Consumer Loyalty…

Every customer has an economic value. Customers provide repeat business and cash flow. They are your best prospects for additional product and service sales, and they can provide you with positive references and referrals, which lowers the cost of acquiring new customers.

The loss of a customer is serious, and HERO$CARD WorldWide wants to help you get them back.

Here are some techniques:

1. Find Out Why They Left

It is important to understand what caused a customer to leave you. Sometimes you may know. Sometimes, customers don’t tell you. There is a statistic in the pre-social media world that said that as much as 62% will defect without advising the company why. So the first technique is to try to engage with former customers to find out why they left. This may take several forms

a. Customer Satisfaction Survey After A Transaction

Ask the customer about their satisfaction with a recent transaction, whether it is a recent purchase, or a support call, or a billing problem or even the way you market your product. Find out what caused the customer to be dissatisfied and how the problem impacts them. Use opened ended questions in the survey to allow the customer to express in their own words what went wrong. It may be something you never imagined. You may want to offer them a small gift just for filling in the survey.

b. Management Calls On Former Customers

Set up a process where the sale manager, support manager or service manager must make personal contact with the customer who has not come back.  The contact may be in person, on the phone or using other communication techniques such as Skype, Facetime, or Hangout where a visual contact is possible. Ask the customer about their experience with your organization, what they would recommend you change, what they recommend that you keep doing (the good things you do) and what they would like to see offered that you don’t offer today.

Good listening techniques are required to do this well. It is particularly important not to be defensive. Try to empathize with a customer. Often, just asking and taking a humble and genuine approach, will be enough to bring a customer back for another try. Let them know you want their business again and would welcome them at any future date.

c. Run a Focus Group of Lost Customers

Sometimes customers will open up with their real problems in a group setting and a market research professional. During a focus group, you and your management team sit behind a one way glass mirror and watch and listen to the ‘lost customers’ share their experiences. With a good leader, and like minded customers, the truth about what is really bothering them comes out, loud and clear.

d. Listen To Comments On Social Media

Very often customers are sharing with each other about your brand, company or service. Social Media is perfect for this research. Listen to what your customers say about you, both positive (things to keep doing) and negative (things you should try to stop doing)

e. Look For Common Customer Issues To Resolve

Are your customers telling you about the same problem, over and over again? Is there something you can do about it? Can you improve the quality of your product, its features, its services? Can you do something with the front line personnel to make them more effective?

2. Look for Opportunities to Engage

a. Announce New Customer Benefits Such As The HERO$CARD Loyalty Program, New Products, New Services, New Personnel

Use every opportunity to contact your former customers. Announce new benefits being offers such as the HERO$CARD loyalty program, new products, new services or that you have new management.

b. Offer An Incentive To Come Back

If your prices were too high, offer a discount.  A cosmetic dentist that we are currently working with has been hit hard by the downward turn of the economy.  They found that they had lost many patients because of lost jobs, lost dental insurance etc.  They have decided that mailing these lost customers a letter that incentivizes them inclusive of a HERO$CARD card is a step in a positive direction to aid in getting some of these clients back for much needed teeth cleaning or more.

c. Show Appreciation When They Return

If a lost customer returns, be sure to let them know that you are pleased they are giving you the opportunity to gain their business once again.  If they don’t already have one, give them a HERO$CARD card as a thank you gift so that they can save with other merchants.

d. Try to Show You Have Addressed Their Reason For Leaving

Send out a ‘We’ve been listening’ note to your lost customers. Tell them what you uncovered in your research. Advise them what you have done about it and what improvements they should notice.  Also point out, that HERO$CARD has a “rate” feature on its Marketplace.  Ask them to keep you informed of both the positive and negative feedback to help you maintain the type of customer satisfaction that will continue to earn you their business.

Case Study:

One of the companies I used to do business with sends me a card every year, with a nice rose and the saying “Somehow things didn’t work out between us”. Inside the card they offer a discount on my next order. It’s a nice touch but I have never returned. It is a lawn service company. They send this card too late every year. I already signed up with another provider. And they never understood that the reason I left is because I didn’t like their terms and conditions. So while the thought and the card are well done, the execution and result is poor.


Extreme Discount Carding


I suppose you have probably heard about this “Extreme Couponing” fad that the TV seems to think is so cool. Well, we have coined a new term: “Extreme Discount Carding.”

Before you ask, yes we do realize that this term hasn’t caught on with anyone outside of the office yet. But has that stopped our dreams of getting our own television show on basic cable? Well, a little.

I’ll be honest, extreme couponing is pretty cool. In this economy, who can afford NOT to find ways to save money? The only problem with coupons is that they seem to only benefit one party: the consumer.

And that’s great and all, but “extreme discount carding” (come on, TLC, it’s catchy!) benefits everyone. If you are not familiar with discount cards, they are credit card sized plastic cards that generally have a fundraising organizations logo on the front and discounts to several local businesses on the back that are reusable every day for a year.

These cards benefit fundraising groups because it allows them to raise money for their organization by selling the cards to people in the community. Those people in the community benefit, similar to coupons, by saving money at places that they already shop. And the places that they shop benefit by driving more customers into their business.

The other benefit that these cards have over coupons is that they are reusable every single day for an entire year. Coupons usually save you twenty-five cents and then you have to leave the paper coupon with the cashier.

Not only can discount cards be redeemed once per day at each of the participating businesses for an entire year, they generally offer much more generous deals than standard coupons. Deals on discount cards often include free oil changes, free entrees, and up to 80% savings. Now that’s extreme!

If you are an organization, discount cards might be just what you are missing to add an easy and quick way to raise money for your cause. If you are a consumer, you may want to purchase one of these very affordable, and highly beneficial fundraising cards from a fundraising group in your community. Businesses should also jump at the chance to get free advertising and bring in more customers to their store.

“Extreme Discount Carding”, coming soon to television programming near you. Ok, that may be a stretch, but I am almost certain that there is a fundraising group near you that could benefit from these great discount cards (that are extreme)!

Please visit EMI for more Fundraising Cards information.

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The Different Ways To Donate To A Charity


When you hear that a person is going to donate to a charity, the first thought that crosses your mind is that he is going to give money to charity. Well, that is true but not entirely. This is because there are a lot of other ways to donate to charity. Monetary donation is the most popular way to donate to a charity. This can be done in the form of cash or a check.

Most nonprofit organizations have a website where donors can make an online donation. Donations through the website can be done through a credit card payment or via PayPal. This donation can be made at anytime of the day or night from any part of the world. You can donate to a charity from your hometown even if you are living on another part of the world. Donating online has the benefit of being very accessible.

The conventional way to donate to a charity is through fundraising activities. These activities are organized so that donors can donate to a charity that they choose. Fundraising activities can be done through a bake sale, a benefit concert, a garage sale, an auction and so many other activities. There are countless ways to create an event where people can donate to a charity. The proceeds of these events will be used to fund the various activities and projects of the charity.

Another way to donate to a charity is through your services. Charities have different kinds of projects where your services may be of use. If you are from the medical profession then you can volunteer your services if there are any medical missions or free clinics being conducted by the charity. There are countless ways to donate to a charity by doing volunteer work. A charity can use all the help they could get to help more people. All you have to do is choose a charity and volunteer your services. You can fit your volunteer work around your free time.

You can also donate to a charity by donating things that you do not need around your home. You all have clutter in your home. They are objects that you bought but never really used. Rather than letting them lie there unused, you can donate to a charity and put them to a good use. There are a lot of things that may be useless to you but those who are less fortunate will find them very useful.

Do you want to be a helpful person and donate to charity? Learn about charity organizations from the Touching Souls International free management blogs. We are working with a wide range of public and private partners to make microfinance and charity widely accessible to poor people.

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5 Lessons for Charity Donations



Payment and receipts

Tax deductions




With today’s resources it is only a click away to find information on nearly any kind of organization. Look into local charity registrations and check with the local BBB to see if there has ever been any complaints. Some companies may have their own extensive sites, but the BBB will provide unbiased information from people who have provided their own personal feedback as well as time in business and other legal declarations. Google is a common way for finding basic information on most charities.

Payments and receipts

While giving a couple dollars shouldn’t be cause for alarm, never give large sums of cash. Buying candy from a Girl Scout is different than donating $500.00 to the Red Cross. Use checks written to the name of the charity and not the collector. Be wary of giving your credit card information to any company you are unsure of. Always get a receipt. Records are essential for tax time.

Tax deductions

Tax exempt does not mean tax deductible. There are many more companies that claim tax exempt, but are not considered tax deductible. Personal time devoted to a charitable cause is not tax deductible, but the expenses associated with performing those activities, such as transportation costs, are considered a tax deduction. Check with the IRAS for more information related to the organizations that are acceptable tax deductions.


Don’t be fooled by appearances. Always look into the legitimacy of every charity. They want to be found. A charity can wait a few days while you gather additional info on their organization. Avoid mailers that demand payments of any kind. Some may include gifts and demand a charitable donation in return. These involuntary payments are in no way obligatory, regardless of the wording. Any email that looks suspicious should be treated as suspicious. Reputable organizations will have no problem with proving their authenticity.


Every reputable organization is going to have more than one form of contact. Email, phone and mail should be available. Many of the larger charities will even have local offices that you can walk directly into.


Even though the y may lift the spirit and even become a factor when taxes are due, the true essence of a charity is the cause it supports. There are more organizations available than can possibly be listed here. Thinking about expectations and donating to the right one can be a rewarding experience. Before making a decision, though, utilize the resources available to determine the best route to go. Legitimate companies are more than willing to cooperate.

Ray recently helped raised $600.00 for Special Olympics charity recently and learned valuable lessons in the process. Find a charity that fits the needs and expectations that you should already have in mind. Remember that even if it isn’t tax deductible, it doesn’t mean it isn’t for a good cause.

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Building Loyalty – 5 Steps to Succeeding in Difficult Times

Consistently deliver a truly awesome customer experience each and every day..

Let’s face it, more and more people are worried about the current economic conditions and how they will be impacted. Comments such as, “Our inquiries have really dropped off,” “People are sure taking a long time to make buying decisions,” “Our customers are demanding more from us or leaving,” “Pricing pressures are becoming the norm,” “Far more “shoppers” than buyers,” “It costs a lot more to find new customers these days,” “Customers are defecting at all time high rates,” along with many other similar and related comments.

Now, more than ever, is your time to Be Disruptive, Build Loyalty and Change the Game so you not only survive, but thrive in the future! This is not the time to hunker down and hope the storm blows over quickly – it is here for the foreseeable future. What are you going to do to Take Advantage of it and come out stronger when the growth cycle kicks in again? What are you going to change from what you are doing today to give you different results? Most look for ways to cut the fat out of the organization and improve processes to squeeze every dime out of operations – certainly something to consider. However, while this cost-cutting effort is going on, what are you doing to focus on the group that actually pays you money – the customer? How are you capturing more revenue so you can increase profitability and dominate your competition?

We recently conducted our own informal research to find out what companies are doing to attack this situation and move themselves to the head of the pack – or why they weren’t. We began by asking a number of business owners and executives in a variety of organizations to give us their thoughts on these same questions. We hoped to learn some new ideas in addition to validating or modifying our own hypothesis about what we were seeing. The comments and discussions were very interesting and confirmed one thing – we were “dead on target” with our hypothesis. However, one question kept coming up in almost every conversation we had, “How can we beat our competitors and win more share of wallet from our customers?” Stay tuned..

There is no question we are experiencing some economic challenges today – most indicators are telling this story. And even though no one wants to talk about the “R” word, it may very well be here or looming in the near future. Many businesses are seeing decreases in sales and getting more pressure to cut their prices to compete for the same customers. One executive we talked with asked, “How can you build loyalty during these times when customers are looking for more services than they did before and at a lower price?” Great question. The answer I gave him wasn’t the one I think he expected to hear. I said to him, “Be Disruptive and Build Loyalty when everyone else is hunkering down. There are great opportunities in these times if you act “proactively” instead of “reactively.” If you haven’t built a following of loyal customers before now, begin immediately and be blatant about it. This will move you ahead of your competitors today and help ensure you have them when times get better. Customers (and employees) still want and organization to deliver a consistent, repeatable experience and to keep their promises – that still reigns above price.” He agreed.

The other word we kept hearing in our discussions was the “C” word – “commodity.” As businesses are being squeezed on price, their customer base is defecting to their competitors. If they hadn’t already built an experience that created loyalty, along with the products and services to differentiate themselves, they ended up drifting toward the commodity space. This is where customers see little, if any, differentiation between businesses and begin to move toward the lowest price point – resulting in no distinction or value for the experience. Once customers believe you are a commodity, the only way to compete is to lower your prices – creating a downward cycle turning your product or service into a commodity. This is absolutely not where you want to head unless you have a model that always wins on price.

For example, one of our clients, a software development firm, was seeing exactly the same picture – pressure on price and no clear differentiation. Upon further investigation, we found the reasons were lack of consistency in the experience and focusing on the “wrong” promises. The customer told us many times, “If they could just keep two or three of their promises all the time we would give them more exclusivity and more opportunities.” You can read more about them on our website under Case Studies.

Our research shows that companies have the best chance of surviving, and even flourishing during tougher economic times, when they have more Loyal Customers than their competition. While this may seem intuitive, it is amazing how few have really actively focused on this effort. The best companies have invested the time and resources to build Trusted, Loyal Relationships with their customers. As the economy slows, customers gravitate to these companies because they know they will receive a consistent and repeatable experience. These companies don’t sit back and relax, they continue to build from the powerful vantage point they already have over their competitors. They are in the enviable position of being on top and controlling the experience while their competitors spend extra dollars and resources to try and win these customers away. A case in point is Southwest Airlines. They were still very successful, even during the attacks of 9-11 when air travel dropped off sharply, and remained profitable (unlike the other airlines). Why? Because they had done what was necessary to build a loyal customer base and capitalized on supporting them during this difficult time.

With what we have seen and heard, we wanted to share a 5 Step process we believe can help businesses thrive in the current economy and well into the future. These Steps are a compilation of both the responses we received from our research and our own experience. There is no “magic pill,” but what we can give you is a specific recipe of proven Steps you can take to build Loyalty quickly and rise to the top of the list with your customers. These Steps aren’t difficult to grasp but will take some effort to execute so you can Consistently deliver a Truly Awesome Customer Experience each and every day and create your own list of loyal customers.

Here are the 5 Steps..

1. Start by truly understanding your client base. Get some analytics about your customer so you can truly understand the revenue and profitability of your customers. Analyze where the revenue is coming from, by segment and by category. See which customers, products and services drive the majority of sales. Find out who is most profitable for you today, even if it is only at the gross margin level. Truly “understand” where your revenue and profits are coming from in your customer base. This will help feed the other Steps going forward.

2. Now ask some tough questions. Are we in alignment between what we are doing operationally and how this supports our most profitable customers? Are we focused on different customer segments because of economics or some other reason? Are these the markets we should be in both short term and longer term? What do the competitors look like in each of these segments? Should we focus on a different segment due to lack of competition and opportunity? Ask tough questions of your management team, based on analytics, to truly understand where opportunities exist. This Step is all about understanding your customer and the competitive landscape. Time spent here will help you focus for Step 3.

3. Now find out what is going on externally with your customers – the experience you deliver. Go out and get some good information directly from your customer so you know what experience would differentiate you from your competitors. This can’t be wimpy information either. It has to be fresh, unfiltered and from their own voice to give you what you need. You can waste a lot of time and money on meaningless survey’s and research. Resist doing what you have always done in the past and go get the “good stuff” directly from your customer. You are looking for what they believe are the “loyalty factors” and “promises” that will differentiate you. Use an outside firm since there isn’t time to waste and the customer usually gives deeper information to someone not associated with your organization. This can happen quicker than you might think. Another example, when we worked with a law firm (case study is also on our website) they realized they were not focusing on anything that differentiated them. They needed this input to turn the ship around.

4. Now focus on implementation and retention. Since you now know which customers have the greatest profitability and what it would take to move them to becoming “Loyalists,” you are ready to build and implement the “truly awesome” customer experience. Identify changes you can, and need, to make in the processes of your organization to ensure the consistent and repetitive delivery of the experience – systematic and throughout the organization. In our book, “Creating and Delivering Totally Awesome Customer Experiences,” we stated, “Eliminate the Random Acts of Excellence and Chaos and you can deliver a consistent and repeatable experience.” This means providing everyone in your organization the information and tools to understand exactly how to deliver this experience the same way every day. Customers thrive on consistency.

5. Start delivering the new experience, communicate it and then measure the results. Communicate to your customer what you are doing. They will appreciate you focusing on them and Changing the Game in the experience. Build your messaging around the changes you are making and what you are delivering. Build your “Brand Promise” around the “loyalty factors” and “promises” your customer wants. Integrate this into everything you do and say and do it over and over and over again. This demonstrates consistency and avoids the impression of “flavor of the month.” This is who you are and what you stand for and believe in. Repeating the message and keeping your promises builds Trust, which leads to Loyalty and Retention.

Now you have a proven 5 Step recipe for taking your organization into a leading position. Even if you are, or have been, trending downward because of the economic times it is not too late to start. Focus on understanding and building the Promises and Loyalty Drivers into the customer experience immediately and you can turn things around faster than you might think.

Even if you only begin to build some loyalty to survive today, when the economy turns upward you will reap more benefits than ever before with a base of loyal customers to build upon. Remember, Loyalty is an “earned” state and not a given. If you want to build loyalty now and in the future, don’t just window dress it. Rally around it and make lasting changes – your customer will notice. Start today. Be Disruptive, Bold and take control and you will find yourself ahead of your competitors and beating them today and tomorrow.


About the Author

Blaine Millet

Blaine Millet is the President and a co-founder of Customer Experiences Inc., an organization focused on both Strategy and Execution. They are focused on the relentless pursuit of helping others achieve unsurpassed levels of Customer Loyalty, Employee Loyalty, Profitability, and Differentiation.

Prior to Customer Experiences Inc., Blaine worked for companies from the Fortune 50 to start-ups, including the Big 5 and IBM. He has held various roles in leadership, management, sales as well as being an individual contributor. His consulting background has been focused on strategy, customer experiences and process improvements. He also holds an MBA in marketing and finance.

His specific industry experience includes High Tech, Software, Professional Services, Telecommunications, Financial Services and Manufacturing/Distribution.

Customer Experiences Inc.

(+01) 425.260.6264 (m)

(+01) 425.881.8504 (o)

Customer Loyalty Reports…The Good & The Bad…

See below article…this is why HERO$CARD works for merchants, chardmembers, local charitable organizations and your local community!  You have zero risk, there are immediate discounts at point of sale and HERO$CARD helps to stimulate local business and help local causes…AND as a Charmember, you have the ability to apply your cash rebate points to future purchases at POS, donate your cash rebate points to charity, you can automatically add your cash rebate points to a scholastic fund or you can add your cash rebate points to a retirement fund…with HERO$CARD there is no 1/3 loss of funds.  It all works for you and your community!


$48 Billion Worth of Consumer Loyalty Reward Points Dispensed Each Year, Yet One-Third Are Never Cashed In

$48 Billion Worth of Consumer Loyalty Reward Points Dispensed Each Year,
Yet One-Third Are Never Cashed In

First-Ever Quantification of U.S. Loyalty Rewards Value Accompanies Release of
2011 COLLOQUY Loyalty Census
CINCINNATI and MIAMI (April 19, 2011) – Americans accumulate approximately $48 billion in rewards points and miles annually, according to the results of a first-ever study on the perceived dollar value of loyalty programs that illustrates the real economic power of these programs for consumers, issuers, merchants and manufacturers.

Out of roughly $48 billion worth of perceived value in reward points and miles American businesses issue annually, at least one-third, representing $16 billion in value, goes unredeemed by consumers, according to the study, titled 2011 Forecast of U.S. Consumer Loyalty Program Points Value.

Put in perspective, the average household that is active in loyalty programs earns $622 a year, but does not redeem $205 of those rewards.That’s enough to buy an airline ticket, purchase a week’s worth of groceries or even a smart phone.

“American consumers are leaving significant dollars on the table every year,” said Kelly Hlavinka, Managing Partner at COLLOQUY. “This report should alert savvy consumers to a great opportunity to stretch household budgets, and to do so by simply consolidating their loyalty rewards participation with their favorite brands, making it easy to accumulate and redeem them faster than ever imagined.”

The study from SWIFT EXCHANGE and COLLOQUY comprises consumer-oriented reward programs from a host of merchants, including those from travel and hospitality, retail and financial services. Taken together, the sheer amount of currency issued by this group demonstrates the economic muscle and potential untapped benefits for all involved in rewards programs, which were launched some 30 years ago.

“Three decades after the inception of the modern frequent flyer program, the rewards industry is ripe for a transition from a culture of accumulation to one of realization in the fullest sense,” said Nancy Gordon, Chief Operating Officer of SWIFT EXCHANGE. “That means helping consumers make rewards-based purchases as easily as they buy anything else in their daily lives. To accomplish this, marketers will need a transformational tool that can translate rewards and points into real mind share.”

In other key findings:

The financial services sector is the biggest provider of rewards at $18 billion a year

The travel and hospitality sector is the second-largest industry in terms of rewards at $17 billion a year

The retail industry, although it makes up 40% of all loyalty program memberships, issues the smallest value in rewards at $12 billion a year.
This report provides an unprecedented quantification of the value of U.S. loyalty rewards. It is the result of exhaustive research and forecasting efforts by COLLOQUY, a LoyaltyOne company that is a global provider of loyalty marketing publications, education and research; and SWIFT EXCHANGE, a leading marketing technology company specializing in the rewards industry.

Hlavinka said the research results indicate loyalty marketers have work to do, because while unredeemed points may translate to short-term corporate savings, they do not equate to long-term customer relationships.

“If redemption equals engagement and engagement delivers customer satisfaction and profits, then loyalty marketers should encourage their members to make the most of their rewards,” she said. “In short, redemption is good.”

Findings from the 2011 COLLOQUY Loyalty Census
Forming the backbone of the forecast was the bottom-up sizing of the number of U.S. loyalty program memberships – data that is featured uniquely in the 2011 COLLOQUY Loyalty Census. Its key findings include the following:

The number of loyalty memberships in the U.S. is 2.1 billion, exceeding 2 billion for first time, up from 1.8 billion in the 2009 report

The average household has signed up for 18.4 programs, compared with 14.1 programs in 2009

Despite the increase in overall membership, the average number of programs in which households actively participate is just 8.4

Overall membership of 2.1 billion represents a 16% increase compared to the 2009 report, but a slowdown from 2007 to 2009 when memberships rose 34%.

Complete details of both the 2011 COLLOQUY Loyalty Census and the 2011 Forecast of U.S. Consumer Loyalty Program Points Value are available as a free download at

2011 Forecast of U.S. Consumer Loyalty Program Points Value was completed through an intensive nine-step process examining the perceived value of loyalty rewards across all industries. A mix of publicly reported data points, including reviews of corporate records, web sites and press releases, third party information, proprietary estimates and forecast assumptions were used. The report refers to the value of all points and miles as “perceived” because the worth of a reward to a consumer may vary from the actual cost of delivering the rewards to the granting company.

The COLLOQUY 2011 Loyalty Census is the result of a comprehensive review of loyalty program memberships that includes an archive of programs across major market sectors, web sites, press releases, annual reports and third-party publications. Complete details of the research on growth and trends in loyalty program memberships and activity are available at

COLLOQUY® comprises a collection of publishing, education and research resources devoted to the global loyalty-marketing industry. Owned by LoyaltyOne, COLLOQUY has served the loyalty-marketing industry since 1990 with over 40,000 global subscribers to its magazine and the most comprehensive loyalty web site in the world. COLLOQUY’s research division develops research studies and white papers including industry-specific reports, sizing studies and insights into the drivers of consumer behavior. COLLOQUY also provides educational services through workshops, webinars and speeches at events throughout the world and is a loyalty-marketing partner of both the Direct Marketing Association and the Canadian Marketing Association and a content provider to the American Marketing Association. COLLOQUY also operates the COLLOQUY Network, a global consortium of practitioners certified in COLLOQUY’s proprietary methodology. COLLOQUY magazine subscriptions are available at no cost to qualified persons at or by calling 513.248.9184.

As a pioneer in global commerce, SWIFT EXCHANGE is unleashing a powerful new source of consumer buying power utilizing its patent-protected technology that blends points and miles from different rewards programs to make them as easy to spend as cash. SWIFT EXCHANGE is owned and operated by Signature Systems LLC. 1For more information,


Press Contacts

Jill McBride or Tim Sansbury
(513) 231-5115 or

Brian Hickey
(212) 279-3115 ext 245

Contributions Down

Faced with continued economic uncertainty, Americans cut back on their charitable giving again last year.  For the second year in a row, philanthropy has seen the deepest decline ever recorded by the Giving USA Foundation, which has tracked annual giving since 1956.

Donations fell 3.6% to $303.75 billion last year, down from $315 billion in 2008, according to the latest Giving USA study, released Wednesday. In 2008, they were down 2%.

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USA Today Article… Column: Facebook can’t replace face-to-face conversation

USA Today Article… Column: Facebook can’t replace face-to-face conversation

By Ed Keller and Brad Fay

 What explains the spectacular success of Facebook? Does it represent the desire of people to go online to connect with each other, with brands and with information? Or does the rise of this social networking platform actually reflect a more fundamental human need — to connect in real life?


It is easy to see Facebook’s success as a sign of dramatic change — in technology and in human relations. But a deeper look suggests that Facebook’s rise is merely Exhibit A of a much larger truth: Our modern society is not providing people with the human connections they crave, and online social networking is a rather poor substitute.

Statistics show that more people than ever live alone in the USA. According to the Census, about 31 million Americans live alone, representing 28% of the nation’s households.

Online talk unsatisfying

Until recently, our cities were losing population as people flocked to suburban enclaves of large homes where one’s next-door neighbors are often strangers. The Internet has provided powerful new ways to interact with people, even as we remain physically isolated. But these are unsatisfying replacements for face-to-face contact.

For the past six years, we have been studying the conversations of the American public, and we’ve conducted similar surveys that confirm our results in countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico, Russia and South Korea. Our research has focused on all forms of conversation, whether they happen face to face, over the phone or online.

The data we have collected via more than 2 million conversations have taught us:

•75% of conversations in the U.S. (and even more in other countries) still happen face to face; less than 10% take place through the Internet. The rise of social media, such as Facebook, has led to a reduction in e-mail “conversations,” but not a decline in face-to-face interaction.

•Face-to-face conversations tend to be more positive, and more likely to be perceived as credible, in comparison with online. What people talk about online differs dramatically from offline. The former tends to be driven by what is perceived as “cool,” while the latter tends to be about sharing real life experiences.

Power of media

•In the sphere of products and services, conversations are significantly impacted by what we see and hear in “traditional” media, including television, radio and print publishing and online. These traditional media motivate and provide content to far more conversations than online social media does.

What we have learned about the power of traditional media to spark conversations provides an important insight. All forms of communication work best when they lead to the sharing of ideas and recommendations, especially face to face. The fact is, all media are social — or should be.

Social media has helped us rediscover the power of “social.” But the richest social gold mine is literally right under our noses: in the word-of-mouth conversations that happen in our kitchens and living rooms, next to the office water cooler, and on the sidelines of youth sporting events. These are the places where we actually live our lives.

Facebook is a fine way to find long-lost friends and exchange tidbits of information and recommendations. But if we want to promote real change — as in our politics, public policies and cultural behavior — it’s best we do it face to face.

Ed Keller and Brad Fay are co-authors of The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Relationships Rule in a Digital Marketplace, to be published in May. They are also principals of the Keller Fay Group, a market research and consulting firm.

6 Ways to Cut Your Insurance Costs

There is nothing that makes your wallet squeal louder today than pulling into the gas station and dropping $50. Gasoline prices have risen more than 12 percent over the past 12 months, and some experts are predicting they’ll reach $5 per gallon in the next six months.

The average household now spends $50 per month more on gasoline than last year, notes financial planner Rick Rodgers, author of The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach To Retirement Planning(

“But that’s not the whole picture,” Rodgers says. “Higher fuel prices affect a lot of other expenses in the family budget, from heating to food. The government estimates the average household is spending $150 per month more this year because of higher oil prices.”

You can try to ease the pain at the pump by using your car less, but you should also look for other places to offset that extra $150. Car insurance is a good place to start.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, the national average auto insurance premium is $850 per year. Can you reduce that? Rodgers says you probably can. He offers six ways:

• Shop around regularly. Your insurance agent doesn’t have a lot of incentive to reduce your premiums.  I recently met a consumer who told me he had been with the same agent for 15 years. After he shopped his insurance with another agent, he saved $1,600 on his premiums for all his coverage. The internet makes it easy compare costs for the same coverage, or you can get an independent insurance agent to shop for you. Contact the Independent Agents Association at (800) 221-7917. (Be sure the company you go with has a good credit rating and claims-paying history.)

• Bundle your coverage. Bundling is combining different types of policies (auto, homeowners, liability, etc.) with the same company. The theory is that the company will discount the premiums if they have all of your business. The most common combination is packaging your auto insurance and homeowner’s policies together.  Or, find companies that will bundle auto insurance with renter’s or tenant’s insurance.  Bundled packages usually result in a 10 to 15 percent savings.

• Ask for discounts. You may qualify for discounts, but you won’t know until you ask. They’re commonly offered for good driving records, anti-theft devices, vehicle safety features (anti-lock brakes, air bags, automatic seatbelts), low annual mileage and insuring more than one car. The spunky Flo from Progressive claims discounts are also available for buying your policy online, paying in full up front, and being a loyal customer.

• Take a defensive driving class. Even if you’ve been driving for years, you can learn a lot from driver education and most insurance companies recognize the value of a refresher course, which can help you avoid accidents. The amount of discount varies by insurance company and from state to state, although most insurers offer a 10 percent discount on your premium for three years.  AARP offers a driver safety program for those over age 50, and it’s available online.

• Increase your deductible. Do your auto and homeowners policies have low deductibles?  If so, you may be able to reduce your premiums 15 to 30 percent by raising the deductible on your collision and comprehensive coverage.  Make sure you have an emergency fund set aside to cover the cost of repairs before you make the change. But your homeowners policy may be the first place to consider raising the deductible, since statistics show the average homeowner files a claim only once every nine years. Be sure to check with your mortgage holder first; some specify maximums.

• Change Cars. This is probably the most difficult savings tip to implement but may have the largest impact on your premium.  Used cars are cheaper to insure than new ones (excluding antiques); sports cars are more expensive to insure than minivans. Insurance companies like cars with safety features and low repair costs. surveyed 900 vehicles in the 2012 model year and lists the rankings from the most expensive to least expensive on their website.  Six of the 10 cheapest were minivans.  

10 Ways to Save on Pet Care

According to a recent article in USA Today, Americans spent approximately $50.8 billion on their pets last year, up from $10.1 billion just four years earlier. That’s a lot of money for Max or Fluffy, but still nothing compared to the unconditional love they shell out for you every day.

As the proud owner of two Labrador-Australian Shepard mixes, I’m no stranger to the rising cost of pet care. In addition to frequent exercise and annual check-ups, my husband and I save hundreds of dollars on pet care by adopting the following savvy strategies.

1. Create an Emergency Fund
There are at least nine reasons for an emergency fund, according to Kiplinger, including the ability to offset a costly vet bill should your beloved animal need expensive treatment. When my dogs were just 12 months old, one choked the other during aggressive play and — $1,700 later — we had a very tired but recovering puppy. Our savings account kept this traumatic experience from creating a financial hardship.

2. Don’t Skimp on Food
Food is likely the most expensive necessity next to vet visits, but that doesn’t mean you should opt for low price over quality. By purchasing healthy food, you’re enhancing your pet’s quality of life and ultimately saving yourself from costly vet bills down the road. Purchase discount gift cards to PetSmart and other stores from sites like to nab some savings.

3. Consider Pet Insurance
If you’re the type of pet owner who will spare no expense for veterinary care, consider signing up for pet insurance. The number of pet insurance carriers has increased significantly from just ten years ago, and most offer several levels of coverage. Visit for information on available policies, reviews and questions to ask providers.

4. Take Advantage of Clinics
Some veterinary practices offer free clinics one or two times a year, waiving appointment fees that compound the cost of annual visits. My husband and I always schedule check-ups and vaccinations during these times. If your vet doesn’t offer this service, check with your local Humane Society or animal-control unit for recommendations.

5. Research Your Options
When facing a hefty vet bill, you might assume your only option is to throw down a credit card and pay off the expense over time. However, there are other sources for financial aid, including state programs and breed-specific organizations. Consult this article from the Humane Society for more information.

6. Buy Discount
I shop discount retailers like TJMaxx and Ross for clothes and housewares, and always peruse their pet-care aisles for deals. I’ve found great pet beds, bowls and toys for much less than pet-store prices, though I avoid treats and food items since I’m not familiar with the brands. Ultimately, new pet owners can score serious savings by stocking up on discount supplies.

7. Be Loyal
PetSmart and PetCo each have free loyalty programs that offer discounts and, in the case of PetCo, 5-percent cash back on purchases. You should also sign up to receive email notifications about upcoming sales and exclusive discounts, and stock up during these specials to tide you over until the next promotion.

8. Order Meds Online
Most pet owners know medications purchased directly from the vet come with a hefty price tag. Unless it’s an emergency, request the prescription information and shop online at sites like I save 34 percent on our dogs’ heart worm medication by ordering online and using the generic alternative.

9. Fix for Less
Neutering or spaying your pet is crucial to avoiding the exponential expense of caring for a litter down the road. The average cost of the service from your local vet is between $200 and $300, but many organizations offer this service for less to curb the number of homeless animals. Consult ASPCA’s Low Cost Spay/Neuter Programs page to find a provider near you.

10. DIY
Though I wouldn’t attempt to clean a cat’s teeth, there are several services you can administer at home to save money. Brushing, ear cleaning and nail clipping are just a few necessities you can likely handle without the assistance of a professional. In fact, your vet will happily share with you the best techniques for at-home care, as they’d much prefer to spend time on more specialized services.