Last week, we launched a note writing project called Hound Notes, here at Loyola University Maryland. It’s really taken off, and has added a positive buzz in our college community! While this project can be a lot of work on the front-end, it’s not so bad once you get started.* Plus, I’ve outlined most of what we’ve done, so you’re already halfway there. I’m hoping the following guide will assist you in bringing this same project to your campus.
*If you’re wanting more tips or information after reading this, send me a quick email to email@example.com and I’ll get back to you!
I. Highlights of the Project
We emailed a link to a sign up form to our commuters, residents, and administrators in our division. Then, we had information about the project posted in the online campus bulletin that’s emailed to the entire campus each week.
- Within the past 6 days, 200+ students, faculty, staff, and administrators have signed up to receive anonymous and positive notes in their campus mailbox. 65 first year students have signed up. Commuters will get their notes mailed home.
- One goal is to write 300+ notes during the 2016-17 year. 20+ students, faculty members, administrators have officially signed up to be note writers on a weekly, monthly, and semester basis.
- Another goal is to form a student club by May 2017, help them to raise funds for material costs, and continue to have an organized recipient database and system.This adds sustainability and added potential for growth for the project.
II. Boosting Engagement, Inclusion, Retention & More
Our division of Student Development has been charged with connecting and engaging with “every student”. In addition, our institution is moving towards being an university that is more intentionally anchored in its surrounding community. Hound Notes hopes to meet these aims by:
- Engaging students who are and aren’t part of other student organizations by inviting them to write notes to other students.
- Fostering a more inclusive environment on campus through late night on-campus letter writing parties at our on-campus Starbucks (between 8pm-11pm) and bundle nominations. Note: Our on-campus Starbucks stays open late if we request it in advance.
- Discovering ways to give back to the Baltimore City community through letter-writing campaigns for local agencies and organizations.
- Helping students who study abroad for a semester or more, to still feel connected to campus through a post-card letter writing campaign in collaboration with International Programs. Note: A large amount of our students study abroad during the second semester of their junior year.
- Creating and cultivating a sense of belonging with first year students, and other class years.
III. What We Did
Hound Notes was largely inspired by Hannah Brencher and More Love Letters. We made it our own and gave it a name our university community would love (our mascot is a greyhound). This section will outline everything you will need to get started. The most important things to know are to be organized, get your office’s/department’s buy in, and to be careful not to over-complicate things. After all, it’s supposed to be fun and meaningful.
Materials and Supplies Needed: Each note writer receives a Hound Note Pack that includes a sharpie, pre-labeled envelopes (saves time and prevents the campus post office from having issues with legibility of handwriting), notes, and a note writing guide. Target had a great deal on notes + envelopes: 200 count for $14.99, Spritz.
Note writers can sign up to write on a weekly, monthly, or per semester basis. To make for easier workflow, we send each note writer their Hound Note Pack through campus mail. Next, the note writer completes each note, and returns the finished and unsealed notes to our central office for review. Once that’s done, someone will seal each envelope with a sticker and send them to the recipients via campus mail or outgoing mail. Here’s a preview of the note writing guide. You can see the rest here.
Organization + Files: We used a system called Qualtrics to create our form and download all pertinent data. But you can use Google Forms, Wufoo, or Typeform to capture the information you need. All data is stored in a Google Drive folder so any Hound Notes team member can access it.
A few tips…
- Make sure to have separate forms (or use skip logic if you’re fancy like that) for students and for faculty, admin, and staff. Also, make sure there is a way for you to accurately attain each commuter’s mailing address. Here’s are some key snapshots from the form. You can see the rest here (just make sure NOT to submit it):
- Test the form several times before you send it.
- We used tinyurl.com to shorten the link to the form. This was great because it looks good (tinyurl.com/houndnotes), but some students had issues when they clicked the hyperlink in their Outlook email. So, make sure to add something like: if the link doesn’t open, copy and paste this URL into your browser, or sign up on your laptop.
- Create a new folder in your email specifically for this project, and then create rules for each folder. For example, I have the following folders: Hound Notes Form Submissions and Top Secret Note Writers.
- Make your Excel spreadsheet work for you. Here are the fields we use to keep us organized:
Bundles and Letter Writing Parties: Each person who signs up, has the option of submitting a nomination for someone to receive a bundle of 20-30 notes. Recipients of the bundles are typically people who are experiencing a tough time, are sick or injured, or who are just really in need of a pick-me-up. As of the time this posting, 50+ heartfelt and detailed nominations were submitted by students, faculty, staff, and admin. Each semester, we will hold 1-2 letter writing parties. During this time, attendees will have the chance to hear the nominations, and write notes specifically for the recipients (people who sign up for to receive just one note typically only get a generic but uplifting message; bundle recipients get something that caters more to them because the writer knows more of their story).
Marketing and Getting the Word Out: Before this project launched, I spent several months getting my co-workers on board with it, asking students if they’d be interested in this project, working with our marketing/communications office (who provided over 200+ temporary tattoos with our school mascot – they had extra), and learning the culture of the school. If you already know the culture of your institution, and are confident that your community will enjoy the project, you can move a little faster.
Things to note…
- The subject line of the email blast to the campus was: #HoundNotes: Happiness in Your Loyola Mailbox. It’s super catchy and probably helped with our email open rate, though we didn’t track this.
- We created a simple powerpoint slide to be shown on the digital signs that are located in our student center. The advertisement is simple: “Make Your Loyola Mailbox Happier, Sign Up for Hound Notes Today at tinyurl.com/houndnotes”
- We designed our logo (below) on Canva. I use this website for most simple graphic design projects because it’s super user friendly and it’s free to sign up. Here’s the logo:
Funding: I recently submitted a proposal to get this project funded…and it worked! Here’s what helped, as well as what to do if you don’t get any funding:
- We started by launching the project, then asking for funding after were able to show that a lot of students were interested in it. Plus, we used some of the stories from the bundle nominations to show how much of an impact the project could have.
- Develop and create a clear, succinct, and thoughtful proposal that speaks to your institution’s/department’s missions, goals, and aims. We are focusing a lot on first year engagement, late night programming, inclusion, and our investment in Baltimore City.
- If you don’t get funding, don’t sweat it. Get creative. Have students write positive quotes on post-it notes and stick them around campus. Encourage a student organization to pick this project up and use some of their funding to purchase envelopes and notes (it could just be a one time writing project). Write notes to you co-workers and leave them in their work mailboxes (smaller project but still impactful).
Next Steps: If you’re ready to get started, do it! Think about how good it feels to receive something handwritten in the mail – that’s the feeling you get to re-create with your campus community. It can be a one time thing, a semester long project, or a year-long initiative. Workshop your ideas from people in other offices. Have coffee with various student leaders to see if they’d be interested in a project like this, and then go and make awesome happen!
If you’re stuck, have questions, or would like to talk through your ideas, contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m here for you, because we’re all here to help our students live a better story!