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

Leveraging Lapsed Donors


Leveraging Lapsed Donors

 Living in the Midwest, we are regularly reminded of the passage of time. Crisp fall evenings turn into winter mornings and then finally, opening day for baseball season is around the corner.

I don’t know about you, but as I see spring hesitantly return to Chicago, I am reminded that my client’s fiscal year end is also quickly approaching.

Each spring, we produce a spring mail appeal that is targeted to our lapsed donors, those who have not given in the past 12 months. I feel like this group needs an extra bit of TLC, a little hand holding. After all — they have not responded to gala invitations, they have not mailed back an envelope for a year-end gift.

We have to realize that their regard for the organization might be waning. We need to find a creative way to re-engage them.

I have done this by creating an appeal for a special, tangible project. That is, instead of asking for money for the general mission or general operating budget.  Last year my client was in dire need of updated furniture in a group home for five adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities. We photographed the current furniture (close up to reveal all blemishes, tears and stains) and created a color collage of “before” pictures.  This was mailed with a letter that focused on one of the residents and described the supportive services they receive to maintain dignity and live independently in the community.  The letter described that this would be their forever home.

We also made follow up calls, which are so very important to maintain contact and bolster donor response rate.  When gifts came in and new furniture was purchased, we created an “after” collage with photos of all the new furniture that was provided. The collage was enclosed with the donor thank you letter.

Recognizing that needs like these are ongoing, we have branded this effort “Décor for Dignity.”  We know that everyone deserves to live in a home that is comfortable, safe, and well kept. Our donors have begun to look for this appeal, at about the same time that I begin to look for budding daffodils in my yard.

I offer this because I hope it gives you an idea to re-engage your organization’s lapsed donors that will impact your mission in a lasting way.

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

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

Touch Points


Touch Points

Recently my colleague Susanna Decker mentioned the importance of donor touch points in her post to this blog.  It really resonated with me because of a recent experience.

Before I relate my story, take a step back and reflect on the kinds of relationships you have with your major donors.  As with me, I am guessing that the majority of your interactions with your donors are transactional.  “Please respond to this request.”  “Don’t forget to get your pledge in.”  “It’s that time of year again.”  “We are asking for your support.”  There is nothing wrong with transactional language.  It is the drumbeat of our fundraising cycle.  If we don’t transact business, we are not doing our job.

But one of the great things about fundraising is that a lot of our donor interactions are also relational.  We get to know (and often love) our donors as people.  We know about their family, their professional life, their avocations and their passions.  We know their birthday, their cell phone number, and maybe even their shirt size.  Our relationship goes way beyond the transactional into the personal.  And getting to know generous people is really one of the joys of our profession.

That is why it is important to think more about touch points.  The transactions have to happen.  But there is a world of difference when those transactions are relational and personal.

Recently a major donor called me about tickets to an upcoming event for the non-profit organization I work for.  I had this donor on the phone.  I could have told him I would put the tickets in the mail, or I could have left the tickets at the check in desk on the night of the event.  But then I got to thinking, that I would enjoy seeing this guy face to face.  He is generous.  He loves our organization.  He is buying tickets, which means he likes seeing people from the NPO.

I told him that there is now a dinner scheduled after the event to kick off the year.  I invited the donor and his wife to sit with my wife and me at the dinner as our guests.  And by the way, I know he likes golf so I asked him to schedule a golf date with me before the season ends.  He was delighted to be asked to the dinner and to golf.  And I get to enjoy his company and solidify the relationship with my organization.

Think about touch points with your major donors.  Don’t ever neglect the important transactional interactions.  But remember that your donors are people who take joy in interacting with people in your organization.  Do the transaction, but do not miss the opportunity to make your visit personal and relational.

by: Steven Murphy, Ed.D., Senior Advisor, 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

Relationship-building is Vital, and Takes Time


Relationship-building is Vital, and Takes Time

We’ve all had board members or even bosses who demand immediate and significant fundraising results. Many a director of development has been asked “what have you been up to? Where are our major gifts? What is taking so long?”  And, to be sure, we as fundraisers must hold ourselves accountable to our dollar goals. It’s also incumbent on us to educate our boards, our bosses, and our colleagues that building and sustaining relationships takes time, patience, and their involvement in the process—and is critical to sustaining our organization’s mission.

Indeed, at its core, fundraising is about relationships: the long-term vitality of a nonprofit organization is, fundamentally, based on the deep and lasting relationships it has with its donors. It would be easy to ask for a gift, receive it, send a thank you letter and consider the job done. However, donors who feel valued solely for a financial contribution will not stay donors for long. We must take the time to learn about and nurture our donors if we want to build long-lasting, meaningful relationships.

The “Transformational Infinity Loop” developed by Kay Sprinkle Grace and Alan Wendroff, demonstrates the ways we keep and grow donors.


This simple diagram captures the ongoing transformational process between an organization and its donor community. By learning about our donors, and regularly communicating the impact of their support, relationships deepen. Through continued information sharing, personalized attention and respect, our donors feel valued beyond their financial contribution and thus become engaged more deeply. In turn, their investment in your organizations will grow.

This process takes time — after all, infinity has no end — and is well worth the investment.

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

A Simple Thank You Call Can be a Very Big Deal


A Simple Thank You Call Can be a Very Big Deal

Donor retention has always been a critical issue for nonprofits and the recently released Giving USA numbers appear to raise the stakes even further. Despite a strong economy, charitable donations dropped an inflation-adjusted 1.7 percent in the U.S. last year.

According to the Giving USA report, the overall decrease is the first drop in charitable giving in the country since the Great Recession. I don’t know about you, but hearing that certainly gave me pause. On top of that, gifts from individuals (as a percentage of total giving) dropped quite significantly from 70% to 68%.

While there is a lot to unpack in the overall giving report and much to pay attention to in the midst of today’s complex giving environment, I want to focus today on a simple and amazingly effective way for our Board members to positively impact our donor relation and retention efforts.

We all know that it is pretty hard to over-thank someone for their support of our mission. Most of us have heard about the “Rule of Seven” when it comes to how often you should express appreciation to your donors. While I wholeheartedly agree that we need to thank donors on multiple fronts, one of the most important “Thank You” messages they’ll receive comes from their fellow supporters–known as your Board members.

If your Board members aren’t personally involved in making Thank You Calls and writing Thank You Notes to your donors, it is time to make that happen.

Years ago, the organization I was working with was welcoming new Board members at their annual meeting. When asked to say a few words, one of the new members shared that she had had what she considered a game-changing experience with the organization a few years prior. After joining over 3,600 others in making a contribution to the annual campaign, she received a personal thank you call from one of the Board members. In her words, “Knowing that one of my very busy peers cared enough to make the time to call me–simply to say thank you–made all of the difference in my mind. I jumped at the chance to serve on this Board and to be a part of a community like that.”

And while this one anecdote continues to foster my own belief in why Board member thank you calls can and do make such a difference in making our donors feel like they are truly appreciated, I’ll let past research make the case for you as well.  Thank you calls from Board members have a profound effect on donor retention. Penelope Burk’s 2003 research showed that if a donor received a thank you call from a Board member within days of making a gift:

  • 93% said that they would “definitely or probably give again the next time they were asked”
  • 84% said they would “make a larger gift”
  • 74% would “continue giving indefinitely.”

So, while there is not much we can do in the short term to influence the current complex giving climate, we can absolutely double down on our efforts to increase donor retention and empower our Board members to play a critical role in helping to do just that. My guess is that, in addition to delighting your donors, your Board members will thank you for giving them the opportunity to help.

Thank you, as always, for your commitment to our communities and for all that you do to make a difference.

David Gee, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions