Should Camden Become A City of Promise?

By Brett Hoover

In February, the FBI named it the most dangerous U.S. city of its size. Forty percent of its residents live below the federal poverty line and its unemployment rate is three times the national average. Fewer than half of its students graduate from high school and three of its mayors left office heading directly to jail.

Camden, New Jersey — which sits across the Delaware River from Philadelphia — has been notorious for decades, but the buzz words today are rebuild, revitalize, restore and relocate. In fact, in the second half of 2014, six major development projects have been approved for more than $600 million in tax credits from the state’s Economic Development Authority, drawing attention from both the Washington Post and the New York Times in recent weeks.

But what will that mean for Camdenites? So far there have been no requirements to hire city residents for any of the expected 2,000 new jobs (nor contracting requirements). “Awarding profitable corporations billions of dollars mostly to shift jobs around New Jersey is not a job-creation strategy,” Gordon MacInnes of the New Jersey Policy Perspective told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s a feel-good gimmick.”

Mayor Dana L. Redd told the New York Times that the activity is giving residents “a sense of hope and pride,” but the long-term question will be, “What else?”

Missing in the many stories was any discussion of education. How can any struggling city be rebuilt, revitalized or restored without addressing the other three R’s? Couldn’t Subaru of America, Lockheed Martin, Cooper Health Systems, the Philadelphia 76ers and Holtec International take even a small percentage of their tax breaks to establish Promise programming for Camden City Schools, which now have about 13,000 students?

An eight percent giveback on the tax credits would yield about $50 million, which on its own could keep a vibrant Promise program alive for at least two decades. Using those dollars to ensure additional income could sustain it well beyond that and the residents of Camden would at least have something to show for all its attention.

Brett Hoover — who founded Cities of Promise — was formerly the Associate Director of the Ivy League

Atlanta Looks For Achieve Leadership

Achieve Atlanta — which was announced as a commitment during the White House College Opportunity Day of Action last week — is a big idea with the goal to increase the number of Atlanta Public Schools students graduating from college by 20 percent by the year 2025.

To do that, the organization will invest in strategies that Assist students in preparing for and enrolling in college through consistent high-quality high school advising; ensure students are supported academically, socially and emotionally once enrolled in college through intensive advising; provide students with financial assistance to help them persist and graduate; and mobilize community and civic support for students.

And Achieve Atlanta is looking to hire its first executive director, who will provide vision and leadership to develop and execute a data-driven, growth-oriented college attainment program, using community-building and collective impact principles. To learn more about the opportunity, please download the announcement.

The New Way To Socialize

By Brett Hoover

A Promise program should easily be a “golden” brand. After all, how many complaints can people have about organizations that give away money and ask little in return?

Well, nothing worth doing is ever complaint free. Some people don’t like the eligibility rules while others think the requirements to maintain a scholarship are too demanding. Some simply don’t like that private funders elect to apply their gift as an exclusively “in-state” opportunity while others just don’t think that they are getting enough free money.

This means that even scholarship programs must work to maintain a “golden” brand in the face of naysayers, who are all too often hiding anonymously behind a computer screen.
Thus in addition to creating enthusiasm, developing strong messaging, managing the scholarship and championing students, one of the best payoffs will be an investment in social media. It is there that you can establish and grow your identity, demonstrate your commitment to the city and its students and prove your organization to be responsive and fair.

After looking at all of the social media efforts for the Promise programs across the country, I am offering five suggestions that can have positive returns to your perception from the community at large.

• Have a professionally produced video — posted to YouTube — which either tells your organization’s story or serves to show a measure of success through anecdotes. I’d recommend an upload to YouTube through an organization account (instead of a personal account). Make it a public video, which would allow any website to embed it or include it in a playlist.

• Build a base of support on Facebook and feed that audience something positive about your students, your city, your program or your partners nearly every day. Facebook is best used as a ‘feel-good’ place, where photos and celebratory moments are best shared. Also, I recommend carving out a social media budget which would allow you to “boost” both your Facebook page and important posts. If you can effectively engage your followers, they will begin to do the work of the organization with you. They will also be cheerleaders for your scholars and, in sheer volume, will completely overshadow any detractors. But also make sure that you be responsive to those who show enough interest to comment.

social-gram• Invest in photography for your key events. At New Haven Promise, we’ve posted more than 1,000 high-resolution photos each of the last two years on our Flickr account. For the annual Scholar Celebration, we’ve hired multiple photographers with the goal of getting excellent images of the new cohort of scholars and their parents. We also create Facebook galleries of lower resolution images. Not only does this help engage with our followers, but it also has been a successful way to gain new followers. Posting to Flickr also allows us easy access to thousands of high-res photos for use in a variety of ways.

• Join the chaos that is Twitter. This is a great place for announcements, linking, event information, live photos and posts and information about things going on with your other social-media channels. Twitter is also a place to make connections and learn from other organizations, businesses and even leaders in local government. Twitter can also be one of the best ways to flow into a regional or national stream of information specific to your organization.

• Instagram is dominated by a young and mobile crowd and the platform is designed for beautiful and compelling photos. This is not the place for press releases or formality. For college students who are away from home, seeing shots of a well-known eatery or any familiar venue or person can bring them back to their hometown, if even for a moment.

Invest resources in social media, believe in the experiment and have some patience. I guarantee it will deliver positive returns.

Brett Hoover — who founded Cities of Promise — was formerly the Associate Director of the Ivy League

Mortar Bored?

During preparations for the program pages on this site, it couldn’t be ignored. Not just a recurring theme, but a ubiquitous presence on the organizational logos. The mortar board (and usually its hanging or swinging sidekick tassel) makes an appearance on half of the official Promise program logos. Other types of collegiate imagery — such as books, rolled diplomas and ribbon seals — are far behind the graduation cap.

As a service to Promise programs to follow (or those re-branding), we are soliciting alternatives to the mortar board. Maybe a bubble test, a lecture hall or an alarm clock won’t convey the excitement of graduation. And perhaps images that are sleep-, pizza- or beverage-themed won’t convey a proper message.

A framed diploma? A college identification card? Pillars? Maybe a graduation gown? A backpack with a “U” on it? Please go ahead and make a suggestion in the comments. Graphic designers will surely appreciate it.