Preparation Drives Success


Preparation Drives Success

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”     -Confucius

In advance of a donor visit a few weeks back, I reached out to the Board member connected to our prospect so we could schedule time to discuss and practice our solicitation in advance. His response, “I think I’m good and, besides, I’m super busy and I hate role playing.”

I told him that I understood his reluctance and appreciated how valuable his time was. Then, instead of trying to convince him how critical a pre-meeting rehearsal was to securing an investment — knowing that he’s a huge sports fan — I just asked him to think about professional athletes for a second.

I asked him if he thought that Jack Nicklaus really needed to work on his sand shots before every tournament, why Michael Jordan practiced his free-throws every day, or why football teams spend an entire week specifically preparing for the team they’ll be facing in the next game. They are all elite athletes who have mad skills, so why do they insist on practicing so much?

Fortunately, he accepted my premise and asked me if I really thought it would make that big of a difference to practice in advance of our donor meeting. He knows the donor, he’s been involved with the organization for years and he understands the project we are seeking investments for. I told him that, in my experience, the likelihood of securing a commitment from a donor is directly correlated to the amount of advance preparation and yes, practice, that we can do. If we want to “win” we have to practice in advance, simple as that.

When it comes to a donor solicitations, to ensure our success we have to:

  • plan for who will be talking about what (including who will make the specific ask)
  • prepare the questions we want to ask of the donor (and anticipate how their answers might re-direct the conversation)
  • discuss potential objections and how best to address them.

And, while the actual preparation for a donor solicitation is different than what you need to do in advance of a client presentation, the necessity for preparation and rehearsal is the same. Here are four essential steps you can take as part of your “pre-game” routine:

  • Write out an outline/script for the conversation/presentation
  • Practice with your solicitation team or in front of someone who represents the donor/audience
  • Refine your approach based on what happens during the practice session(s)
  • Create a note card or cheat-sheet to review right before you go into the meeting/presentation that lists the key message points and/or questions necessary to engage your donor/audience

These are not meant to be comprehensive by any stretch, just guidelines for your preparation.

At the end of the day, just make sure that you, and everyone involved in the donor solicitation, makes time to prepare and rehearse. That way, when you’re in the moment, your comfort and confidence level will both be high and you will increase the odds of your success. I’ve seen it work too many times to put my trust in anything less.

Thank you for the amazing work you do each day!

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

A Little R&R


A Little R&R

I write this blog post as I head to the airport for a little weekend getaway. All week I thought about what topic to write about. What news might I share about…. Major gifts? Events? Relationship building? Spring appeal? Board development? Did I have a fun story that might be useful to share with all of you?

Well, I came up with nothing. Why? Because sometimes we just need to take a break….pause and exhale. Our weeks are filled with meetings with donors, phone calls, perhaps writing a grant, and more. Sometimes our daily work can make our heads spin because we are always “on.”

Technology and all the social media tools we use daily help us stay current and connected. Yet, as great as it is, it makes it more difficult to step back and unplug from our busy work life.

So today, as I head to Florida for a few days and see some sun, walk the beach, and read a good book, I’m going to put my work aside and recharge. Time for a reset. It’s important every once in awhile to be present in the moment, and put away our phones and leave email for another day and just simply…be. I encourage you to do the same across the year so you are fresh and ready to do your best work for your not for profit.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Lessons Learned


Lessons Learned

Recently, I was coaching a friend as she prepared for a job interview in the nonprofit world. She came from a business background, but learned through her volunteer work that she really enjoyed fundraising. She also realized she really wanted to work for an organization whose mission she really believed in, so she decided to make a professional switch.

Helping her prepare made me reflect on my 20+ year career – the skills I’ve developed and lessons I’ve learned.  Here they are as my personal tenets, in no particular order:

Set aside time each week to make donor thank you calls.

In our hectic and technology-driven world, it’s easy to avoid making donor thank you calls. After all, we’ll send a letter, or an email or text. That’s more efficient, right? However, none of these can take the place of a personal thank you, even if it’s left in a message. Donors will feel respected and truly valued and you may even have some fun. Often, my thank you calls are the best part of my week!

 Be mission-driven.

Remember why you do what you do – to support the vital work of your organization. Stay focused on bringing your organization’s mission to your donors, to inform and inspire their giving. And use it recharge when you need an energy boost.


Truly listen to your donors, even (especially!) when they’re telling you something you didn’t expect or don’t want to hear, to understand what motivates them.

 Be direct.

Ask directly for what you need for your organization, whether it be time, talent or treasure. Too often, fundraisers are vague in asks, hoping the donor can decipher what they really want or need. Respect your donor and your organization by communicating clearly – the donor may decline, but you will have gained their respect and learned some things that may help you next time.

Be available.

Even when I’m in the middle of another task, I always strive to answer my phone. You never know who may be calling and why. It may be a mundane question, but it also may be an important step in a relationship with a donor. If you’re not available, you may lose an important connection.

Be transparent stewards of donor dollars.

Use the gifts you’ve been given for the purposes intended and report back to your donors on their use. If you’d like to alter an intended purpose, be sure to ask the donor’s permission.

My favorite lesson learned was very early on in my career, when I was a twenty-something development officer. 20+ years later, I still remind myself of it – not only during fundraising asks, but in various aspects of my life. My husband, an attorney, credits this lesson I shared with him years ago as being a vital skill in his career. It’s simply:

Ask, then be quiet!

I’ve heard many stories of gifts not secured, or secured at lower levels than anticipated, simply because the asker got uncomfortable with silence and couldn’t stop talking. While the donor thought, the asker started offering options, e.g. “I know it’s a big request. If that’s too much would you consider $x…?” Be patient. Give the ask-ee time to consider your request and respond thoughtfully. Don’t answer for them. They may still decline your request, but it’s much more likely they’ll do so if you fill the void with reasons to give less, or not to give.

I hope some of the lessons I’ve learned may be helpful to you. I’d love to hear some of your lessons! Please share in the comments section.

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Connecting Donors to Your Mission


Connecting Donors to Your Mission

A client I’ve been working with recently has an impactful mission. They educate impoverished students and consequently lift them, and their families, out of poverty.  While this work is truly life changing it also has a unique challenge because their mission happens overseas in India.  This is an obstacle for the organization to communicate the impact of its mission to its donors.

Some of their major donors have traveled to India to see this nonprofit first hand. But of course, most have not. So, our team needs to bring the mission to the donors on a regular basis and demonstrate impact.

This year also marks the 15th anniversary of this mission. To celebrate and share their gratitude, the students have each created one of a kind cards for each of the organization’s top donors. Also, one of the graduates from the program has offered a letter of gratitude that describes his personal story and details of his journey through education and subsequent employment in the I.T. field. This alumnus will personally sign each donor letter before it’s mailed with the card from a current student. We hope this will be a memorable keepsake that will leave a lasting impression on our most valued donors.

I offer this simply to share a good idea with you. There are many voices for our organization — our CEO’s and presidents, us as development officers, Board members, etc. But at the end of the day, the ones that have the most lasting impression are the individuals who are benefiting from our mission directly.

As your nonprofit strives to make itself stand out this year, consider giving the individuals you serve, an opportunity to share their gratitude directly with your donors.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

One Size Fits All?


One Size Fits All?

Remember in 8th grade and your parents made you write all those thank you notes after your Graduation party?  That fell in the category of what’s a “best practice” following somebody doing something nice for you.  But what about that special uncle or aunt that meant a great deal to you.  Did he get the same note that you wrote to all the friends, neighbors and family members that attended the party?

Why do we do the same for donors to our annual fund?  As a Development Officer, you probably write a draft of a letter, give it to your Data Base manager, they enter it and let the thank you letters fly.

Have you ever considered having a different acknowledgment letter based on dollar amount?  Have you ever thought that different tiered letters should be sent to different donors?

There is so much creativity that can be put into the acknowledgment process that challenges the concept that “one size fits all.”  It doesn’t and for those donors that mean more to you (and the organization) their gift should be acknowledged differently.

Today’s donor wants to know about their IMPACT on the organization.  Be clear about that impact.  Be creative about communicating that IMPACT and most importantly, be PERSONAL about that IMPACT.

When done creatively, the donor will make a greater IMPACT over time.

by: Michael Bruni, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

Even Keel


Even Keel

Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to catch up on a number of client projects.  One thing I noticed while reviewing daily giving reports for one client was the number of monthly donors listed.  The amounts these donors were contributing weren’t large ($25, $50, $100), but over time, these gifts can really add up.

Separately, while reviewing a list of annual donors for another client, I realized how many names I recognized.  Many of their donors have given for consecutive years – some for 20+ years.  So I wondered,

“How much attention do organizations pay to these types of donors?”

Most non-profits typically spend the majority of time and effort on major donors.  This allocation is appropriate; however, I challenge you in this new year to consider dedicating a bit of time to recruiting and recognizing recurring donors.  Here are a few ideas to consider:

Monthly giving makes contributing easy for donors.  Simply providing a credit card, a donor can make a gift at the same time each month.  This does not require any effort or thought on the part of the donor – and at the end of the year, they can see that their gifts really add up.  For many (myself included), this is much more painless than writing a single check annually.

Choose a month during 2020 to highlight the benefits of recurring gifts with your donors and challenge your organization to recruit 10 new monthly donors.

 Consider ways to recognize recurring donors.  Host an annual “thank-a-thon” and invite Board members or other volunteers to call monthly donors and thank them for their continued and recurring support.  In addition to their tax letter, send recurring donors a handwritten thank you note annually to acknowledge the impact of their gift.

Encourage young adults to make their contributions monthly.  This is an easy entrée to help cultivate new donors.

For consecutive years of giving, consider tailoring the language the donor’s thank-you letter.  For example, “We are grateful for your history of support; thank you for 5 consecutive years of giving!”

Another idea would be to denote consecutive year donors in your Annual Report, perhaps at different annual markers (5 year, 10 year, 20 year).  Not only does it provide recognition to those donors, it also introduces the idea to other donors, so they may aspire to reach this category as well.

If you are already recognizing this important group of donors, keep up the good work!  If you are starting to think about this group of constituents for the first time, test a few of the ideas highlighted here.  I guarantee you will find it an easy and worthwhile endeavor!

by: Susan Matejka, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

Let’s Plan for It!


Let’s Plan for It!

Happy New Year to you and yours!  If you are like me, you are in planning mode for 2020. At the close of every year on New Year’s Eve, my family has a tradition of going bowling followed by dinner at a local dive that specializes in burgers, fried cheese balls and a few beers for the grown-ups.  While eating our fancy New Year’s dinner, all served on paper plates (only the finest for our family!), we go around the table and share our highs and lows of the year that is nearing its close and talk about our resolutions, plans and wishes for the upcoming year.

This year was a big one for our family.  We moved after living 25 years in the same home, our daughter moved to San Francisco, our middle son moved back from Seattle to Chicago and our youngest son, acclimated to a new town and a start to junior high! Whew!  The year overall was a good one for all of us and we raised our glasses to begin anew!  We were all in agreement that we would prefer not to pack or unpack another box, pod or transport another car across the country for a while.

We did have some fun sharing about what our plans, hopes and dreams are for 2020.  My junior high son would like to be kinder to the earth…compost and yes, maybe get some chickens – oh my!  My older two kids talked about fitness goals, work and personal aspirations and more.  My husband and I talked about being more patient, incorporating more healthy eating (say yes to kale!)  and a few other things that we hoped to achieve.

When I began to think about my goals and aspirations from 2019, I realized that I met some of them and, well, others I didn’t. There was a common theme in all of those that I did meet.  I had a good plan.  I revised it when I needed to and I persevered when things got difficult. I realize that this same process holds true for my development plan.  I, like most of you, create a development plan at the start of the fiscal year.  The things that stick, the things that work, have measurable goals and objectives and tactics to reach our wins.  We are now officially half way through the fiscal year.  So, what is working?  What needs to be tweaked?  What do you need to do if some of these things are tough or you’ve hit some roadblocks?

The start of the new calendar year is a perfect time to get out the plan, tweak and revise it so that you can hit your targets and be successful for your not for profit.  I wish you peace, success and happy planning in the New Year! Cheers!

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

What’s NEW?


What’s NEW?

2019 is speeding towards the finish line–with the New Year just around the corner. Hopefully, despite any responsibilities for wrapping up year-end, you have had a chance for some downtime during the holiday season and that you’re getting a chance to refresh and recharge.

Looking ahead… if your 2020 “wish list” is anything like mine there are, no doubt, more than a few items that you want/need to focus your attention on. In the New Year’s spirit however, my recommendation today is to focus some love and attention on your Newest donors.

When it comes to sustainable funding for our mission, we all know that donor retention is the name of the game. As the saying goes, until you retain a new donor and inspire them to make a second gift, they are merely one-time visitors, not yet members of your organization’s family.

So, in the New Year, what can be done to motivate our new donors from 2019 to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship with us? What steps can we take to secure that second gift and better connect them to the mission?

While every one of your donors has undoubtedly received a Thank You letter acknowledging their support (and possibly a personal thank you call from someone on the Development team, the Executive Director/CEO or from one of your Board members), here are some suggestions for further outreach and engagement:

  • Call your new donors to find out a bit more about them and their connection/interests/appetite
    • Ask your donors, “What motivated you to support our mission?”
    • If you don’t already have the information, find out how they prefer to be contacted (email, phone, snail mail, text) and how they like to be addressed (e.g., Kathy, Kate, Kathleen…)?
    • If the opportunity presents on this initial call, ask what other types of organizations/missions align with their philanthropic priorities?
    • Ask if they are open to receiving updates about how their support is helping to make a difference in the lives of the people/communities you serve? (And be sure to honor their request!)
  • Based on their willingness and availability (some will/some won’t), make a plan to meet face-to-face with as many new donors as possible in the first quarter
  • If it makes sense with your organization’s mission/programming, invite your new donors for a site visit so that they can see, first hand, the impact you can have together
  • Find out if they would be interested in learning about possible volunteer opportunities – now or in the future

While there are certainly other opportunities, these are just a few effective ways that you can plan to engage your newest supporters and invite them into a meaningful relationship with your mission.

If you have additional ideas for how to motivate new donors to become “family members,” we’d love to hear them. Given how crucial it is to retain and inspire the donors we acquire through our appeals throughout the year, we’ll happily share your thoughts and success stories in a future post.

In the meantime, thank you for working so hard to make the world a better place!

Happy New Year to you and your team from all of us at HPS Chicago!

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

How To Transition “Graduating” Board Members


How To Transition “Graduating” Board Members

While speaking with the chair of a Resource Development Committee for one of my clients, we discussed the best way to cultivate past board members. Should we consider them alumni of the Board? Graduates of sorts?  With that in mind, we brainstormed engagement opportunities similar to what some colleges offer for their new graduates. I liked this philosophy, so I’ll share what we discussed.

Keep a Development Calendar for alumni Board Members – This would include the usual development activities that you would have for other donors, with additional touchpoints including the following:

  • Periodic personalized mailings from the Executive Director containing interesting industry news, special updates about impactful gifts that are received, and the special accomplishments of the individuals we provide services for.
  • Create Alumni Buddies where current Board members are matched with an alumni Board member
    • Alumni Buddies could change each year to keep the program fresh. This provides a personal connection for new and old members alike. The current board member would be responsible for making follow up calls to encourage their buddy’s participation in select activities.  They would also send annual updates to their alumni buddy with personal notes.
  • Special Event Invitations could take the form of a holiday gathering, or an early bird cocktail reception reserved for current and past Board members. This could be held at the organization’s annual fundraising event.

Leverage Board donations to inspire future gifts –Board alumni may also like to know that their gifts are developing future leaders for the organization and/or bolstering its financial success.

  • Underwrite donor gatherings – Ask alumni to sponsor a donor cultivation event which helps to keep current donors engaged and inspire their future giving.
  • Ask them to create a matching pool to inspire monthly or first-time donations, or address other specific needs of the organization.

As I continued to think about commencement ceremonies for graduates, I realized it doesn’t mark the end of chapter, commencement is defined “as the beginning or start,” so during the transition of Board to alumni let’s pave the way good start with our alumni Board relations.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

From a Funder’s Perspective…


From a Funder’s Perspective…

In addition to my role as a consultant helping organizations achieve their fundraising goals, I serve as a director of a small, private charitable fund. In this role, I have the privilege of making grants to worthy organizations. This particular fund only accepts applications from invited applicants, so I’m also charged with finding organizations that align with the fund’s interests, inviting them to apply and counseling them through the application process. My goal – indeed any funder’s goal –is to help organizations be successful with their requests.

In my 10 years serving in this capacity, I have been surprised many times by applicants who make avoidable mistakes, often thereby dooming their requests. Here, I offer some straightforward advice that will serve you well with applications to any foundation or fund.

  • Follow instructions. This should be obvious, right? Yet every cycle we have at least one applicant that doesn’t follow instructions. Be sure you understand the funding guidelines and submit a request that aligns. If a Fund only makes capital grants, submit a request for a capital project! If there is a 10-page limit to your proposal, stick to it! We have turned down numerous applicants over the years because they simply did not submit a request within our specified parameters.
  • Be humble and respectful. All funders – no matter how large or small the pool they have to award – never have enough to meet all of the funding requests before them. Keep in mind we’re human. We react well to people who are respectful in their requests and recognize the difficult decisions we have to make. When an applicant is presumptuous, acts entitled, or tries to bend guidelines to fit their needs, we’re left with a bad taste in our mouths.
  • Ask for and accept guidance from the funder. If given the opportunity, ask the funder to advise you on the dollar amount of your request as well as the project most likely to be successful. Then, follow that advice even if it’s not what you were hoping for. If you’re advised to request a grant in the $25-$50,000 range, don’t ask for $100,000! If the funder offers to review your request before submission, take advantage: get your draft proposal in at least two weeks ahead of time then heed the advice given after review.
  • Be good stewards of your grant funds. If you’re successful in receiving a grant, be sure you use the funds as specified and adhere to the grant acceptance and reporting guidelines. If your project comes in under budget, don’t presume you can use the “extra” funds in any way you see fit. Be sure to ask permission of the funder for expenditure outside the original request and be prepared to return funds if requested. Be sure to spend funds within the agreed upon timeline and meet any reporting requirements.

I’ve never met a funder who didn’t view their role as an honor and a privilege. We feel duty-bound to fulfill the intent of the original source of funds and to be good stewards of those funds in the decisions we make. Although it is inevitable, we don’t like turning down requests. By heeding the advice given, you can make it even more difficult for funders to turn down your requests.

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago