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Posts Tagged ‘Noise to Signal’

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Elliott* emailed a coworker about a report the new boss wanted and remarked on her unrealistic, demanding ways.  The coworker sent the final report attached to a long chain of emails, which mistakenly included his comment, copied to the boss.

Elliott knew that his coworker didn’t intend to send this (his coworker had sent him similar remarks about her via email), but accident or not, the damage had been done, and his supervisor immediately reprimanded him for his poor attitude and “not being a team player.”

Although Elliott was apologetic, staff meetings seemed stressful after that, and he felt that in her eyes, he either couldn’t do anything right, or was just barely tolerated.  A couple of months later, his annual review reflected that feeling as well.

Elliott didn’t believe that his manager had been on board long enough (less than half a year) to give him an annual review, but he reported to her, and that was company policy.  He got “average” or “below average” in each category – a far cry below his previous year’s review.

Shortly after that, the company fell on difficult times, and when layoffs came around, he was in the round of people let go.  While most of the staff affected were those employed with the company less than two years, Elliott had nearly five years with the company, but was told that his position would be “redundant with the restructuring planned.”

In addition to regular job searching techniques that I provide clients, I worked with Elliott on how we could Fix It! at his new position, to help him avoid making the same mistakes again, or getting caught in a similar trap.  In the end, the quality of his work mattered very little, once he had been viewed negatively by his manager.

The first thing I advised Elliott to do was to upgrade his phone to a smart phone, so that he could entirely separate his personal communications from his work communications – phone calls and emails.  With a smart phone, there would be no reason for him ever to make any personal calls or emails using company equipment (which can be – and often is – monitored).  I also advised him to limit the amount of time spent during work hours on any personal communications, including social media channels, such as Facebook.

Second, I googled Elliott via several different searches, including combinations of his name, nickname(s), past employers, clubs, schools, associations, emails, etc. and showed him what results I got.  He was surprised at the results when I included the photo sites as well.  This was an eye opener to Elliott about the power of the web and social media in general, and the need for discretion online.  When I explained that many employers ask for permission to check credit sites and other protected information, so they will learn much more than I was able to find, this became even more of a wake-up call.

Obviously, Elliott didn’t need to be told not to put any disparaging comments in writing in the future.  Not only did he recently suffer the consequences, but there have been several examples in the press of foolish postings online.  However, I did mention the need for good etiquette in the workplace and how far networking can help down the line.  A recent study showed that basic courtesy appears to be sadly lacking, in most people’s opinions, which makes it that much more appreciated when displayed.

It took Elliott much longer to find his next position, due to his not having a strong reference from his previous job, as well as being let go, but once he got hired, he made a point to display a positive outlook and demeanor, and keep his private life – and communications – separate from his work life as much as possible.

He has been complimented for his professionalism on more than one occasion, and plans on keeping it that way.

Faye* had been in her position for nearly a year, when she felt blindsided with the news that she was being let go from her position.  The reasons that she was given were all totally unfounded, she felt.  She even considered consulting an attorney, but decided to start with her direct supervisor, since the news came from top management.

For example, she was told that she failed to reach her stated goals, and this was completely untrue.  She hoped that her director would advocate for her, since he knew her work better than upper management.

It would take a couple of days for Faye to pull together all of her necessary figures and have everything completely and accurately prepared.  She asked for a meeting with the necessary parties at the end of the week, which would give her enough time to have an adequate rebuttal, she believed.

The day before her meeting, Faye learned that not only had upper management decided to remove her, but her director had been given a termination notice as well.  Apparently, the nonprofit organization’s budget was suffering so terribly, the board had decided to make drastic reductions.

Faye heard talk of a possible audit, as well as chatter of how she wasn’t the first person in her position to be removed in under a year for an ambiguous “failure to perform,” reason, and she felt betrayed . . . and a bit naïve.  She also wondered about the overall health of the organization.

Rather than consult an attorney and try to fight for a job with an organization that might not even be able to pay her if she won, Faye decided to consult me on how to seek a job with a healthier organization overall.

I coached her that certainly part of due diligence is to search a nonprofit’s 990, but that is only the beginning.  More research must be done.  Particularly with the news that many nonprofits may have fraudulently filed their paperwork in order to meet recent deadlines.

Faye and I spent time reviewing certain warning signs about certain types of organizations and/or job listings that will indicate she should Forget It! and not bother applying, because they may well be a very transient organization.  This included questions to include during interviews for organizations, to ensure that they plan on being around several years from now.  (Are they preparing for the future, or are they scarcely catching up to yesterday in a desperate attempt?)

She also found useful the LinkedIn organizational listings of employees, which showed their longevity with the organizations, indicating their general health.  Also, simply whether or not an organization bothered to have its own LinkedIn listing was an indicator of how seriously it took itself in the world of social media, for one thing.

While older, larger organizations tend to be viewed as more stable, Faye didn’t limit herself only to these, and she ended up working at a mid-sized nonprofit that was less than twenty years old.  It has a well-rounded combination of new and veteran employees, and she feels more secure than she has in a while.

If you’ve been laid off, what signs of stability or other factors do you strive for with your next employer?

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

The 3 basic types of nonprofit workers: Mission Driven – actually hopes to be put out of work, since a cure will be discovered.  Transitory – a new grad or changing jobs.  He won’t stay long, but wants experience, so he’ll work hard while there.

Then there’s the Fixture.  Fixtures are those who either can’t or won’t step up to the plate and perform.  In fact, they barely maintain, so they spend a great deal of time disguising their lack of skill and/or enthusiasm by becoming bottlenecks to progress.  These are the people who love to cite rules, policies and procedure as reasons why something hasn’t gotten done yet.

Many organizations have Fixtures, and sometimes more than one.  They can be at any level in the organization, unfortunately.  The higher up the ladder the Fixture is, the more debilitated the organization becomes at ever accomplishing anything more than “what we’ve done in the past” – if that.  It can also become a demonstrated management style for others to follow.

If the Fixtures take control, most Mission Driven people will leave and go to other organizations that are interested in action and change, the Transitory employees will continue to come and go, and the organization will become so heavily weighted with Fixtures it guarantees that progress will drop to a slow crawl.

When people ask for my career counseling – either with their current job, or with assessing a potential employer during interviewing (“Will I like it there?”) – I ask them to first assess themselves and what motivates them at the office.  What gets you through the day?  In other words, who do you work for?

•      Your boss?
•      The organization/mission?
•      Yourself?
•      Your family, simply to pay the bills?

Depending on the answer, your reaction to an organization filled with Mission Driven people will vary.  (“Yes, I know this is great news, but I’d really like to see my family this week . . . “)  If you’re comfortable earning a paycheck and working 9 to 5 regardless, then the fact that Fixtures have delayed delivery for the third time this month might not bother you too much – as long as you don’t get the blame. On the other hand, if you really have a need to make a difference or an impact, you don’t want to accept a position at a place that reeks of micromanagement.

Tess* considered herself to be several years away from retirement age when her organization was forced to downsize, due to the economy, and she found herself laid off.  She definitely wanted to keep earning a full time living using her very marketable skills, but still wanted time to spend with her grandchildren after hours and on weekends.  She no longer considered her career to be her “life’s work” and wasn’t interested in doing it night and day.

We were able to Fix It! by focusing Tess’ job search on positions that stayed to a regular schedule, rather than working erratic hours, such as events, and found her a job working on gift entry and database analysis.  She could produce reports according to a fixed calendar, and emergencies were rare.  This gave her time with her family, and she is hopeful it will see her through to retirement.  Although there are certainly bottlenecks within her organization, Tess has clearly laid out her schedule and what she requires from various departments and staff members, so that if someone fails to deliver, the paper trail is obvious about who dropped the ball.

Vern* is a worker who is passionate about what he does, and had been working at his organization for over a year without much success at getting increased responsibilities.  Neither during the monthly staff meetings nor at his semi-annual review did he feel that any of his ideas were seriously considered.

At first, he had been hopeful, because he was always assured that they would be “passed on,” or told, “We’ll think about it,” but now that he was into his second year, he was beginning to understand that the organization lingo simply didn’t have a word for “no,” and this was their way of saying, “It’s going to die in committee and you’ll never hear from us again.”

Vern was dismayed to think that he’d wasted a year simply figuring out this odd way of communicating in a strange land, and decided to Forget It! and start looking for a new job . . . but, he told me, he didn’t want to make the same mistake again and fail to pick up on signals wherever he landed.

We searched for the jobs he wanted and rehearsed with mock interviews.  That way, he could not only better assess the types of people he desired as supervisors and co-workers, but also how he could best project himself, so that the organizations would clearly understand who and what he was as a worker.  With this approach, neither party would be unpleasantly surprised.

Vern’s job search was lengthy, but in the end, we found him a much better fit, and he is a great deal happier where he is now.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.

—  Rita Mae Brown

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Make Donating To Your Cause Easy And Meaningful

Monday, December 20th, 2010

People have less time and more options to donate now than ever before, so if you are to engage someone to give to your cause, you’d better be compelling with your message and convenient with your means of donating – or they’ll simply go elsewhere.

This includes offering an array of ways of giving, since constituents have various preferences. Direct mail still drives many annual giving budgets, but online giving is increasing all the time, and mobile giving should not be ignored – it will most certainly be the new frontier.

When sending a direct mail appeal, make certain that you not only emphasize what your gift(s) of $___ will do/accomplish when making suggested asks, but prominently show how the gift can be made online with a direct hyperlink featured not only in the letter, but also on the reply card and the return envelope.

Studies have shown that many mail recipients will research a non profit organization online prior to making a gift (whether by mail or web), so why not provide a means for them to respond online directly? Statistically, online gifts average higher than mail gifts, and these funds are received more immediately.

Take care that your direct hyperlink goes immediately to an online giving form, however, and isn’t in a cumbersome trail of endless clicks. Your online eform should be to the point as well.

Once the donor arrives online, the first two questions on the eform should be regarding donation amount and credit card number. If the donor has committed to these two pieces of information, s/he is much less likely to abandon the form and to fill out the rest of the questions.

Again – tying donation amounts to what they will do/accomplish toward your organization’s mission will boost your overall average gift. It’s imperative that the donor feels their funds are helping to achieve something for the greater good.

With mobile giving increasing all the time, it’s all the more important that non profits engage constituents this way as well, whether it is simply via text messaging, or for outright giving. There are many more options than simply giving $5 or $10 gifts now, including larger gifts starting at $100, which provide the non profit with donor contact information, for further cultivation later on.

Making the process easy includes not imposing on the charities as well, however.

Many donors will conduct research on the non profits they are considering giving to, including how overhead costs are managed, and how much of their gift actually goes to benefit the organization, rather than to administrative expenses, and so forth. It turns out that donating on an iPhone is not only a cumbersome process, but sends 30% of the gift to Apple in the form of “fees.” Not terribly philanthropic by any standard.

There is a movement afoot in the form of a petition, urging Apple to change this policy, but in the meantime, many in the non profit world are calling for a boycott of the iPhone and investing their energy toward apps, etc. elsewhere, such as the Droid.

What is certain is that the industry will grow and change rapidly in the area of mobile giving and text messaging, so the prudent fund raiser will keep a watchful eye on what happens in this segment, and respond accordingly, to meet the needs of their constituents – and organization.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

I Don’t Care What People Eat For Breakfast!

Monday, November 15th, 2010

When I get this response about Twitter, I know it’s going to be a challenge to convey the value of microblogging, so I start with a party analogy. There are beneficial – and useless – discussions happening. You choose where to stand, right?

Twitter just takes these same social discussions online. It would be a mistake to assume that it is either all valuable or all a waste of time. There is no such thing as 100%. Similar to attending a party or other gathering, one must do some research and invest time and effort. Not only are certain sections of a party or reception more likely to pay off, but attending this gathering instead of that one might be a better idea, too.

How do you know which is which? Networking, of course – and some trial and error, probably. It’s no different online. If you can have a coach, mentor or take a class, that can help you avoid more pitfalls in the beginning and get you up to speed faster as you learn the protocols of the terrain.

What’s the Point of 140 Characters?

The next question I usually get has to do with how short a tweet is. How can anyone possibly convey anything meaningful in such short bursts? Reducing communication to mere utterances isn’t real communication, they tell me, so why bother?

Again, this isn’t necessarily true. Twitter has rules that, when followed, allow for quite a bit of information to be conveyed in a mere 140 characters. The point is to get to the point and to be brief, as nearly everyone is on information overload these days. Since most people have time to read little more than headlines, the challenge is to pack all necessary information into the “headline.” In fact, crafting a well written tweet might be more difficult than you think.

Hashtags, URLs and Retweeting

First and foremost, it’s important to realize that Twitter is about microblogging. If you’re interested in sailing, karate, calligraphy and dog grooming, it would be best to tweet about each of these from four separate Twitter accounts, since the likelihood of finding others who are interested in all four of these is very, very low. Twitter is most effective for niche marketing. This is why posting hashtags is so important – others will find you and your specific topics more easily.

Your tags, or relevant topics are noted by the pound sign (#) preceding each and every word/topic of interest. If they are words combined, the space is removed, such as #doggrooming. If you’re uncertain whether or not the tag exists, Twitter has a search feature so you can see if others are posting based on that term. (No point in using something that nobody is searching for, or if #ABC refers to something entirely different than you thought.)

It’s useful to post a tweet that elaborates beyond the headline, or “for more information, go here,” such as a hyperlink. Many hyperlinks, though, can be more than 140 characters themselves, so there are a variety of shortening services offered, such as bit.ly. These services will also track how many times your links have been clicked by others, so you know what sort of traffic you’re getting.

Consider, then, how much material is conveyed in some recent tweets of mine:

In the first example, I shared a study done on how recently elected candidates fared better if they were more engaged in social media. First was the headline, next was the bit.ly hyperlink for followers to read the article, followed by several relevant hashtags . . . although a couple of words in the headline were converted to hashtags as well.

The second example was a successful – and different – campaign video that I shared with others, which demonstrates the viral nature of social media. It becomes clear how this can be useful to organizations trying to promote their causes.

Retweeting, or others passing along your original tweet, is, of course, desired. The clearer and more direct and concise the message is, the more likely it is to be retweeted. Obviously, it needs to be considered valuable as well. There is a retweet button, but it is also done manually through the notation of RT and the @ symbol before a user’s name.  Some examples of retweets:

Although in each case, my user name – @BilouEnterprise – was credited, the post was shortened to varying degrees, removing several tags, etc. Therefore, even with the 140 allotted characters, it’s important to say the most important part first so that when others pass your message along, the gist of it will remain.

How Do I Get Followers?

The best way to find a friend is to be a friend. This is true in cyberspace, just as it is face to face. While you certainly want to tell others about what you’re doing and what you want from them, if you don’t provide value to them (talk about something else that’s relevant once in a while), and listen to what they are tweeting . . . and retweet their messages, you’re not being a very good friend.  Social media is not one way communication!

Searching hashtags in general is one way, but there are many Twitter tools that can help, such as WeFollow. When you sign up for WeFollow, you will enter five key tags that you most plan to tweet about and be registered. WeFollow will rank you based on number of followers and how influential you are overall.

For example, you may want to follow those who tweet using the term nonprofit. You’d see that the Chronicle of Philanthropy is #2 in terms of Most Influential, although they are not 2nd strictly in terms of Most Followers.

I’ll Just Give It To My Intern To Do, Then, Right?

Any facet of your campaign that is relegated to the least experienced person working part time on a five year old computer will no doubt have the lowest yield. The success stories you’ve heard about other organizations who have really taken off with this or that began with a plan and a staff, backed up with a budget.

Too often, organizations that merely throw minimal staff and resources to social media efforts do so because management is too scared or ignorant of its power or potential.

What Will My Stats Show?

There are many ways to collect analytics – number of followers, clicks on your URLS, number of retweets, etc. – but there is no agreed upon single strict ROI that satisfies every organization. Social media is much more about engaging supporters in conversation and educating them about what it is that you do, provide, enhance, prevent, support, etc. so that they will know more about it and be there to assist you when you need it, whether that is through advocacy, donations or other means.

Although tracking is a useful tool, organizations that obsess over analytics are missing the point of social media. Viewing your changes over extended periods of time (six or twelve months) is more meaningful, to determine growth. Another useful measurement is to see who the heavy users of your site are, as these are the ones most likely to become involved in activities, committees or to contribute.

Is There Spam In Social Media?

Absolutely! You’ll have to “weed your garden” if you want to keep it clean. Social media requires diligence, like any other marketing effort. No list is perfect, but the dirt will pile up in a hurry if you aren’t attentive.

Aside from the obvious pornographers come those who post nothing except “See/buy my fabulous product now [hyperlink]!” Others are a bit more covert in their language: “I just had to share this: [hyperlink]” and still others will disguise the obscurity with a dozen or so fortune cookie “thoughts for the day” postings, followed by the vague saying with a hyperlink.

The danger, of course, is that not only might you view a sales pitch, but it could also be something very inappropriate, offensive, or a virus that could harm your computer. Although URL shorteners can be helpful, they can also serve to disguise damaging links as well. Luckily, there is a site that helps show where these go without one having to go there first. It’s called untiny and will reveal the original site of most shortened URLs.

Spammers on Twitter can be merely unfollowed, but it’s best to report them. Either way, cleaning your list is advisable, so that you know the value of who and how many are really interested in following you – the same as you attempt to do with a direct mail or email list.

Following them in return is generally considered good etiquette, although the majority of users don’t reciprocate their entire list completely. This is good to remember when those you follow don’t all respond in kind.

When Will I “Get It”?

Most important of all, though, is to remember that everyone is on a learning curve. Social media takes practice and regular usage. Set a realistic schedule and stick to it. If your followers can’t depend on viewing your posts, they won’t remain. You can use a software tool to schedule your posts ahead of time, such as Hootsuite, which also allows scheduled posts to other social media applications, such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

The social media terrain is changing rapidly, and what works well for one organization might not be the best solution for another. That’s why listening to your audience is so essential. Organizations used to hope that they had the time and funds for focus groups in the past, to gain feedback from their constituents every year or two. Now, we can receive specific input and commentaries with more frequency and quantity than ever before imagined!

What will you do with your new follower data?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

Why – and How – Should I Give To Your Organization?

Monday, September 13th, 2010

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Here’s some Monopoly, er . . . Facebook Money.  Don’t Mention It.

I’ve written before about how important it is that non profits stick to promoting their mission above all else when raising funds, promoting awareness, educating constituents, and so forth.  A knowledgeable, supportive donor base is built from cultivation, not sensational tactics or quick fixes.

Social media has a wonderful, essential place at the table in achieving this:  Never before have we been able to converse with our supporters in so many ways, receive feedback so immediately, and respond so quickly to the feedback, the market and current events in general.  These are truly fabulous tools to have at our disposal!

With every new device, though, we also inevitably see more people looking to scheme, connive, deceive and generally get something for nothing – or at least minimal effort on their part.  For example, aside from the online ads that users see, people are creating such things as quizzes, apps, posts and tweets to target others en masse.  These are today’s spammers, and they can be seen trolling such places as freelance job sites, looking for workers.  I’d classify Facebook Credits in the wanting something for nothing category.  (The non profit does all of the heavy lifting, while Facebook takes their standard 30% cut of the donation.)

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Virtual Reality

Because Facebook is announcing a new way to purchase their credits (via a gift card at Target), they are also promoting their generosity in waiving their typical fee with all donated credits going to Stand Up For Cancer, as is plainly stated on their Facebook page.  However, this publicity stunt can be seen for what it is, when Nothing But Nets is profiled by Facebook Credits the previous month . . . and no such statement can be seen about 100% of their gifts going to the organization.

All fund raisers have a limited amount of time, energy and budgets.  Among the X amount of contacts I will make with a donor, I’ll ask for a gift during Y percentage of those times.  While there are good examples of combining social media and solicitations, I’m not going to spend one of those Y asks on software pointsSpend virtual money instead of real money?!?!  I don’t think so!

Credits normally redeem at a $0.10 to 1 credit rate, but certain payment methods sometimes extract a larger fee that reduces what users get.  This is reminiscent of when people were asked to collect the tops off of soda cans to buy ____, instead of donating money to buy the item!  Which would you rather collect?

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I’ll Take One of Everything

Consider another avenue of solicitation for a moment: Direct Mail.  Many organizations have purchased or swapped lists from list brokers or other organizations.  What’s the best way to do this?  There are certainly thousands or millions of names and addresses to be purchased – easily, in fact.  Emails, too – and phone numbers.  Adding to your list simply to have a large list is pointless, however.

If you are able to find a list of like-minded individuals with a tendency and/or history of supporting similar organizations, you’ve made a good buy (or swap).  Otherwise, you’ve merely cluttered your database with data.  You can also further refine and target your database with such tools as wealth screening before and careful tracking after.  The same principles apply to social media.

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Who Wants To Play A Game?

Of course, Facebook Credits were born out of the popularity of their online games, and the idea that people could “donate” some of these credits just sitting in their “virtual banks.”  If the circumstances are right, the right corporate sponsor can be beneficial, certainly, and it’s clear that the gaming industry has a much wider market penetration than ever imagined previously.  However, Facebook has never shown itself to be philanthropic.

In August 2009, it was announced that Facebook Credits would be offered to four non profit test partners: World Wildlife Fund, Kiva, Project Red and Tom’s Shoes, trumpeting the news that this would open the doors for non profits to expand into this realm.

A year later, not one of these four has Facebook Credits available on their Facebook pages.

Nothing But Nets, which is currently paying the 30% rate, actually does have an online game – but it’s available on their site, instead of their Facebook Page.  It would seem that once organizations give Facebook’s various donation apps a try, they wisely conclude that control of their messaging – and driving traffic to their site is most successful.

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Fans For Sale, Cheap

With Facebook in particular, we half a billion users are bought and sold again and again in more ways than most people realize.

Since I work in a marketing field, I anticipated this somewhat, refusing to give Facebook much demographic information at all, and actually tried to mislead them whenever possible.  I entered my grandmother’s birthday when DOB was required: 1903.  Facebook responded, “Enter your real birthday.”  Hmph.  Well, I yielded on that, but not much else.

Whenever I go to a friend’s wall to wish them a happy birthday, Facebook already knows why I am there and defaults with a larger “wall window,” offering me a plethora of items I can purchase, to go along with my birthday message.  (No thanks.)

Friends of mine – women in particular – lament that their ads are irritatingly stereotypical.  If they are single, they are bombarded with various dating service ads.  Engaged?  Wedding planners and bridal boutiques.  Married?  Clearly, you’re trying to get pregnant, then.  And on it goes.  One thing is consistent for all women, however:  You desperately need to lose weight!

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What Message Do You Want To Send?

When your organization allows most transactions to take place on another site such as Facebook, not only are you giving up contact information and the ability to further cultivate that relationship, but you are also relinquishing all control over the messaging about why someone should contribute, what happens to the gift, and so on.

Mark Zuckerberg has stated outright on several occasions that he doesn’t really see the need for privacy any longer.  The platform that your constituents spend the most time on wields the impression that will stay with them the longest when they think of you.

Social media can be a powerful means, but your message about your mission should be the end.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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