It’s Gala Time…During a Pandemic?

It’s Gala Time…During a Pandemic?

Greetings! I know that many of us in development shops across the country are busy with Gala’s at this time. Normally, we would be working with our venues, selecting food, going over guest lists, managing floral and décor…the list goes on!

This year, boy, does Gala season look different. Who knew that we would have to become masters of technology and all things virtual! While an in-person Gala is time intensive, the virtual Gala is no different. It begins with things such as …how do we communicate with our donors and friends? Do we send a mailed invitation or just an evite? Do we charge a ticket price? Do we offer entertainment? How do we best recognize our sponsors? What is the best platform for our event? Do we film everything? Is there a LIVE component?

As the list continues, our heads can really spin! It can be quite overwhelming to learn many new things in a rather short time period, and, let’s face it, a lot is at stake because many of our Gala’s are big revenue generators for our organizations. No pressure, right? Yet, I am finding a silver lining in all of this and I want to share this with all of you. I have always felt that my colleagues across other not for profits are willing to share and provide their own insight and guidance. And, now, more than ever, I feel this to ring true.

As I prepare for a big October event for a client, I have found that when I pick up the phone and chat with those I know and those that I don’t about their experience with their spring or summer events, they take the time to talk with me. One development professional that I spent the most time talking with is someone that I had never met. This woman spent over an hour going over in great detail things they learned. What worked, and what didn’t. Many of these conversations helped guide some very important decisions on our upcoming Gala. I have always been lucky to have mentors and colleagues to call on. But, this time, it felt very different to me. The feeling I got after these resourceful conversations was…we really are in this together.

We may be working for other organizations across the community or the nation, but, ultimately, we all want each other to succeed. Beyond the “feel good” of this experience, I learned an important lesson. I will make sure that I am the next one in line to help my friends and colleagues, or for that matter, a perfect stranger, as they move forward into unchartered territory. It’s time for me to pay it forward. I encourage you to reach out to others – those you know and those you don’t – to help you with what is ahead. And when you are on the other side of it, join a host of others ready to take the call!

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

We Are Bigger Than Ourselves


We Are Bigger Than Ourselves

Summer is winding down and fall is just around the corner. Where did the summer go? In just a blink of an eye we are into August! Typically, it’s time for school supply shopping if you have children or maybe one last quick trip to the beach or the lakefront. Yet, this summer and the start of the school year is very different because of the global health crisis. Beaches are closed, folks aren’t really traveling and communities are grappling with the decision about how to educate our children. Cities around the globe are working to figure out how to keep citizens safe and healthy. In the midst of our new normal for now, many of us in development shops are also gearing up to plan fall events.

The good news in planning our fall events is that we have some playbooks at the ready. Many organizations in the spring had to quickly pivot and change the format of their events. We’ve seen everything from virtual walks, galas and more. I encourage you as you plan your fall events to tune in to what others have done and find out what worked and what didn’t. One of my clients is gearing up for a fall event – a full gala with a live and silent auction, a paddle raise and more! As we began planning, we reached out to other colleagues at other not for profits to learn from them. We’ve attended a variety of virtual events. We’ve also tuned in to webinars and taken advantage of some free offerings from some online bidding companies.

Here’s the big takeaway. People are willing to share and be helpful in providing advice. Everyone we’ve talked to wants to help us be successful. And, we are learning so many new things! In this new virtual world, we are learning how to produce videos and becoming experts at Zoom and YouTube. While things in the world right now feel stressful and worrisome, we’ve experienced a sense of “we are all in this together” with our non-profit partners. It’s about sharing resources and communicating more than ever before. Because at the end of the day, we are all working to support missions that make the world a better place. So, dive into that fall event. Learn new things! Share what you’ve learned. When we do this, we are all a part of something much bigger than ourselves.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

KISS — Keep it Simple Silly

keep it simple stupid illustration design over a chalkboard

KISS — Keep it Simple Silly

I recently helped a client celebrate its 15 anniversary. This is a small, but mighty nonprofit that runs 100% on individual and corporate gifts with no program revenue or government support.

The client’s preferred way of celebrating this milestone was to hold a gala. We were hired to execute this celebration. They hold this event every five years to mark the notable passage of time, and put a spotlight on their associated achievements.

During a conversation, about one of the million details required to run the gala, my client and I chuckled as we agreed to ascribe to the KISS  philosophy.  You may know that KISS is an acronym for “Keep it simplestupid.” It was a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960 that states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated. Therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design, and that unnecessary complexity should be avoided.

Despite the KISS sentiment, the planning of the elaborate event continued — with details about guest responses, seating diagrams, program, emcee, band, etc. etc. We’ve all been there, right?

The night came and went and we believe the guests had an enjoyable time. Money was raised and the mission was communicated and glorified.

But later, (as the eye twitch I developed due to many late nights at the office is finally subsiding) I began reflecting on the previous conversation about KISS.  Did we really keep it simple?  Was the gala the best way — the only way — to celebrate this milestone and do the mission justice?

I don’t think so.

Earlier in the year, I worked with this client on a small intimate dinner for about 50 people.  The out of pocket was covered by a beloved donor and the organization raised about 80% in this intimate setting, as was raised at the gala. I wonder what would have happened if instead, we had replicated this style of a modest dinner gathering multiple times, and filled the room with different donors each time.

Hindsight is 20/20, but in the nonprofit world, as in any business, it is important to evaluate return on investment. Especially when the ROI is utilized to change lives and save lives. We must always be seeking the best way to make the same impact while preserving our financial investments, and staff resources.

When we meet as a Board later this month to discuss and evaluate the success of this event, I hope they will consider a different approach.  One that will keep the focus on the mission, but will also keep it simple.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Are You Experiencing Post-Event Letdown?


Are You Experiencing Post-Event Letdown?

Fall is a busy season for events.  Since September, I have attended two breakfast events, three lunch events and more evening events than I can remember.  It’s exhausting, isn’t it?  Whether or not you enjoy them, events are an important part of the donor cultivation process.  Events serve as an introductory point for prospective/new donors and often provide an opportunity to recognize your most loyal supporters.  The event committee, the development team and the Executive Director spend hours ensuring that every element of the event is just right, from the food to the program and everything in between.

Once the event is over, the team experiences a bit of euphoria, typically followed by a crash.  I call this “post-event letdown”.  Others refer to it as “event hangover”.  Either way, once the day has come and gone, it is often difficult to focus and find a sense of urgency about anything.  BUT THERE IS STILL IMPORTANT, TIME-SENSITIVE WORK TO BE DONE.  It is imperative that your fight off the urge to curl up under your desk and take a nap.  Here’s why.

People to see (or call)
Within a day or two of your event, pick up the phone and call every sponsor and significant event donors.  This includes individuals who raised a paddle at a top level, those who placed top bid for a live auction item, and any others who made the event a success.  The message is simple: Thank you for making our event a success.  We couldn’t have done it without you.

Places to go
If your committee chairs went “above and beyond”, consider dropping off a small token of thanks to their home or office.  Let them know you value their time and effort.  Also, did all of your auction items make it home?  If not, take time to deliver items to those who made purchases.  This may sound time-consuming (and it may be) but this can be a relatively mindless task that gets a lot of mileage.

Things to do
Tally up your revenue and expenses as soon as possible!  Whether or not you have all of your final costs, you should be able to share some “unofficial” revenue numbers with donors within a few days after the event.  Prepare and send a follow-up email to all guests, thanking them for attending the event and announcing the preliminary results.  Follow this with the individual donor/tax letters to those who need one.  Last but not least, send a handwritten thank you note to key supporters within a week of the event.

Once the event has passed, it is natural to want to take a breath and relax for a while.  However, there is still important work to do!  Make a date to take an afternoon off or treat yourself to a nice lunch – AFTER the follow-up is complete.  Good luck!

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





Your next fundraising campaign will be more successful if you emphasize teamwork in getting the job done.  Whether you are launching a major capital campaign, planning your annual gala, or setting goals for your annual fund, strive to put together a team for the effort and the results will be more satisfying and more substantial.

Your team can consist of colleagues who work in your non-profit organization, volunteers, donors, and even Board members.  Here are a few strategies for building successful teams.  Include these elements in your effort, and you will have more effective fundraising teams.

  • Let everyone involved know that this is a team effort. Resist the temptation to make the effort a reflection of your personal effectiveness as a fundraiser.  It’s not about you!  Make sure everyone knows that you need them to be involved, and that the success of the endeavor depends upon all of you working together.
  • Create a listening environment. Don’t rely on the fact that “this is the way we’ve always done it.”  Make your planning session a free exchange of ideas.  Create an exhilarating vibe by wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch.  You may end up replicating a lot of what you’ve done before, but there is nothing wrong with that! In so doing, the group will more clearly understand the importance of the strategy and will buy in to its success.  They will also come up with some new approaches that would not have surfaced if their ideas were not heard.
  • Serve together. Get everyone involved actively in direct service of achieving the goal.  Make sure everyone has a role suited to his/her individual talents and interests.  Don’t simply invite them to serve on a committee, but make sure that a primary responsibility of committee members is to actively assume a role in seeing the plan through to completion.
  • Laugh together. The success of your efforts is crucial to the mission of your non-profit, but resist the temptation to make fundraising a somber, do or die endeavor!  Working shoulder to shoulder, remember to enjoy the collective effort and the worthy   Fundraising is a joyous activity because the focus is on your mission and the on the lives that will be changed by your efforts.
  • Celebrate together. Never forget to celebrate the success of your collaboration!  Be sure to plan a victory celebration that includes your results.  Emphasize the dollars raised, but more importantly, emphasize the impact those dollars will have on the people your organization serves.

Fundraising should never be a lonely effort!  Pay attention to teamwork, and you will love the work and your results will be better too.

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

Special Events – how to increase your revenue


Don’t we, as develop professionals, cringe when a board member or a volunteer suggests we host more events to raise more money for our not for profits?  Events do serve a purpose.  Beyond raising money, they help build relationships with new donors, enhance relationships with current friends and allow organizations to showcase their mission to a broad audience in a very visible way.

Yet, while hosting events is important, they are also labor intensive for the staff.  If you have a board or a volunteer committee that is really pushing for more events, consider suggesting enhancing the efforts of a current event that is already on the docket.  And, engage your board and committee to help with this new effort.

One way to increase revenue of an event is to secure more sponsorship dollars.  And, while it would be awesome, these sponsorships don’t have to come from large corporations.  One local organization that I have worked with did an amazing job enlisting their board and volunteers to increase sponsorship from local community businesses.  Each board and event committee member was charged with a new task…bring in three sponsorships to help increase revenue for the event.  How did they do this?  Well, for starters, we, the development team,  made it easy.  We provided sample emails and sponsorship materials that were easy to either mail or forward electronically.  We took the leg work out of it and made it as easy as possible for our volunteers to ask for support.

We also provided ideas of how easy it is to secure sponsorships – and this proved to be extremely successful.  We shared that Board Member X asked her insurance agent, her realtor and her neighbor who owns a local business to see if they would consider sponsorship.  She had success on all three fronts…ranging from sponsorship gifts of $250 to $1,500.  Just think…if every board member and volunteer brought in three new sponsorships…that could really add up quickly.

For this organization, this was a huge success.  With this simple strategy, they more than doubled their sponsorship from the prior year.  It was a real win – both financially for the not for profit, but, also for the volunteers who secured the gifts.  They felt a real sense of empowerment and those who were successful at the onset, became ambassadors to the rest of the group and encouraged them to follow suit.

I strongly encourage you to take a look at the ROI of each of your current events and ask the questions…are these events worth doing?  What new strategies can be implemented to maximize the fundraising results?  And, how can you engage your board and volunteer committees to tap into their networks?  As event season is just around the corner, I wish you good luck and encourage you to try some new strategies!  Three cheers for no new events…just refined and enhanced strategies for the winningest event in town!

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Securing Event Sponsors….. for the Future


With the spring gala season behind us (WHEW!) I am offering a suggestion as to how to follow up with sponsors so they come back for years to come.

As long as I can remember, I have provided a Sponsorship Report as a follow up document for each sponsor. Do you do this? If not, I think you should.

Many sponsors these days are utilizing marketing and advertising dollars for their sponsorship contributions. So a good return on their investments helps ensure they come back in the future.

Typically the payment for the sponsorship has already been received, so this mailing takes place after the event and gives me an opportunity to thank the donor (again!) It lets them know how much was raised for the mission, and how their name and logo were used in conjunction with the event. I am careful to personalize the message for those who attended vs.  those who could not. I let them know how many people attended, and include event highlights which may include key messages from the evening’s program.

But the most important thing I include are examples of how their brand was used in conjunction with the event. Some things I included in this year’s sponsor packets were:

  • Event invitation with their logo highlighted
  • Eblasts promoting the event with their logo highlighted
  • Screen shots of their logo on our nonprofit’s website
  • The evening’s program booklet with their logo highlighted
  • Power point slides from the evening’s program with their logo highlighted

You get the picture right?

I got a call from a sponsor this year telling me she’d NEVER received a package like this and it was wonderful. So, make next year’s fundraising efforts easier — and send this report.  Taking time to nurture and cultivate our existing donors may be your most important step.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions



You work so hard to get people to come to an event.  You recruit them through phone calls, personal visits, direct mail and email.  You plan for the speakers, the program, the food and drink.  You are so pleased with the turnout!

But here’s a big question:  do you have a well thought out plan for timely follow-up with your attendees?  In my experience, this is where fundraisers most often fall short and sometimes fail completely.  We are all so good at planning events.  But we often neglect the critical step of a structured plan for what happens after an event.  Timeliness is critical!

 Here are a few suggestions for detailing your plans for follow up with event attendees:

  • Use the occasion of the event to update contact information for all those in attendance. You can do this through a reception table, where you welcome people and show them the information you have and ask them “would you please confirm that this is still your preferred contact information?”  You can also do this by distributing cards at the event—inviting guests to indicate their interest in further engagement with your organization, providing you with their contact information, and of course collecting the cards before the event concludes!
  • The next day, review the guest list and assign a prospect rating to each of the attendees. Use your own established rating system or use a simple one such as this:  Top Prospects (highest priority), Supporters (medium priority), and Guests.
  • For the Guests, a sincere “thank you for attending” is all that is necessary. You can do this by letter, by phone, or by email.  Calendar this thank you for the first few days after the event.  The important thing is that you thank them.  In doing so, you let them know that their presence was noticed and it was valued.
  • For Supporters, write a personal letter or hand-written note expressing gratitude for the importance of their continued generosity to your organization. If the timing is right, let them know that your annual appeal is coming up and that you know you can count on them for their continued generosity.  The intent here is to let your most reliable donors know that their ongoing support is critical to the work that you do.  Calendar these letters to be complete within a week after the event.
  • For Top Prospects, make individual Moves Management plans! 80% or more of your timely follow up plan should target these people!  Consider having your CEO call them directly to thank them for coming and invite them to a one on one visit.  Consider whether that call might best come from you.  But calendar that call within two weeks after the event for each of your top prospects.  The message you want to communicate is that your are grateful that they took the time to attend the event, but there is much more to discuss about your organization and that you value their ideas as you take the next steps in furthering your mission.  If for some reason you cannot get through on the phone, write individual letters to your top prospects thanking them, acknowledging that they were busy when you called, and stating that you will “call their office next week to schedule a visit where we can continue the conversation” about your organization.  Then do it!

Think about why you put all that work into planning the event in the first place.  Your goal is to advance the mission of your organization.  You will if you have a well-organized plan for timely follow-up with every single one of your guests!

By Steven Murphy, Ed.D., Senior Advisor, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

…’tis the season


Last night, I attended the fourth benefit in as many weeks.  It is indeed the “event” season.

As I think back on each of the events, I am grateful that we have such wonderful nonprofits doing amazing work in the Chicago area.  And while each event had some great “wins”, as well as a “miss” or two, they all had one thing in common:  a connection to the guests.  Events are certainly designed to raise funds.  But more importantly, they provide a crucial touch point with donors – and prospective donors.  If guests leave at the end of the event filled with a sense of pride in supporting the mission and a sense of connectedness to the clients, staff or volunteers, then consider it a job well done.

Here are some simple reminders to ensure your event is a relationship success:

Be “guest-focused”

  • Make sure you know who will be in attendance and what their connection is to the organization.
  • Be thoughtful about seating.  While table placement is unimportant to some, it is very important to others.  It is also beneficial to put newer constituents near someone they know, so they recognize a familiar face.
  • Share the guest list and seating chart with key staff and Board members.  Ask staff and Board members to be ambassadors, which includes welcoming guests and keeping a lookout for those who may be new or “alone”, especially during the cocktail hour.
  • Provide nametags.  Personally, I hate wearing nametags, but I truly love to see them, especially when I see someone whose name I should know and cannot remember.
  • Circulate!

Provide the “mission moment”

  • Whether you have a video or a speaker, be sure your mission moment is compassionate, compelling and concise.  If possible, keep this mission moment to 5 minutes or less.
  • If you are going to make an “ask”, do so immediately following the mission moment.

Follow through after the event

  • We all breathe a sigh of relief once the event is over but remember – the work is not yet done!
  • Be sure to follow up with guests as soon as possible after the event.
  • Identify the VIPs’ – sponsors, those who made a significant donation and those who played a key role – and call each of them within 72 hours to say thank you.  Send a handwritten note within a week.
  • Identify others who should get a handwritten note – and then “divide and conquer” – key staff and Board members can help with this process.
  • Be sure to send out tax letters to all donors, and if possible, include a brief, handwritten thank-you note at the bottom.
  • If possible, send an email to all who attended with photos from the evening.

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

Event Planning — Is it Just for the Event Planner?


This question is on my mind as my feet are still throbbing from last night’s fundraiser.  The last boxes were put in my trunk after midnight.

You see as Vice President of Development, my current responsibilities include managing the fundraising and logistics for my client’s signature event.  It’s true, an event of this magnitude needs a single point person for go to questions.  But I find the greatest value is often in the important roles of others on my team.

One day I realized it is possible for a sponsor to come into an event, wander around the reception alone, be seated for the program and leave without ever getting the “donor love” that they need and deserve.

We know that events like these wouldn’t be sustainable without our sponsors right?

So now I put our CEO, Board members and leadership team staff all on standby to greet and mingle with our sponsors as they arrive.  Last night there were even some state dignitaries who promised to come, so I gave our team head shots so they would know who they were looking for.

I wish budgets were more generous and we could add a member to our development staff for this client. Honestly, I’d be happy to assume the role of Major Gift Officer and throw away my clipboard! I would much prefer to  have ample time to get to know our donors one-on-one at these events. But state budgets being what they are, I don’t anticipate a change.

So until that time, my philosophy is…..if you can’t thank sponsors yourself, then delegate, delegate, delegate.

Happy Spring Fundraising!

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions