Triage, Transition, Transformation

moving forward

Triage, Transition, Transformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by: Susan Matejka, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

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

Lessons Learned


Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

 Be mission-driven.

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


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

 Be direct.

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

Be available.

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

Be transparent stewards of donor dollars.

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

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

Ask, then be quiet!

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

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

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Connecting Donors to Your Mission


Connecting Donors to Your Mission

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

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

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

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

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

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

How To Transition “Graduating” Board Members


How To Transition “Graduating” Board Members

While speaking with the chair of a Resource Development Committee for one of my clients, we discussed the best way to cultivate past board members. Should we consider them alumni of the Board? Graduates of sorts?  With that in mind, we brainstormed engagement opportunities similar to what some colleges offer for their new graduates. I liked this philosophy, so I’ll share what we discussed.

Keep a Development Calendar for alumni Board Members – This would include the usual development activities that you would have for other donors, with additional touchpoints including the following:

  • Periodic personalized mailings from the Executive Director containing interesting industry news, special updates about impactful gifts that are received, and the special accomplishments of the individuals we provide services for.
  • Create Alumni Buddies where current Board members are matched with an alumni Board member
    • Alumni Buddies could change each year to keep the program fresh. This provides a personal connection for new and old members alike. The current board member would be responsible for making follow up calls to encourage their buddy’s participation in select activities.  They would also send annual updates to their alumni buddy with personal notes.
  • Special Event Invitations could take the form of a holiday gathering, or an early bird cocktail reception reserved for current and past Board members. This could be held at the organization’s annual fundraising event.

Leverage Board donations to inspire future gifts –Board alumni may also like to know that their gifts are developing future leaders for the organization and/or bolstering its financial success.

  • Underwrite donor gatherings – Ask alumni to sponsor a donor cultivation event which helps to keep current donors engaged and inspire their future giving.
  • Ask them to create a matching pool to inspire monthly or first-time donations, or address other specific needs of the organization.

As I continued to think about commencement ceremonies for graduates, I realized it doesn’t mark the end of chapter, commencement is defined “as the beginning or start,” so during the transition of Board to alumni let’s pave the way good start with our alumni Board relations.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

The Tale of Two Donors


The Tale of Two Donors

I recently took a trip east to visit my children – one in Richmond, VA and the other in Washington, DC.  When possible, I try and connect with a client donor or two; this provides an opportunity to combine business with leisure (though I am not sure that “moving furniture” counts as leisure) and I can advance my client’s mission at no additional cost to the organization.

There is a donor in Richmond whom I have visited on prior trips.  I reached out to him via email a few weeks in advance to see if we could schedule coffee.  Unfortunately, he was heading out of town that week to a camp he has been involved with since he was young; the camp was celebrating their 100th year.

While I was at my hotel in Richmond, I called and left a voicemail on his office phone, letting him know I was thinking about him while I was in town, and that I hoped the 100th Celebration was a huge success.  I also said I would reach out again in advance of my next trip.

Did I need to make this call?  No.  But the truth is, I was thinking about this donor when I drove by his workplace.  And I decided it would be nice to go the “extra step”.  It took me less than 5 minutes to complete make the call, and it ultimately made me feel good to acknowledge something that is important to this donor.

Next stop: Washington DC.  I made arrangements to visit another donor for my client while I was in town.  This person has been a faithful and generous donor over the years but has not been back to Chicago for some time.  The purpose of my visit, I informed him over the phone, was to introduce myself, thank him in person for his continued support  and provide an update on the organization.  I knew a bit about his family and giving history from his donor record but asked for him to share with me his story.  We had a lovely visit.  When the conversation came to a natural conclusion, he said, “What can I do for the organization?”  I was happy to respond, “I simply wanted to say hello and thank you.  (The client) is so grateful for your continued and generous support.  My request is simple: When I come back to visit, I hope you will take my call.  At that time, I would like to discuss the organization’s needs in more detail.”

His response?  “Hurry up.  I am getting old.  I love the organization and I want to help in whatever way I can.”

I left wondering…should I have worked with my client to prepare a specific ask…just in case?  I recognize this is a wonderful problem to have, but it was certainly a missed opportunity.  (In full disclosure, I was proud of the fact that I was going to the meeting without an ask!  Donors love to be thanked!  I simply showed up to do just that!  Just when you think you have it all figured out…)

So next time I am in a similar situation, I will be prepared.  Just in case…

And in case you are wondering, I am going back to see this donor before the end of the year, and the client and I have already outlined our ask.

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

Magic Moments


Magic Moments

From time to time I’ve been asked “what’s the magic to fundraising?”  I think people wonder how we do what we do and how we know that our efforts will be successful.  The answer—of course—is that there is no magic to fundraising.  We all write letters and make phone calls and design web pages and visit with donors; most of this activity is mundane, not magical.  But there are Magic Moments in fundraising, and I love hearing about them!

Recently I sat with a longtime board member who had been instrumental in securing a multi-million dollar gift for her non-profit organization.  I asked her to fill me in on her relationship with the donor and how the gift came to be realized.  She said that they first met when the donor offered an auction prize at the annual fundraiser.  The prize was a “Behind the Scenes Tour” of the local zoo.  The board member was the successful bidder.  The elderly donor needed a lot of assistance getting to and around the zoo.  But they had a good time, and continued to visit on numerous occasions after the tour.

Time passed, and one day the donor let it be known that she wanted to see “This Is It” a Michael Jackson concert movie that had just been released.  They never got to the theater, because mobility issues once again presented obstacles.  But when the movie came out on video some months later, the board member remembered.  “A friend and I brought the movie and take out Chinese food to her home.  I didn’t realize that her video player was in her bedroom, and there were only two chairs in her room.  We watched the film and ate the food and the other friend had to sit on her bed the whole time!  At one point, I looked down and her feet were moving and I said ‘Why Mrs. _______, you’re dancing!’  And we all had a good laugh.”

This particular donor was a well-known philanthropist and years later the board member asked her “why did you give so generously to our small organization?”  The donor’s answer:  “you visited me in my home and you invited me into your homes.” Who would have known that this simple fact would distinguish this organization from the bigger internationally known charities that this donor also supported? This board member enjoyed visiting with this donor and remembered her somewhat surprising interest in Michael Jackson.  Simple hospitality made all the difference.

Magic Moments like this one happen in fundraising.  They are often comic and unpredictable, but always genuinely warm and human.  If we fundraisers don’t genuinely like people more than we like their money, we are in the wrong business!  Take a sincere interest in your donors and enjoy their company.  Not all of us will see a multi-million dollar gift, but all of us will experience the joy and wonder of occasional Magic Moments.

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

The Power of Connection


The Power of Connection

I recently attended a client-hosted luncheon for a group of people who been placed for adoption by my client, The Cradle.  It was a reunion luncheon and the second time they had hosted this event.  It was my first time attending.  My role was to help with set-up, greeting guests, ensuring the A/V was working, etc.  While we have all participated in more of these events than we care to recall, there was something very special about this luncheon.

Each of these individuals had a common bond – adoption.  And while each of their stories is unique, this common bond provided an opportunity for intimacy among relative strangers.  People shared their stories with one another, cried together, laughed together and felt such an overwhelming positivity we all left with a sense of joy.

Connecting people who are touched by your mission can be powerful.  Is there an opportunity for you to host a gathering for a group of “friends” of your organization?  Consider this:

Who are the different constituent groups who are connected to your mission?

Is there a reason to get one of these groups together (a speaker session, a lunch and learn, a cocktail party) to provide an opportunity to connect?

Is there someone who may be interested in spearheading this effort?

These are great opportunities to provide “mission moments” outside of the typical schedule of meetings and fundraisers.  It doesn’t have to cost much and really doesn’t take that much effort.  I guarantee it’s worth the effort!

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