Communicate the Unexpected


Unexpected street sign

As we communicate with our donors, many of us work within guidelines that are predetermined and probably include using certain typefaces, using color schemes and achieving an overall look and feel of the organization, right?

I’m a fan of having graphic standards that identifies any brand. But once in a while you might want to try the unexpected.

I did this recently on a communications piece for a client. It was a postcard that was intended to say thank you for your support and provide an update on a few programs for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities.

But frankly, a typical “Thank you for your support” message bored me. Yawn.

I thought if I’m bored with it, then our donors may be too right?

So we tried something different.

Instead, the headline read, “Our participants would like to say thank you, but they can’t.”

Hmmmm? Why???? Why can’t they talk? (I hoped the reader would ask him or herself.)

The messages then revealed the various activities and learning opportunities that the participants have had so far this year. These included trips to the Brookfield Zoo, art classes at a professional art studio, and excursions to Navy Pier. The list went on.

The message was “Your generous contributions have expanded so many programs for our participants that they are simply TOO BUSY to stop even for one second.”

This was well received by our donors and even spurred a few emails to me about how clever they thought it was. Most importantly, the piece inspired them to read the information and know the gifts had been turned into positive experiences for the individuals they wanted to help. Ahhh, success.

So next time you need to create something that demonstrates the impact of your services, ask yourself how you could communicate the Unexpected.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions


Keys for Achieving Big Goals



It’s the time of year for Big Goals!  When we turn the calendar on a new year, it is natural to focus on the Big Picture.  Restless to achieve, and unwilling to settle into a routine, we turn our thoughts to the Annual Plan, the Deferred Dreams, and the Lofty Ambitions.  These items are capitalized because they are formal objects of our hopes, our imagination, and our energetic attention.  They loom large in our minds and in our hearts, and they shape the plans we make for the coming year.

It is good for fundraisers to have Big Goals.  There is always the next appeal that has to get in the mail, or the next fundraising event that needs to be planned, and then there are those three visits a week with donors and prospects that all fundraisers should be committed to.  But the Big Goals are the reason that you do all these other things.  So it is good to refresh your focus on the why of fundraising.  Here are a few suggestions for clarifying the Big Goals for your non-profit organization:

First, Big Goals are mission driven and mission focused.  Reread your organizational mission statement and be inspired by it again.  Think about some instances last year where you saw your mission transform the lives of some individuals, and put names and faces on those transformational moments.  Visualize that happening again in the new year to new people, and allow yourself to be thrilled by that potential.  Your mission changes lives; just imagine the lives that will be changed this year.

Second, establish a sense of urgency about your Big Goals.  Big Goals are big because they are important.  Take a look at the current needs of the population you serve, and clarify what has changed in recent months that has sharpened the crisis or made your case more urgent.  Imagine if your organization did not exist, and try to articulate the crisis that would result.

Third, lead a coalition to meet the urgent need and achieve the Big Goals.
Let others on your team know that you are serious about accelerating the impact of your mission on people’s lives. Remind them that they have the power to achieve that accelerated change and impact. Clarify roles and involve your team in making plans and carrying them out.

Fourth, communicate your Big Goals.
Let your donors and prospects in on your sense of urgency. Engage their imagination and their energy in the vision of transforming people’s lives. Let the impact of your work be known. Tell the stories showing the impact of their donations on individuals, families, and on the community. Sure, it is yet another restatement of your mission. But this time you are doing so at a time of year when we are all focused on the Big Goals, and after you have focused you and your team on the why of fundraising.

Have a great 2018! And may all of us achieve our Big Goals!

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

Goodbye 2017…hello 2018


In my colleague, Steve Murphy’s October 23, 2017 blog Lifelong Learning and the Art of Fundraising, he skillfully shares some advice which I’m constantly reminded of when communicating the important work of nonprofits. It is such a countless reminder to make sure the story we are telling carefully exudes the important work the organization is doing and allows for the donor to connect and relate to the organization through that lens.

He shared…

“Let the beauty of the work your organization does shine through in your communications.”

As we countdown the final days of 2017 and say hello to a New Year in 2018, I wanted to share a countdown of my favorite blogs from the HPS team that were shared over the past several months….

Ten: Clarity Matters – If everyone isn’t operating from the same playbook, and those responsible don’t have a clear understanding of their specific roles, you are ultimately leaving your success to chance.

Nine: …’tis the season – Simple reminders to ensure your event is a relationship success: Be guest- focused, provide the mission moment and follow through after the event.

Eight: Don’t Forget the Spouse! – Major gifts are major decisions…decisions are seldom made by individuals. Cultivate your prospects and their spouse.

Seven: Head out the Door! – We need to make a concerted effort to get out the door and spend our time in a way that is most cost effective for the agencies we represent.

Six: What’s Your Why? – IMPACT ⇒ INSPIRES ⇒ INVESTMENT…make it abundantly clear to them how their philanthropic support is going to help alleviate a problem they care about solving.

Five: Are you “tough as nails” or “soft as cotton?” – Be the type of leader you would follow.

Four: Seasoned and Green – It is often just a matter of observing, asking good questions – and truly listening to the needs and interests of your constituents.

Three: Show, Don’t Tell: Why Your Nonprofit Needs Data Visualization – It’s time you add them to your fundraising toolbox.

Two: Our Champions – “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is…what are you doing for others?”

One: The Symphony of Working with our Donors – We are the leader, or the conductor of this process, to ensure that these relationships continue to grow and flourish

Thank you for staying connected to HPS this year. We appreciate having the chance to share these thoughts and ideas with you and always welcome your comments and feedback. Enjoy this special time with family and friends.

All the best to you and yours for a healthy and Happy New Year!

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

Presents and Thank You’s and Lists…Oh My!


The holidays are such a busy time of year for everyone.  We are scurrying around buying gifts…like the head-scratching gift for your Aunt Sally and the obscure toy that is at the top of your child’s wish list that you just have to find.  We are off to holiday parties, and waiting in line at the post office to mail packages and trying to get a photo for the holiday card that meets the approval of the scrutinizing eyes of the teenagers in the family.

As development folks, it’s also our busiest work season!  Final eblasts are going out, year-end letters are in the mail and hopefully, gifts are pouring in and you’re busy making calls and writing thank you notes.   On top of all of this, maybe a proposal has to get in the mail or you finally got that meeting set with a donor that you have been hoping you’d see about a major gift.

While gratifying and exciting (when you’ve found that perfect gift for cousin Andy, and, a large gift comes in as a result of cultivation and stewardship across the year), this time of year can be overwhelming and exhausting.  We are burning the candle at both ends to make sure that everything, both at home and at work, goes smoothly.

At this time of year, I’m not offering any thoughts on how to tweak that final eblast to include ideas about stock gifts or IRA distributions (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).  I do offer this thought, however…take some time for yourself.

You may think you don’t have an ounce of time to carve out for some “me time.”  But, work hard to find it.  Go to a yoga class and breathe deeply.  Make a lunch date and catch up with an old friend.  Go to the movies or a holiday concert – with a friend or by yourself.  Take a nap or read a book.  Whatever it is that brings you a little peace and joy during this busy time, make the effort to get out of the office and do it.  This little treat to yourself will go a long way …it will help clear your mind and recharge your battery so that you can be your best self – both at home and at work.

Happy and Peaceful Holidays to You and Yours!

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions


Covey prioritization

If you’re like me, this time of year can feel overwhelming. Many of us in Development are serving as “one man bands” with responsibilities for soliciting gifts, acknowledging them, visiting with donors and many other daily activities.  We morph from Major Gift officer to administrative assistant with the click of a pen.

Conflicting priorities, multiple projects and deadlines can have even the best organized person feeling like they are drinking water from a fire hose.

So December seems like a good time to remember the teachings of Steven Covey. Remember him? He is the time management guru, and author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I read this book (long ago) but continue to think about his core teachings of creating quadrants to help with prioritization.

  • Quadrant I: Urgent & Important matters
  • Quadrant 2: Not Urgent & Important
  • Quadrant 3: Urgent and Not Important
  • Quadrant 4: Not Urgent, Not Important

The grid has many applications that include taking your current ‘to-do’ list and sorting all the activities into the appropriate grid. Then, assess the amount of time you have to accomplish the lists and, if necessary, reallocate activities. This exercise can be especially helpful NOW — during the busiest time of the year. So let’s take just five minutes and reflect on what decisions should be made.

For instance, there is a sense of urgency to get our acknowledgement letters out within 24 hours right? While I agree, this is an admiral goal, maybe this time of year, your office would run more effectively if you bundle acknowledgment letters, to two days, say Tuesdays and Thursdays. That frees up your time and mental space for more strategic activities such as planning and securing donor visits and staying in touch with those loyal supporters you hope to receive a gift from this holiday season. In this scenario, soliciting gifts and making donor contacts becomes a #1 priority and donor acknowledgement moves to the #2 priority slot.

Similarly, let’s remember those donors who reside at the top of our giving pyramid, but gave a thoughtful, large gift earlier this fall. Consider asking a colleague in your program department to send a Holiday card mentioning how much they are impacting a special program this year. That would be a #3 priority that you can delegate.

Franklin Covey calls this process Planning and Solitude. This may not seem like activity, yet it is. It’s a time of stepping away from your business and looking over it as though you are at 30,000 feet. This helps you identifying what needs attention, and where to focus.

Covey encourages his readers to do this every morning. So treat yourself to a morning cup of ginger bread latte and take a few minutes for planning and solitude.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Partnership Boards: Effective Vehicles for Advancing Your Mission


I’ve recently been helping a non-profit organization that wisely decided to form regional partnership boards to strengthen awareness and support for their mission.  It has given me ample opportunity to reflect on the characteristics of effective partnership boards and when they make the most sense for an organization to consider implementing such a strategy.

A partnership board is a group of organizational supporters from a region where your organization is active.  The primary purposes of such a board are to enhance awareness of your work in the region and to strengthen your capacity for fundraising in the community.  It is not a governing board, and it does not take the place of a board of directors or trustees.

Partnership Boards may be right for your organization if you are trying to build support in different regions of the country or different communities in an urban area.  Think of them as similar to the regional alumni organizations that are hosted by national universities.  At first the gatherings can be primarily social occasions, designed to bring people together to hear from organizational leaders about new developments in the region, and to learn of the impact you have or hope to have on people who live there.  Every such occasion should include a menu of “asks:”  to donate, to become more involved, to identify others who should be included in future events.

When recruiting for such a board, you will want to identify key individuals who are leaders in the community, who have a passion for your mission, and who are willing to commit to helping you strengthen your efforts in the region.  You will want some philanthropists on the board, but more importantly, you’ll need to identify those who want to see your organization have a greater impact in the local community.  Ask yourself the question:  who are the people who can help us get the job done in this community?  These are the people you will want to invite to serve on your partnership board!

A partnership board can provide valuable advice and counsel to your organization without demanding a lot of time from its members.  Since you may have several such boards in different regions, you’ll want to plan for them to meet just twice a year.  Between meetings, you can keep members informed of the assistance you need in a given region, but you can also hold up examples of effective support in each region that will inspire other regions to do the same.

Partnership boards can be excellent proving grounds for building your board of trustees.  Those who excel at advancing your mission at the regional level can be asked to make the greater commitment to joining your board.

Fundraising is seldom about radically new ideas; it’s always about the old idea that your mission needs support!  Partnership Boards may help you achieve that support at the local level.

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

The Symphony of Working with our Donors


Just the other day, I was listening to my son practice his cello.  He’s 9 years old and this is his first go-round with playing an instrument.  Learning to play an instrument and practicing the basics at the start can be challenging (both for the new musician and also to the ears of those around him!).

As I sat and listened to my son practice, I thought about how playing an instrument is also like our work with donors.  Sounds like a stretch, right?  But, if you think about it…it takes patience, persistence, diligence and a good ear for listening.

When we work with our donors, we, just as musicians, need to be patient.  Musicians work hard to learn a new piece or how to work with other members of the orchestra to make the final result ready for show time.  We, as fundraisers, need patience as well.  It takes time to build and cultivate relationships.  It often takes more members of our orchestra…our board members, volunteers and others to be involved in maintaining and enhancing relationships with our donors.  We are the leader, or the conductor of this process, to ensure that these relationships continue to grow and flourish.

Musicians must also be persistent and diligent with their art…always working to perfect and fine-tune their skills to enhance their performance.  In our work, we must continue to keep our donors well informed and in-tune with the happenings of our not for profits.  We need to ensure that we do everything we can to keep then engaged in our missions.

Finally, just as musicians need to listen to the tone and the rhythm of the music they are creating, we need to keep our ears open when we engage with our donors.  In talking to our donors, we need to do less of the talking and more of the listening so that we truly hear why they support our cause and what it is that moves them to make a gift to our not for profit.

I encourage you this week to think of yourself as the conductor of your orchestra.  Who is sitting in your audience today?  Who is not? And finally, with a little diligence, patience and persistence, who would you like to move from the back rows to the box seats… and what is your plan to move them forward?

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Jazz Music & Fundraising – An unlikely Pair

jazz image

Have you ever wondered how certain things get invented and what thought went into the discovery and execution of the product or idea? I frequently ask myself how things were created and the “back story” of what went into such development such as the brilliance of putting wheels on suitcases, or the creation of the drive-thru and something I still use today…sticky notes!

One of the discoveries I recently became aware of was how Jazz music was created and the assembly of how this music was established, shaped and the impact it has had on society.

I recently sat in on a talk by a well-known Chicago pastor, Dr. Otis Moss III, whose father worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Moss’s talk was on Truthtellers and creating a just world, and he tied in the early days of how Jazz music was created and it being a compilation of many cultures (African and European) that came together in New Orleans. That is fairly well known…what isn’t well known was the insightful foundation behind Jazz music and the impact it has had and made on society.

Jazz music as Dr. Moss shared, is music that shouldn’t be played together. The instruments look different, play different and sound different with musicians playing at the same time – music that seemingly shouldn’t work well together or mesh but it does creating a lively, soothing sound to form a unique harmony.

Sometimes it’s similar with fundraising. Our jobs as fundraisers include listening to understand the many different voices and opportunities  and we need to work to bring these things that maybe seem like they don’t go together…well, together.  If the Development Department is working in one silo and the Program Department is off working in another…sometimes to a different set of goals and core values, the organization will struggle in the voyage of fulfilling the mission of the organization. In my colleague, Susan Matejka’s recent post, Leadership Roles , she highlights the importance of mutual trust and a collaborative partnership between the board and staff and the “rhythm” that is required to run a solid organization. This rhythm is central throughout the staff and the day-to-day operations and it’s fundamental to keeping staff aligned with the goals and enthusiastic about working for the organization.

As you head into the Season of Giving and the busy weeks leading up to your year-end appeals and follow-up outreach, remember to involve the program staff in your messages and getting them to weigh in on your methodology as they are part of your band in making sure the that tune is played together and not as a solo. Start acting and performing like a Jazz organization and watch your fundraising efforts flourish.

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

Lifelong Learning and the Art of Fundraising


I’ve got more than a few years behind me in my career, but I continue to learn how to emulate best practices in fundraising.  You should too.

Start by acknowledging that fundraising is always evolving.  Think about how fundraising has changed since you first started practicing.  Not all of us will remember what it was like before computers, multi media presentations, and PowerPoint slides.  But even in recent years, there have been dramatic changes in technology that make it possible to immediately fulfill gifts at events, in online cohorts and affinity groups that build community, and in Board portals that save trees and make vast amounts of information accessible anytime and anywhere to our most important supporters.

These are just a few examples.  Make sure you have people on your team who constantly scan for new, cutting edge, best practices.  You may not be the tech wiz yourself, but make sure your most accomplished technology practitioners are empowered to look outside the organization to find new solutions that will maximize your fundraising potential and make it easier for your donors to support your organization.

Remember, too, that fundraising is more art than science.  Be creative.  Resist putting everything on automatic pilot, or just doing what was done last year.  Look for the opportunity to give your donors a delightful surprise.  Make them smile when they encounter the next communication from you.  Touch their hearts with stories from the people who are helped by the generosity of your donors.  Let the beauty of the work your organization does shine through in your communications.  And don’t forget to step back occasionally and admire the results you are getting!

Finally, savor the fact that fundraising broadens our understanding of the world and its people.  Learn to see the world through the eyes of those whom you serve.  Understanding perspectives different from our own makes us better fundraisers.  The work we do is multicultural, multi-generational, and populated by a range of abilities, intellects, and aspirations.  It is humbling to know that the more effective we are as fundraisers, the more good can be done by our organization.

No matter where you are in your fundraising career, make it a habit to assess what you learned this week that can make you a more effective fundraiser next week!

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

Fundraising During National Disasters


The overwhelming misery and human need emerging from the recent hurricanes impacting Florida, Texas and Louisiana have prompted Americans of good will to give generously to charities who provide direct aid to the victims. Athletes, celebrities and civic leaders have stepped forward and provided leadership for donations to meet the enormous needs of our fellow citizens.

It is inspiring to see the nation come together, putting aside differences, with generous donations in times of national disaster. History would suggest that millions of individual Americans will donate to relief organizations in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

As fundraisers, we wonder if donor fatigue sets in, and if maybe we should put a pause on our own fundraising efforts until the unfolding human tragedy fades from the front pages and the nightly news broadcasts. The answer is an emphatic NO!

We know at least two things from prior national emergencies. One is that the increased giving to meet the emergency will persist into the second year, so it makes absolutely no sense to try to “wait out” the period of donations to relief organizations.

The second thing we know is that there is no evidence of diminished giving to other non-profits following national disasters. Now is still the best time and the only time to make the case in the strongest possible terms, for financial support for your organization. Fundraising is not a zero sum enterprise. You are not competing for limited dollars with the legitimate and compelling needs of other people. You are only competing to tap in to the endless generosity of the human heart.

Remember, people give to your mission. Your mission is important to your donors before, during, and after a national emergency. If you haven’t already done so, make a donation to a relief organization to help the victims of the hurricanes. But after you do so, get to work on your next fundraising appeal for your non-profit organization!

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