KISS — Keep it Simple Silly

keep it simple stupid illustration design over a chalkboard

KISS — Keep it Simple Silly

I recently helped a client celebrate its 15 anniversary. This is a small, but mighty nonprofit that runs 100% on individual and corporate gifts with no program revenue or government support.

The client’s preferred way of celebrating this milestone was to hold a gala. We were hired to execute this celebration. They hold this event every five years to mark the notable passage of time, and put a spotlight on their associated achievements.

During a conversation, about one of the million details required to run the gala, my client and I chuckled as we agreed to ascribe to the KISS  philosophy.  You may know that KISS is an acronym for “Keep it simplestupid.” It was a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960 that states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated. Therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design, and that unnecessary complexity should be avoided.

Despite the KISS sentiment, the planning of the elaborate event continued — with details about guest responses, seating diagrams, program, emcee, band, etc. etc. We’ve all been there, right?

The night came and went and we believe the guests had an enjoyable time. Money was raised and the mission was communicated and glorified.

But later, (as the eye twitch I developed due to many late nights at the office is finally subsiding) I began reflecting on the previous conversation about KISS.  Did we really keep it simple?  Was the gala the best way — the only way — to celebrate this milestone and do the mission justice?

I don’t think so.

Earlier in the year, I worked with this client on a small intimate dinner for about 50 people.  The out of pocket was covered by a beloved donor and the organization raised about 80% in this intimate setting, as was raised at the gala. I wonder what would have happened if instead, we had replicated this style of a modest dinner gathering multiple times, and filled the room with different donors each time.

Hindsight is 20/20, but in the nonprofit world, as in any business, it is important to evaluate return on investment. Especially when the ROI is utilized to change lives and save lives. We must always be seeking the best way to make the same impact while preserving our financial investments, and staff resources.

When we meet as a Board later this month to discuss and evaluate the success of this event, I hope they will consider a different approach.  One that will keep the focus on the mission, but will also keep it simple.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions


The Importance of Embracing Change


The Importance of Embracing Change

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

–Albert Einstein

Intellectually, we know this statement by Albert Einstein to be true. Yet how many of us stick with the same fundraising strategies year after year – even despite red flags – and hope for different results? Recently, I worked with a client stuck in a cycle of special events that were in decline both attendance and dollar-wise.  One event in particular was hardest to consider changing. In its heyday, it was wildly successful and had taken on iconic status with many within the organization. But, attendance and net revenue had been steadily declining over the prior five years. One year, the event even posted a net loss. Still, the organization kept hosting the event, hoping the next year would be different.

Staff and some volunteer leadership wanted to eliminate the event, but top leadership admittedly were frightened to take that risk. To help staff build the case for significant change, we analyzed all aspects of the event. What were its primary goals?  Who were the audiences we were trying to attract? What were the positives we’d want to retain? What was the return on investment, in terms of both human and monetary resources?

We also did some benchmarking with other nonprofits, and performed market research on similar types of events. Were similar organizations having success with this type of event? If not, what types of events were successful for them? Were there external factors beyond our control contributing to the event’s decline?

From our research, it became clear that our client was not doing anything “wrong” with its event – the appetite for the type of event had simply significantly declined. The audiences we’d been trying to attract just weren’t as interested in the type of event as it had been years before. And, we learned that the time and money we invested in the event were not reaping the return we needed.

Our research verified what we suspected: we can’t keep doing the same thing and expect to achieve a different result. Indeed, the organization must make a significant change. Currently, we’re sharing our findings with the event stalwarts to help them understand change will be a bold, brave move that will keep us relevant with the audiences we want to engage. And, change will help ensure we achieve our fundraising goals.

I encourage you to examine your organization’s fundraising strategies – all aspects, not just special events. Are you stuck in any ruts? If so, make a change. While change is hard, it is absolutely essential to an organization’s long-term vibrancy.

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Touch Points


Touch Points

Recently my colleague Susanna Decker mentioned the importance of donor touch points in her post to this blog.  It really resonated with me because of a recent experience.

Before I relate my story, take a step back and reflect on the kinds of relationships you have with your major donors.  As with me, I am guessing that the majority of your interactions with your donors are transactional.  “Please respond to this request.”  “Don’t forget to get your pledge in.”  “It’s that time of year again.”  “We are asking for your support.”  There is nothing wrong with transactional language.  It is the drumbeat of our fundraising cycle.  If we don’t transact business, we are not doing our job.

But one of the great things about fundraising is that a lot of our donor interactions are also relational.  We get to know (and often love) our donors as people.  We know about their family, their professional life, their avocations and their passions.  We know their birthday, their cell phone number, and maybe even their shirt size.  Our relationship goes way beyond the transactional into the personal.  And getting to know generous people is really one of the joys of our profession.

That is why it is important to think more about touch points.  The transactions have to happen.  But there is a world of difference when those transactions are relational and personal.

Recently a major donor called me about tickets to an upcoming event for the non-profit organization I work for.  I had this donor on the phone.  I could have told him I would put the tickets in the mail, or I could have left the tickets at the check in desk on the night of the event.  But then I got to thinking, that I would enjoy seeing this guy face to face.  He is generous.  He loves our organization.  He is buying tickets, which means he likes seeing people from the NPO.

I told him that there is now a dinner scheduled after the event to kick off the year.  I invited the donor and his wife to sit with my wife and me at the dinner as our guests.  And by the way, I know he likes golf so I asked him to schedule a golf date with me before the season ends.  He was delighted to be asked to the dinner and to golf.  And I get to enjoy his company and solidify the relationship with my organization.

Think about touch points with your major donors.  Don’t ever neglect the important transactional interactions.  But remember that your donors are people who take joy in interacting with people in your organization.  Do the transaction, but do not miss the opportunity to make your visit personal and relational.

by: Steven Murphy, Ed.D., Senior Advisor, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Put a Name on It!


Put a Name on It!

I’m currently working with a not for profit that is nearing the finish line with its capital campaign to help purchase a new building and renovate the new space. Our team has had many meetings to determine naming opportunities at a variety of gift levels as well as the look and feel of a donor wall that will be placed in a prominent area in the new building.

This campaign has brought in gifts at all levels…from $100 to $500,000 and everything in between. It’s been an exciting and successful effort for the Board, the Steering Committee and the Staff. And, it will have a huge impact on the clients served.

These conversations and discussions we’ve had around naming opportunities have been important because we want to ensure that the donor wall and named areas will feel right – both in design and placement – in the space that will be utilized every day by clients. And, we want our donors to feel we have been thoughtful about their transformational gifts and that they are represented appropriately and appreciatively as well.

We’ve come up with a nice plan and are beginning to reach out to our donors to see if they would like a named opportunity that ties to their generous gift. For those who have made lead gifts, our communication is a bit more personal…phone calls and in-person meetings made by a key leader of the organization. This offers a special touch point with these donors and helps us continue to steward our relationships with them.

As we know, when one campaign or project comes to an end, another plan may just be around the corner. Thus, these closing conversations about named opportunities are so important as we end an significant effort in a thoughtful and impactful way.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Strength in numbers


Every wonder why GE has 10 Board members and most Non-profits have upward to 20+?

The answer is fundraising!

Think about it.

If a company, that touched multiple continents and is valued in the billions can be governed by 10 people, can’t a non-profit, who for the most part is regional and have budgets between $1M – $80M be governed by the same size?

The difference is the distinct responsibility of a non-profit board member to be involved with fundraising.

It’s a fact…..

Non-profits who are strong in the philanthropy department have engaged Board members who are philanthropically focused.

This proves the point, there’s strength in numbers, especially when it comes to non-profit boards, when those individuals understand their roles and engage enthusiastically with the organizations fundraising.

by: Michael Bruni, Partner, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Listen = Silent


Listen = Silent

While I love this anagram and it is certainly a good reminder for us all when we’re meeting with donors–to use the one mouth and two ears we have in proportion, a recent experience offered me some added perspective.

I frequently ride my bike, both for exercise and for the occasional dose of clarity I gain while out on the forest preserve trail here in Chicago. The other morning, on my way back and a number of miles out, it started to rain… A LOT! So much so, that after about 10 minutes the trail was almost deserted. After I let go of the fact that I was drenched beyond imagining, something interesting happened.

My disappointment quickly faded when I realized just how beautiful and rejuvenating the forest trail was as I traveled along–just me and the trees in the soaking rain. As I continued on my way, I became acutely aware of the water bouncing off of the leaves, the sound of the spray from the pavement under my tires and the almost tangible peacefulness of the forest. My senses were heightened and, as I continued on towards home, I felt completely connected to my surroundings.

Later that day (after drying out for the most part) I was working on the agenda for an upcoming donor solicitation and started thinking about my morning encounter with the rain. While the storm didn’t literally stop me in my tracks, it did offer me an opportunity to not just “listen” but, more importantly, to really “hear.”

My mind wasn’t spinning with thoughts of other things and I wasn’t focusing on what comes next. I was simply and absolutely present in the moment.

And that’s when I made a connection to something I am well aware of but, in complete transparency, not always a good practitioner of. If you really want to connect with another person… when you’re in a conversation together you have to do more than just listen to what they’re saying, you have to commit your focus to truly hearing them. You have to turn off your inner monologue so that you have the space to digest and embrace the words, ideas and/or feelings that they are sharing with you.

When you are able to do that (with a donor, your partner/child/friend/colleague) that is where real connection and understanding comes from. When we give ourselves permission to stop thinking or worrying about our response, or what it is we should say next, that’s when we gain clarity and it is absolutely key to building an authentic relationship.

By paying the kind of attention required to really hear the person we are engaging with, we not only offer them the level of respect they are due, it is also the only way we will come to know them in a way that offers us the chance to understand how we might most effectively help them realize their philanthropic goals.

So yes, you should absolutely plan for your donor meetings and map out an agenda for what you hope to cover together, but when you are engaged in conversation together, do yourself a favor and go beyond listening to the point where you are really hearing what they are saying. In the end, I promise you that – not only will you come to know your donors more completely – you will also be better positioned to create the kind of partnership that we all want with our donors and that they want with our organizations.

Thank you, as always, for your commitment to to making a difference in our communities and our world.

David Gee, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

The Tale of Two Donors


The Tale of Two Donors

I recently took a trip east to visit my children – one in Richmond, VA and the other in Washington, DC.  When possible, I try and connect with a client donor or two; this provides an opportunity to combine business with leisure (though I am not sure that “moving furniture” counts as leisure) and I can advance my client’s mission at no additional cost to the organization.

There is a donor in Richmond whom I have visited on prior trips.  I reached out to him via email a few weeks in advance to see if we could schedule coffee.  Unfortunately, he was heading out of town that week to a camp he has been involved with since he was young; the camp was celebrating their 100th year.

While I was at my hotel in Richmond, I called and left a voicemail on his office phone, letting him know I was thinking about him while I was in town, and that I hoped the 100th Celebration was a huge success.  I also said I would reach out again in advance of my next trip.

Did I need to make this call?  No.  But the truth is, I was thinking about this donor when I drove by his workplace.  And I decided it would be nice to go the “extra step”.  It took me less than 5 minutes to complete make the call, and it ultimately made me feel good to acknowledge something that is important to this donor.

Next stop: Washington DC.  I made arrangements to visit another donor for my client while I was in town.  This person has been a faithful and generous donor over the years but has not been back to Chicago for some time.  The purpose of my visit, I informed him over the phone, was to introduce myself, thank him in person for his continued support  and provide an update on the organization.  I knew a bit about his family and giving history from his donor record but asked for him to share with me his story.  We had a lovely visit.  When the conversation came to a natural conclusion, he said, “What can I do for the organization?”  I was happy to respond, “I simply wanted to say hello and thank you.  (The client) is so grateful for your continued and generous support.  My request is simple: When I come back to visit, I hope you will take my call.  At that time, I would like to discuss the organization’s needs in more detail.”

His response?  “Hurry up.  I am getting old.  I love the organization and I want to help in whatever way I can.”

I left wondering…should I have worked with my client to prepare a specific ask…just in case?  I recognize this is a wonderful problem to have, but it was certainly a missed opportunity.  (In full disclosure, I was proud of the fact that I was going to the meeting without an ask!  Donors love to be thanked!  I simply showed up to do just that!  Just when you think you have it all figured out…)

So next time I am in a similar situation, I will be prepared.  Just in case…

And in case you are wondering, I am going back to see this donor before the end of the year, and the client and I have already outlined our ask.

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Volunteer “Kickoff Party”


Volunteer “Kickoff Party”

We tried something new this month at a client of mine. I want to share it with you because it got rave reviews from our volunteers and supporters, and it just might be something that will also help your efforts.

The concept was simple.  We held a “volunteer kickoff party” with the goal of adding 30% new members to our Resource Development Committee (RDC), and to fully staff other volunteer needs for the first part of the fiscal year, which started in July.

If your volunteers are like ours, many are probably willing to donate money as well as time to your mission. So this event served the dual purpose of a donor cultivation event.

We held it at the home of a well loved volunteer who used to serve on our board.  Many of us chipped in and made hors d’oeuvres. It had a casual, warm, social feel, which contributed to its success.

We welcomed guests for the first fifteen minutes and mingled. Guests included existing donors, and volunteers, as well as people who had never been involved and just wanted to learn more about the mission.  Families whose children have benefited from our program also came. It was a cross section of people who help this nonprofit thrive in our community.

After the introductory social time, everyone was seated and covered business for the next 45 minutes. It included brief introductions from everyone in the room. Each person shared just a few words about what brought them to the meeting. Then our Board Chair presented information about our programs and services and described how donations fund financial gaps in services.

The families in the room were quick to chime in about the profound difference in their lives that this nonprofit made. These comments helped lend credibility to the overall effort.

Then, we  provided a list of volunteer needs, including committee roles, and other opportunities that spanned the next six months. We sent around a sign-up sheet and as it turned out, 100% of meeting attendees committed to devoting their time OR pledging financial support. Both of which, as you know, are so very important!  And yes — we met the goal of adding 30% more members to the Resource Development Committee.

This was an energizing experience for everyone involved–including our staff who attended.  It was a cost-effective and intimate way to bring people a bit closer into our mission. If you are looking to get more volunteer involvement this year, give this idea a try.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Do you have a well-defined digital marketing strategy?


Do you have a well-defined digital marketing strategy?

Is your nonprofit leveraging the internet and social media outlets to build its brand and engage its constituents? Like many nonprofits, my client was doing an okay job with its website and social media. The website had grown over the years and had a wealth of vital information, but was disorganized and difficult to navigate. Likewise, my client used social media channels — Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, albeit sporadically and without an integrated strategy to engage its audiences.

My client’s marketing and communications coordinator was overburdened with day-to-day responsibilities: producing a 15-20 page publication each week, creating a weekly newsletter, responding to requests from staff across programs. So, we turned to a digital marketing firm for help. We learned that by engaging them to perform an audit of our website and social media channels, we could build an easily executable strategy.

We started with the website. After all, that’s often an organization’s first impression and thus must best represent the brand, be easy to navigate, be responsive on any device, and function well on a daily basis. We began by answering some very simple questions: what do we like about our current website? What don’t we like? What overall message are we trying to communicate? What look appeals to us? What’s our preferred color scheme?  Will we keep our current content? With those questions answered, the web designers were off and running.

Concurrently, the marketing firm performed a social media audit and offered a clearly defined strategy designed to push our messages, events, accomplishments, and key differentiators to increase engagement of our current audiences and build a bigger following. Through the audit, we learned who the key audience for each of our three channels is as well as the types of posts they engage with most frequently. We also received advice for additional content.

Now, we understand what our constituents want both in terms of content and frequency, and have built a quarterly calendar, with the goal of posting 3-5 times per week on each channel. We’re in the midst of building our new website and are looking forward to its October launch. Most importantly, we’re confident that our integrated strategy across all digital channels — website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter — will advance our brand and engage our constituents in meaningful and consistent ways.

Whether you have the staff capacity to evaluate, develop and implement your digital strategy yourselves or need to engage and outside firm, don’t delay. Seize the opportunity to share your organization’s vibrancy and vitality with the audiences you’re trying to reach!

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Flexibility is the Key


Detour Ahead!

I was driving one recent morning when a detour was posted about half way into my usual route to get to my client’s office located about 45 minutes away from my home.  I have to admit, I was running a little behind to begin with (Our family went to the Cubs game the night before and it took me and practically an army to pull my 11 year old out of bed and off to camp!) and I was somewhat annoyed with having to work around the road work to try and arrive at my meeting on time.  Along with the detour, traffic was at a stand-still because three lanes of cars were now funneling down to one.  Oh dear.  I was definitely going to be a bit late (I’m very rarely late and usually a bit early).  I maneuvered my way down side streets and other roads, all the while doing some deep yoga breathing, and finally arrived at my destination.

As we began our meeting to discuss a donor cultivation event we were planning for the fall, more detours – if you will – emerged.  You see, the host of the event (a lovely woman who has offered her home for the gathering that many were curious to see) added some new bends and turns.  She wanted to limit the number of guests and she was adamant that we didn’t talk about fundraising in any way shape or form.

We realized that we were going to have to be flexible and make some adjustments to our initial plans.  Our meeting then focused on trimming down our invitation list and coming up with new criteria to do so.  We also brainstormed our program so that it was meaningful and informative to our donors and still tied to our organization in a strong way, without having any direct focus on fundraising.  And, we had a very fruitful conversation about our follow-up plan specific to every invited guest.  This detour took us down a very helpful path and focused our energy on important conversations we wanted to have with our top supporters of the organization.

On this day of bends and detours, I was reminded that we have to be nimble and flexible when these unexpected turns in the road present themselves.   And, when we are forced to think about things in a different light, the end result is often better than our original idea or plan.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions