How to sell to Not-for-Profits

I’ve worked in higher education for almost all of my 30 years after college, but I did spend some time in for-profit companies. As a result, one of my interests is the differences between the two. I’d guess, based on my interactions in the past, that we on the not-for-profit (NFP) side understand sales people way more than they understand us; I see it every time I get a sales call. In the interest of making those exchanges better, I offer some advice. If you sell to NFP’s, these tips might be instructive:

First, read Corporate Cultures by Deal and Kennedy. You work in a low-risk, fast feed-back industry. I work in a low-risk, slow feedback industry. You may think I need to or want to decide RIGHT NOW, but I don’t. In other words, your sense of time is not ours, for another, many big decisions in NFPs are layered in collaboration and process bureaucracy. In general, things in higher education take lots of time: WAY more time than you think.

Second, your calendar is not our problem; it’s not even on my radar. If the end of the quarter is here and you need to make your quota, well, maybe I can help you, but there has to be something in it for me. Empathy ain’t free.

Third, many of the terms you use are offensive to us (well, not to me, but many of us). Bottom line, profit, leads, and solutions all have layers of meaning to me that they don’t mean to you. Clean it up.

Fourth, it’s likely everyone selling something like you’re selling thinks their product is the best. You’d better be able to tell me why yours is even better.

Fifth, funding models are different. WAY different. I probably won’t be the recipient of the ROI you think your product will generate for me; someone else at the university will. And the cost (and opportunity cost of what I can’t do) is all mine.

Sixth, I can tell how many times you call me. If you don’t listen to my voicemail that says I don’t answer numbers I don’t recognize, well, I’m wondering how smart you might be. Send me an e-mail, like the message says.

Seventh, don’t ask me to call you back so you can sell to me. Ever.

Eighth, don’t use snarky techniques to get through to me, like telling someone you’re returning my call. Your chance goes from slim to none real fast.

Ninth, don’t pretend you’re not going to try to sell me something by indicating you just want to “pick my brain,” or “get my impressions of the market.” I was born at night, but not last night. I know you’re gearing up to sell me something. And it’s going to take more than 30 minutes, no matter what you say.

Finally, I know that theoretically, software can do almost anything if you throw enough development time at it. But when I ask you, I want an honest answer.

More on Going “Test-Optional”

In the weeks since DePaul announced that we were going “test optional” for freshman admission, I’ve received quite a few phone calls and emails with questions. Fortunately, most of them have been very positive, and many of the questions have been thoughtful and engaging.  As is often the case with Internet discussions, the ones who jumped into the fray early were negative, aggressive, and almost always ill-informed.  It’s clear that most had not read the announcement in its entirety.


The biggest sticking point seems to be our collective societal belief that the ACT and SAT are intelligence tests.  Even the testing agencies would tell you they’re not.  So, I’m re-posting an edited version of an earlier blog post I wrote, hoping it clears things up.  This is considerably shorter than the original.


The most fundamental problem in college admission is definitional: No one in college admission can really tell you what they’re looking for in applicants. Oh, we have a general idea, of course: Academically accomplished, intellectually curious, quick on the uptake, creative, a great writer or artist or musician.  You get the picture.  But we can’t really define “it.”

And yet, we have a test to help us find it.

We have other tests, of course: Suppose you are testing for leukemia in children. You know what the “it” that you seek is.  However, the test you design is very different than the one you might design for the academic “it.”  Let me elaborate.

Imagine a grid like this.  For each test you take, there are four outcomes: Either you have the disease or you don’t; and the test comes back either positive or negative.

If you don’t have the disease, but the test comes back positive (Square 1), you usually take another test, or have some additional medical exploration.  This false positive is inconvenient and costly, but not horrible.  Square 2 is bad news, but at least you know about the disease, and can seek treatment.  Square 3 is the most common, and of course the best news: You get a clean bill of health, and in reality, you aren’t sick.  But look at square 4: You have the disease, but the test indicates you don’t.  The “false negative” leads you to believe you’re  healthy, but you’re not.  It is the worst of all outcomes, and people who create medical tests strive to make this outcome as unlikely as possible, even at the expense of accuracy in the other squares.  You can thank our legal system for that.

Because  the academic “it” is nebulous, the creators of standardized tests, of course, have no need to minimize false negatives (presumably, it’s hard to sue when a test doesn’t detect something you can’t define in the first place). But this nebulous thing that the test can’t measure, and that we can’t define, is precisely the thing we’re trying to reward. So, college admissions officers attempt to minimize the risk of a false positive (Square 1): That is, selecting a student who doesn’t have “it,” whatever that “it” happens to be. After all, it’s possible you’ve faked your way through four years of high school by just acting smart, or so some people seem to think.  The test will tell us if you’re the real deal or not.

This is confirmation bias in operation.  Because the tests have low false positives, we see high scorers and believe they must have “it.”  Usually, we’re right (in other words, we don’t know a lot of high scorers who seem intellectually or academically challenged, so a high score confirms the GPA).  The problem comes when we extend that logic, and say that if you don’t score well on standardized tests, you must not have  “it.”  This is called the contra-positive, and it causes people to make logical errors all the time.

Think of it this way:

You can say, “If that’s a poodle, it must be a dog.”  Does it then follow that,”If that’s not a poodle, it can’t be a dog?”  Of course not.  Replace “poodle” with “high scorer” and “dog” with “smart.”  See?  Simple.

And there you have it: The SAT is prized simply because admissions officers believe–and perhaps because daily experience has confirmed to our satisfaction–that it has a very low incidence of false positives. But in trying so hard to avoid false positives, colleges and universities miss an awful lot of talented students who should be in college.

And we think that’s wrong.


DePaul University goes test-optional

I’m pleased to announce today that DePaul University is going “test-optional” for students who apply as freshmen for the fall term of 2012.

The only thing that will change on the application is the requirement that you submit an ACT or SAT; if you choose not to do so, you’ll be asked to submit responses to a few short essay questions.  Those questions and the details about how this all works will be coming later in the spring, with a long lead-time before applications for Fall 2012 are available in Summer 2011.  And of course, if you choose to submit an ACT or SAT as a part of your application, you won’t notice any difference at all.

We’ve talked about doing this for a while, and a considerable amount of research went into our decision.  All that number crunching confirms what admissions officers all know anyway: That your chances for success in college are, for the most part, determined by how good a student you have become, which is of course generally reflected in your high school GPA in college-prep classes. (What has turned out to be surprising to some people, though, is that it doesn’t matter which high school you attended: A 3.8 at one school is about the same thing as 3.8 at another.)

Other things are important to our understanding of you, of course, especially if you’re not a straight-A student. These “other things” what we look for in your essays, work history, extracurricular activities, and recommendations: Are you a natural leader? Do you accomplish your goals?  Have you gained experience navigating complex systems?  Are you an expert in one particular field?  Those things matter to us, and they tell us things about you that grades and test scores do not.  Our commitment to a holistic review of every application is one of the hallmarks of our review process.

We all know, of course, that if you score really well on the ACT or SAT, you’ve probably got something good going on in your head, and that’s why these tests are especially helpful for super-selective universities who need to make fine distinctions between and among thousands of students with perfect high school records.  But we also all know lots of really smart, or creative, or resourceful, or talented people with great high school records, for whom a single measure like a standardized test does not tell the whole story.  At one of the nation’s largest private universities, there is room in our freshman class of over 2,000 for people like that; those are the people we want to reach and encourage to consider applying to DePaul.

You can read more about it here. We’re eager to hear what you think about this.  Let us know!

An Apology to High School Sophomores

I wrote this several years ago, in response to an online discussion about whether or not sophomores were ready to think about college.  Someone just asked permission to use some of it in a book she’s writing, so I thought I would post it here, too.

An Open Letter to High School Sophomores (and probably freshmen, 8th
graders, and so on…) in the form of an extended generational apology:

First and foremost, we’re sorry.  We didn’t think your parents
were listening, or, perhaps more accurately, we thought they needed to
hear things over and over and over before they sunk in.  We
stretched the truth a bit to make a point.  And now we are
left with the unfortunate remnants of our good deeds.  Let me
explain.

You see, the generation you know as Baby Boomers lived in an exciting
time.  Before our fathers (and some of our mothers) came back
from World War II, college was little more than dream for most
Americans; just 50 years ago, only a quarter of high school graduates
attended college. Many who went eventually had their fill after two
years of college, and that was just fine for them, as just going to
college said something about you in those days.  For most, a
good job in the steel mill or the Ford factory, or one laying bricks
was sufficient to secure a good future.

But something—perhaps it was economic growth, or fascination with
abstract concepts like liberty or freedom or communism borne in the
War—caused that all to change.  Americans started to believe
that higher education was part and parcel of a better life.

It was easy to see how this belief evolved.  It’s natural for
parents to want better for their children, and after emerging from
years of sacrifice and fear, abundance and optimism reigned.
We were the victors, and to the victors belong the spoils. As our
parents looked around, one thing was unmistakable: The wealthy and
successful members of society were mostly college graduates; the middle
class and those at the bottom of the economic rungs were not.
If cause and effect may have been reversed in a classis case of post
hoc ergo propter hoc, who cared?   Aspire,
regardless.  Do as much as you can. Go to college.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?

College became a part of part of every parent’s dream for his or her
children.  (You might also type “Vietnam College Deferment”
into Google to get some insight into other reasons college became
popular in the 1960’s).  This enthusiasm was contagious, and
like a child returning from Trick-or-Treating, we gorged ourselves on
this newly found candy of opportunity.  Even the government
got involved, and created special grants and loans to make college
possible for those who couldn’t have imagined it. (I know it’s hard to
believe, but in 1964 if you wanted to go to college, you had to pay for
it all yourself.) The party had just begun, we thought, and showed no
signs of ending.  But the hangover was coming.

I was a part of this generation, celebrating the education
boom.  And as I started my work in college admissions 25 years
ago, my colleagues and I started beating some things into your parents’
heads.

Most notably, our talks with high school students included something to
the effect of, “Choosing a College will be one of the most important
choices you will ever make.”  Dramatic? Sure.  But in
our defense, you should have seen the things they were wearing back
then.  Who knew that bad taste in clothing didn’t
automatically suggest a certain dullness of wit or thickness of
skull?  We probably should have said, “Hey, you with the bell
bottoms, you have a few more choices than you might think.
Exercise them,” and been done with it.

The truth is that you do want to do a good job choosing a college
that’s right for your talent, ability, temperament, and world
view.   But looking back on my years of work in the
profession, I’ve learned that your choice of a specific college is far
less important than your investment in learning once you arrive
there.  I’ve come to believe that if most students spent as
much time in college taking advantage of the great minds they’re
surrounded with as they spent worrying about getting into the perfect
college and all the artificial steps they take to try to appear
academically and socially unblemished, your generation would be a lot
less stressed and a lot better educated.

You will make many, many decisions in your life that are far more
important than your choice of a specific college: Don’t get in a car
with a drunk driver; start saving for retirement early; don’t horse
around with guns.  I wish my nephew had gotten that last piece
of advice.

We were also fond of telling high school students that, “It is NEVER
too early to start preparing for college.”  What we really
meant, of course, was that March of the senior year was probably a bit
too late. Same thing, don’t you see?  OK…Subtle hyperbole
wasn’t our strong suit, obviously.  But our hearts were in the
right place.  To be sure, some of the sophomores you know may
be ready to think about—or even choose—a college very early in their
life.  When you get to be my age, I bet you’ll look back at
the people who seemed to have everything figured out so
early.  On average, one out of every ten will still have it
all together, and you’ll likely feel sorry for the other
nine.  Someone once wrote that you should be less concerned
with the pursuit of happiness than with the happiness of
pursuit.  Good advice.

By making something like college choice so important, we were trying to
encourage your parents to think big, and to take advantage of
opportunities that were profound beyond our inherited
mindset.  Mostly, we wanted them not to waste this new
opportunity, one we thought could change the world into the better
place we knew it could be.

If your uncles, aunts, parents, and older relatives had been true to
the spirit of the generation, or had just been typical teenagers, they
would have ignored all this “aphorism disguised as sage wisdom,” and
perhaps the world would now be a less stressful place for
you.  Alas, they not only heard it; they embraced
it.  They embraced is so hard they squeezed all the subtle
nuances out of it.  And worse yet, they magnified it and
passed it on to you, their children.  Who knew they’d be
so…so…so literal?

And ironically, the generation that benefited most from just “going to
college” started wondering, “What would happen if my kid—genetically
superior as she must be—got into the BEST college?”  Because
college is the most important decision she will ever make, and it’s
never too early to start planning, I must start grooming her NOW!!!

So, the people who’ve influenced you have been beating these things
into your head since you were old enough to be wrapped in that size 6
mo. “Future Harvard Alumnus” onesey.

Really, we had no idea it would take on these proportions.
And now, those of us who run college admissions offices are talking
about whether college recruitment should start earlier, perhaps in the
sophomore year of high school, if not even earlier.  Thus, we
are feeding on your obsession—the very one we started.  But
this time, the end game is clearer than it was so many years ago: The
paranoia about college will back up to somewhere pre-conception (if
it’s not there already in the form of pre-school waiting lists for
people yet-to-be-born, and Ivy League egg donors).  We
apologize for this too.  We are adults, and we should know
better.

Recently, the Chicago Tribune ran a story about kids in an exclusive
subdivision who played unorganized baseball, just for the fun of
it.  No uniforms, no parents, no umpires.  The very
fact that someone considered this news worthy was disheartening, but it
made me realize: As it was with my generation, so it is with
yours.  You can tell your parents—just like we did—that their
values are not yours.  You can choose to unilaterally
disarm.  You can take back your adolescence.  And a
good first step would be accepting our apology.  After that,
you have my permission to skip your choice of debate, violin, tennis,
Model UN, your medical shadowing, or your job in the nuclear physics
lab.  Just don’t skip your time at the soup kitchen,
though.  The importance of some things can’t be over stated.

Another School Year: Why? By John Ciardi

Another School Year: Why?

Although John Ciardi was an accomplished poet in his own right, most people know him only through his translation of Dante’s Inferno.  I discovered him quite by accident, as you will see.

In 1988 or 1989, when I was working at the University of Dallas, I came across an old, mustard yellow pamphlet while cleaning out some  files.  The title intrigued me, and I spent a few minutes reading it.  I soon found myself immersed in the ideas and the literary style: This is not only poignant, but a good read, to boot.

Time passed (as it tends to do).  I left UD for Grinnell College, Communicorp in Atlanta, and then St. Bonaventure.  In late 1997, while searching for some words of welcome for the entering freshman class, I found myself ripping apart my old files, which had been moved several times in the previous eight years.  Alas, the pamphlet was no where to be found.

I sent messages to two list-serv groups, hoping someone could supply a copy for me.  No one could, but several people remembered the essay, and asked me to send it along if I found it.  Others were just intrigued by my description, and eagerly awaited my success.  One person connected me with an archivist at Rutgers University, but she could not find the speech either.

I went to the Internet, searching on Ciardi, and words I remembered from the title.  Again, nothing.  But in the Library of Congress I found several references to Ciardi’s biographer, Edward M. Cifelli, who published at the University of Arkansas Press.  Off to the University of Arkansas press, where I was fortunate enough to find Cifelli’s bio, indicating he was a professor at the County College of Morris in New Jersey.  Hitting their web site, I found other e-mail names, guessed at the protocol, and sent him a message.  He knew the essay, and although he had just returned papers to the Ciardi estate, told me that what I was looking for was published in the Rutgers Alumni Monthly, November, 1954.

From there, David Pickens at Rutgers tracked it down, gave me permission to use it here,  and sent me the copy, which I have reproduced here. Believe me, this copy is much more legible than anything you’ll get from Rutgers, so please don’t bother him with more requests. I believe I have typed it correctly, but send me any typos you might find so I can correct them (there is no word missing after downright, by the way).  And remember, this was presented to the College of Men at Rutgers in 1954, which explains the non gender inclusive language.

I hope you agree that my electronic sleuthery was worth it.  Without further ado, I present, in its entirety, the full text of the speech as it was excerpted in the magazine, and later the pamphlet.

Presented to the high school students of New Jersey by their State University with the belief that those who read and think about the enclosed message will find a real inspiration and a challenge.

John A. Ciardi, associate professor of English at Rutgers University presented a most inspiring address at the opening convocation at the Colleges for Men.

Feeling that this address carries a real message to the prospective college student, your State University is pleased to bring it to you in this pamphlet.

Mr. Ciardi, one of the foremost American poets, came to Rutgers University from Harvard where he had served as an assistant professor. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, author of several well known volumes of poetry and has just published a translation of Dante’s Inferno. This translation has been well received by the critics and Professor Ciardi is now at work on translations of the second and third parts of the Divine Comedy.

John Ciardi, associate professor of English, has condensed for the Alumni Monthly his address at the convocation opening the academic year.

Another School Year: Why?
There was a time when even the faculty knew what made a college. From the time the university tradition took form in the Renaissance, until the time the faculty committees were first heard to discuss “Education for Modern Living,” a professor could afford to be downright about the classics, philosophy, history, theology, mathematics, the sciences, and language study. Whether the student meant to be a teacher, preacher, doctor, lawyer, or scientist, the core of his training was essentially the same.

Within the last fifty years, however, colleges have been adding new courses at a fantastic rate. Consult a college’s catalog for the academic year 1900-1901 and then consult one for 1950-1951. You will find that where fifty courses were offered in the earlier catalogue, two hundred and fifty are offered in the later one. This increase in specialization is, of course, implicit in the nature of the twentieth century technology. Much of it is absolutely necessary if the wheels of modern living are to be kept turning. Nevertheless, we on the faculty have had many occasions for head scratching as we read of new developments in education. We have seen the process one of my former colleagues described as “making Harvard the second-best engineering school in Cambridge,” and we have seen MIT working to make itself the New Athens of the Humanities. John Mason Brown once described the MIT process as “humanizing the scientist.” The Harvard process he described as “simonizing the humanist.”

Nevertheless even a man as dull and insensitive as a professor has something in mind as he ponders this exploding curriculum and as he faces each new school year. What is a college for?

Let me tell you one of the earliest disasters in my career as a teacher. It was January of 1940 and I was fresh out of graduate school starting my first semester at the University of Kansas City. Part of the reading for the freshman English course was Hamlet. Part of the student body was a beanpole with hair on top who came into my class, sat down, folded his arms, and looked at me as if to say: “All right, damn you, teach me something.” Two weeks later we started Hamlet. Three weeks later he came into my office with his hands on his hips. It is easy to put your hands on your hips if you are not carrying books, and this one was an unburdened soul. “Look,” he said, “I came here to be a pharmacist. Why do I have to read this stuff?” And not having a book of his own to point to, he pointed at mine which was lying on the desk.

New as I was to the faculty, I could have told this specimen a number of things. I could have pointed out that he had enrolled, not in a drugstore-mechanics school, but in a college, and that at the end of this course, he meant to reach for a scroll that read Bachelor of Science. It would not read: Qualified Pill-Grinding Technician. It would certify that he had specialized in pharmacy and had attained a certain minimum qualification, but it would further certify that he had been exposed to some of the ideas mankind has generated within its history. That is to say, he had not entered a technical training school, but a university, and that in universities students enroll for both training and education.

I could have told him all this, but it was fairly obvious he wasn’t going to be around long enough for it to matter: at the rate he was going, the first marking period might reasonably be expected to blow him toward the employment agency.

Nevertheless, I was young and I had a high sense of duty and I tried to put it this way: “For the rest of your life,” I said, “your days are going to average out to about twenty-four hours. They will be a little shorter when you are in love, and a little longer when you are out of love, but the average will tend to hold. For eight of those hours, more or less, you will be asleep, and I assume you need neither education nor training to manage to get through that third of your life.

“Then for about eight hours of each working day, you will, I hope, be usefully employed. Assume you have gone through pharmacy school—or engineering, or aggie, or law school, or whatever—during those eight hours you will be using your professional skills. You will see to it during this third of your life that the cyanide stays out of the aspirin, that the bull doesn’t jump the fence, or that your client doesn’t go to the electric chair as a result of your incompetence. These are all useful pursuits, they involve skills every man must respect, and they can all bring you good basic satisfactions. Along with everything else, they will probably be what sets your table, supports your wife, and rears your children. They will be your income, and may it always suffice.

“But having finished the day’s work what do you do with those other eight hours—the other third of your life? Let’s say you go home to your family. What sort of family are you raising? Will the children ever be exposed to a reasonably penetrating idea at home? We all think of ourselves as citizens of a great democracy. Democracies can exist, however, only as long as they remain intellectually alive. Will you be presiding over a family that maintains some basic contact with the great continuity of democratic intellect? Or is your family going to be strictly penny-ante and beer on ice? Will there be a book in the house? Will there be a painting a reasonably sensitive man can look at without shuddering? Will your family be able to speak English and to talk about an idea? Will the kids ever get to hear Bach?”

That is about what I said, but this particular pest was not interested. “Look,” he said, “you professors raise your kids your way; I’ll take care of my own. Me, I’m out to make money.”

“I hope you make a lot of it,” I told him, “because you’re going to be badly stuck for something to do when you’re not signing checks.”

Fourteen years later, I am still teaching, and I am here to tell you that the business of the college is not only to train you, but to put you in touch with what the best human minds have thought. If you have no time for Shakespeare, for a basic look at philosophy, for the community of the fine arts, for that lesson of man’s development we call history—then you have no business being in college. You are on your way to being that new species of mechanized savage, the Push-button Neanderthal. Our colleges inevitably graduate a number of such life forms, but it cannot be said that they went to college; rather, the college went through them—without making contact.

No one gets to be a human being unaided. There is not enough time in a single lifetime to invent for oneself everything one needs to know in order to be a civilized human.

Assume, for example, that you want to be a physicist. You pass the great stone halls, of say, MIT, and there cut into stone are the names of the master scientists. The chances are that few of you will leave your names to be cut into those stones. Yet any one of you who managed to stay awake through part of a high school course in physics, knows more about physics than did many of those great makers of the past. You know more because they left you what they knew. The first course in any science is essentially a history course. You have to begin by learning what the past learned for you. Except as a man has entered the past of the race he has no function in civilization.

And as this is true of the techniques of mankind, so is it true of mankind’s spiritual resources. Most of these resources, both technical and spiritual, are stored in books. Books, the arts, and the techniques of science, are man’s peculiar accomplishment.

When you have read a book, you have added to your human experience. Read Homer and your mind includes a piece of Homer’s mind. Through books you can acquire at least fragments of the mind and experience of Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare—the list is endless. For a great book is necessarily a gift: it offers you a life you have not time to live yourself, and it takes you into a world you have not time to travel in literal time. A civilized human mind is, in essence, one that contains many such lives and many such worlds. If you are too much in a hurry, or too arrogantly proud of your own limitations, to accept as a gift to your humanity some pieces of the minds of Sophocles, of Aristotle, of Chaucer—and right down the scale and down the ages to Yeats, Einstein, E.B. White, and Ogden Nash—then you may be protected by the laws governing manslaughter, and you may be a voting entity, but you are neither a developed human being nor a useful citizen of a democracy.

I think it was La Rochefoucauld who said that most people would never fall in love if they hadn’t read about it. He might have said that no one would ever manage to become a human if he hadn’t read about it.

I speak, I am sure, for the faculty of the liberal arts colleges and for the faculties of the specialized schools as well, when I say that a university has no real existence and no real purpose except as it succeeds in putting you in touch, both as specialists and as humans, with those human minds your human mind needs to include. The faculty, by its very existence, says implicitly: “We have been aided by many people, and by many books, and by the arts, in our attempt to make ourselves some sort of storehouse of human experience. We are here to make available to you, as best we can, that experience.”

I hope you will want to enter those minds and those worlds that books can give you. That is essentially what we have to offer. On the letterheads and on the banners, this is Rutgers University. It is a great university and our pride in it is part of its truest existence. Yet, once inside the letterhead and the banner, what we really are, is the Rutgers Reading and Discussion Society.

I hope you will enjoy the meetings. I hope we won’t have to cancel too many memberships. Good luck, and good learning.