Our Donors Deserve to Know


I have a 13-year old daughter. Getting her to join us for dinner this summer has become a Herculean feat. On long summer evenings she’d rather eat in front of the TV and send Instagram messages to friends.

I get it. As a parent, I’m not cool any more.

But I still want to know about her life. I want to know how she spent her time, what conflicts developed, what things went her way, and how I can help. I’m invested in my daughter just as our donors are invested in the missions of our nonprofits.

Even though things feel strange right now, donors are interested in the activities of our nonprofits.  We owe it to them to be transparent about the successes, as well as the challenges.

As some of our programs have come to a screeching halt, due to Covid-19, it’s been a temptation for me to resist reaching out during this time. Sometimes I feel like there’s not enough news to tell. But although it feels like things are at a standstill, when I took stock in some recent activities, I realized we’ve accomplished a lot.

Here’s a glimpse:

Recent Accomplishments with Donated Dollars:

  • We raised contributions for Covid-19 that are still making a difference
  • We improved a group home by providing a new roof and chimney repairs funded through a Foundation
  • We exceeded fundraising goals for the spring virtual event
  • We provided virtual programming for participants with assistance from Occupational Therapy interns
  • We formed a Safety Reopening Committee that has kept staff and participants safe

 Current Activities:

  • We are actively seeking six new hands-on support staff
  • We are soliciting funds for a kitchen renovation for a group home

These are the things our doors deserve to know bout. This demonstrates how we have been investing their dollars. But unlike a parent, they are not going to keep asking us to “come sit down for dinner.” It is up to us to provide these updates and insights without being asked.

We may choose a visit or phone call with our donors. Others might prefer a newsletter. But we need to keep them updated. After all, they are invested in us and want to know, “How are you spending your time, what things went your way, what conflicts developed, and how can I help?”

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Getting to “Yes” still requires an Ask


Getting to “Yes” still requires an Ask

So here is something that has not changed in the past four months… asking is still the only sure-fire way to secure a donor’s gift. What has changed, in some cases, is how or where that conversation happens.

Whether your organization is in a campaign, continuing efforts to secure major and planned gifts or starting your annual solicitation cycle with the beginning of a new fiscal year, you need to be engaging your donors and asking them for the support needed to advance your mission. One thing to consider, even more so now though, is that – just as people have different philanthropic priorities – they also have different preferences as to how they will want to “meet” with you.

In the past, it was widely accepted that the most effective way to ask was in person. That was always our go to. For some of our donors (and even for some staff and Board members), that is not going to be an option for the foreseeable future. There may be health-related issues, the donor may live far away, or an individual’s personal comfort level with in-person meetings may simply make it a non-starter.

On the upside, prior to 2020 we had two basic choices for a solicitation conversation and now, with the arrival of virtual meetings, we have another effective option! Over the past several months, many of us have grown comfortable meeting virtually. Is it as “good” as a real face-to-face conversation? In my opinion, not really. At the same time, they offer way more engagement than a straight-up phone meeting and, with screen sharing, there is a fairly seamless way to add video and multi-media content to the solicitation.

While it is still critical to determine the best team for a donor solicitation, we now must be just as thoughtful about the “where,” when it comes to planning for the meeting. The location of the meeting will be determined predominantly by the donor’s preferences, geography, and the comfort level of the solicitation team.

Donors are still willing to meet and they are definitely still willing to invest in the missions that match their personal philanthropic goals. We just need to be mindful that how or where they are willing to meet with us has taken on a heightened degree of importance in many cases. Based on the solicitations I have participated in recently (both completed and those scheduled for a future date), being creative and thoughtful about where the conversation takes place has been helpful in securing the meeting. Here are some thoughts about each option:

  • Face-to-face meetings – You can meet in a donor’s back yard, in a park, socially distanced and wearing masks in an office or the donor’s home. To accommodate donors who want to keep the meeting as short as possible, plan to send your campaign video, case for support or additional materials in advance or, when appropriate, as a follow-up.
  • Virtual Meetings – Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet are the three platforms I’ve been on solicitation calls to date. One advantage of virtual is proximity–especially for donors who live where significant travel would be required. It also seems to be easier to get on people’s schedules with virtual meetings. Finally, we had a “surprise visitor” join in on one virtual solicitation and the donor was thrilled!
  • Over the phone– While this option was always seen as a last resort for donor solicitations, there will be times when it is the best option for a limited number of donors who can’t meet in person and who are uncomfortable with a virtual meeting.

There is no question we are all still making adjustments and discoveries on a weekly basis and it is probably safe to say that will be true for a while. What is as true today as ever though is that, if we want to hear our donors say, “Yes” then we have to ask.

If your organization has been reluctant to schedule meetings with donors – based on our experiences at HPS Chicago – we’ve seen donors are indeed ready and willing. If you have additional ideas or you’ve had any interesting solicitation experiences in the past couple of months, please let us know. We’ll share your thoughts and feedback in a future post.

In the meantime, thank you for the life-changing work you do each and every day!

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

Board Giving – And the two P’s – Policy and Plan for Action


Board Giving – And the two P’s – Policy and Plan for Action

Board giving is often a topic of conversation that we have with many of our not for profit clients. Many Boards spend considerable time defining their role in securing resources for the organization. Personal contribution is an essential part of that discussion. Each Board should determine its own personal giving policy and the target should be to reach 100 percent Board member participation.

Why should board members give? According to Board Source, here are some rationales:

  • Board members of most charitable organizations are expected to participate in fundraising. An appeal is particularly convincing if a Board member can use him or herself as an exemplary donor.
  • The Board is responsible for providing a sound financial basis for the organization. By personally contributing, a Board member recognizes this responsibility and demonstrates a commitment.
  • Nearly 90 percent of American households contribute to charities. A Board member should designate their own organization as one of the main recipients of their generosity.
  • Many foundations only contribute to organizations where every Board member is a contributor. And, savvy donors also may ask this question of the Board before they determine what they might give to an organization.

To make things especially clear and concise, a Board must have a personal giving or fundraising policy and ensure that it can be fulfilled. A policy helps avoid any misunderstandings and it should be shared with every new Board candidate as well so that they are familiar with what will be expected of them.

So now that we have established that a plan needs to be in place and that expectations should be clear, just how much should each Board member give? We often say that the amount a Board member should give should not be an equal amount but rather an equal sacrifice. Not everyone on a Board sits at the same financial place. Therefore, most policies determine a range and suggest a minimum amount and encourage each member to give generously given their own financial stature.

So, now that we have a plan, how do we ensure Board giving? One of the best ways to do this is to have a personal roadmap for each Board member. With our clients, we often develop a Board member score card or individualized plan which highlights their activity and commitments from the prior fiscal year and helps map out their plans for giving and engagement in the upcoming year. About mid-way through the year, a touch point with each Board member is important to share progress that has been made or areas in which they have continued work. When the fiscal year is nearing its close, it’s also important again for the Board Chair to reach out if a Board member has not fulfilled their promise. With a clear policy on Board giving and individual plans for each Board member, you will set your organization up for success to reach that 100 percent participation goal!

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

How Can I Help?


How Can I Help?

Raise your hand if you’ve heard any of the following (or some variation thereof) from someone on your Board, your Finance or Development Committees or even on your staff:

“How can we ask people for money right now?”

“People are losing their jobs or getting furloughed… the last thing they are thinking about is donating to us.”

“The stock market has to calm down before we can talk to any of our major donors about their support / our campaign.”

These perceptions are all understandable and – at the same time, I would offer – all 100% misguided.

No doubt you’ve heard the very good advice that we should be connecting with our donors and volunteers right now to check in on them, to share the impact they are having and to make sure they know how much we value their partnership in our mission. This is absolutely the time to engage with our donors. It is also the right time to ask those in a position to provide financial support to do just that.

Why? Because we are all wired to want to help. Even in the midst of our own anxieties and challenges, we instinctively want to do whatever we can to help others.

I was on a call with a colleague a few weeks back and he started out asking after my wife’s hunger relief organization. “How are they holding up? Is there anything I can do?” As the conversation progressed, he expressed his concerns about being able to fundraise right now.

Again, I totally get where he was coming from, why he was feeling that way. Nevertheless, in response I said, “We’re going to keep asking people to support our missions because (a) we know they care about this work and (b) just like you expressed at the start of our call, they want to know what they can do to help.”

Remember, we know that focusing on the donor’s needs is always the path to success in fundraising. When we understand what it is that matters most to them and how, in partnership with our organization, they can solve the problems they care about solving, that’s when donors are most likely to inspire us with their generosity. And right now, what is true for almost everyone who is able to donate… they want to help.

A few more examples to illustrate why I believe we should be asking, unapologetically, for support:

The chief development officer at an organization we work with sent a simple thank you/thinking of you note to one of their donors. A week later the donor, who had already given their usual annual amount, sent them a four-figure donation that was two times the amount of any previous contribution.  Their note said, “Thank you for thinking of me and I just want to do what I can to help you in your work.”

A longtime and very dedicated volunteer reached out to my wife’s hunger relief organization to let them know, because of her age, she couldn’t come in to pack bags. Three days later a five-figure check arrived with a note saying, “I’m so sorry I can’t be there with you right now, but I want to help and this I can do.”

Finally, we had a solicitation with a donor for a capital campaign this past week. The meeting had been set up over two months ago and, to our surprise, the donor wanted to meet as planned (virtually of course). They made a generous commitment (actually beyond our ask amount) and, when they asked about timing and we told them if they needed/wanted additional time before making their initial pledge payment, the donor said, “Why would I wait? I have a donor advised fund and, as far as I’m concerned, this is why I do. If it would help, I’m happy to make this a one-time gift.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. We certainly must be sensitive in our outreach and avoid being tone deaf in our appeals. But, if our work and the impact of our mission mattered before, it still does, and we simply must ask for the support we need.

Too many of our partners and friends are wondering what they can do to help. In many cases, it’s just up to us to ask them to.

Thank you, as always, for the life-changing work you are doing day in and day out.

Breathe, hold strong and stay safe.

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

Keep Calm and Stay Connected


Keep Calm and Stay Connected

As I am sure is true for everyone, I never imagined experiencing circumstances like these in my life. And in the 8+ years we’ve been hosting this blog, I never anticipated having to write during a crisis such as this.

I don’t presume to have any game-changing answers to share and I am clear that I don’t even know all of the questions at this point*. What I do know is that, while so much of our lives and our work are in flux, there are two things all of us can focus on right now — keep calm and stay connected.

Keep Calm

We have an opportunity – and more than likely a responsibility – to offer our staff, Board members, donors and volunteers a sense of calm. That is what everyone needs exposure to right now and, as leaders in our organizations, we are called to set the tone.

Are we supposed to have all of the answers right now? No (see above*).

Does anyone expect that we have a fool-proof plan already in place for how we are going to get through the next 4 weeks, 4 months, 4 quarters? No, of course not.

However, while doing everything possible to stay focused on advancing your mission (adjusting and pivoting as needed), you need to provide some assurance that there is a path forward. The uncertainty is real, the need for panic is not. Now is the time to share that, together, you will all figure out how to keep delivering the life-changing service that is your core mission.

What we ARE all doing is:

  • Working to answer the questions we can at this point
  • Putting together contingency plans for staffing, program delivery, fundraising, etc., based on the information and resources available to us
  • Sharing updates and information with our organization’s “family”

Stay Connected

The last bullet above hits on the second call to action. Clear and consistent communication is always important, but right now it is paramount. Everyone wants to know what is happening and what they can do.

  • Our staff and team members need clear expectations about what they can and should be doing right now and a channel to offer feedback and to share concerns
  • Our Board members, donors and volunteers need to know that we are working hard to anticipate, navigate and activate our plans for mission continuity, what that looks like today (and again what it looks like next week/month/etc.) and, yes, they need to know what they can do to help.
  • While email communications are great for larger audiences, don’t forgo opportunities to make more personal connections. Calls and, whenever possible, Zoom/Skype/Facetime meetings are a meaningful and important way for us to engage our Board members and key donors/volunteers. These are the people who will be instrumental in getting us through and beyond today’s circumstances and we owe it to them to make every effort to connect as authentically and personally as possible.

There is no question that our supporters are dealing with all of this on a personal and professional level too and, of course, we need to be sensitive to that. Nevertheless, we are talking about the people who are the backbone of your organization and they care about what is happening and they want to know what they can do to help.

Thank you, now more than ever, for the life-changing work you do every day. Please take care, stay safe and keep calm. Together we will get through this. Witnessing the amazing work you do — day in and day out — of that I am certain.

David Gee, Vice President, 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

From a Funder’s Perspective…


From a Funder’s Perspective…

In addition to my role as a consultant helping organizations achieve their fundraising goals, I serve as a director of a small, private charitable fund. In this role, I have the privilege of making grants to worthy organizations. This particular fund only accepts applications from invited applicants, so I’m also charged with finding organizations that align with the fund’s interests, inviting them to apply and counseling them through the application process. My goal – indeed any funder’s goal –is to help organizations be successful with their requests.

In my 10 years serving in this capacity, I have been surprised many times by applicants who make avoidable mistakes, often thereby dooming their requests. Here, I offer some straightforward advice that will serve you well with applications to any foundation or fund.

  • Follow instructions. This should be obvious, right? Yet every cycle we have at least one applicant that doesn’t follow instructions. Be sure you understand the funding guidelines and submit a request that aligns. If a Fund only makes capital grants, submit a request for a capital project! If there is a 10-page limit to your proposal, stick to it! We have turned down numerous applicants over the years because they simply did not submit a request within our specified parameters.
  • Be humble and respectful. All funders – no matter how large or small the pool they have to award – never have enough to meet all of the funding requests before them. Keep in mind we’re human. We react well to people who are respectful in their requests and recognize the difficult decisions we have to make. When an applicant is presumptuous, acts entitled, or tries to bend guidelines to fit their needs, we’re left with a bad taste in our mouths.
  • Ask for and accept guidance from the funder. If given the opportunity, ask the funder to advise you on the dollar amount of your request as well as the project most likely to be successful. Then, follow that advice even if it’s not what you were hoping for. If you’re advised to request a grant in the $25-$50,000 range, don’t ask for $100,000! If the funder offers to review your request before submission, take advantage: get your draft proposal in at least two weeks ahead of time then heed the advice given after review.
  • Be good stewards of your grant funds. If you’re successful in receiving a grant, be sure you use the funds as specified and adhere to the grant acceptance and reporting guidelines. If your project comes in under budget, don’t presume you can use the “extra” funds in any way you see fit. Be sure to ask permission of the funder for expenditure outside the original request and be prepared to return funds if requested. Be sure to spend funds within the agreed upon timeline and meet any reporting requirements.

I’ve never met a funder who didn’t view their role as an honor and a privilege. We feel duty-bound to fulfill the intent of the original source of funds and to be good stewards of those funds in the decisions we make. Although it is inevitable, we don’t like turning down requests. By heeding the advice given, you can make it even more difficult for funders to turn down your requests.

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Rethinking the Gift Giving Season


Rethinking the Gift Giving Season

Thanksgiving is over, and the season of gift giving is here.  Most non-profit organizations transition through these holidays aware of two realities: 1) the people your organization serves continue to need what you provide for them and 2) most of your donors do not personally need someone to go out shopping to buy a gift for them.  By rethinking the gift giving season, you can help both groups—your donors and the people you serve.

You can do so by offering opportunities to donate to your charity in lieu of shopping for a gift.  One strategy is to reach out to your donors with the opportunity to make a gift to your organization “In honor of…” someone.  Donors will sometimes choose to recognize a leader on the board or on the staff with a gift in their honor.  You in turn publish the names of the honorees on your website and in your written materials.

Another strategy is to ask your donors to make a gift to meet the direct need of an individual or a family.  You can do this (while still protecting the anonymity of the people in need) by offering your donors the opportunity to fulfill a number of needs of varying dollar amounts.

You can also offer your donors the opportunity to make a gift of their donated time.  Reach out with an appeal for a volunteer opportunity—ideally one that puts them in direct contact with the people you serve.  Then let your constituents know that “the following people made a gift of their time to our organization.”

Connecting your donors with the people you serve demonstrates that you are attentive to the causes that your donors care about and that you know and respect their values. Make the most of the holidays by re-thinking the gift giving season.  You will help those you serve while strengthening the bond with your valued donors.  Happy holidays!

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

Take the Long View


Take the Long View

It can be challenging for fundraising professionals to take the long view while still getting the short term tasks completed well and on time.  Consider establishing the discipline of looking at fundraising from three different time perspectives on a regular basis.

Here’s a practical suggestion.  The next time you make up your To Do List, instead of having one heading, make three.  Label them:  This Week, This Season, and This Year.

Obviously, on the list for This Week you will include everything that must be done in the short term.  Be sure to balance preparation and research items with action items such as phone calls and personal visits with donors.  All of these items should be on every short term list!

On the list for This Season, take a slightly longer term view of what projects are coming up.  What must be accomplished over the next three months?  Although there is no urgency to these tasks, putting them on your list will encourage you to ruminate about them as you go about the more immediate priorities.

The list that will require the most work on your part is the third list.  Take the long view, and ask yourself what are the things that you can do This Year to move your organization’s fundraising to another level?  This list will include accomplishing your annual fund goals, but it should also include some or all of the following.  Be specific about what steps you can take toward:

  • Clarifying the Strategic Vision of your organization
  • Strengthening your organizational mission
  • Moving your Board to the next level of commitment
  • Pursuing five year goals, which may include a capital campaign
  • Solidifying relationships with a number of major prospects
  • Broadening your reach to include more participants
  • Engaging new volunteers
  • Incorporating new technologies and social media into your work
  • Scanning professional literature for emerging trends that merit your attention
  • Attending to long term goals, such as planned and deferred giving

Fundraisers are busy people and there is always plenty to do.  The most successful practitioners establish a discipline that includes regular steps to ensure that they take the long view for fundraising success.

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

Be Unapologetic

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Be Unapologetic

While this is certainly not an admirable trait in every situation, when it comes to asking for support for your mission, it is definitely one worth embracing.

There is no question that your organization’s mission is worthy of support, right? There’s also no question that, sometimes, we are timid or hesitant when we are seeking to inspire others to join us in bringing that mission to life.

Part of the issue here is that we tend to think of fundraising as asking someone to give up something for “our benefit,” when that is really not what’s happening at all. What if we looked at fundraising through a much different lens?  What if, instead, we thought about fundraising as inviting others to help change and save lives? After all, that is the impact we are offering people the chance to make.

As my friend and mentor Andy Robinson says, fundraising is an equal exchange, not a take-a-way, but something for something. With that mindset, whether you are an Executive Director/CEO, a Development professional or a Board member; it is much easier to be unapologetic when asking for support. In one way, it is as simple as re-framing our ask from, “I want you to give to this organization that I care about” to, “I hope that you will join me in feeding hungry families in our community / helping homeless youth find a place to live / protecting our forests…”

Challenge yourself to let go of the notion that you have your hand out for their money. Instead, focus on the opportunity you have to invite someone, unapologetically, to make a real difference and to enjoy the same feeling you have when you think about the impact you are helping to make in people’s lives.

Thank you for the work you do everyday to make a difference!

David Gee, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions