is tinkering with its slogan after more than 40 years. A public service campaign rolling out this week expands on the tagline, using “A mind is a terrible thing to waste but a wonderful thing to invest in.” The expanded statement was created by Y&R, the same agency that helped craft the original in 1972.

uncfAs consultants who have helped a variety of organizations—including nonprofits, colleges, and government agencies—with their messaging, we recognized the challenge UNCF faced. You want to be fresh and current and have a tagline that truly expresses and helps advance what the organization is accomplishing today, but you don’t want to throw out four decades of investment in what is arguably one of the most known and successful taglines in the the history of taglines.

The Times quotes Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF, as saying the fund proceeded with “great caution” and did not want to undermine the original tagline, but rather to express that UNCF is more than a charity, that contributions to the fund are investments that pay off for individual students, the workforce, and the U.S. economy and global competitiveness. The Times reports that the claim is backed up by a study commissioned by Y&R which found what numerous other studies have concluded about the benefits of higher education: college graduates earn more money, live healthier lives, pay more taxes, are less likely to commit crimes, and use fewer government services. College is a great investment for everyone.

Helping organizations improve communication with their audiences is a painstaking and thoughtful process that requires lots of conversation and careful listening. It’s not something to be analyzed over a news article read at breakfast. That said, we’ll go out on a limb and say that it was smart to keep “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” It will be interesting to see how well the refined communication effort helps UNCF accomplish its goals of attracting greater investments in higher education.

Happy 30th to Washington MESA

By Scheiderer Partners

Washington MESA is a Scheiderer Partners client and we were pleased to participate last night in the organization’s 30th anniversary celebration, which drew a big crowd of supporters to Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac.

MESA—Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement—provides enrichment opportunities and inspires students underrepresented in STEM fields to pursue education and careers in STEM. For those not steeped in higher-ed-speak, “underrepresented” translates to women and students of color, particularly African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, and Pacific Islanders. MESA students participate in enriched educational experiences and receive practical help preparing for university-level work in STEM fields. MESA’s programs are designed to intervene in the cycles of minority isolation, low self esteem, low teacher expectations, and poor academic performance, and they counter the underdevelopment of minority students with strategies designed to break down the obstacles to achievement in scientific and technological fields.

What is most impressive about MESA, beyond its fantastic success rate, is that it’s a true community partnership, with parents, students, teachers, MESA staff, higher education, and industry all pushing for the same worthy cause. In fact, the MESA list of corporate sponsors is literally an A-to-Z of top Washington firms from AMGEN and Amazon to Intel and Zymogenetics. Boeing, Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser, and PNNL all are represented on MESA’s board of directors.

It was inspiring to hear from alumni of MESA programs who have gone on to success in STEM fields. A great example was the evening’s emcee, Justin Saint Clair, who started out in MESA as a high school sophomore. He went through “the cycle”, serving MESA as a tutor, teacher, volunteer, and board member. Now the past board chair, he’s a project manager at Microsoft.

It’s not all just academics and advising. One student told a story of how a MESA staff person at the UW let him sleep on her couch while he resolved issues with a bedbug-infested apartment in the U-District. That kid from Prosser, once on the verge of quitting, will graduate this spring in a STEM field and is poised to pursue medical school. He hopes to come back as a doctor to his Yakima-Valley town, providing both desperately needed services to the community and inspiration to a new generation to get into STEM. Sometimes the smallest act of kindness or concern can tear down an obstacle and clear the way to success.

Scheiderer Partners will be helping Washington MESA secure stable funding for its programs. It’s good work worth doing, and we’re honored to be part of the team and the MESA community.

Helping with college accreditation

By Scheiderer Partners

I had breakfast this morning at Saint Martin’s University with its president, cabinet, and members of the university’s reaccreditation steering committee. We enjoyed sharing the morning with some special guests—a team of evaluators from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), who arrived on campus to begin a three-day comprehensive evaluation of the university and its qualification for reaccreditation by the commission.

Saint Martin's University

A photo of Old Main at Saint Martin’s University, shot back in June when I was on campus working on the university’s comprehensive self-evaluation report for the NWCCU. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

I was there as a hired hand; I spent much of the summer working with the steering committee and many others in the Saint Martin’s community preparing the university’s Comprehensive Self-Evaluation Report. This was quite an undertaking; the word “comprehensive” in the title of the report may well be an understatement. The report, at 246 pages, covers everything from the big pictures of the university’s core themes and primary objectives, and touches on university governance, academic programs, student support, and physical infrastructure. It’s a report to the commission about what the university is about and what it sets out to accomplish, and how the university evaluates itself.

My part of the project was to be the primary author of the chapter of the report that covers the university’s resources and capacity, and to edit the entire document for consistent voice and style.

The whole process is like a performance review on steroids. It was so much work to get ready for these three days that I sensed most of the university staffers were relieved that the time for the visit had finally arrived.

Most colleges go through this process. It’s voluntary, but independent regional accreditation is a key that unlocks federal funding for teaching, research, and student aid. But more than that, the process of thorough and rigorous peer review helps institutions work through questions about what they do well, what needs to improve, and how to get there. Accreditation is the stamp of approval that helps us have confidence in institutions of higher education. It’s good to know that so many people put so much time and effort into quality assurance and institutional improvement at our colleges and universities.

You can read the Saint Martin’s report here—it’s a whopper of a PDF file. Best wishes to our clients at Saint Martin’s; we know the week will go well. And if you know of any other colleges that could use some help with their comprehensive self-evaluation reports, send them our way!

A stunning new social media tactic

By Scheiderer Partners

The New York Times “You’re the Boss” blog about small business ran a piece Friday by MP Mueller about a stunning new social media tactic: handwritten notes.

The timing of the article was interesting. I was wrapping up a week of business and sales coaching with a personal mentor when Cynthia sent us the article. The coach and I had actually been talking earlier in the week about handwritten notes as a way to get noticed, to stand out in an increasingly digital world, and to demonstrate your commitment to and the value you hold for your clients and colleagues.

SP thank-you card

A handwritten note can have a big impact, and a nice-looking card with your logo might stay on a contact's desk, bookshelf, or windowsill for a while, keeping you in mind.

Several recent examples help illustrate why we think handwritten notes are a good idea. A friend was surprised and delighted to receive my handwritten thank-you for her introduction to a friend who is a magazine editor. The intro led to a coffee and, soon thereafter, an article assignment. I was making the rounds at a local university when I spotted our distinctive notecard on another client’s windowsill. She had hired me to write a couple of magazine articles and referred me to a colleague who subsequently tapped us for some internal writing work. When another potential client called to offer a gig, the first thing he said was, “Thanks, I received your card” sent in appreciation of the opportunity to interview.

It helps that Scheiderer Partners has a beautiful and memorable notecard designed by the fabulous Jen Pennington of Rhizome Design & Images in Seattle. We think our logo-based card is an eye-grabber and hope its recipients will keep it on display on their desks or bulletin boards for a long time, and that it helps keep us on top of their minds the next time they need the writing, research, strategic communication, or public affairs services Scheiderer Partners offers.

As we wrote previously about making true contacts out of Twitter connections, it takes some effort to cut through the constant chatter of social media and electronic communication in order to successfully reach your audiences. It can help to go old school and put pen to paper. Do you still have a mailbox? Don’t be afraid to use it, and to keep the handwritten note in your communication toolbox.


Local nonprofits WinBIG

By Scheiderer Partners

GiveBIG raised $7.4 million May 2Seattle-area nonprofit organizations won big May 2 thanks to the Seattle Foundation’s brilliantly conceived GiveBIG event. It was gratifying to watch the online effort unfold during the day as more than $7.4 million was donated—more than twice as much as came in last year. Nearly 38,000 separate contributions were made to the 1,200 nonprofit organizations profiled on the Seattle Foundation website. While the bulk of the donations came from the Seattle area, it’s fascinating to note that contributions came in from all 50 states and 23 foreign countries.

The concept is simple yet effective: get everyone buzzing about a day of giving, and offer to “stretch” any contributions made with a pool of dollars from the foundation and other contributing organizations.

The former certainly worked. Anyone with an email, Facebook, or Twitter account was bombarded over the last week or so with pitches from organizations and friends of organizations looking for support. We were part of that, as we spent the day re-tweeting requests from the many participating organizations we like and follow. The #GiveBIG hashtag was among the Twitter leaders for Seattle all day. The stretch worked better than anyone realized; the day after GiveBIG, donors kicked in an additional $300,000 to the stretch pool, bringing the total available to $800,000. The stretch was a big draw that allowed every donor’s buck to do more.

It also is interesting that arts and culture organizations received the largest dollar value in donations, $1.66 million. Scheiderer Partners contributed to two theater companies, GreenStage, a client for which we’re doing marketing work, and Balagan Theatre, where Greg serves on the board of directors. Even though few of us have the resources to support every deserving group we like, the beauty of GiveBIG is that it gets donors energized and everyone seems to get a good bit of support and recognition.

“GiveBIG brings together two of our region’s greatest passions—technology and philanthropy—in a way that truly excites and unites the people of King County,” said Norman B. Rice, president and CEO of The Seattle Foundation. “I have never seen a stronger display of generosity and community spirit than what I witnessed today with GiveBIG.”

Congratulations to all of the organizations that won big on this day of philanthropy, and to the Seattle Foundation for making it all happen. Let’s break that record again next year.