Interview by George Williams, Communications Specialist, Planned Legacy
President and Co-Founder - Help 4 NonProfits & Tribes
Author - FriendRaising: Community Engagement Strategies for Boards Who Hate Fundraising but Love Making Friends
About Hildy Gottlieb
Hildy Gottlieb is President and co-founder of Help 4 NonProfits & Tribes Community-Driven Institute, a consulting and training firm renowned for crashing through the barriers that keep community organizations from providing substantially msore benefit to those communities they serve.
Recently the author of the new book "FriendRaising: Community Engagement Strategies for Boards Who Hate Fundraising but Love Making Friends", Hildy is also the author of the acclaimed "Board Recruitment and Orientation: A Step-by-Step, Common Sense Guide."
Hildy has written extensively in non-profit and tribal publications, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Indian Country Today. Among her many awards, Hildy received the Women Helping Women Award from Soroptimist International of Desert Tucson, and she and Dimitri Petropolis were presented with the inaugural Charity Channel Founder’s Award for "contributions to the professional excellence of their colleagues, and the philanthropic example they set."
Planned Legacy: First of all Hildy, congratulations on your new book! Can you tell us what led you to write “FriendRaising - Community Engagement Strategies for Boards Who Hate Fundraising but Love Making Friends.”
Hildy Gottlieb: This particular book started out as an exercise we were doing for the Tucson Diaper Bank Board of Directors. It was part of what Dimitri Petropolis and I, as the founders, were doing just as background. Our main mission was to transition the leadership over so that the organization would be just as strong without us. The friend raising approach had built the Diaper Bank and we knew that it was friend raising that would sustain it, so we also needed to be able to transfer that knowledge.
Part of that transition was training the board and the executive director, to download all of the knowledge we had naturally stored in our brains. In our consulting practice, we had developed exercises that allow you to gather the knowledge a founder has, so that an organization can live beyond the founder’s visionary personality.
So we were doing that, as well as also doing all the work that we normally do with our governance clients. Really, we just treated the Diaper Bank like a client for two years and did intensive board development work with them so that they were ready to make the transition away from us as the founders.
At the same time, over the past seven or eight years we had been aggressively trying to find approaches to the way non-profit organizations do their work, not just the program side, but the organizational side - approaches that could impact dramatically more improvement in our communities. Friend raising was one of those approaches.
Planned Legacy: So the book looks at both the program side and the organizational side?
Hildy Gottlieb: Yes – because the impact we have in communities is not just about the program side. We’re all very used to saying “How could we get more community impact out of our programs?” What we realized, though, is that there are a number of administrative and organizational functions that seemingly go counter to creating community impact.
One of them is the sense that we have to compete with other non-profit organizations to be the best and to be the one that comes out on top. But you can’t solve a community problem or create an amazing place to live by yourself if you’re the only organization left standing.
So while building the Diaper Bank and wanting to get these concepts to our “baby,” in essence, we have been aggressively doing and teaching these things and writing about them, which is where the book came from.
We have spent the past seven or eight years really trying to develop approaches that aligned every single thing organizations do around building the most community impact possible. That includes how your board governs and how you raise money.
And what we’ve found about friend raising and fundraising is that we as non-profits have had it totally backwards – we’ve seen friend raising as something we traditionally do so that we can raise money, and that’s not the way to look at it.
Planned Legacy: So how should a non-profit organization look at the friend raising approach?
Hildy Gottlieb: Well, if you think about your own life and why you have friends, is it so that you can make your mortgage? No. You have friends so that life is worth living, so that when things are bad you’ve got somebody to turn to, and when things are good, you’ve got somebody to dance in the streets with you.
We all have true friends. We don’t call our banker a friend in our personal life unless we golf with them and we really are friends. We don’t call the guy that gives us a paycheck our friend unless they’re really a friend.
But in non-profits… you know, I’ve got a line in the introduction to the book that basically says “You’re our friend if you give us money, and if you give us a lot of money, we’ll treat you like a really good friend. And if you stop giving us money, then we will stop calling you.” That’s not friendship, that’s a transaction.
Planned Legacy: So how does your approach to friend raising make a non-profit organization better, stronger?
Hildy Gottlieb: Well, if you’re a child abuse crisis centre, your vision isn’t really to be the best child abuse crisis centre in the community (because really, who wants that as their vision? What they really want is to eventually not have to do that work at all!) - it’s to eliminate child abuse completely in your community. You want to build an army of friends around that. And that’s friends in the real sense, the people who really care about what you’re doing and what you are trying to do for the community.
What we’ve found in practice is that these kinds of friends are just like your friends in real life - the ones who will help you move out of your home, who will help you when your baby is born, who are there for you when times are tough etc. These kinds of friends of your organization will help connect you with other folks, they’ll help you get speaking opportunities, they’ll volunteer and, oh, by the way, they’ll also give you money.
Planned Legacy: So the kind of friends you’re talking about is different from what a non-profit organization would normally consider friends?
Hildy Gottlieb: Well, if all you’re looking for is transactional friends as in, “I’ll call you my friend so you’ll give me money,” than all they will give you is money. You don’t get any of the rest of the benefit that spreads your mission throughout the community. When we only look for money, look at how much else we are missing out on. We’re missing out on all the real stuff of friendship!
Planned Legacy: That sounds pretty revolutionary.
Hildy Gottlieb: Very much, it is. Very different thinking - because what it looks at is if we stop thinking that we’re in competition with everybody else and instead start building an army of support around what we’re trying to accomplish, everything just works.
Planned Legacy: As opposed to simply asking for money in a business-like approach?
Hildy Gottlieb: Well, I wish I could give you the formula of - ask for money, you get X percent of money, you’ll get an extra big return on this particular approach and you’ll be able to meet your budget. I mean, that is such a for-profit model. We use it as a non-profit, but it’s like “look for this amount of customers, you’ll get this percentage,” and then you’ll be able to make your nut.
But what we looked at instead is if our end goal is for the community to be a better place; we need to work backwards from that, and this is an approach that really encourages folks to link arms with anyone in the community that cares about the issues that you care about and begins to show them ways to do that.
Planned Legacy: What type of organizations can benefit most from the friend raising approach?
Hildy Gottlieb: Basically, any organization that wants community support for its issues. We’ve had folks say that these are the kinds of activities that small boards would benefit from, but large organizations can definitely benefit from them too.
Planned Legacy: Can you give us an example of why a large organization would need friend raising?
Hildy Gottlieb: One of the big things that happened in our hometown was that we lost substantial state funding for many non-profit organizations three or four years ago. There were funding cuts at just about every state level for basic services. We have a community of almost a million people and we were about to lose the only trauma center we had in one of our hospitals.
Suddenly, you had a very large institution realizing that it needed community support for its issues. Yet because it had never linked with the community, people figured “That’s just the hospital, they’ve got money.”
Some people don’t think the friend raising approach makes sense for large established organizations with a development staff. And if you’re thinking that your friends are only there to give you money, that may be true. But true friends are there to be friends, to support you on all levels, not just to give you money. In the case of the trauma centre above, you can see why this larger aspect of friend raising becomes so important.
If an organization sees friend raising only as a step towards getting money, as in “The only reason I want a friend is so that I can get their money,” than maybe a large organization with a sophisticated development staff doesn’t need it. But if you see friends as that hospital saw friends, as in, “We need community support for something,” than they wished they had friends!
Planned Legacy: So friend raising will work for community-based non-profit organizations, but what about national organizations that are not based in any one geographical area?
Hildy Gottlieb: I think many of the strategies in the book can be adapted for use world-wide or nationally. For example, let’s look at strategy number 10 on page 47; Community Sleuthing. Dimitri and I are about to do community sleuthing on a world-wide basis, as we’re in the process of developing an international institute that will teach the methodologies that we’ve been developing.
We are trying to figure out things like, “What should this institute look like? How should it be built? How do we train the trainers? What are the best approaches to use?” This is certainly not just going to happen in one tiny community.
Planned Legacy: So you’re going to test community sleuthing on a world-wide basis?
Hildy Gottlieb: No, we already know community sleuthing works – we’ve used it for years. What we’ll be doing is using it to help us figure out how we’re going to build this international institute. Sleuthing involves identifying what you want to know and then engaging folks at the level of asking them for their wisdom. It is how we built the Diaper Bank here in Tucson and it is how we built the Diaper Bank in Phoenix 100 miles up the road where we didn’t know anybody. So Community Sleuthing works whether your community is a small neighborhood or the whole world!
Planned Legacy: Can you tell us a little more about the sleuthing approach?
Hildy Gottlieb: We all know what a sleuth is, a detective that goes about and asks questions. That is at the heart of Community Sleuthing – asking for the wisdom people have to share, to help make your programs stronger, your mission stronger. It is engaging people you respect and want to know better, by asking them to share their knowledge and opinions, to help make the community they care about a better place.
But what we have a real tendency to do as a non-profit organization is to sit in somebody’s office, tell them about what we do, and then ask for their help.
For example, “We are a cancer support organization and we provide quality service. Can you help us raise money?” Or “Can you help us get X?” But we never engage that person on a level that says “I’ll bet you have wisdom to share with me that can help us build more support and build a better community. I can learn from you.”
Sleuthing can be done anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting with someone in person or chatting with them over the Internet – as long as you’re asking the right questions. And it’s not just about asking them how you can raise more money. You’re instead asking them to help you with regards to the heart of your mission. The book offers a number of suggestions for doing this on pages 47-49.
Questions and statements like, “Here’s what we’re thinking of doing. Do you know if anybody else is doing this kind of thing? Do you know who they are? Do you know somebody we can talk to at this organization so that we can learn more about what they are doing and the approaches they’re taking? What do you think is the most important thing about what we’re doing? Do you think we’re missing anything? Is there something that you think we should be addressing that we’re not addressing?”
These types of statements and questions can open the door to dialogue and help you develop relationships and raise friends. You involve them and their wisdom in what you’re trying to do.
You’ll find you’ll get a ton of information you never would have had. And whatever you’re trying to do is going to be stronger because you’re getting input from people you respect. You’re also getting their buy-in, because they’re giving you their wisdom. They now have a stake in your success.
From there, the next question might be “If I’ve got more questions, can I call you again?” Now you’ve got permission to continue the relationship. And then, “Do you know two other people I should talk to about this?” Now imagine if everyone you talk to tries this approach with just two people. That increases your network dramatically. And now you’re increasing your army.
So in terms of, “Does this only work in a small community?” absolutely not, this particular approach works anywhere. And that’s why we’ve realized that there is something in this book for absolutely everybody. While a movie night might only work for somebody in a small community, something like community sleuthing works across the board.
Planned Legacy: You get the strength of real supporters and you get an ever-expanding network. So that’s two things that are already different from a normal approach, and they’ve already worked for you in practice, right?
Hildy Gottlieb: They certainly have worked for us in practice. We used them to build two nonprofits from scratch, and gain and keep support for them. The nice thing about expanding your network, not just through sleuthing, but through friendraising overall, is that it’s different than the normal non-profit approach of simply expanding your network of people who will just give you money.
With friendraising, you’re increasing the network of people that will share their wisdom, their contacts, and maybe give you money too. They’ll do ALL of those things, and so you’re not only gaining two more people who might give you $25, you’re gaining two more people who will share their contacts, their wisdom, and another two people, because you’re not asking for anything.
You’re not walking in their door and saying, “Hi, I’m here to hit you up for money.”
Planned Legacy: The title of the book is interesting. Do some boards really hate fundraising?
Hildy Gottlieb: Yes. If you spend more than three minutes in the archives at Charity Channel, the question, “How do I get my board to fundraise?” seems to be one of the biggest bugaboos out there. There are rare boards that do love to fundraise, who attract fundraisers like a magnet. Most boards however, do not.
We’ve actually had board members who have previously said, “No, I can’t sit on the board because I don’t know any rich people, I can’t fundraise.” There are a huge percentage of potential board members like this. I just got a call yesterday from a large food bank that’s about to embark on a capital campaign. They said, “Three of our board members can’t wait to start going out and asking for money, and the rest of them are hiding under the table.”
What’s wound up happening is that over the years, there’s the lists of ‘10 Things Every Board Member Must Do,’ and one of those is always fundraising. But boards often don’t do it because they’re afraid of it. As a result, the solution that’s been used is to just keep telling them “But you have to,” as if we’re trying to get a kid to eat his green beans.
What we’ve finally said is, “Why don’t you stop telling them they have to?” If you build an army of friends, eventually those friends are going to support you. And they could support you in all kinds of ways, some of which may even reduce the amount of money you need.
So perhaps it’s time to give board members the option to do things they are more comfortable doing, that actually increase support in the long run!
Planned Legacy: So if development professionals go to their boards and explain to them the friend raising concept, that might ease the pressure they feel is on them to raise money?
Hildy Gottlieb: Well it brings us back to the fact that you don’t have to be asking your friends for money. One of the things that’s in the introduction to the book is that there’s a number of reasons that board members don’t want to ask their friends for money.
One is that asking for money is scary. And that’s difficult, because Western culture tends to be pretty self-reliant and therefore we are not so good at asking other people for things.
And some people don’t want to ask for money because A) they believe it imposes on a friendship and B) they know that if they ask you for money for their cause, you’re just going to turn around and ask them for money for your cause.
The other thing that we see is that asking board members to rally their friends for money only works while that board member is on the board. When that board member leaves, so does the source of money, because that board member is no longer there to ask for it.
If instead, you make real friends who understand and believe in your mission, they’re always going to be there to volunteer, to get you that speaking gig with Rotary etc.
Planned Legacy: That’s an interesting point, that if a board member leaves, the money might go too, but if you get real support, it’s not going to go away.
Hildy Gottlieb: Real support is not just financial support. It’s about becoming a friend of your mission. It’s about friends who become born again because they’re blown away by the work you’re doing to make the community a better place to live, and who then want to help in all kinds of ways – volunteering, or hooking you up with someone who can advise on this or that.
And that’s the kind of thing that board members frequently have much less trouble asking for. They’re asking for real friends, not just financial partners.
Often if board members sense an ulterior motive - if they sense that you are just saying you want friends, but you are really intending to ask their friends for money - they will often be reluctant to share the names of their friends.
But if it’s just asking for friendship and that’s it - than that friend can later determine on their own if they want to give us money. You’ll put them on the list, and when the mailing goes out, if they send us $25, that’s great. If not, that’s okay too. Then sometimes friends will surprise you and say, “I can’t believe you’re doing this amazing stuff, here’s a $100 check.”
That’s what happens when they’re brought in at the heart and soul level - they figure out ways to help you at the level they want to help, the level they feel comfortable, whether that is volunteering to help with a mailing or introducing you to a state legislator.
Board members are much more comfortable when they know that you’re not going to ask for money now and you’re not going to ask for money later. They might be added to the list for mailings or newsletters that suggest a donation, but that isn’t Mary having to face Susan and ask for money.
There is no direct ask, not now, and unless Susan indicates that is what she wants to do, not later. Susan will get the mailing, decide for herself, and either way it’s ok, because she’s still helping in other ways – a real friend – volunteering or running tours or getting speaking gigs. It’s her friendship that counts. And board members are much more comfortable asking for that.
Planned Legacy: So what does a non-profit organization need to know before they can start friend raising. How does your book present the concept?
Hildy Gottlieb: The book is broken into four sections and also includes additional Web resources online. The first section is called “Know Yourself.”
You need to know your organization’s story. You need to know what your organization is about. You need to know your organization’s programs. You need to understand how your organization does what it does. Frequently what happens when we talk to boards about this is that they sheepishly look up and say, “We don’t know enough to be able to do this.”
So the first step is to understand what your organization is about and how it does what it does, and the core values behind what it does.
Planned Legacy: So development professionals need to educate their board about their organization?
Hildy Gottlieb: Well, ironically, if a board understands everything about their organization, than what else would they need to know to govern effectively anyway? If they don’t know, than it’s not just their fundraising and their friend raising that’s suffering – it’s their ability to govern!
How can they govern if they don’t know what they need to know about their organization? The fun part of this is that if the board learns everything they need to learn to effectively raise friends, then they will be able to govern more effectively as well.
Planned Legacy: Okay, what’s the second section of the book about?
Hildy Gottlieb: The second section of the book describes various approaches for just making friends. It talks about how to get out there and get to know people. There are two different friend raising ideas you’re going to look at.
The first is introducing your own personal friends to the organization and the second is making new friends. How do you make friends with new people that you’ve never met before? How do you expand the network beyond the people that your board members know?
Planned Legacy: What is section three of the book about?
Hildy Gottlieb: Section three is all about the different kinds of things you can ask your friends for help with that are NOT money, but that will certainly help your organization in numerous different ways.
One of the things in terms of my favorites is the fact that we can engage all of these people by merely asking for advice on our programs. If you look through the table of contents in the section on asking friends for help, most of the strategies centre on what you can be asking schools, large organizations, small businesses, employee groups, donors, congregations etc. for help with.
For example, we often think that large employers are there with lots and lots of money, which is not usually the case. But they do have volunteer groups, they have wisdom, and they have the opportunity to speak to their employee groups about your mission.
Again, it’s not just about looking at people as money trees. It’s looking at them for what they really can provide, such as their wisdom, and considering them as a whole human being, rather than just a bank account. Take for example congregations. Everybody thinks that they are a great source of money, but congregations are also an amazing source of people who are passionate about their communities.
Planned Legacy: What is section four of the book about?
Hildy Gottlieb: Section four talks about strategies that every single member of your board should be doing, period. It talks about how the board is be accountable for every action or inaction on the part of the organization.
As it says in the introduction, section four is “Where the board’s rubber meets the road.” After all, if the board members do not act like true friends to an organization, supporting the organization in every way they can imagine; than why should anyone else? It’s about accountability and credibility.
In truth, though, we have never had a board look at all of the 89 strategies in the book and say “There is nothing in here we could do.” Either the whole board will choose and say “We all want to do this one.” Or every board member might pick one strategy each, that they like, and they’ll each do their own.
So they either decide as a board to adopt one strategy, or they each pick one that they feel comfortable with. But with 89 very different strategies and approaches, there is something here for every board, large or small, urban or rural, local or international.
Planned Legacy: Can you tell us more about the Web resources section of the book.
Hildy Gottlieb: We created the online Web resources section because we noticed how often you would see a book with a resources section, where the resources were out of date almost as soon as the book was printed.
So we decided to put some resources that we knew would never go out of date in the back of the book, but also to create a special Web resources section online, just for purchasers of the book. And so included in the price of the book is a great deal of additional information, kept updated to be sure it is current, which is available only through the link that is in the book.
The resources are constantly being updated with new information, with better links, with additional items and links that people find. In addition, there are downloadable PDFs of every form in the book.
There are resources on boards, governance, public speaking, public writing, public affairs, on developing and sharing resources. One of the things that people like about the resources on the Web is that there are links to other resources that are looking at things in different ways, such as Charity Channel, as well as information about other asset-based, strength-based approaches.
That’s really what friendraising is all about – a strength-based approach to building an army of support for your mission – because non-profits almost always have an abundance of resources that they forget to tap on. And that’s really what friendraising is all about – utilizing numerous different resources to accomplish your goals.
When we concern ourselves only with money, we doom ourselves to a scarcity way of thinking. When we think about friends, we realize the abundance of resources we have to tap into. It’s about a strength-based approach to the way non-profit organizations do their work. Instead of the deficit approach of, “Oh, we’re so poor, we’ll never have enough money, we’ll never have enough volunteers,” it says “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much we have to work with!”
Planned Legacy: Do you have any favorites among the fundraising strategies listed in the book?
Hildy Gottlieb: All of them are favorites. But one in particular is what we affectionately call a barn-raising, which is a volunteer party. And the barn-raising focus is just like the old movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, when the whole community would get together to help build a barn in one day.
What we’ve found is that when folks are working together side by side, talking about the organization and buying themselves in NOT by writing a check, but with sweat equity, by volunteering to help with a big task, next to others who are doing the same thing, they become friends for life – and they can’t wait to volunteer again!
Planned Legacy: Friend raising has been very effective for you, yet it seems so simple. Why haven’t more organizations embraced the concept?
Hildy Gottlieb: I wish I knew what the answer to that was. I think that we’ve grown up with a model of how charity works and the industry as a whole has kind of stuck with it.
We have a couple of different things at play here; we’ve got a sector that has mushroomed in the past 30-40 years; that really had never existed before; so it’s making up its way as it goes along. And the sector has two models that it bases itself on; one is a business model which brings with it all the for-profit business assumptions, like competition. The other is the classic church charity model, which is passing the plate.
There really has been nothing developed that is 100 percent totally focused on organizations whose sole purpose is to make the community a better place, and that kind of work takes a different way of being, a different way of doing what we do if it is to be as effective as it can be, if it is to create significant improvement in our communities.
Planned Legacy: Is their a certain mindset an organization needs have to implement the friend raising ideas and strategies you outline in the book?
Hildy Gottlieb: When we are out there talking to folks, our first thoughts should not be, “This is Joe. He has a lot of money. I need to ask him for money.”
Instead we should get in the mindset of “This is Joe. Joe cares about the community as much as I do. Joe has connections to other people who care about the community" – not “powerful connections” the way we tend to think of that word, but connections to other regular people who also care about the community – because we all care about our communities.
Because of this, Joe has wisdom brimming over – wisdom he probably doesn’t even know he has. We can use that wisdom. We can use that caring. Our organization and our mission can benefit from Joe’s compassion, his wisdom, his willingness to help in whatever way he feels he can help.
Really, we’re asking a totally different question. Even Bill Gates has more wisdom than he has money. Money is finite and it will only grow so far, but the human capacity for knowledge and wisdom expands every time that we talk to somebody else.
And there is a certain joy in sharing what we know, because so few people ask us. It’s boundless. It grows every second, and we are as a species, excited to share what we’ve learned.
Planned Legacy: What about organizations who only see friend raising as a means to fundraising?
Hildy Gottlieb: I think that any organization that sees friend raising only as a step towards fundraising is going to have a different lens through which they will see this. They may say, “We already know this,” or they may say, “We don’t need this, this isn’t for us, this is only for small groups, etc.”
An organization has to realize that friend raising is about connecting the community with the issues that are important to you. A development person in a high-powered non-profit organization, whether it be a healthcare institution or an academic institution, is often going to be focused 127 percent on money.
So maybe it’s the job of someone outside of the development office to say, “Okay, this is a totally different way of looking at how our organization interacts with the community.”
And that’s really what it’s about; how does an organization interact with its community? It’s about community engagement, and community engagement is not just about money. That’s why it’s on the cover of the book. I think those organizations that are focused entirely on money will be the ones that also spin their wheels a lot and are constantly crying “We never have enough money.”
Organizations that really focus on building friends work from an abundance mindset. They say, “We always know who to call. When we send a notice out we know at least 50 people will show up.”
And that’s the difference. If all you do is ask for money, when you send a notice out, people go running thinking, “What do they want from me now?” If you build an army of friends, when you send a notice out, people say “What can I do?”
Non-profit organizations need to make friends with the people who can create an army of support for their mission and the community.
Once you’ve got an army of supporters, you’ll hear lines like the one you see in the introduction to the book, “You couldn’t kill the Diaper Bank now if you wanted to. The community wouldn’t let you.”
And that’s it; you want to build a mission that the community will never let die. That’s the point.
Planned Legacy: So how do you create an organization and a mission that the community will never let die?
Hildy Gottlieb: FriendRaising!
About Help 4 NonProfits & Tribes
Help 4 NonProfits & Tribes began in 1993, when Hildy Gottlieb and Dimitri Petropolis had the opportunity to purchase the company they’d been working at for a combined 12 years. With strong political backgrounds, strong business backgrounds, and strong community action backgrounds, the team committed that regardless of what work the company did, its central theme would always be an effort to make the world a better place. From that commitment to work that had a purpose, Help 4 NonProfits & Tribes was born.
For five years, the team did textbook strategic planning and board development work, marketing and fundraising work, and in the case of tribal organizations, economic development work. They facilitated retreats and wrote reports and did it all the way everyone else did this work. But at the end of that 5 years, they were frustrated.
It seemed whether or not their clients implemented the plans they created, little (if anything) had changed in the communities those organizations served. In 1998, the team began analyzing both the approaches used by community organizations and the approaches used by the consultants charged with helping those organizations.
They committed to developing methods that reach for what nonprofits and tribal organizations should be reaching for - sustainable approaches to improving the quality of life in their communities.
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