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

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

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

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

Before it’s too late


Before it’s too late

Last week’s wintry weather not only arrived way too early for my taste, it also derailed my plans for some outdoor projects around the house. Basically, I failed to get around to them when the temperatures were much more favorable. I kept prioritizing other things and they remained in my pile of good intentions for “another day.”

With Thanksgiving right around the bend and the Holiday season and year-end fast approaching, now is the perfect time to account for what needs to get taken care of before we welcome in 2020.

In the non-profit world there is rarely a shortage of initiatives that need our attention and this would be a painfully long post if I tried to make a comprehensive list of suggestions. We are all dealing with Giving Tuesday, year-end appeals, budgeting and forecasting… just to name a few. So, in the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday, I will instead simply focus on gratitude.

The next several weeks offer an opportunity to express some very important “Thanks” before it’s too late. While expressing appreciation is always important, now is the perfect time of year to make time to connect with some of your most important contacts.

No question, we want to start with our donors.

  • Identify those individuals and funders that you haven’t had a chance to reach out to lately to thank them for your support.
  • If you are a development professional, in addition to your personal call list, it is always a good idea to coordinate with your Executive Director/CEO to ensure that they are also making targeted calls to your VIP’s.
  • And, if you haven’t already planned to enlist your Board in the organization’s gratitude strategy, asking your Board members to personally make a few thank you calls (or to write short personal notes) is another excellent way to share the love while also actively engaging your Board in fundraising. Just provide them with simple talking points (or two sentences for their notes) along with phone numbers/mailing addresses and be sure to have them report back to you. You don’t want anyone to miss being thanked. (By the way, in my experience Board members actually enjoy doing this!) Quick note, unless it is a donor’s preferred mode of contact, I recommend against using email for these messages. Receiving a call or a hand-written note is much more personal.

Speaking of our Board members, don’t neglect them. Make time to personally reach out to each and every one in the next few weeks. Call out anything they did that may have been particularly notable during the past year (maybe they hosted an event in their home or connected you to a new funding partner). Just be sure to tell them how much their shared commitment to the organization’s mission is appreciated.

While it makes sense to prioritize these two groups, it’s also important to acknowledge the efforts and support from other key people. Make a point to personally thank fellow staff members, volunteers, program partners, professional mentors and even vendors who went above and beyond for you.

This may seem like a daunting undertaking with everything else on your plate right now, but if you commit to making time for six to ten thank you calls a day, 200 expressions of gratitude are well within your reach in the remaining work days of 2019. When I was in-house, I used to block out a couple of 15-20 minute periods each day to focus on my thank you messages.

Everyone likes to be appreciated and, at the end of the day, it is a great way to spend some of your precious time. Just be sure to do it before the proverbial snow flies.

Thank you for all that you do each and every day to make a difference in the lives of others!

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

Put a Name on It!


Put a Name on It!

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

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

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

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

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

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

The Tale of Two Donors


The Tale of Two Donors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flexibility is the Key


Detour Ahead!

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

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

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

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

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

The power of a personal connection


The power of a personal connection

For the past few months, my husband has been leading an initiative at our church.  In this role, his first objective is to build a committee of volunteers to help.  Mark has been very strategic in the identification of potential committee members – and in his approach.   He is purposely building a committee that has diversity in age, race, sexual orientation, family composition, employment, etc.  Given this is no small task, he has thought creatively about how to be successful in getting people to say Yes.  So each week, we go to church and Mark looks for potential candidates: people he sees regularly and/or who seem very engaged in the service.  Immediately following the service, he introduces himself to his identified prospect and says “I need you”.  In full disclosure, Mark is in Sales.  That said, he has had a 100% success rate in building this committee.

The reason I share this story is that it highlights the power of a personal connection.  For several weeks in the spring, the priest (who is very dynamic and engaging) shared a similar message from the pulpit.  However, that message garnered no takers.  Why?  It was a message to many, and it is easy to assume someone else will take up the charge, or that the message isn’t aimed at me personally.  Mark’s approach takes time, thought, a bit of nerve and a very personal ask.  But the results are impressive.

So what can we glean from this approach?  Think about all the ways in which your organization reaches out to donors, volunteers and others.  Does the message come across as a “message to many”?  Will it be easy for the recipient to assume it’s not aimed at them?  Can they easily assume someone else will make a contribution?

I realize it is not possible to personalize every communication for every donor.  For mass communications, such as newsletters, appeals or impact reports, consider adding a personal note.  This is a great job for volunteers and Board members, as a simple “thanks for your support” and a signature on a post-it note adds a personal touch.  A “thank-a-thon” is another personal approach you can use to show appreciation and utilize volunteers in a meaningful way.  Next month, the Associates Board of one of my clients will be calling monthly donors and first-time donors to say hello and thank you.

Over the past several months, I have been serving as Interim VP of Development for one of my clients.  During this time, I have made it a priority each week to write 3-4 personal notes or make calls to donors to say hello.  While deadlines often take precedence, I keep a stack of notecards at home and will jot a few notes while I watch TV in the evening.

Finally, how often do you schedule time to visit with donors or volunteers where there is no ask, just a simple opportunity to get better acquainted and show appreciation?  While these take time, it is an important investment in the relationship.

We all want to feel valued, that we matter, and that the ways in which we contribute make a difference.  Take time each day to reach out to someone who plays a role – no matter how small – in your organization.  I guarantee you will see a great return on your investment.

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