How to Start a Successful Campus Wide Note Writing Project

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 hello@thesapronextdoor.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.
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The first few notes we sent!

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: 

  1. Engaging students who are and aren’t part of other student organizations by inviting them to write notes to other students.
  2. 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.
  3. Discovering ways to give back to the Baltimore City community through letter-writing campaigns for local agencies and organizations.
  4. 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.
  5. Creating and cultivating a sense of belonging with first year students, and other class years.
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Notes on their way to commuters and employees at satellite campuses.

 

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.

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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): 

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  • 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:

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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:

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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 hello@thesapronextdoor.com. I’m here for you, because we’re all here to help our students live a better story!  

 

 

Say Something: Just One Way to Be a Better Ally

You hear the news. It’s not as shocking as it should be. It’s the same trending topic you heard about a month ago. Too soon. Too soon for another Black body to be gunneddowninthestreet. Another life gone. Another family member slain. Another fundraiser to support the children left behind. Another trial. Another uproar.

It’s not just another anything. Every single life is significant. Every story deserves to be lived, yet pages are torn away. Chapters left unfinishe

What do you do? You try to process this and wrap your mind around it all. You want to help. You believe that your liberation is directly connected to that of those you stand beside. For some reason, words don’t come easy.

What do you say when you and your Black colleague are face to face?

What do you say to your Black friend?

How do you broach the topic with the Black employee you supervise?

I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want to break anything. 

Let me tell you something: It’s already broken.  It’s not helpful to ignore it. Your silence – though well intentioned – is not helping to soothe the pain. Say something. Say something from the bottom of your heart. Be there. Ask, “How can I be someone you can count on right now?”

And then listen.

 

 

New Beginnings -Monthly Moment

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Tynesha and I spent our first Christmas as a married couple at the Mount. Soon, we were packing for our move to Loyola University Maryland in January.

Big Shout-Out to Veronica at Milagros Moments for creating the Monthly Moment Linkup. It’s a great way to meet new folks within the blogger community! Check out her blog for insight on wellness and happiness. You’ll be happy you did!

Milagros Moments

 

 

When The World Comes Together For Your Friend

Sometime during November of 2015, my close friend told me they were diagnosed with bone cancer. It was heart breaking. We are super close and have kept in touch via letters for the past several years. We met while doing an urban homelessness immersion program in Portland, Oregon.

It was one of those moments where I had absolutely no idea of what to do. How do you support someone from 3,000 miles away? I decided to lean on the More Love Letters community. They are a group of people that comes together to write heartfelt letters to people who are experiencing hardships in their lives. Someone nominates a friend or family member, and if chosen, they become a bundle facilitator. I submitted my nomination and became just that in less than 48 hours.

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Soon, my friend’s story was posted, and I began receiving letters and post cards from places like the UK, Australia, and New Jersey. It was amazing. Never doubt what asking for help can bring you. Later in December, the project ended . Scroll down to check out the results and my friend’s reaction in my testimonial.

Visit More Love Letters if only to witness what is happening right here in our world. I’m continually amazed.

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The Testimonial (originally posted here

Dear More Love Letters Community,

Thank you for being in existence. After two months of receiving letters from around the world (U.S.A., South Korea, Australia, Canada, and the UK) I was able to send Isabella 475 handwritten and loving letters. Isabella texted me when she got them and said she was overwhelmed with “happiness and awe”.

Sometimes I would hit a wall when reviewing each letter. Exhaustion crept in and tricked me out of putting forth effort. Eventually, I got over myself. I thought about much Isabella was going through. The mornings when she felt nauseous, the doctor visits, and all of the pain that comes along with having bone cancer. When I thought about her, everything changed. Reading the letters became an act of love. Each letter took me further and further on an emotional journey of thinking about my friend who lives 3,000 miles away.

I am glad I did this project. When Isabella notified me that she got the bundle, I told her “Of course I’d do this for you, you mean the world to me and have shown me nothing but genuine kindness since we’ve known each other.” I don’t know what the future holds for Isabella. Can any of us say what tomorrow will bring? What I do know is power of an anonymous community of people who come together to bring joy to the lives of others by writing and mailing love letters. I’m forever grateful for each person that ever takes the time to send a loving message. Each of you means them means the world to someone. And for this project, you have meant the world to Isabella.

Love Always,
Sinclair

Why Beginning is So Darn Difficult (FREE Worksheet Download)

Many of us will be planning our New Year’s Resolutions in a few months. But, what about end of year resolutions? Do you have something you have wanted to attempt or a project you want to complete? You never seem to get around to starting, or you keep saying: Darn, I meant to do that months ago! What’s my deal? 

I find that fear, over thinking, and excuses keep us from doing things. Truthfully, I find it easier to lose myself for 3 hours on social media. I have been fortunate to have people in my life push me to actually manifest some of the ideas I talk about. That’s how this blog was born, this eBook, this project to motivate Student Affairs folks searching for grad programs and jobs, and so many other ideas I’ve turned into reality. This isn’t me bragging. It’s me letting you know that it is possible for YOU to get started and get good things done. And no, they don’t have to be work related. It could be starting a blog, re-arranging your living room, or writing holiday cards to relatives. It is totally up to you.

If you need a nudge and some help with beginning, I have just the thing for you.

FREE STUFF YO! Check out the worksheet I made with you in mind by clicking the icon below.

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Get It Done – The Worksheet

What are you waiting for? Get good things done!