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

This time, no ask required!

This time, no ask required!

Recently, my friend Jenny, who is new to the development world, called me with a dilemma. In her new role with a nonprofit, she reached out to a major donor to introduce herself and thank her for her past support. During the call, the donor told her she didn’t feel like the organization really needed her. “I’ve offered to get more involved many times over the past few years, but no one has ever called me. I don’t think they really need me so I’ve backed off.”

During the ensuing conversation, Jenny learned that the donor initially supported the organization because of her relationship with a friend, who also happens to be a high-profile personality in Chicago.

Here’s the dilemma: when Jenny went to her executive director to report on her conversation, and to suggest asking the “high-profile” person to call the donor, simply to thank her and update her on happenings, the executive director said “well, I don’t really want to bother him. What’s the ask? Shouldn’t he request a sponsorship for the Gala?”

Jenny asked my advice — was she right to suggest this stewardship-only phone call? Or should they ask something of the donor?

First, I congratulated Jenny for listening to her donor, and especially for gleaning such important information. How fortunate that the donor hadn’t just slipped away and given her support — financial and otherwise — elsewhere! Next, I agreed with Jenny. In my professional opinion, her instinct was spot-on. The organization needed to spend some time cultivating its relationship with the donor by listening, and not asking for financial support. And they needed to do so by engaging the person who first brought the donor to them — regardless of his “high-profile” status — to affirm to the donor how much she is valued.

That call proved quite significant. The donor was delighted to hear from her friend, to hear about the organization’s current priorities and activities directly from him. And the ask came from the donor: “Would you have Jenny call me? I’d love to talk with her about how I can become more involved.”

His answer: a resounding yes.

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

What If?

What If?

What would it look like if everyone involved in our organization truly embraced the worthiness of our mission? What might happen if, instead of feeling like it was a responsibility (or worse yet–a burden to be avoided), we actually felt compelled to share the opportunity to change people’s lives and/or to make our community a better place?

As fundraising professionals, Executive Directors/CEOs, Board and staff members, we all have the ability to inspire others to join us. What if we were unapologetic in sharing with others the opportunity to make a difference for people who are counting on us to do just that?

I’m not in any way suggesting that we should approach people with no regard for their personal perspective/situation/philanthropic priorities. What I am saying is that, if we are willing to connect with others and share our passion for the organization’s mission, positive and sometimes surprising outcomes can occur.

All too often, we come up with one or more reasons why we shouldn’t bother.

  • “I’m not sure if this would be their thing.”
  • “I don’t want them to feel pressured.”
  • “I know they already support other charities.”
  • “Blah, blah, blah… excuse, blah blah.”

What if, instead of saying “no” for them, we enthusiastically invited others to partner with us?

While we can’t know if they will accept our invitation, we do know that people don’t want to feel helpless. Especially in our current climate. They actually want to help–to do something that makes a difference. What if we just asked them?

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

Making Time for Gratitude

Making Time for Gratitude

My client is planning a Thank-a-Thon this November. Fall is a great time to give thanks – not only for turkey and football, but for the amazing things we have been able to do thanks to donor support.

Since we have been doing this, our donor retention has gone sky high. It started at 52% a few years back and has grown to 75%. It’s gratifying to know that if a person gives to my client, they are 74% likely to do it again. 

We want to keep this trend going, but also want to be considerate to our wonderful volunteers in light of Covid safety concerns.  So this year, we offering our volunteers flexibility to come to the office and make calls or do them from the comfort of their own home. 

If they stay home, we will drop off packets with donor contact information. We will also provide cards to write notes. We’ve found that some volunteers prefer this approach. Personally, I think it’s just as effective. Can you remember the last time you got a personalized hand-written note? They really stand out.

Here are some additional tips:

First, Get the right volunteers – Consider inviting program recipients if it’s appropriate. Nobody can speak to the value of your organization’s services more than a program recipient or their family member. This will lend instant credibility for our organization.

Second, Select a good date – Be sure to thank donors before they get your holiday appeal. We have selected Saturday November 14.

Share a story of Impact – I’m thinking of a young woman who is sight impaired and has a developmental disability. With help from my client, she lives a very independent and full life.

Suggest a script –Calls work best if volunteers identify themselves first and immediately share that they are simply calling to say thank you.

Provide good “intel” – Each volunteer should get a packet of Call Sheets that contain donor names, phone numbers and, if possible, some brief “intel” on the donors they will be calling.   Never share the value of the donors’ gifts.

Gather feedback – Ask volunteers to write notes about their calls on the Call Sheets, and return them to you. Always enter information into your database.

The Thank-a-Thon is a fun and energizing activity. Since Stewardship is such an important part of the development process, make sure you set aside time for it this year.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Get out of your comfort zone

Get out of your comfort zone

Ah, the pandemic drags on. And on.  Virtual events continue.  Zoom calls continue.  Are you tired of it all?  I know I am!  But this week, I considered it all from a different perspective.

During a conversation with a Board member at a school many miles from Chicago, I found myself saying, “the Development team needs to get out of their comfort zone.”  What does this mean, exactly?  Well, what I realized after having a few conversations with this school’s leadership is that they are still doing the same things, even during COVID.  They are still trying to cultivate, steward and thank donors and prospective donors with the same traditional methods they have always used.  I think the only difference is that they cannot meet or gather in person, so they are using Zoom instead.

Don’t get me wrong, holding steady during a pandemic is fine.  But perhaps that’s all it is: just fine. Why not take this opportunity to get really creative and think outside the box?  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Ask a client, volunteer or Board member to use their smartphone and record a 1-2 minute mission moment or “story” about why they love your organization.  Email it to a donor, along with a personal note from you.
  • Send flowers or fruit to a donor or volunteer, letting them know you are thinking of them and wanted to brighten their day.
  • Invite a donor to meet you at a nearby park for a socially distant walk.
  • Host a Zoom gathering with a small group of constituents, such as 4-5 top donors or constituents from a specific geographic area.  Provide an opportunity for introductions and conversation.  Keep the event lively and brief. 
  • Bring the mission of your organization to your clients.  Take advantage of technology to showcase your work: visit babies in the nursery, clients in their homes, musicians practicing outdoors. 
  • Host a virtual event with a fun theme, such as a short cooking lesson from a chef in Latin America.  Provide participants with a shopping list in advance.  Offer a prize for the participant with the best outfit or décor to match the event theme.  

And if you don’t want to try any of these, try picking up the phone.  Or a pen.  And “do Development” the really old-school way: by connecting with someone on a very personal level.  I promise, it’s worth the effort. 

Have a novel idea?  Share it with us!  We’d love to hear about it!

by: Susan Matejka, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

It’s Gala Time…During a Pandemic?

It’s Gala Time…During a Pandemic?

Greetings! I know that many of us in development shops across the country are busy with Gala’s at this time. Normally, we would be working with our venues, selecting food, going over guest lists, managing floral and décor…the list goes on!

This year, boy, does Gala season look different. Who knew that we would have to become masters of technology and all things virtual! While an in-person Gala is time intensive, the virtual Gala is no different. It begins with things such as …how do we communicate with our donors and friends? Do we send a mailed invitation or just an evite? Do we charge a ticket price? Do we offer entertainment? How do we best recognize our sponsors? What is the best platform for our event? Do we film everything? Is there a LIVE component?

As the list continues, our heads can really spin! It can be quite overwhelming to learn many new things in a rather short time period, and, let’s face it, a lot is at stake because many of our Gala’s are big revenue generators for our organizations. No pressure, right? Yet, I am finding a silver lining in all of this and I want to share this with all of you. I have always felt that my colleagues across other not for profits are willing to share and provide their own insight and guidance. And, now, more than ever, I feel this to ring true.

As I prepare for a big October event for a client, I have found that when I pick up the phone and chat with those I know and those that I don’t about their experience with their spring or summer events, they take the time to talk with me. One development professional that I spent the most time talking with is someone that I had never met. This woman spent over an hour going over in great detail things they learned. What worked, and what didn’t. Many of these conversations helped guide some very important decisions on our upcoming Gala. I have always been lucky to have mentors and colleagues to call on. But, this time, it felt very different to me. The feeling I got after these resourceful conversations was…we really are in this together.

We may be working for other organizations across the community or the nation, but, ultimately, we all want each other to succeed. Beyond the “feel good” of this experience, I learned an important lesson. I will make sure that I am the next one in line to help my friends and colleagues, or for that matter, a perfect stranger, as they move forward into unchartered territory. It’s time for me to pay it forward. I encourage you to reach out to others – those you know and those you don’t – to help you with what is ahead. And when you are on the other side of it, join a host of others ready to take the call!

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago


…for the life and legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Thank you for your dedication to justice and equality, for your tireless efforts on behalf of every one of us and, always, for your inspiration.

Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

And thank you to everyone in the social impact sector (staff, volunteers and donors) who continue working to repair the tears in our communities and to make life better for others.


David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

Seeing What Will Be

Seeing What Will Be

Last week one of my clients said it feels like we are all stuck in a perpetual game of Donkey Kong. We laughed for a moment and I agreed, saying that every time we think the coast seems momentarily clear, that blasted gorilla throws another barrel in our path.

There is no question we have all been forced to overcome unexpected obstacles on a daily, if not hourly, basis — way beyond what we were used to in the “normal” course of business prior to 2020. It is certainly not as amusing as playing a silly video game, but we all keep forging ahead because our mission and the people we serve need us to do everything we can, but retreat.

Yesterday, another client’s e-newsletter arrived with the following “Mindful Minute.” (The intended audience is the first generation college students they work with, but my sense is the wisdom here is universal.)

Seeing What Will Be -John Horan

One fifth of a second.

Not a very long time to be sure. But that is the amount of time your eyes (optic nerve for you biology majors) take to transmit a hundred billion signals to the brain.  When it comes to “seeing”, your brain does almost all the work.

The brain takes the hundred billion signals from the eyes and interprets them.  It makes sense of all the information your eyes send.  It processes movements, colors, and shapes and sorts them into coherence.  So, what you “see” has actually happened 1/5 of a second ago.

Then the brain does one more extraordinary thing.  Because there is a 1/5 of a second lag between what the eyes see, the brain forecasts what the world will be a fraction of a second from now.  That forecast is what gives us the present.  Amazing!!

We never see the world as it is at this very instant, but rather as it will be a fraction of a moment in the future.  Thanks to the brain we see what will be

It helps us live in a world that does not quite exist yet.  And that should be comforting in these times of not knowing what will come next.

Things are not clear.  There are a hundred billion uncertain signals.  What will come next with our education, politics, economy, health, our city, our environment, and our hunger for racial justice?

We have to live in anticipation of world that does not yet exist.  Amid all of this uncertainly, we have to see what will be.  We have to forecast what we long for the world to be.

I was stuck by John’s message on several levels, not the least of which were these words, “We have to live in anticipation of world that does not yet exist.

Whatever role you play on your organization’s team (staff, volunteer, donor), you’re invested in this work because you are driven by a desire to make your neighborhood, your city and/or the world a safer, better place. And, despite the obstacles that the past several months have thrown at us (and the ones yet to be launched in our direction), we all have to keep looking forward, seeing what will be. There is too much at stake for the people and the families we serve to do anything less.

The good new is, unlike Mario, we don’t have to face the challenges on our own. Your team and your colleagues and friends in the non-profit world are here to help and support you. If the barrels are coming too fast for you to handle, reach out and ask for help–even if you just need someone to empathize with you.

Even better, what if -once a week – we all committed to calling one of our colleagues or staff members at the organizations we support, just to let them know we are thinking about them and we’re willing to lend an ear or a hand. The truth is we are all doing our level best and the reality is, for some people, the challenges can sometimes feel overwhelming. Having a reminder that someone is in their corner might be just the boost they need to jump over the next few barrels.

Thank you, as always, for the life-changing work you do everyday!

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

PS: September is also Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. This two-page resource offers information on getting involved, including tips on how to take action to help prevent suicide in your community, such as learning about effective suicide prevention, sharing stories of hope, and empowering everyone to be there for those in distress.  Suicide Prevention Month – Ideas for Action Remember, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at, 800-273-8255