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

Making Connections


Making Connections

My client’s fundraising “event” became an online “funding activity” this year. No, it was not a sophisticated Zoom event with program remarks, but instead we used a mail appeal that was supported by follow up calls, an online video (pieced together by a talented volunteer) and a couple of supporting eblasts. Honestly, it was nothing fancy.

But one thing I did differently, was contact our major donors using my cell phone. First, I gathered my thoughts and wrote down what I wanted to say.  Then I recorded individualized “selfie” videos to my phone and sent them off one by one. Yes, this required lots of “do-overs” and ridiculous outtakes, but despite the added effort, I felt more authentic sending messages this way. It was the closest thing to human contact I could muster.

My message was simple.

To the people who hadn’t given yet, I greeted them by name, and told them (in one sentence how their past support helped this agency) and then asked for their continued support, if they were able to do so.

For those who had already donated, I also used their name in the greeting, and asked them to help spread the word about the online auction to their friends, family members, and work colleagues.

It turns out the donors found it more meaningful than a typical voice mail. Many of them texted back to say so – and honestly, I felt more connected to them too.

One pleasant surprise is that many donors made second gifts. Another is that we got donations from new people (thank you donors who helped to spread the word!)  All in all, we raised more money than ever before for this nonprofit.

Another client’s Executive Director did something similar. He used his computer (Windows’ native camera application) and uploaded the video to his personal YouTube account. Then, he sent links of the video through a clickable hyperlink.

However, we approach contacting our donors, it is evident that we need to reinvent ourselves, and find new meaningful ways.  As we try them out, we promise to pass these ideas on to you. After all, we are all in this together.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Participate in #GivingTuesdayNow!


Participate in #GivingTuesdayNow!

“Safety net” nonprofit organizations – and the people they serve – are undoubtedly suffering tremendously right now. Millions of people have found themselves without employment, and/or without access to food and shelter. And many of the organizations that serve them have been forced to cancel major fundraising events comprising significant portions of their budgets. Or, they’re nervous about asking donors to continue to give during these uncertain times.

We at HPS Chicago encourage our clients to stay connected with their donors during these unprecedented times, and even to continuing with gift solicitations.  We’ve been heartened by the number of people who want to help! On May 5, 2020, we all have an opportunity to come together in emergency response to the need caused by COVID-19: #GivingTuesdayNow.

Giving Tuesday, the groundbreaking global generosity movement founded in 2012 in New York City, is spearheading #GivingTuesdayNow on May 5 as a global day of giving and unity to mobilize human and monetary resources. Businesses, leaders, organizations and individuals from dozens of countries are participating – and your organization can, too. Here are a just a couple of suggested ways you can become involved:

  1. Raise funds for a COVID-19 Relief Fund. Has your organization already established a relief fund to help the people you serve? When we moved to shelter-in-place, my client established a relief fund to meet emergency nourishment needs of the people we serve. Members facing lost or decreased income, or families with kids home from school with no access to reduced-fee or free breakfasts and lunches, for example, can request help purchasing groceries.
  2. Mobilize volunteers to spend the day using skills to help others. Have members who can sew? Ask them to make face masks to donate. Enlist individuals who can safely deliver essential goods (groceries, hand sanitizer, prescription drugs) to people and organizations needing help. Encourage volunteers to write notes of encouragement to others, especially people living alone. Do you have people with other skills to offer, e.g. helping prepare tax returns, helping unemployed build resumes, search for jobs, develop interviewing skills? Connect them with the organizations who can use their help. In Chicagoland, org can help connect you.
  3. Share good news stories. Share stories of the good things happening in your community because of people coming together to help one another. Proudly showcase others’ generous acts on your social media channels and website. Generosity breeds generosity!

Visit GivingTuesdayNow Toolkit to access the many ways your organization can stand in unity with the world on Tuesday, May 5.

Remember, people want to use their individual power of generosity, as donors and as volunteers, to remain connected and help others heal. We’d love to hear your stories – share them in the comments section below!

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Creative ways to stay connected


Creative ways to stay connected

Like all of you, I am settling in to this “new normal” of working from home, eating at home, visiting with friends at home, and meeting with clients from home.   The good news for development officers in all of this is that we finally have time to do what we are meant to do – connect with our donors.  My conversations this week have centered around what that means for each of my clients.  For those whose work involves first responders or direct service providers, the current situation is compelling, urgent and relevant.  The COVID-19 pandemic certainly makes the “ask” for these organizations easier.  But what if your work doesn’t fall into one of these categories?  How can you stay connected with your donors, especially at a time when we are all being inundated with emails and requests from every possible source.

One of my clients, Canine Therapy Corps, has had to “paws” (pun intended) all of their programming for the time being.  Canine Therapy Corps provides animal-assisted therapy to individuals overcome physical and emotional trauma.  Much of their work is done in hospitals and other public settings; and while their work is a critical component for recovery, the COVID-19 situation has sidelined their work for now.  However, they have come up with some creative ways to stay connected to their constituents.  And I must admit, receiving their daily emails, which come from social media posts, is the highlight of my inbox.  Below you will find an example of how they are staying engaged (and making me smile):

Honoring Medical Professionals on Throwback Thursday

It’s throwback Thursday! Today we’re sharing a fond memory of Rocko at one of our Pet Pause Staff De-Stress Events at RUSH University Medical Center. Our hats go off to all of the medical professionals out there who are on the front lines of this crisis. We work with many doctors, nurses, therapists and clinicians in our programs and are so grateful for their lifesaving efforts during this time.

We wish we could be there to provide stress relief to these important staff members, but for now, we just want to express how grateful we are remotely to everyone fighting this illness, but particularly our program partners at Advocate Children’s Hospital – Park Ridge, Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, Northwestern Medicine, RUSH University Medical Center, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, and Swedish Covenant Hospital. We look forward to reconnecting with you when this is all over!

We look forward to sharing more of our quarantined cuties over the coming weeks. Please reach out to us if we can help you in any way!

In a separate message to their community this week, they shared some fun – and potential revenue-generating – ideas with constituents.  I found it to be a clever way to stay engaged, provide constituents with some creative ideas for engaging with others and raising a some funds:

Canine Therapy Corps will continue to bring light-hearted content to your inbox and social media feeds, and we’d also like to do more and find a way to offer services during this difficult time.  Below are a few of our ideas, which may offer support, brighten a loved one’s day, or provide an enriching experience for your children, while also helping us raise some much-needed funds. We welcome your feedback and any other ideas you may have!​​​​​​​

  • Personalized photos or short video message from therapy dogs at home for you to send to someone you’re unable to be with or in celebration of a special occasion  (e.g., including a sign with a donor or loved one’s name on it)
  • Sending packets of therapy dog trading card sets for kids
  • A virtual therapy dog visit: one-on-one video chat sessions with a therapy dog and handler  
  • Lessons on working animals and therapy dogs for kids during home-schooling

So during this time of social distancing, look for your own ways to stay connected with donors.  And remember, it is always appropriate to send a handwritten note or place a phone call just to say “Hello” and “I have been thinking of you…”.  Stay safe and be well.

by: Susan Matejka, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

Staying Connected


Staying Connected

The last few weeks have been unlike any that any of us have ever experienced before in our lifetimes.  We find ourselves sheltered in place, some of us with families at home, others by themselves. Some of us with school-age children at home are trying to navigate how to home- school and how to manage the technology for e-learning.  I for one, have decided I would not make a good teacher.  My patience is short and my math skills are rusty.  And some days, all we want to do is just eat cookies and watch bad reality TV.  And, to be honest, some days, we do just that!

Our worry barometer is high as we hear the latest daily news reports on COVID19 and the economy, and for many of us, how we will continue to fulfill the missions of the not for profits that we work with in these unsteady times.

One of the primary things I have focused on across the past few weeks is connecting with our donors, volunteers and special friends that care about the not for profits for which I work.  It has been wonderful to check in on our supporters by phone and email.  It feels good to exchange conversations with them to see how they are doing, share my gratitude for all they do, and, offer a little bit about how the organizations are nimbly managing through this time and how they continue to best serve their clients.

Recently another Development Officer shared with me that, although these times are worrisome and tough, it feels good to be able to build and foster relationships with donors.  It feels right.  It feels like one of the best things to do right now. Outreach and connecting with our donors are always key, yet, as we all know too well, the other day-to-day development activities often distract us and take precious time away from stewarding our donors.

Today, I leave you with this important reminder and perhaps, if you will allow me, a silver-lining that reminds us to stay in touch with our donors during this time. Pick up the phone. Send some very personalized emails. Hand-write some notes.  On a final note, I leave you with my favorite poem written by poet laureate Mary Oliver.

Peace to you and yours!

I WORRIED           -by Mary Oliver

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Keep Calm and Stay Connected


Keep Calm and Stay Connected

As I am sure is true for everyone, I never imagined experiencing circumstances like these in my life. And in the 8+ years we’ve been hosting this blog, I never anticipated having to write during a crisis such as this.

I don’t presume to have any game-changing answers to share and I am clear that I don’t even know all of the questions at this point*. What I do know is that, while so much of our lives and our work are in flux, there are two things all of us can focus on right now — keep calm and stay connected.

Keep Calm

We have an opportunity – and more than likely a responsibility – to offer our staff, Board members, donors and volunteers a sense of calm. That is what everyone needs exposure to right now and, as leaders in our organizations, we are called to set the tone.

Are we supposed to have all of the answers right now? No (see above*).

Does anyone expect that we have a fool-proof plan already in place for how we are going to get through the next 4 weeks, 4 months, 4 quarters? No, of course not.

However, while doing everything possible to stay focused on advancing your mission (adjusting and pivoting as needed), you need to provide some assurance that there is a path forward. The uncertainty is real, the need for panic is not. Now is the time to share that, together, you will all figure out how to keep delivering the life-changing service that is your core mission.

What we ARE all doing is:

  • Working to answer the questions we can at this point
  • Putting together contingency plans for staffing, program delivery, fundraising, etc., based on the information and resources available to us
  • Sharing updates and information with our organization’s “family”

Stay Connected

The last bullet above hits on the second call to action. Clear and consistent communication is always important, but right now it is paramount. Everyone wants to know what is happening and what they can do.

  • Our staff and team members need clear expectations about what they can and should be doing right now and a channel to offer feedback and to share concerns
  • Our Board members, donors and volunteers need to know that we are working hard to anticipate, navigate and activate our plans for mission continuity, what that looks like today (and again what it looks like next week/month/etc.) and, yes, they need to know what they can do to help.
  • While email communications are great for larger audiences, don’t forgo opportunities to make more personal connections. Calls and, whenever possible, Zoom/Skype/Facetime meetings are a meaningful and important way for us to engage our Board members and key donors/volunteers. These are the people who will be instrumental in getting us through and beyond today’s circumstances and we owe it to them to make every effort to connect as authentically and personally as possible.

There is no question that our supporters are dealing with all of this on a personal and professional level too and, of course, we need to be sensitive to that. Nevertheless, we are talking about the people who are the backbone of your organization and they care about what is happening and they want to know what they can do to help.

Thank you, now more than ever, for the life-changing work you do every day. Please take care, stay safe and keep calm. Together we will get through this. Witnessing the amazing work you do — day in and day out — of that I am certain.

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

Unprecedented Times


Unprecedented Times

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has created unprecedented times for all organizations including, and some would say especially, Non-Profits.

The stock market is chaotic and unpredictable, all of our missions, business’ and personal realities are being impacted and there is a palpable sense of fear and concern, primarily for the unknown.

What we do know, is that philanthropy and the impact of your specific organization MUST go on.

Continue to communicate with your constituents. Often.

Be painfully transparent with your donors, not only how this crisis is impacting your organization but what you and your leadership team are doing to continue services for your clients and their families.

Continue to show the IMPACT of your organization and tie it to the IMPACT your donors have on your organization.

While there is fear, there is an opportunity, through philanthropy, to highlight the need for community. Highlight how your donors play an integral role in building community and how their partnership with you directly impacts the lives of the people you serve.

Lastly, if you had a solicitation planned or scheduled, move forward. Continue to tie such requests to a specific need and show specific impact. Yes, the market is down and we’re all feeling the anxiety that comes with unprecedented times, but know the human spirit that wants to help others remains alive and well.

by: Michael Bruni, Managing Director, 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