Triage, Transition, Transformation

moving forward

Triage, Transition, Transformation

During a call with two of my clients last week, one of the participants described the COVID-19 pandemic in stages, using three words:  Triage, Transition, Transformation.

She said it was helpful for her to have it organized with three words, all starting with the same letter.  We went on to share thoughts about what this description really meant and discussed a few other models that we’ve heard in the press or other conversations.  I wrote down those three words, as I wanted to think about how they apply to the world of fundraising as a result of the pandemic.

Since the shelter in place order began, the world of fundraising has gone sideways.  Our team of consultants has seen a wide range of reactions from our clients.  Some have experienced positive surprises, as unexpected donations have arrived.  Others have expressed fear – “we can’t ask people for money right now!”  (Yes, actually, you can.)  And all of our clients are exhausted, as everyone is trying to reimagine events, figure out how to participate in another Giving Tuesday and recast their fundraising goals, all while trying to navigate working from home and ensure those they serve are safe and protected.

So how do these three words apply to Development?  Let’s think about it.

Triage – One key component of triage is to “allocate limited resources to maximize results”.  It seems like the Development department at most organizations is woefully understaffed to begin with – and then a crisis comes around.  The first order of business was to ensure those we serve are safe and put processes and procedures in place to make sure they continue to be safe.  Next, we had to assess what this means for our fundraising efforts.  “Will we be able to host our event?”  “If we can’t host our event, what will we do instead?”  “How will we make up for lost revenue?” “How will we engage donors?” And so on.  I am sure those are just a few of the many questions you asked while this crisis was unfolding.

Transition – The simple definition here is “changing from one state to another”.  Whether it is moving from an event to a virtual event, rethinking the strategy behind your spring appeal, or simply moving from in-person meetings to virtual ones, we have all had to change and adapt over the past few weeks.  And while we are all anxious to move to the “new normal”, we must remain flexible and adaptable for the foreseeable future.

Transformation – Transformation is a “dramatic change”.  While we may realize it on the surface, the reality here is harder to conceive for the long-term: much of our work as Development officers is transforming, and will continue to do so.  (Face it: Events will never be the same again.)  And perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing.  Our team has a standing Zoom call every Monday morning.  Most of our time is spent discussing the latest binge watch recommendations or sharing what we cooked over the weekend, but we do also talk business.  And there is one great silver lining we as Development professionals all agree on, and that is the chance to “reset” our priorities.  Specifically, this crisis has given everyone in Development the opportunity – and the time – to cultivate donors.  We have been encouraging all of our clients to take this time to call donors and check in on their well-being.  Since donors are also stuck at home, many are in need of social interaction, and therefore interested in engaging in conversation.  Writing personal notes or even sending a well-prepared email can elicit a positive response.

I am hopeful this change of direction will result in a permanent transformation for many organizations in how they do development work going forward.  Cultivation and stewardship takes time and it typically doesn’t have a deadline, so it can often fall to the bottom of the “to-do” list.  My challenge to each of you is to maintain this practice of connecting with donors, even when we are no longer sheltering in place.

by: Susan Matejka, Managing Director, 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

Lessons Learned


Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

 Be mission-driven.

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


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

 Be direct.

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

Be available.

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

Be transparent stewards of donor dollars.

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

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

Ask, then be quiet!

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

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

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Connecting Donors to Your Mission


Connecting Donors to Your Mission

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

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

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

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

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

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Even Keel


Even Keel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by: Susan Matejka, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

Volunteer “Kickoff Party”


Volunteer “Kickoff Party”

We tried something new this month at a client of mine. I want to share it with you because it got rave reviews from our volunteers and supporters, and it just might be something that will also help your efforts.

The concept was simple.  We held a “volunteer kickoff party” with the goal of adding 30% new members to our Resource Development Committee (RDC), and to fully staff other volunteer needs for the first part of the fiscal year, which started in July.

If your volunteers are like ours, many are probably willing to donate money as well as time to your mission. So this event served the dual purpose of a donor cultivation event.

We held it at the home of a well loved volunteer who used to serve on our board.  Many of us chipped in and made hors d’oeuvres. It had a casual, warm, social feel, which contributed to its success.

We welcomed guests for the first fifteen minutes and mingled. Guests included existing donors, and volunteers, as well as people who had never been involved and just wanted to learn more about the mission.  Families whose children have benefited from our program also came. It was a cross section of people who help this nonprofit thrive in our community.

After the introductory social time, everyone was seated and covered business for the next 45 minutes. It included brief introductions from everyone in the room. Each person shared just a few words about what brought them to the meeting. Then our Board Chair presented information about our programs and services and described how donations fund financial gaps in services.

The families in the room were quick to chime in about the profound difference in their lives that this nonprofit made. These comments helped lend credibility to the overall effort.

Then, we  provided a list of volunteer needs, including committee roles, and other opportunities that spanned the next six months. We sent around a sign-up sheet and as it turned out, 100% of meeting attendees committed to devoting their time OR pledging financial support. Both of which, as you know, are so very important!  And yes — we met the goal of adding 30% more members to the Resource Development Committee.

This was an energizing experience for everyone involved–including our staff who attended.  It was a cost-effective and intimate way to bring people a bit closer into our mission. If you are looking to get more volunteer involvement this year, give this idea a try.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Stop Convincing, Start Inspiring


Stop Convincing, Start Inspiring

Over the past several weeks, I have heard the following comments made by some of my non-profit colleagues:

If more people knew about the quality of our programs (our best-in-class approach), we’d certainly have more donors.” “How can we convince them to make us a priority?” “We’re getting good meetings, but we just can’t seem to get them to give.”

Chances are we have all wrestled with similar thoughts and questions in our ongoing quest to secure funding for our organization’s mission. Building up your donor base is challenging. There’s no one-size-fits all formula for it, nor is there when you’re working to move your current donors into a deeper relationship with your organization. It’s personal, time consuming and there’s usually some degree of trial and error involved.

When we do get a chance to speak with donors or prospective supporters however, sometimes our pitch seems entirely focused on US and all of the ways we are fantastic/impactful/awesome. All too often we fail to put the time and sincere energy into getting to know what interests and inspires them–personally and philanthropically.

Just having the “best” program and solid quantifiable data to show your effectiveness isn’t going to cut it, especially when you are talking to prospective donors or newer friends to your organization. Before you can know what impact stories, mission interactions or even which data might be best suited for your donors, you first need to find out where THEY are coming from. What is their story? How does your work intersect with their lives, their passions?

Once we are clued into their personal interests and understand how our mission is solving for problems they care about, we are in a position to discover their interest in helping to advance our mission. We can earnestly make the case to show them specifically how our impact in the community intersects with their personal philanthropic goals. And we can sincerely and authentically work to inspire them to partner with us to achieve those shared goals.

Relationships are hard work. That’s true with your spouse/partner, your kids, your family & friends and, yes, with your donors. Relationships take time and energy, but they are almost always worth it!

In closing, I want to share one of my favorite quotes related to donor relations,

We don’t have to be smart enough to manipulate people to act.
We have to be sincere enough to move them to act

                                                               – Bernadette Jiwa (The Story of Telling)

Thank you, as always, for the life changing work you do every day.

David Gee, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Small is Beautiful


Small is Beautiful

There are over 1.5 million non-profit organizations in the U.S., and about one-third of those have total annual revenue of less than $1 million. Almost all of these rely on a relatively small number of donors to achieve their annual fundraising goals.

If your total number of annual donors is less than 500, chances are a fair number of these people know each other. They have in common a commitment to your mission. It is important that your fundraising activities recognize these relationships. Here are some suggestions:

  • Tribute Gifts—give your donors the chance to make a gift to honor others in the organization or in their circle of family and friends. People give to people, and your donors will welcome the opportunity to pay tribute to someone they know.
  • Memorial Gifts—encourage families to designate memorial gifts to your charity when a loved one dies. If donors know the person, they will welcome the opportunity to give in their memory.
  • Special events—give your donors the chance to come together socially in support of your organization. Smaller organizations can organize a variety of events where donors will look forward to seeing one another while doing good for your charity.
  • Volunteer opportunities—in a similar way, providing opportunities for your donors to volunteer gives them a platform for socializing with one another while helping the cause that they all care about.
  • Offer experiences as prizes—rather than auctioning off cash prizes or jewelry, raise funds by providing opportunities for your donors to socially engage. Offer a group dinner with the CEO or outings to sporting events or gatherings in someone’s home.
  • Donor recognition—honor a major donor annually with an award and ceremony. Your donors will know the honoree and they will be glad to join in the celebration.

In fundraising, small is beautiful! Making your efforts personal and socially engaging will also make them more successful.

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

Legacy Giving: Essential for Your Non-Profit


Legacy Giving: Essential for Your Non-Profit

True story: a non-profit that I worked for courted a prospective donor over a 30 year period. He was a man of considerable wealth, but not a household name or a celebrity. We did a lot of the right things with this gentleman. We visited with him in his office and took an interest in his work. We asked him to serve on an advisory board. He served briefly on our board of directors. We honored him at dinners and recognized his contributions to the community with an award. We asked him for a major gift. He was gracious and courteous and responsive.

Over the thirty year period, he made donations totaling just over $7,000 to our organization. We were grateful, but we knew he was capable of much more. We continued to thank him and keep him informed. Eventually, the man died, and we learned that he had bequeathed us a 2.5% share of his estate. His final gift was worth over $1.5 million dollars!

Most people will make the largest gift of their lives during what they perceive to be the last years of their life. Smart development officers like you are asking consistent donors to make a legacy gift! Here are a few suggestions on how to maximize your opportunities for planned gifts:

* Create multiple touch points for legacy giving: use direct mail, your website, and your personal visits to let your donors know that you are seeking estate gifts. Whenever possible, insert a sentence on all relevant print materials (even letters) asking people to “remember (name of non-profit) in your estate plan.”

* Keep it simple: by far the most common kinds of estate gifts come from donors who simply designate the non-profit organization as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, or who add a sentence or two to their will bequeathing the non-profit a dollar amount or a percentage of their estate. Remind your donors to consult with their attorney or tax professional, but don’t forget to provide them with concrete examples of how easy it is to make an estate gift.

* Organize a legacy giving society: ask people to let you know when they make an estate gift to you, and ask their permission to share their decision as an example for others. Name these donors on your website, and host an annual gathering of your legacy donors where you celebrate their collective generosity.

* Use testimonials: use the words of your donors to tell others how good it feels to make a legacy gift. Publish these testimonials in your materials. Ask them to speak at a board meeting and to inspire others to join your legacy society. And of course, celebrate the impact of planned gifts on your organization when they are realized.

Looking back, we did a lot of things correctly with that gentleman. As far as I know, we never asked him for an estate gift. But sometimes, our donors know exactly what they want to do with their legacy. Don’t forget that we are in this for the long haul! Help your donors think long term about your mission. Some of the largest gifts in the history of your non-profit await you.

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

Email vs. Phone…..the debate continues


Email vs. Phone…..the debate continues

In a meeting just last week with a new client, we were brainstorming names of investors the organization wanted to meet with and get their perspective about a possible enhancement to their vision/strategic plan.  After approximately an hour of dialogue, prioritizing each member to discuss this with, the seasoned CEO looked directly at me and said, “now should I call and/or email” to get on their calendar?

Prior to email, this would be a no-brainer, one would pick up the phone and simply introduce the concept or ask the investor for a meeting.  However, the CEO asked a good question, what works best?

For the next 30 minutes or so, we had a healthy dialogue about what made sense.  The result, with the exception of 2 of the 25 names discussed, the CEO would call them first.  We got there with this concept in mind, “IF the individual isn’t close enough to us or the leader to simply call directly, that individual probably needs further cultivation.

Of course there are a few exceptions, donors that have told us “email me first” or those that travel extensively and simply prefer to work on their computer than phone.  BUT…….ask yourself this question first and be honest about the answer, “If I don’t know them well enough (or they don’t know us enough) to be receptive to a call, then maybe we need to come up with a better engagement strategy so that a simple call feels like a comfortable fit.

We came to this conclusion when a very simple question was asked, “Why wouldn’t you just call?”  The answer for many was, “well, I just don’t know them that well and sending an email seemed less intrusive.”  While that is undoubtedly the truth, that forces us to think about our cultivation and engagement strategies.  As a leader of the organization, work from the premise, “I am going to establish a relationship with this individual until making a phone call is the most comfortable and common sense approach.”

The question of email vs. phone isn’t so much a good question about tactics but more deeply, a measurement of the depth and degree of the closeness with your constituents.  Whatever YOUR answer is when you debate this topic in the future, let it serve as either confirmation of your closeness with your donors OR leverage it as a need to further cultivate a particular relationship.

Call me with your thoughts 😉

by: Michael Bruni, Partner, HUB Philanthropic Solutions