Created by Culture

Culture sign isolated on white

My blog post last month dealt with Loyola’s successful basketball season and the character and drive that accompanied the team’s magical run to an NCAA Final Four appearance. The team’s ‘no finish line’ mantra of approaching their objectives day by day, believing in team vs individual accomplishments, and striving to learn and improve daily are all qualities we need to keep top of mind as we navigate our busy days.

A key attribute of the Loyola team and their successful historic season resulted from culture.  The tagline ‘Created by Culture’ adorned t-shirts, posters, and a social media campaign.  The culture— protect the team, no entitlement, be early— was established from the beginning, discussed often, and addressed if there was a lapse or gap throughout the season. This contributed to an overall “we are all on the same page” belief.

An organization with a strong culture based on rich values is Southwest Airlines. Annually on Fortune’s Most Admired Company list, Southwest exudes a positive culture from the flight attendants to the gate agents to the corporate employees in the Dallas HDQ. With voluntary turnover at just 2%, a positive inclusive environment reaches every piece of their business. Southwest even has a Culture Department that serves as an oversight for this critical aspect of the company.

‘Service with heart’ is what sets Southwest apart from similar companies and this philosophy is crucial in the customer service business. The Southwest culture comprises of leadership that is inclusive of employees opinions on company matters.  This sustains the organization because employees feel engaged and valued. A positive inclusive culture matters, because when employees feel like stakeholders, they continue to reinforce the values of the organization.

As leaders, we realize the importance of sustaining the culture we seek, staying aware that a one-time stellar meeting, or inspirational memo, or memorable retreat is not enough.  We need to continually communicate the importance of our values, let our team members know they are appreciated and their opinions count, and always thank them for their contribution to our successes.

by: Tim Kennedy, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions


It’s a Wrap!


Most not-for-profits operate on a fiscal year that ends June 30. It’s around this time when the weather begins to turn (we Chicagoan’s never thought it was going to happen!), the morning light appears sooner and we have the urge to finally be outside and enjoy the sunny, warm days!

While we aren’t outside enjoying a walk, working in our gardens or catching a baseball game, we are inside our offices busy preparing and planning for our year ahead.

What things must be accomplished before we close our year? Perhaps a spring appeal to lapsed donors, a final spring event to orchestrate or a few more visits to get in with donors to secure or maybe surpass our financial goal.

As we creep closer to our year end, we start to fine-tune our “to do” list for the coming year.  We begin to really look at what is on the docket for next year.  I’d like to offer a suggestion…and that is…to take some time to reflect on what worked well and what didn’t.  Did you meet with as many donors as you had planned? What happened on some of those visits to guide you in preparing for visits for next year? How did your materials work? As you tweak your stewardship materials, what needs to be changed? What resonated with those you met with that you’d like to enhance and what didn’t hit the mark?

There may be big things that you didn’t get to because your plate is so full.  I know that one area that many feel we could spend more time on is our work with major gifts. We know that this is the most cost effective approach to fundraising as we engage and inspire donors to commit to our missions. And yet, we often get swept away into other areas of our work and time is taken away from this crucial work with individual donors.

So, I challenge you!  Take a hard look at the events you manage or oversee and really study the bottom line. Are they worth the time and energy of you and perhaps your staff? If the bottom line of the event isn’t fruitful, does the event have some other key objective that is fulfilled?

Do you have a robust grant program that takes a lot of your time?  Try and put pen to paper to determine the costs associated with your time and perhaps that of other staff leaders.  Is it more cost effective to outsource grants?  Hire a part time grant-writer?

These are just some areas to consider, and I encourage you to think boldly about what you can remove or adjust from your plan to become more strategic and focused on bringing in major gifts to support the mission of your organization.

I wish you a terrific, renewed and energized plan for your new fiscal year – and, finally, Happy Spring!

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions



You work so hard to get people to come to an event.  You recruit them through phone calls, personal visits, direct mail and email.  You plan for the speakers, the program, the food and drink.  You are so pleased with the turnout!

But here’s a big question:  do you have a well thought out plan for timely follow-up with your attendees?  In my experience, this is where fundraisers most often fall short and sometimes fail completely.  We are all so good at planning events.  But we often neglect the critical step of a structured plan for what happens after an event.  Timeliness is critical!

 Here are a few suggestions for detailing your plans for follow up with event attendees:

  • Use the occasion of the event to update contact information for all those in attendance. You can do this through a reception table, where you welcome people and show them the information you have and ask them “would you please confirm that this is still your preferred contact information?”  You can also do this by distributing cards at the event—inviting guests to indicate their interest in further engagement with your organization, providing you with their contact information, and of course collecting the cards before the event concludes!
  • The next day, review the guest list and assign a prospect rating to each of the attendees. Use your own established rating system or use a simple one such as this:  Top Prospects (highest priority), Supporters (medium priority), and Guests.
  • For the Guests, a sincere “thank you for attending” is all that is necessary. You can do this by letter, by phone, or by email.  Calendar this thank you for the first few days after the event.  The important thing is that you thank them.  In doing so, you let them know that their presence was noticed and it was valued.
  • For Supporters, write a personal letter or hand-written note expressing gratitude for the importance of their continued generosity to your organization. If the timing is right, let them know that your annual appeal is coming up and that you know you can count on them for their continued generosity.  The intent here is to let your most reliable donors know that their ongoing support is critical to the work that you do.  Calendar these letters to be complete within a week after the event.
  • For Top Prospects, make individual Moves Management plans! 80% or more of your timely follow up plan should target these people!  Consider having your CEO call them directly to thank them for coming and invite them to a one on one visit.  Consider whether that call might best come from you.  But calendar that call within two weeks after the event for each of your top prospects.  The message you want to communicate is that your are grateful that they took the time to attend the event, but there is much more to discuss about your organization and that you value their ideas as you take the next steps in furthering your mission.  If for some reason you cannot get through on the phone, write individual letters to your top prospects thanking them, acknowledging that they were busy when you called, and stating that you will “call their office next week to schedule a visit where we can continue the conversation” about your organization.  Then do it!

Think about why you put all that work into planning the event in the first place.  Your goal is to advance the mission of your organization.  You will if you have a well-organized plan for timely follow-up with every single one of your guests!

By Steven Murphy, Ed.D., Senior Advisor, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Who needs to think about succession planning?  We all do!



I am thinking about retiring in 18 months.  Do I need to think about succession planning?  YES.

My organization is relatively flat.  Do I need to think about succession planning?  YES.

My organization is small.  Do I need to think about succession planning? YES.

I have only been in my leadership role for a year.  Do I need to think about succession planning? YES.

No matter the size, stage or structure of your organization, succession planning is something that deserves your attention.  Here’s why.

We should always be thinking about the next generation of leaders.  Who will take your place when you depart?  It is prudent to consider those who could step into your position upon your departure – whether planned, as in a retirement – or unplanned, as in an unexpected illness or resignation.  You want to leave the organization – and the team – in a position to succeed in your absence.  This is also important if you are getting a promotion, as you will want someone to move into your role quickly and seamlessly so you can assume responsibility in your new position as soon as possible.

In addition, you want to be sure that the person or people who step in to assume responsibility feel prepared and at least somewhat confident.  Whenever possible, look for opportunities to include employees in various aspects of your job.  This may mean including them in the annual budgeting process, inviting them to attend a Board meeting, or participating in an external meeting with a vendor or service provider.  Take a few minutes before the meeting to “set the stage” and follow the meeting with a debrief and time to answer any questions.

We should always be thinking about employee engagement and retention.  It is especially important in a flat organization to provide opportunities for employees to develop new skills and feel like they have opportunities to grow, even if a promotion is not in the cards.  Individuals who have a chance to spend time in a different department, attend a training course or enter into a mentoring relationship will not only learn and bring new perspective to their current role, but they will likely have an increased sense of loyalty to the organization.

We should all take responsibility for succession planning.  Finally, succession planning needs to be integrated and embraced throughout the organization.  It is NOT an “HR initiative”.  In order for succession planning to work, all leaders must share responsibility for talent management, retention and growth.   Make it a priority in your organization!

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

People support what they help to create!


I learned from a wonderful mentor early in my career that “if you ask people for money, they will give you advice…….however……if you ask people for advice, they will give you money.” The phrase was even captured in the Pitbull song, Feel this Moment a few years back.

This old adage plays itself out with every non-profit that is contemplating a Capital Campaign.

Engagement is one of the paramount reasons why people give to philanthropic causes and the best way to build engagement is to involve possible investors in the process of dreaming about and creating the vision for your organization.  This played out so clearly in a campaign that I was involved at a local church.

Church leaders were convinced they needed to add capacity to their prayer space.  They wanted to remove a mass in their Sunday schedule and accommodate for the larger congregations that would result because fewer mass options we available.  It was an ambitious project that was going to cost the parish approximately $1.5 – $2 million to achieve.

The strategy was devised by a small number of representatives on their Parish Council so we decided to test it with their parishioners and get their opinions on the vision.

The parish spoke.  Loudly!

The vast amount of parishioners were not in favor of this plan.  Alternatively, a large number of respondents indicated that if such dollars were to be invested in the parish, growing their prayer space was not the priority.  Rather, they wanted a space to congregate before and after mass so they could feel closer to each other and essentially, build their community.

With feedback from the ongoing conversations, an alternative plan was devised to remodel their outdated and often underutilized basement, and to improve access to this remodeled space from the actual prayer space.

Not only did the parishioners play an active role in devising this updated plan, they supported it with their dollars.  After all, it was THEIR plan, they were willing to invest THEIR money in seeing THEIR dreams come to fruition.

And the plan worked. Two years after the campaign was initiated, the space was dedicated and is in use to this day.

My Italian grandma always used to say, “You have two ears and one mouth, use them proportionately.”

While we can always be better at following this sound advice, the above-mentioned anecdote is a perfect example of why, when you are contemplating a campaign, it is so crucial to ASK your investors what they are willing to invest in.  Your dreams and personal aspirations may need to be altered from time to time, but it is well worth the adaptations given supporters are far more likely to invest in projects that they create!

by: Michael Bruni, Partner, HUB Philanthropic Solutions


no finishline

For Loyola University Chicago, March was a month to remember. As an alum and an avid season basketball ticketholder, I was aware back in December that Loyola had a solid basketball team. However, I never envisioned that this team would make it all the way to the Final Four. Heck it had been 33 years since the school even made it into the NCAA tournament! What I noticed early on in the season that the rest of the country soon discovered was the unselfish nature of these student athletes.  Teamwork was critical as they were a pass first, shoot second type of team. The leading scorer was not all important, and minutes played per game were a non-factor. But one of the most memorable stories of the team and of the entire tournament was the rallying around a 98 year old nun.  They adored this woman and received inspiration from her throughout their season.

What I clung on to most was the team’s motto of ‘no finish line’ and how this mantra closely related to fundraising. Seasons finish, capital campaigns cease, the fundraising appeals are completed, but the next season – or campaign — is always around the corner.

Strong development leaders understand there is no finish line in our work.  We are always searching for the next innovative idea, identifying the next new prospect and pursuing new major donors to keep the mission prospering. We are motivated to stay innovative and to keep our donors enthused, invested, and interested in the organization.

In fundraising, as in tournament play, we can always prepare more diligently, learn from our mistakes, and improve on the management and motivation of our teams. As scouts watch film of opponents’ play, we must constantly examine pioneering avenues to invite and cultivate prospects into our organization.

The Loyola basketball team was one game short of having a chance to win it all, but the character and drive of the team will always be remembered. To this team’s eyes, there was ‘no finish line’, and as fundraisers, we would be wise to remember this mantra.


by: Tim Kennedy, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Major Gift Work Ahead!

Work Ahead

I have been working with a not for profit client that wanted to have a more robust major gift program. This organization has been busy doing the basics…hosting a few fundraising events, orchestrating several mail appeals, writing some grants and also managing some marketing and social media efforts. It’s a rather modest-sized shop and the development folks wear a lot of hats…which is not unusual for many smaller social service agencies.

While managing the basics, donor stewardship and major gift work had been put on the back burner. The agency decided it was time to outsource grant writing, which freed up a bit of time of the staff so they can spend some more time with their donors. The organization had some donors that make annual major gifts (for this organization a major gift is $2,500 and above) but the development staff had not spent much time cultivating or stewarding these donors.

To begin our major gift effort, one of our first steps was to set up some visits with some long standing key donors. There had been a change in leadership for the organization as well and this provided a perfect entree to get some appointments.

Our first visit was with a woman who was a former board member who continued to make annual gifts, yet no one on the team really knew her very well.  We met with this donor and she was thrilled to share with us all that she experienced as a volunteer leader. We learned a lot about the history of the agency during her time as a volunteer and we were able to share with her some exciting new initiatives that were being planned. We learned a lot about this donor and what she likes to support because we did one important thing during our visit…we talked less and listened more.

When our visit was coming to a close, this donor told us how much she appreciated our time and that while she always had a special place in her heart for this organization, she felt more engaged. She also shared that as a donor, she does not like to be ignored. She wants to hear more from the agency and wants to know her investments are making a difference.

This visit with this donor was the first of many stewardship touch points across the past two years. She received face to face visits, but, she also received notes from the staff or the board about key wins.  She was mailed a newspaper article that featured a success story of a client that was served at the agency.  She was invited to serve on a president’s council, a select group of special friends that had the ear of the leader of the agency.

Recently, this donor made a gift to support a new program and has doubled her annual giving. She is one example of those individuals that have further engaged with the mission because of our time and energy in working with individual donors. My message today is simple…take the time to get to know your donors. Make time each week to set appointments for face time with your donors. It will pay off…that’s a promise!

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Calling an Audible


One of my capital campaign clients recently met with a newer Board member to discuss their financial commitment to the campaign. We had a solid prep meeting in advance and all signs pointed towards a productive conversation. The Board member understood the purpose of the meeting when the date was scheduled and the team was optimistic that they would make an investment to support the initiative.

What’s the line again, “Man plans and God laughs”?

In advance of talking about any specific commitment, the plan was to ask the Board member if, due to their short tenure with the organization, they were comfortable discussing a multi-year campaign pledge. Turns out, the Board member was in no way ready to make a commitment and, in fact, came into the meeting with a much different agenda.

The Board member made it clear from the start of the meeting that they didn’t feel engaged and that they were only interested in serving if they could contribute in a meaningful way. No questions, this was not meant to be a solicitation meeting.

Because we had thoroughly prepared for the discussion – including covering a range of potential objections – the team admirably shifted gears on the spot. They listened to and acknowledged the Board member’s concerns, discussed how to leverage the individual’s experience and interests, and committed to partnering together to make the relationship work for everyone moving forward. At the end of the meeting, the Board member said they absolutely planned to make an investment in the campaign–they just preferred to take that step when it was coming from a place of enthusiasm and not obligation.

Almost two years ago, I shared a post about how important it is to invest time in the relationships we have with our Board members — Attention Must Be Paid. There’s no question that those ideas are relevant to and validated by this situation as well.

However, the other key take-away in this situation is how important it is to come into donor meetings with an open mind and a nimble attitude. While there are times when we can help to move our donors in a desired direction, we HAVE to commit to listening to their needs and focusing on their agenda. After all, our main objective as fundraisers should always be on helping our donors achieve their goals and, if we aren’t ready to listen and act accordingly, no one wins.

If you’ve had an experience with a donor throwing a big curve at you in a meeting, we’d love to hear about it. We’ll share some of the stories and positive outcomes in a later post.

by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

What Legacy are You Leaving?


One of the things we strive to do at HUB Philanthropic Solutions is to leave our clients stronger than they were when we arrived. Most fundraising consultants balance two or three clients at a time. So this is continually on my mind. I think about what am I contributing to the organization’s long-term success.  You know, things will be in place long after I move on to a different client with a different mission.

So let me offer these suggestions:

  1. Train the junior development officer – We all know nonprofit staffs are slim. But if there is anyone at your nonprofit who reports to you, train them thoughtfully and train them well. Inform them of what needs to be done — and why. Explain your strategies thoroughly. Bring them in on decisions you make and invite them to meetings. Let them stretch their wings and manage their own projects. When you have donor visit bring them along. Help them craft remarks for your next events. You are grooming them to take on more responsibility and it will make them a stronger in their support role and arm the organization with a stronger employee when it comes time for you to move on.
  1. Make Strategic Plan—Would any of us jump into the car for spring break without a plan and a plan of where we are headed? Probably not. A Strategic Plan is a road map to where your organization is going. Most strategic plans look three to five years into the future. If your nonprofit doesn’t have one, work with your Executive Director, senior leadership staff, and Board of Directors to create one. This document should outline the purpose of an organization. It should also include key strategic goals and how the organization plans to meet them. Key areas should include Programs and Development. The plan is very important. Investors and stakeholders will look at the plan to determine how likely it is to achieve success.  Plus it helps everyone to be on the same page. The structures will vary quite a bit and a quick internet search will provide several good templates to get started.
  1. Make a Development Plan – Once the strategic plan is in place, a Development Plan should then be created. The goals for the Development Plan should tie together with the Development Goals that are outlined in the Strategic Plan, but contain detailed strategies and tactics. These should be one step more detailed. At one client site, they were struggling with turnover in the Development Department, so I created the Development Plan as a sort of “how to” manual.  That way, whoever holds the position in the future will be able to carry on the activities with consistency.

Doing these simple things will bring clarity about how to spend your time to be the most effective in your role.  It will also leave your organization stronger for the future. That’s a legacy we can be proud of.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Leading vs. Managing


Over lunch last week, one of my clients told me about the professional development work her leadership team has been doing together.  One topic which really resonated with me was understanding the difference between “leading” and “managing” a team.  The topic has been on my mind all week.  So, just for fun, I decided to look up the definition of each.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of Lead is to: “direct the operations, activity or performance of”; or “guide someone or something along the way”.

And the definition for Manage is to: “direct the professional career of”.

The difference is important.  To me, leading provides an upward and outward look.  Managing is more of a downward and inward look.

When a leader leads, they chart a course for the team, department, or organization.  A strong leader establishes and communicates direction with confidence.  In order to be successful, it is imperative for  the team to have a clear understanding of the overall objectives, so they can do their part to help achieve the desired outcomes.  A strong leader inspires people and motivates them to work towards a common goal.

When a leader manages, on the other hand, he or she provides direction and counsel to the individual.  It is the manager’s responsibility to ensure each team member knows his or her responsibilities and helps each person establish the appropriate goals and metrics.  In addition, the manager should provide on-going feedback as warranted – both positive and constructive.  Think back to your favorite manager or mentor.  What made them so good?  My guess is that he or she took the time to listen, praise, offer feedback as appropriate and gave you opportunities to succeed .

Neither role is easy.  When things get busy, we all have a tendency to revert to the roles in which we are most comfortable.  Particularly during these times, it is important to take a step back and make sure you are not only doing what is in the best interest of the organization, but what is also in the best interest of your team.  In the long run, it will benefit everyone – including you.

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