Are Your Letting Donors Kick the Tires?


Think back to the last time you bought a car. Was it from a dealership, or the used car lot down the street? You probably took it for a test drive – and had an opportunity to “kick the tires” as my dad used to say.

These steps are important. We want to inspect our new investment and make sure it meets expectations before making a big commitment.

But, are we providing this same opportunity to donors of our organizations?

One of my client’s was struggling with this.  We found it difficult to share the mission of this organization with donors unless it was through videos or photos.  These 3rd party vehicles are “OK” but not ideal. So we created a different approach and put the donor in the driver’s seat.

We invited donors to a special art class just for them that was sprinkled with a few of the agency’s clients for a meet and greet. This was the same type of programming our clients were involved with each week.

We filled the room with new donors and donor prospects. We didn’t charge them and provided light snacks. They were led by our instructor and learned how professional and well run the class was. They observed how each person’s experience was unique and tailored to them. This fun, low pressure introduction laid the groundwork for developing these relationships further and opened the door to conversations about future giving.

Could this experience be replicated at your organization?

For educators, could your donors get reserved seats to a graduation ceremony? For nonprofits focused on literacy, could donor attend a book presentation ceremony for students? For health organizations, could your donors visit one of your doctors for their annual check-up?

Think for a minute about what your donor might respond to and give them that opportunity.  After all, we are asking for them to invest in us. We should give them an opportunity to kick the tires, shouldn’t we?

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions


Head out the Door!


How many donors did you visit this week?  Did you get out of your office, away from your phone and computer, and get in front of your donors?  I recently had a conversation with a development officer who felt her major gift program had stalled.  She shared with whom she wanted to meet, what the strategy was for each prospect, and quickly outlined a wonderful plan to help launch a new program.

The problem was simple…she had a great plan, but, she wasn’t getting out of the office to talk with her donors!  Why?  We all know too well how busy we get with daily tasks that need to get done…maybe a grant to write, an event that needs to be tended to, or various meetings to attend?

It’s an age-old problem and one that I believe needs to be revisited at the start of every fiscal year.  How many calls will you make each day?  What is your goal for visits?  How can some of the other tasks be tabled or delegated to another staff member so that you can get out the door?

Many years ago, one of my mentors, Jim Stack, told me that development work is simple…it’s not rocket science.  We have to build relationships with our supporters and keep them engaged with the mission.  Every week, he was out the door asking for gifts, thanking donors for their investments and at every single meeting, he furthered the relationship the donor had with the organization.

It’s not rocket science…Jim was right!  And, it’s a good reminder to all of us that we need to make a concerted effort to get out the door and spend our time in a way that is most cost effective for the agencies we represent.

So, today, I challenge you…set your weekly goal for calls and visits and stick to it!  GET OUT THE DOOR and watch your major gift goals SOAR!

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Don’t Forget the Spouse!


Let’s face it:  major gifts are major decisions.  Your prospects likely are very much like mine.  They reach a decision to make a major gift after a long process of cultivation, thought, and reflection.  This process involves the head and the heart.  Decisions are made based on what the donor thinks about your organization, its leadership, and its mission.  And decisions are made about how the donor feels about the impact of the gift and the good it will do.

In most households, the donor and spouse (or significant other) make major decisions.  So it is important that fundraisers, when appropriate, include the partner in the cultivation and solicitation process.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Address all correspondence to the prospect and partner
  • Include both in cultivation events
  • Remember the partner’s birthday as you do the prospect’s
  • Solicit the major gift from both of them, remembering to attend to both people with your eyes and ears!
  • Consciously plan your solicitation to engage both the mind and the heart of both people

Does this seem obvious?  You’d be surprised how many times I’ve coached those involved in a solicitation to pay attention to the spouse, only to watch them faun over the prospect while failing to really engage the partner!

On the other hand, I’ve also seen spouses step in and really turn the tide in favor of a major gift.  In one instance, I was told by the donor that “my wife really was the one to convince me” to make a $1 million gift.  On another occasion, we received a $1 million donation that surprised us because it seemed on paper that the donor was more connected to other institutions than to our own.  In this instance, the son of the major prospect (and ultimate donor) told me “my mom was really the one who decided to do this.”

Remember:  major gifts are major decisions.  And major decisions are seldom made by individuals in isolation.  Cultivate your prospects and their spouse or significant other.  You’ll be glad you did.

by: Steven Murphy, Ed.D., Senior Advisor, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Be Interested


When my wife and I first found out we were going to become parents, I started collecting quotes and bits of advice that I wanted to share with our children as they grew up. Some are obvious, some silly and still others likely won’t have meaning for them until much later in life.

The other day, I found myself repeating to our youngest one of the nuggets I have shared on multiple occasions with both of our boys:

Instead of trying too hard to be interesting, put your energy into being interested.

 I won’t say it is my favorite quote of all time, but the number of occasions on which it was apropos of sharing over the years clearly indicates that it is a worthy reminder.  And, while I am unable to pinpoint who deserves attribution for the original idea – as evidenced in part by the variations here from Dale Carnegie and John Gardner – I am definitely an advocate of its practice.

“It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting. Why don’t you invest more time being interested?”                                                                                                                                                              -Advice from John Gardner to Jim Collins

While there has yet to be an occasion when I’ve offered up this advice to my boys regarding fundraising, it is absolutely a habit that can and should be embraced by every development professional–and fundraising volunteer for that matter.

We all know that we should be focused on our donors’ needs and on their agenda, but how often do we find ourselves in conversations where we are more focused on persuasion than on understanding? Whether it’s meeting someone at an event for the first time, a one-on-one cultivation meeting or a gift solicitation, there is little doubt that the most effective and engaging approach is to focus our energies on their interests/stories/needs.

If your focus is on being interested, you will have a much greater opportunity to Build Meaningful Connections. As part of our capital campaign preparation efforts, I once again have the honor of participating in engagement interviews for one of my current clients. It is an hour long conversation where I simply ask for their thoughts, ideas and perspectives. The conversations are designed to learn about what drives our donors and volunteers and how the organization’s work aligns (or doesn’t) with their personal priorities. And I can say with absolute certainty, that each of these encounters creates a deeper sense of connection to the organization because our donors feel valued and heard.

When you spend more of your time listening and trying to discover what matters most to your donor(s), the odds of experiencing a Successful Solicitation increase dramatically. If we come at our donors with an avalanche of information about our needs without ever finding out theirs, we all but guarantee that we will fail to inspire them to give a gift that matches the level of their personal philanthropic passions.

For consultants and other business professionals, the practice of being interested is also critical when you are working to Engage a New Client. Our team was recently awarded a new client contract after a fairly intense process. The CEO told us that one of the keys to our success was the fact that, to a person, everyone we talked with – from executives, to Board members to junior level staff members – they all said that we didn’t just come in an make a case for why we were the best, we listened and we were honestly interested in what they had to say.

So, the next time you’re preparing for an important conversation, make sure that you are focused on what the other person is most interested in. Making the conversation about their needs and their interests will undoubtedly result in you having more success in achieving your goals.

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

The Human Touch


Recently, I had to purchase a new phone. The battery was shot, I had limited storage capacity and the service was spotty most of the time. While I was upgrading to a new version and getting a more “robust” phone, I realized every bell and whistle that was being sold to me had nothing to do with what the phone was intended to do, make a phone call.  I’m not a neo-luddite by any means, I just had a sudden a-ha moment that we don’t use the phone or the action of what the phone is intended to do anymore.

Last week, I was reminded how important and honestly how easy it is to pick up the phone and communicate the old fashion way. I was with a colleague who had shifted careers from fundraising to sales – (not much of a difference as we all know) and he was explaining his new role in generating new business, creating leads, cultivating customers, presenting the product and then the ever important follow up. All along the “cultivation” journey he highlighted that his “go-to” was the utilization of his phone to communicate. Not to text, not to email but to actually call someone is what he used as his personal outreach and human touch advantage.

As we head into 2017 and make our list of New Year’s resolutions, I know one of mine will be to take the time to put a human touch on the interaction I have…whether it be with donors, colleagues, friends or family. That human touch will be to make the phone call when it’s more appropriate than the email.  The human touch makes such an impression and just like sending a hand written letter, card or personal note it’s what we need to remember to do more often than not.

During the holiday season, we tend to take time to reflect on the joys of life, a time to be grateful for what we have,  a time to be mindful of what more we can do and what motivates us to keep us going. It’s important to always remember that putting a human touch on our communication is the thoughtful way to say hello, express your thanks and enjoy the human touch way. It’s way more real.

Happy Holidays!

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

Make it Personal



When new members join nonprofit Boards, one of the first things we ask of them is to identify friends, family and work colleagues with the hope of expanding our donor base, right?

But do their contacts really develop into the active supporters we hope they will?

With my current client, I noticed they weren’t….so we developed a strategy to improve our communication to them.

Here’s what we did.

Recognizing that it is our job to educate these folks about the mission of our organization before they are asked for a gift, we mailed an introductory letter to the new prospects. The letter introduced the mission, and described their friend’s new role as Board member.  It requested the recipient’s blessing to continue to share information with them about their friend’s new nonprofit venture.  The board member signed the letters and mailed them in a plain envelope that had the board member’s home address as the sender.  It looked very personal.

Then, once each month for the next two months, we provided this board member with brief mission-specific success stories about a participant in our program.  They mailed these to the same individuals with a brief personal one line message.

Finally, our holiday appeal dropped. These too, went with a personal note from the Board member. Now, this group of individuals had a personal tie with the mission, had been educated about the great work we do, and were invited to contribute. The client is already seeing the results from this early education and cultivation, and received a $500 gift.

If your nonprofit plans to add Board members in 2017, consider integrating this strategy. Remember, we must educate, and cultivate before we ask for support.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Listen Up!


I recently took my 81 year old mother to the doctor, and, as I sat in the exam room with my her and our family doctor (yes, my mother, my sister and my children all go to the same physician) I was moved by the strong connection that my mother has with our doctor.  Our doctor is not only seasoned in her profession, but she is genuinely warm and kind, and one of the best listeners that I’ve ever met.

As a member of the sandwich generation – like many of us, I am managing my own household of children but I’m also finding that my aging parents need more of my time and attention.  Not only is this a change for me, but, also for my mom.  She has always been and is still is a fiercely independent woman…having emigrated from Germany  to the US  in her late 20’s with a one-way boat ticket back to Germany and a few hundred dollars in her pocket just in case this didn’t work out.

Navigating these new waters can be challenging…and we are all learning as we go.  It is a delicate balance…how much do I step in? Am a good listener?  In what ways can I help my mother feel that she is in charge and can make her own decisions?

I thought about this visit recently and how it ties to the work that we do as development professionals.  Do we listen to our donors?  Do we make our donors feel empowered and engaged in the work that they are supporting? Do they feel invested?

I recently visited with a donor of one of my clients and I asked her how she became involved with this particular agency.  She shared some of her personal stories and I learned a lot about why she has continued her support.  I learned some things that I hadn’t known before that would be key for the next time she is approached for a gift.  The most important thing I did during that one hour meeting was to listen.  I kept my mouth shut.  When I opened it, I told her some new things that have happened because of her generosity.  I shared some personal stories of clients and how they benefited from the agency.

Sometimes we get so busy with “reporting the news” to our donors that we forget to simply sit back and really listen to the things they want to share with us.  Our family doctor reminded me through her actions that listening is critical to building and maintaining relationships in our personal lives as well as in our lives as development professionals.  So, the next time you schedule a visit or a phone call with a donor, make a concerted effort to… sit back and listen.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Gold vs. Platinum

PT and AU

David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

 Donor stewardship has been a more frequent topic of conversation with our clients lately. We all know that inspiring new donors is much more difficult and costly than building stronger relationships with the people who are already supporting our efforts. And, while there are many layers to forming an effective donor relationship strategy, for today I’m just focusing on one key ingredient.

Growing up, many of us were taught the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s a good rule and one that certainly can help children understand how their actions might make other people feel. Full disclosure, my wife and I referenced the Golden Rule on countless occasions while raising our sons.

Nevertheless, if we adhere to the Golden Rule when building donor relationships, we are simply not honoring our role in the most effective or authentic way. Thankfully there is a more considerate rule for us to apply, the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” More simply, where the Golden Rule says we should treat others how we like to be treated, the Platinum Rule accommodates for the fact that not everyone likes to be treated the same way and mandates that we instead treat people the way they want to be treated.

As Dr. Tony Alessandra writes, “The focus of relationships shifts from ‘this is what I want, so I’ll give everyone the same thing’ to ‘let me first understand what they want and then I’ll give it to them.” He goes on to say, “The goal of The Platinum Rule is personal chemistry and productive relationships. You simply have to understand what drives people and recognize your options for dealing with them. ”

Think about some of your major donors and what motivates them to support your mission. Do you know what aspect of your work or which programs are of a specific interest to them? What life experience or personal philanthropic goal is connecting them to your organization?

Using the Platinum Rule as a guide, what if you invested time in learning the answers to these questions with your key supporters? Some folks may like an annual face-to-face meeting, while other people may prefer a phone call once a quarter. You may also have donors who are so busy that their preferred mode of conversation is via email, because it affords them the opportunity to respond when their time allows.

At the end of the day, if we commit to the Platinum Rule and to prioritizing our donors’ needs/desires/motivations over our own, we will absolutely have greater success in building lasting and rewarding donor relationships.


David Gee is an experienced development professional with particular expertise in capital campaigns, major gifts and donor stewardship. David joined the HUB Philanthropic Solutions team after serving as The Chicago Bar Foundation’s Director of Development. Prior to that, he spent 18 years working as a professional actor in Chicago. Among his volunteer activities, David serves on Forefront’s Resource Development Committee, the Development Committee for All Chicago and as the Local School Council Chair at Beaubien Elementary School.

Want to build a long-term pipeline of supporters?


by George Rattin, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

A recent study conducted by the Lily Family School of Philanthropy  entitled “A Tradition of Giving: New research on giving and volunteering within families” provides data that supports the idea that generational modeling has a significant effect on future philanthropy.  The study finds that for every 1% increase in a parent’s incidence of volunteering, their children’s odds of volunteering increased by 0.8%, and their odds of donating grew by 0.7 %.  This study finds that engaging generations of families (grandparents, parents, children) with a cause builds affinity and connection in a more effective way than simply trying to build connections separately.  The study finds that the  following:

  • Parents’ decision to give to charitable organizations positively influences their children’s decision to give to charitable organizations.
  • Parents and their children give similarly to:
    • Religious organizations,
    • International charitable organizations,
    • Environmental organizations
    • Arts-related organizations.
  • Parents whose giving is more concentrated (they give to fewer sub-sectors) positively influence their children’s religious giving.
  • Parents’ decision to volunteer with charitable organizations:
    • Positively influences their children’s decision to volunteer with charitable organizations, and
    • Positively influences their children’s decision to give to charitable organizations.
  • The philanthropic giving priorities of parents and their children are more closely matched than are the philanthropic giving priorities of grandparents and their grandchildren.
  • Grandparents and their grandchildren give:
    • Similarly to arts-related organizations (high-net-worth sample only)
    •  Dissimilarly to basic needs-related organizations.

As you look to build philanthropic support fro your organization, remember the power of role-modeling especially between parents and children. Creating opportunities that allow parents and their children to volunteer, interact or support your organization will bear long-term fruit and help build support in a new generation of donors.

How to Become a Pre-Selected Organization in 3 Steps



by Heather Stombaugh, CFRE, GPC – HUB Philantropic Solutions, Grants Consultant

Spring is in the air, and as a gardener, I could not be more delighted. I can’t wait to get my hands dirty this weekend. But just as you wouldn’t just throw a tomato plant in the garden and expect it to grow with no supports, you can’t just throw a proposal at a foundation and expect a reward.

That advice goes double for organizations that contribute only to pre-selected funders, because “Seventy-two percent of the nation’s 96,000 foundations now do not accept unsolicited proposals from nonprofits.” (Pablo Eisenberg – Chronicle of Philanthropy, October 20, 2015)

  • Does that mean you can never get funding from these foundations? Absolutely not.
  • Does it mean it takes more time to secure funding as a pre-selected organization? Indeed.
  • Is it worth the extra time? Unequivocally, yes!

Here’s how. First and always: assess for strategic alignment. If it’s not a great fit, it will never be worth your (or their) time to proceed. If you are aligned strategically in terms of mission and priorities, then follow these three steps.

Step 1. Find someone on your leadership team or board who knows someone on the foundation’s board. Work those spheres of influence!

Step 2. Have your contact talk to the person he or she knows at the foundation. This can be by phone or in person, and the foundation should do most of the talking.


Step 3. Follow up on that conversation with an RFI, or request for information. The RFI can be as simple as a one-page letter (never more than two) highlighting your mission, why your organization is a fit for their philanthropy, why support is needed, and why your organization has the right solution(s). This letter should NOT include an ask; that will come in a future proposal, at the funder’s discretion and request.

And it works. We use this method all the time with success. Here’s a quick case study. We worked with a large FQHC who had depended on state and federal funding for years. They were losing money in that arena and wanted to look for private funding. As part of our strategy, we identified a local funder who was strategically aligned but didn’t contribute to (or even review) unsolicited proposals. So, we found a connection, started a conversation, and sent an RFI. About 14 months later–after completing a full proposal at their request–the organization secured an entry-level grant of $20,000 from the funder. They also secured a new relationship and got on that ephemeral pre-selected list. The system works!

What tips do you have for becoming a pre-selected organization?