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

Finding Joy

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Finding Joy

While I am sure every single one of us will be happy to say farewell to 2020, it’s still hard to believe that fall is here already.  And with that comes thoughts about a holiday/year-end appeal and Giving Tuesday.  One of my clients – a seasoned Development officer who is retiring soon – said, “I don’t have it in me to come up with another appeal letter!”  Perhaps you, too, are feeling this way, even if you’ve only been working in Development for a few years. 

This year has been “unprecedented”.  We have had to “pivot”.  We have had to “be nimble”.  We have had to master Zoom.  We have had to exercise “an abundance of caution” when canceling events.  We have also had to get really, really creative about approaching donors, corporate sponsors, partners.   It makes me tired just thinking about the past 6 months. 

My client’s organization serves adults with Developmental disabilities.  This pandemic has been exceptionally difficult for clients and staff alike.  The staff had to ensure the safety of their residents, which included overtime, helping clients manage their stress and fully understand the importance of “sheltering in place”.  For one staff member, sheltering in place took on a whole new meaning; a client was diagnosed with COVID-19, and she agreed to stay with the client for the full 14-day quarantine.  In fact, WTTW aired this story, which you can watch by clicking the link below:

So, when my client said she can’t come up with another idea for an appeal, I simply said: Find the joy.  She knew what I meant. 

Despite the challenges of 2020, there are moments of joy and inspiration, just like the one shared by WTTW.  Take some time to reflect back on the past 6 months and think about those moments of joy for you.  Big or small, they are there.  And think about them for your organization as well.  Sharing a moment or moments of joy through your appeal will remind donors of the good work of your organization.  And it will hopefully make them smile and inspire them to continue their support for the important work you do.  So go ahead, share the joy.  

by: Susan Matejka, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

From a donor’s perspective…


From a donor’s perspective…

Last week, my colleague Michelle wrote about the importance of staying in touch with our donors (and our thirteen year-old daughters!), especially now when we can’t gather in person regularly. I couldn’t agree more with Michelle and today offer a reflection from the donor perspective.

This past week, my husband and I participated in a Zoom gathering for a planned giving society of which we are members, for a nonprofit based in Virginia. We’ve supported this nonprofit that “strives to inspire and empower children, families, and early childhood professionals to reach their full potential, whatever their challenges,” since 1991, when the organization took a chance on me as a young professional and hired me as its first-ever director of development. We became members of the planned giving society in 2000 when we included the organization in our will.

Over the years, we’ve gotten regular mail updates from the organization and the occasional phone call and email thanking us for our support. We’ve also been invited to the annual celebration of the planned giving society but, since it is held in Virginia, have never attended. This year, since it was held on Zoom, we were in! Honestly, I was excited to participate simply to see the faces of old friends. I didn’t expect much more beyond that. What I found by the end of the 40-minute call was a re-commitment to supporting the organization – I was blown away by the creativity, ingenuity and tenacity of the staff members who have found ways to continue to provide critical services safely during these times. And I was struck by what they said they’d learned in having to make so many changes with virtually no warning.

The format of the call was pretty simple and obviously worked well. We were promised ahead of time the call would last no more than 40 minutes. About 24 people total participated, including donors, board members and staff. After signing on, we each briefly introduced ourselves (names only) and were welcomed by the couple who chairs the giving society. They thanked us, spoke for a few minutes about the importance of the organization and our support, and turned it over to the executive director. He then gave a high-level update on happenings during the past six months, and introduced the director of children’s services who gave a more specific update. The ED then opened it up to questions – and, after an awkward pause, there were some good ones. Finally, the ED recognized the newest members of the society and presented them virtually with a plaque (which would then be hand-delivered to homes). To close, at the 39-minute mark, the host couple thanked us and we all bid farewell.

Zoom is surely not the ideal way to engage donors, but the call left me feeling more committed to the organization – and also underscored Michelle’s message: now more than ever, keep in touch with your donors.

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Our Donors Deserve to Know


I have a 13-year old daughter. Getting her to join us for dinner this summer has become a Herculean feat. On long summer evenings she’d rather eat in front of the TV and send Instagram messages to friends.

I get it. As a parent, I’m not cool any more.

But I still want to know about her life. I want to know how she spent her time, what conflicts developed, what things went her way, and how I can help. I’m invested in my daughter just as our donors are invested in the missions of our nonprofits.

Even though things feel strange right now, donors are interested in the activities of our nonprofits.  We owe it to them to be transparent about the successes, as well as the challenges.

As some of our programs have come to a screeching halt, due to Covid-19, it’s been a temptation for me to resist reaching out during this time. Sometimes I feel like there’s not enough news to tell. But although it feels like things are at a standstill, when I took stock in some recent activities, I realized we’ve accomplished a lot.

Here’s a glimpse:

Recent Accomplishments with Donated Dollars:

  • We raised contributions for Covid-19 that are still making a difference
  • We improved a group home by providing a new roof and chimney repairs funded through a Foundation
  • We exceeded fundraising goals for the spring virtual event
  • We provided virtual programming for participants with assistance from Occupational Therapy interns
  • We formed a Safety Reopening Committee that has kept staff and participants safe

 Current Activities:

  • We are actively seeking six new hands-on support staff
  • We are soliciting funds for a kitchen renovation for a group home

These are the things our doors deserve to know bout. This demonstrates how we have been investing their dollars. But unlike a parent, they are not going to keep asking us to “come sit down for dinner.” It is up to us to provide these updates and insights without being asked.

We may choose a visit or phone call with our donors. Others might prefer a newsletter. But we need to keep them updated. After all, they are invested in us and want to know, “How are you spending your time, what things went your way, what conflicts developed, and how can I help?”

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Appreciate the ordinary


Unless you’ve been living in a remote corner of the country without cell service since February, you’re probably struggling with maintaining sanity given the state of our world. My feelings over the past 6 months have been a mixture of anxiety, confusion and stress. When was that Zoom meeting scheduled for? Did I forget a mask again? How many hours have I been staring out of this window for?

I get it. We’re all struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy while living through a time period that feels more like a Black Mirror simulation than reality. Especially now, as work and school seem to be ramping up, with no vaccine in sight, thinking about our circumstances can be a bit disheartening. 

Recently, I was supposed to meet friends out for a drink at one of our favorite outdoor patios. After a long work week, I couldn’t wait to catch up with friends. I was the 7th and final person to arrive, and as I walked up to my the table I could practically taste the frozen gin & tonic that I’d been salivating over since Tuesday. 

There were only six seats, so I asked the waitress if she would be able to pull another chair over. I was quickly informed that, due to COVID regulations, no table could have more than 6 people. My friends and I were a bit confused, but figured we could split up. No big deal! Except that the next available table would be a 45 minute wait. As my friends began to pack their things up, insisting we try somewhere else, I assured them it wasn’t the end of the world and that I could just grab a coffee around the corner and meet up with them afterwards. Under the obvious condition that they bring me a frozen G & T in a to-go cup.

I grabbed my coffee and sat down in a little park that overlooked the lake. Initially I was disappointed, maybe even a bit mad, even though I understood that these rules are put into place to protect me and the rest of society. As I drank my coffee in the park, I could feel a wave of calmness washing over me. Everything was so still, so quiet, so ordinary. 

I realized that I had been letting the anxiety and stress of COVID dictate all of my thoughts. I hadn’t taken a moment to sit and check in with myself in a long time. There was always something to distract me; a new article by Fauci, coordinating socially-distanced meet-ups with friends, reading through my emails.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough “alone time”, in fact I’ve had more of that than probably ever before. Instead, it was the realization that I hadn’t been utilizing this time effectively. I had filled this time with worries. Trying to get ahead of schedule. Ahead of my own nerves. Ahead of the pandemic.

But, at the end of the day, we can’t get ahead of all of these things. We need to reach a point of acceptance where we are able to process the world around us, while still being able to sit with our non-anxious selves. Watching the horizon line fade into shades of amber, listening to the current lap against the rocky shore and sipping my sub-par coffee gave me the feeling of stillness that I had unknowingly been craving for months. 

To be our best selves, we have to know when and how to relax. The world is asking a lot of us these days. It’s easy to understand how we’re feeling physically trapped. We can’t travel, we can’t meet in large groups, we weren’t even really supposed to leave our houses for a while. Yet, I think we also need to think about how we’re feeling mentally trapped. Trapped by that need to try to get ahead of everything. 

So, my expert-advice-from-a-21-year-old this week is to go to a space where you feel comfortable and to just be there. Sit and notice what’s around you, stay mindful of the positive things taking place in every direction you look. Appreciate the ordinary things that we take for granted in times like these. This might turn out to be much harder than it sounds, but I promise you the results will be worth it.

by: Ben Matejka, Summer Intern HPS Chicago

We Are Bigger Than Ourselves


We Are Bigger Than Ourselves

Summer is winding down and fall is just around the corner. Where did the summer go? In just a blink of an eye we are into August! Typically, it’s time for school supply shopping if you have children or maybe one last quick trip to the beach or the lakefront. Yet, this summer and the start of the school year is very different because of the global health crisis. Beaches are closed, folks aren’t really traveling and communities are grappling with the decision about how to educate our children. Cities around the globe are working to figure out how to keep citizens safe and healthy. In the midst of our new normal for now, many of us in development shops are also gearing up to plan fall events.

The good news in planning our fall events is that we have some playbooks at the ready. Many organizations in the spring had to quickly pivot and change the format of their events. We’ve seen everything from virtual walks, galas and more. I encourage you as you plan your fall events to tune in to what others have done and find out what worked and what didn’t. One of my clients is gearing up for a fall event – a full gala with a live and silent auction, a paddle raise and more! As we began planning, we reached out to other colleagues at other not for profits to learn from them. We’ve attended a variety of virtual events. We’ve also tuned in to webinars and taken advantage of some free offerings from some online bidding companies.

Here’s the big takeaway. People are willing to share and be helpful in providing advice. Everyone we’ve talked to wants to help us be successful. And, we are learning so many new things! In this new virtual world, we are learning how to produce videos and becoming experts at Zoom and YouTube. While things in the world right now feel stressful and worrisome, we’ve experienced a sense of “we are all in this together” with our non-profit partners. It’s about sharing resources and communicating more than ever before. Because at the end of the day, we are all working to support missions that make the world a better place. So, dive into that fall event. Learn new things! Share what you’ve learned. When we do this, we are all a part of something much bigger than ourselves.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

We can do better


My plan this week was to write a follow-up to Ben’s post from a few weeks back, “Relationships are where it’s at!” Then I watched President Obama’s eulogy for John Lewis.

If you don’t do everything you can do to change things… then they will remain the same.” -John Lewis

After watching, I reflected on the conversations I have been having with my two young-adult sons over the past couple of months.  I also thought about this work we are all so fortunate to do here in the social impact sector. Life-changing, life-saving work that matters.

The first time I heard President Obama speak was when he was running in the primary for Illinois Senate. It was at a time when I was contemplating a career change. One that eventually led to my first non-profit job. The words he spoke that evening that hit me square and have resonated with me since… “We can do better.”

And then, this week, as I was watching him offer his eulogy for John Lewis, he said this:

Ordinary people can come together… to decide it is in our power to remake this country that we love, until it more closely aligns with our highest ideals. What a radical idea. That any of us ordinary people can stand up to the powers and principalities and say no – this isn’t right, this isn’t true, this isn’t just.We can do better.”

I am well aware, because I see it on a first-hand basis day in and day out, that the people who work at and volunteer with the tremendous non-profit organizations in each one of our communities are committed to making a difference. And some of those organizations, thankfully, carry on aspects of Congressman Lewis’ life’s work. But as I was reflecting, both on a personal level and for my community, I couldn’t help shake those words… “We can do better.”

 Later on, President Obama shared the following call to action:

We have to continue his cause. If we want our children to grow up in a democracy – not just with elections – but a true democracy… we’re going to have to be more like John. We don’t have to do all of the things he had to do, because he did them for us. But we’ve got to do something.”

I know that I am personally not doing everything I can to change things for the better. I have more work to do.

If you are like me and you feel as though there is more you can do to help make our communities more equitable, more just… let’s do it together. John Lewis dedicated the entirety of his life showing us the way. What a great opportunity we have, individually and collectively, to honor his legacy.

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

Is there a silver lining?


Is there a silver lining?

One silver lining of these challenging times might be the creativity, adaptability and resilience nonprofits are displaying. My client, like many nonprofits, had been saying for years “we’ve got to reimagine our special events.” Yet, despite numerous conversations, they kept hosting the same events year-in and year-out. Having to abruptly shut down and move into shelter-in-place hastened the needed change.

My client quickly pivoted and for its first new event, hosted a Night at the Movies – something that never would have crossed anyone’s mind prior to these new circumstances. For this particular event, the primary goal was not about raising funds. My client simply wanted to break even financially while bringing people of all ages together in a fun, safe way.

Despite some stumbles (we forgot to ask the parking lot manager to turn off the lights after dark!) it worked beautifully. We sold out, had fun and even made a small profit. We had people asking if we’d do it again – one couple even asked us to host a movie every week! It had the added benefit of drawing new people to the organization: we were in a public parking lot in the West Loop and several pedestrians walking by stopped to ask about the event, and the organization.

Thinking of hosting your own drive-movie? Here are some tips to help you get started planning:

  1. Pick a fun, feel-good movie that audiences of all ages will enjoy. We showed The Incredibles and drew families with young children, as well as young adults all the way up to senior citizens.
  2. Secure a public parking lot, large enough to allow for spacing in between cars and a section for safe spacing of walk-up attendees. We allowed cars to park in every other parking space at the direction of a cadre of volunteers. We also cordoned off a section where individuals who walked in could space themselves at least six-feet apart.
  3. Ensure the lights are turned off when the movie begins!
  4. Invite some food trucks to park on-site – you’ll offer great food to guests and support local businesses.
  5. Stock up on movie theater boxes of candy, individual bags of popcorn, water bottles and Gatorade to sell at concessions. Glow necklaces are fun, too.
  6. Don’t forget the Porta-johns! We hired an attendant to clean each unit in between use.
  7. Have lots of hand sanitizer around.
  8. Of course, masks are a must! We were clear that people wouldn’t be admitted without one. And we had some for sale, branded with the organization’s logo of course.

Based on the success of its first drive-in movie night, my client is planning to host another later this summer. Maybe even two. And they’ll continue to reimagine their events in fun, safe, positive ways.

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago