Today is a Great Day to Say Thank You

Today is a Great Day to Say Thank You

A friend texted me recently for some advice. She knew she should make some phone calls to thank the end-of-year donors to her organization. But she kept putting it off. “I don’t like making cold calls,” she said. “It feels so awkward. Any advice?”

Honestly, I can empathize. It’s hard to pick up the phone and call someone whom you don’t know. It can feel like an intrusion. But is a donor thank you call, even to a donor you’ve never met, really a cold call? I don’t think so.

Remember, I told my friend, of all the nonprofits out there, these donors gave to your organization. They have some affinity for it – perhaps the mission speaks to them. Or maybe a friend of theirs asked them to give. Whatever the reason, the donors made conscious decisions to support it. Wouldn’t you like to know why? Thanking them for their gifts is a perfect opportunity to learn their motivation.  And to help you appropriately steward them.

Plus, donor thank you calls can be fun. Who doesn’t like to be thanked? As a donor, I always appreciate receiving a call – it makes me feel like my gift was important and had an impact. And, as a professional fundraiser who spends most of my time asking something of people, I’m always happy to have a respite from asking. Takes the pressure off and leads to some really nice – even fun – conversations that can strengthen your organization’s relationship with donors.

If you’re nervous, I told my friend, script out your call. Once you make a couple of calls, you won’t need it anymore. But it may make the first ones less awkward for you.  I also reminded her to read the cues the donor gives. You’ll know if the donor is in a hurry and wants to get off the phone, I told her. In those cases, the calls will be short and sweet, and that’s okay. The donors will still know they’re appreciated.

Other donors – especially now, when so many people are feeling isolated and crave human interaction – may be chatty. Seize these opportunities to learn more about them. Why did they give? What are their interests? Would they like to become more engaged with your organization? These calls are your opportunities to glean important information that will inform your future donor cultivation strategies.

My friend heeded my advice and made her calls. Once she made a couple of them, she was hooked. She had such a nice conversation with one donor, they even ended up sharing personal recipes after the call.

So, my advice to you: don’t delay making your donor thank you calls. In fact, set aside time each week to do exactly that. You’ll have some fun, and your organization will reap rewards of good stewardship.

So…what does your 2021 look like?

So…what does your 2021 look like?

Dear Friends, 

With the year winding down, it is an excellent time to look back and reflect on its events. 

Let’s talk about 2020. We had to pivot (I know, everyone is sick of this word!) and learn all sorts of new ways to raise funds for our organizations during a pandemic. From zoom calls to virtual events and everything in between, we mastered a lot of new skills and conquered new ways of doing things to propel our organization’s mission forward.

We learned how to be agile…how to tackle change – sometimes with ease and sometimes not so much.  We added WFH into our lingo and many of us learned how to juggle WFH and e-learning for the kids that are home. Not an easy year, but, one, in some ways, that built character and resilience. 2020 will also go down in history as a year of significance – not just the pandemic, but an election that more people voted in than ever before, to horrific tragedies and social injustices that spurred important movements to demand real change.

So…what does 2021 look like? I read something funny the other day that went… “Nobody claim 2021 as “your year.” We’re all going to walk in real slow. Be good. Be quiet. Don’t. Touch. Anything.”

I thought, hmmm, some days, that sounds about right. But, then, in all seriousness, that is the opposite of what I feel we need to be doing. My husband shared this Ted talk with me the other day and I felt, now this, this frames our upcoming year well.

It is worth the listen.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable | Luvvie Ajayi – Bing video 

To start, Ms. Ajayi talks about being a “domino.” More specifically, she talks about being the first domino.  The first domino sets the rest of the dominos in motion.  The motion of the first domino represents speaking up to voice your opinion.  A certain amount of fear can come with speaking up.  It can be uncomfortable. Ms. Ajayi talks through this discomfort…

  • Comfort can maintain the status quo.  There is no change. We don’t get better.
  • Discomfort moves us forward.  It propels us to be better.  We learn.
  • Silence serves no one.

So, for 2021…how will you use your voice to be the catalyst for positive change? For you, for your organization…and maybe, just maybe…for the world.

Happy New Year!

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago



If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re in the philanthropy business. 

The Holidays are a wonderful reminder of the power of this word we all say frequently but like so many other words, probably take for granted. 

“Philo” comes from a Greek verb meaning to love. “Anthropy” means  mankind or humanity

Philanthropy = Love of Mankind 

At the risk of stating the obvious, 2020 hasn’t been the best (I know, I know, understatement of the year). 

Everything we know was tested, our annual fund strategies, major gift efforts, event planning and execution not to mention our own personal resolve, patience and belief in our own abilities during such unprecedented times. 

When we reflect on 2020 and dust ourselves off from its countless up and downs, disappointments and frustrations, know you’ve championed the most noble of causes, advancing the love of mankind. Which, at its core, is what was needed most these past 11 months. 

Let it serve as a reminder that our care and concern for each other will always persevere and regardless of what mission or non-profit sector you represent, be proud that your work made others better. 

Cheers to 2021 as we welcome another year of philanthropy, another year of loving and advancing mankind!

by: Michael Bruni, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

Authentic Gratitude

Authentic Gratitude

Like for many of you this time of year, the pace slows a bit, providing a chance to reflect and catch up on life.  During this time, I often take stock of the year passed and reflect on the year ahead.  This has been a difficult year for many, which may make finding joy more challenging.  For my colleague Mike and me, there is an extra “layer” of bittersweet at this year end, as two of our most favorite people – the CEO and the VP of Development at Avenues to Independence – are retiring.  Mike and I have had the good fortune to work with Bob Okazaki and Michele Shoolin for the past 11 years.  What a ride.  Together, Bob and Michele represent 83 years of service to Avenues.  Amazing and unheard of these days.  They will be greatly missed.

One of the many things I have learned through our work with Bob and Michele is the importance of authentic gratitude.  Michele is a pro’s pro.  She is an amazing development officer, in part because she leads with authentic gratitude.  During the Board of Directors meeting last week, each Board member took time to acknowledge and thank Michele.  Each person expressed in their own way how truly special Michele made them feel over the years.  Whether it was making a significant gift or simply serving as a Board member, Michele would always take time to recognize each donor in a very personal and genuine way.  She is thoughtful, she is dedicated, and she has always been interested in truly getting to know anyone who wants to support the clients of Avenues.  

In contrast, my husband I received an email from another non-profit this week.  This organization is important to us and therefore one of our top giving priorities.  While the amount we give may not be significant to the organization, it is very significant for us.  When we received the email, we were both surprised – and disappointed.  Note: the person we normally interact with is out this week.  We do not know the person who sent this email:

Dear Susan and Mark,

I am sending along the attached pledge reminder. We welcome your payment at your convenience. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to me. Please know that we remain grateful for your support of our students and school community.

So, as you reflect on the year behind, be grateful for your “Michele”, the person in your life who leads by example with grace and gratitude.  And make it a priority to be a “Michele” for someone else by demonstrating authentic gratitude in your work and life.

Peace and Happy Holidays.

by: Susan Matejka, Managing Director, HPS Chicago



Legendary fundraiser, Jerold Panas counseled nonprofits to adhere to the “BOY Rule” in all donor communications. His advice was simple and spot on. In every message or appeal, make sure that you use “Because of You” language. It is the donors, volunteers and partners in our mission that make everything possible. “Because of you, lives are changed.” It is not our organization’s great work that changes and saves lives, it’s the donors and supporters who make it happen.

Employing a donor-centric mindset in fundraising appeals and donor communications has, thankfully, gained a great deal of traction in the past decade. More and more nonprofit professionals have embraced the power of making our donors the heroes in our stories of success.

Working with my clients over the past several months on their year-end appeals, acknowledgement letters and impact reports, I have continued to share Jerry’s wise counsel. Playing off of his acronym, I’d like to offer a tandem rule to follow.

What if we also incorporated the “GIRL Rule” in our communications? My sense is that we can be more intentional and specific in the way that we show our donors how their “Generosity Impacts Real Lives.” In addition to making our donors the heroes, there is also a benefit to sharing stories of the real people whose lives have been changed because of them.

  • Because of your support, Natalie is no longer worrying about her children going to bed hungry.
  • Because you cared, William is no longer homeless and will spend the Holidays in his own place.
  • Because of your generosity, Grace will be the first in her family to attend college next year.

One more than one occasion during this past week alone, I have heard donors reference the individual or family that was featured in an appeal. Studies have shown that people connect with and respond to opportunities to help one person more than they are able to for “the many.” It is harder for the majority of people to feel that they can have a direct impact when the scale of the problem they are being asked to help solve multiplies in magnitude.

Here’s what I have learned. The more we can show our donors that their generous support has a tangible impact in the lives of real people, the more our donors will want to continue to invest in our mission.

Thank You for the life-changing work you do every day. Because of you, I go to sleep each night with greater hope for our tomorrows.

Peace and Health to you and yours!

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

Calling all Newsletter Openers

Calling all Newsletter Openers

Today I am offering some tactical advice on how to be smarter about your holiday solicitation mailing.

Recently, I reviewed the information from a client’s Mail Chimp account.  This provided the open rate and numbers of constituents who clicked through to get more information on this client’s monthly newsletters.  We drilled down into the list of constituents who opened the emails consistently over the past 6 months.  Then we exported the list.

Next, we created a constituent code in the client’s Raisers Edge databased, called “newsletter opener.” We marked each record on the Mail Chimp export list as newsletter opener in Raisers Edge. 

As it turns out the newsletter openers were a collection of top donors and family members who benefited from the program.  But there were a few surprises.  The rest of the list was made up of people from the community who read our newsletter just about every time it was sent, but they had never donated. Or if they had, it had been at modest levels that had not caught our attention to mark them for high priority follow up.

Armed, with this knowledge, we added these new prospects to this year’s holiday appeal this. This added at least 10 percent more families to the list.  We also assigned a staff person to hand-write personalized note cards and insert them into the holiday appeal cards of those prospects.

We also plan to make targeted follow up calls to this group over the next few weeks to encourage their participation.  I anticipate these efforts will add some traction to our holiday appeal efforts. After all, these individuals are interested in our mission, they seem to trust the organization, and they see the impact of the mission on a regular basis.

If it is not too late, I’d encourage you to consider this important cross-referencing process and/or put it in your playbook for your next appeal. You still have time to reach out to those who received this season’s year-end appeal with a personal touch. Remember, we as nonprofits managers need to be strategic and critical in our approach to attracting new donors, just like organizations in the for-profit sector strategize on attracting new customers. I think that taking a look at those who are interested in your mission but haven’t given generously yet is a good place to start.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Reasons for Hope

Reasons for Hope

During this time of seemingly unending doom and gloom, I am finding hope in some unexpected places—including in a generation of young people many adults disparage as ‘selfish’ and ‘entitled.’ Instead of disappointed, I find myself challenged and inspired by the selflessness, empathy and kindness so many young people are showing in the face of their disrupted high school and college experiences. While they surely have reason to wallow in what they’ve lost, so many instead have chosen to help ease the suffering of others. This #GivingTuesday, I’ll be supporting two organizations founded and run by high school and college students: Project4Prosperity and Williams for Williamstown.

Project4Prosperity, founded and run by a high school senior along with a team of college undergraduates, aims to aid and bolster minority-owned businesses, which have been hindered by systemic racism and disproportionately harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Motivated by the belief that “as long as poverty, injustice and inequality persist, none of us can rest,” Project4Prosperity recognizes that many minority-owned businesses have been denied federal stimulus funding and unduly affected by circumstances beyond their control. Currently, the team is focused on supporting minority-owned businesses in Washington, D.C. by raising and distributing $25,000 in grants. Project4Prosperity raises funds by telling the stories of individual businesses and their hardship circumstances. The team hopes to expand to stimulate local economies and expand to other cities beyond Washington, D.C.

Equally impressive to me is Williams for Williamstown, a student-run initiative providing support for businesses, organizations, nonprofits and other communities undergoing hardship (including healthcare providers, first responders, nursing care teams, essential workers) in Berkshire County, MA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the in-person semester abruptly ended at spring break last March, a couple of Williams College seniors—on top of adjusting to remote learning and losing their final months of their college on-campus experience—turned their attention to helping the local Williamstown and Berkshire County communities. Initially founded to provide meals to medical workers while supporting local restaurants, the grassroots initiative quickly grew to provide goods beyond food to the larger community in need. Today, Williams for Williamstown has expanded its focus to help address the increased food insecurity in the region due to the pandemic.

I am certain these are just two examples of impactful initiatives created and run by young people. They’ve inspired me enough to stop my “doom-scrolling” for a bit. Indeed, because of them I am hopeful — both personally and professionally — and vow to do all I can to lift them up. Won’t you join me?

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Keep Calm and Carry Out

Keep Calm and Carry Out

In the early days of COVID-19, the city of Evanston launched a creating campaign to support the local restaurants.  Establishments who participated hung a sign in their window, which reads: Keep Calm and Carry Out.  Obviously a play on HRH’s motto, the sign looks much like the royal version, complete with crown.  Those signs, which are still hanging in restaurant windows, make me smile.  In the face of adversity, creativity and determination can often help carry us through. 

As a big fan of The Crown, I have thought about the Queen many times over the past months – and even more over the past few weeks.  I have grown to admire her tremendously, especially her ability to never lose sight of her main responsibility: To make decisions that are in the best interest of her country.  Period.  Because of this, she has made significant sacrifices – both personal and professional – along the way, but has never lost sight of this objective. 

As we look ahead, perhaps we can all take a lesson from the Queen.  The next time you are faced with a difficult decision or situation, think: What is in the best interest of my family/organization/city/country?  Will the decisions I make require sacrifices on my part?  I would assume at some point, yes.  Is it worth it?  Absolutely. 

l know I am guilty of judging others and being critical at times.  I know I need to work harder and do my part to promote harmony and justice, even though it may be difficult and uncomfortable.  I also know I am inspired by those who can put differences aside and advocate for what is in the best interest of others, much like the Queen.  I will strive to be more like HRH.  Will you join me?      

by: Susan Matejka, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

A time to give THANKS!

A time to give THANKS!

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” —William Arthur Ward

This is a big time of year for all of us in development as we prepare and busy ourselves with our year-end appeals and Giving Tuesday plans. For some organizations, year-end giving can account for more than 30 percent of their budgets! So, while we are dotting all the I’s and crossing our T’s on our appeals, delving into our donor databases, working with printers and perhaps coming up with some video content to share on Giving Tuesday, we can’t forget to do one of the most important things at this time of year. We must give thanks to those that impact our organizations…our Board, donors and volunteers.

Our donors will expect to hear from us – and surely, we will be asking them to give at year end. But, as we all know, it’s nice that they hear from us across the year with news or a thanks without any type of ask. Our Board members and other volunteers fall into this same category. We often remember to create touchpoints for our donors, but sometimes our Board members get enlisted to help us in so many ways, and yet, they aren’t always top of mind when we think of who we need to thank and steward.

So, what are some ways to express our thanks?

Pick up the Phone! This time of year, make it a point to connect with your donors and Board members. Give them a call to announce some great news, or simply just to check in and say thanks! I like to carve out time each week to make sure I am connecting with the supporters and volunteers. Set yourself a daily goal – how about 2 calls a day? It’s a good place to start! It’s great to call folks before they make a gift, but, afterwards, its also nice when you can call and say…” I just received your wonderful gift in the mail. Do you know that this will help us do XX for our clients?”

Mail them a Note! Drop a card in the mail – either one designed with a special thanksgiving message, or a handwritten note that highlights your gratitude for all they do. I’ve noticed that during this health crisis, it is actually fun to check the mail and see what has arrived. Albeit, it is usually more of the standard fare – bills and flyers and the like. Yet, this makes a personal note from you stand out and is even more special and appreciated this year.

Send an Email! Why not send an email just to say hello and check in. You might want to attach a photo of a client or send along a special message that your organization received from a client that shows your donor the impact of their gift. Or, do you have a link to share of a video that highlights a client’s story? Or even a press release announcing a large gift or new project your organization is getting ready to launch?

As we enter into one of the busiest seasons for fundraising, take time to hit the pause button to express your gratitude to those important to your organization. As I close today, I also want to extend my thanks to all of you for raising essential funds for important and often life-saving work that makes our world a better place. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Different Tastes

Different Tastes

Baskin Robbins has 31 Flavors because different people have different tastes!”

My father said that to me during our typical family dinner while I was in middle school, complaining that some of my friends didn’t agree with a perspective that I shared at the time.

I felt frustrated that he didn’t side with me or agree with my perspective but what he was really telling me was…”listen more, realize that people will see things differently than you, respect them and their different opinions–and yes, tastes!”

What I didn’t realize was that I’d still be using that simple statement of advice almost 45 years later, and it’s relevance to philanthropy.

Donors will see things differently. Donors will not be motivated by the same things that CEO’s or Executive Directors are motivated by. It is important to hear where donors are, what is important to them and yes, what their “tastes” are. It’s then the organization’s responsibility to align those donors and their priorities with specific needs for the organization.

Of course there are ample examples of when a vision is brought to a donor for a transformational investment, but as an Exec Director or VP of Advancement, one must do their homework and ultimately connect the proposed vision to the priorities of the donor.

Bottom line, your donors may not always agree with a perspective that you, as an Exec Director or CEO share. When those instances come up, and they will, remember, “Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors because different people have different tastes”.

How little did I know how important those words would be in the world of fundraising.

by: Michael Bruni, Managing Director, HPS Chicago