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

Are Your Letting Donors Kick the Tires?


Think back to the last time you bought a car. Was it from a dealership, or the used car lot down the street? You probably took it for a test drive – and had an opportunity to “kick the tires” as my dad used to say.

These steps are important. We want to inspect our new investment and make sure it meets expectations before making a big commitment.

But, are we providing this same opportunity to donors of our organizations?

One of my client’s was struggling with this.  We found it difficult to share the mission of this organization with donors unless it was through videos or photos.  These 3rd party vehicles are “OK” but not ideal. So we created a different approach and put the donor in the driver’s seat.

We invited donors to a special art class just for them that was sprinkled with a few of the agency’s clients for a meet and greet. This was the same type of programming our clients were involved with each week.

We filled the room with new donors and donor prospects. We didn’t charge them and provided light snacks. They were led by our instructor and learned how professional and well run the class was. They observed how each person’s experience was unique and tailored to them. This fun, low pressure introduction laid the groundwork for developing these relationships further and opened the door to conversations about future giving.

Could this experience be replicated at your organization?

For educators, could your donors get reserved seats to a graduation ceremony? For nonprofits focused on literacy, could donor attend a book presentation ceremony for students? For health organizations, could your donors visit one of your doctors for their annual check-up?

Think for a minute about what your donor might respond to and give them that opportunity.  After all, we are asking for them to invest in us. We should give them an opportunity to kick the tires, shouldn’t we?

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Clarity Matters



All too often, when clients share their concerns with us, they lament about the performance of their Board members. Their discontent is manifest in a variety of ways, but more often than not we hear things like:

My Board never seems to come to meetings prepared, if they come at all.”

 They don’t follow through when I need them to?

Why aren’t they giving at the levels we need?

Just the other day, I was speaking with an executive director about her Board president and, while she said she knows her president is committed to the organization, her ongoing frustration relates to a lack of action. So I asked, “Is there a straight forward set of expectations for your president that you can both reference and discuss?” Does your president understand an on what you are relying on her for?

I also recently asked one of my clients if they had clear expectations for Board members and if there was a protocol in place to discuss/review those with prospective and current members. (Based on some feedback we had received regarding an upcoming campaign initiative, it was evident that Board and staff were not operating from a shared set of expectations.)

I have written in the past about how we can and must invest in building strong relationships with our Board members (“Attention Must be Paid”) and, while that is absolutely true, there is also a great deal of value in making sure that our Board members have clarity as to what is expected and needed from them to help advance your mission. 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.

The good news is that establishing clearly defined roles and responsibilities for your Board members is not complicated.

  • Depending on the size and structure of your Board; your governance committee, executive committee or even your chair/president and one or two other interested Board members can help you to develop criteria appropriate to you organization.
  • Board members must be involved in this process to ensure that there is ownership of the stated expecations.
  • While not an exhaustive list, your expectations should include: terms of service, meeting and special event attendance, committee service, financial support, fundraising and other ambassador roles.

Once your expectations have been approved by the board, or reaffirmed if you have them already–as it is a good idea to revisit these every couple of years, the key is to make sure that someone (Board Chair, Governance Committee Chair, Exec. Dir.) meets with each Board member on an annual basis. This provides an opportunity for the Board member to share any of their concerns, to discuss additional ways in which they think they could contribute to the organization and to make sure that the relationship is mutually beneficial.

If you have had any compelling experiences with your Board Expectations, we’d love to hear about them and share your thoughts and ideas in a future post.

by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Leadership Roles


Many of my client conversations of late have been focused on Leadership…specifically, the relationship between paid leadership (staff) and volunteer leadership (Board).  Whether your organization is small, just starting out or large and well-established, it is important to periodically affirm leadership roles and responsibilities.  The delineation is pretty simple:  The Board is responsible for hiring, evaluating and, if necessary, firing the Executive Director.  They are also responsible for fiduciary oversight.  The Executive Director is responsible for everything else, which basically means overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization.

So why does it get so complicated?  Often times – whether it is because the organization is just starting out, there is a change in leadership or even when there is a very strong, collaborative relationship – the roles can become blurred.  Let’s take a closer look at each of these examples.

New Organization

If the organization is new or just starting out, those in leadership positions may be required to wear a variety of “hats”.  The Executive Director may also be recruiting Board members, overseeing the finances, establishing programs, etc.  While this structure is typical for an emerging organization, it is important to have a clear understanding of leadership roles from the outset.  Drafting job descriptions for key staff positions (Executive Director, Program Director, CFO, Director of Development) and Board members – even if those roles aren’t filled for some time – will provide clarity and serve as an objective reminder down the road.

Change in Leadership

When an Executive Director leaves the organization – particularly when it is unexpected – a Board member may volunteer to (or have to) step in and provide day-to-day oversight and sense of stability to staff members and donors alike.  While this may be appropriate, and can work for a short period, it is not an ideal arrangement for a longer period of time.  Here are a few reasons why it is not an ideal long-term solution:

  • This reporting structure can be awkward or uncomfortable for staff members
  • The Board member serving in this role may not be well-versed or equipped to handle the significant responsibilities of the Executive Director
  • Continuous transitions in leadership may be confusing for donors and other supporters

If the organization plans to launch an immediate search to replace the Executive Director, this solution is acceptable; however, if the organization needs some time to get organized, confirm direction, etc., it may be more beneficial to hire an interim Executive Director to fill this role.

Strong, Collaborative Relationship

In organizations where the Board and staff have worked together for many years, the result is typically a strong, collaborative partnership.  There is mutual trust, and often a “rhythm” in the collaboration among the leadership.  However, it is important to remember that this balance can easily shift.  For example, if the Board members start getting “in the weeds” of the day-to-day programming direction and decisions, or if they begin to tell staff members directly what to do or how to do something, the established trust can easily be broken.

So, whether your organization is new or old, big or small and whether you are new to your role or have been in it for some time, it is healthy to review roles and responsibilities with the other leadership team members periodically.  Formalizing this process (perhaps as a part of your annual goal-setting conversation) will help keep your organization humming and provide an objective way to get things back on track if the relationship starts to shift.

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

What Motivates You?


My post from back in July titled, “What’s Your Why?” discussed the need to clearly communicate your organization’s impact in your case for support. We all know that our donors need to understand how their investment in our mission will change/save lives. The truth, after all, is that…


Today I want to ask you a related question? What is your personal motivation?

Let’s face it. This is the time of year when things seem to ramp up across the board. There are year-end giving strategies, annual reports that need to be produced, budgeting for the next fiscal year, staff reviews, maybe even a fall event to execute. And, while that’s a pretty hefty load to carry, I’m sure I missed a few key items on your to-do list as well. Our attention and our energies are being pulled in multiple directions and, at times, it may start to feel overwhelming.

So, in the midst of all of the demands that are being placed on your time and attention over the next several months, now seems like the perfect time for a check-in to remind ourselves of our personal “WHY?” What is the thing (or things) that inspire you to get out of bed to do this work every day?

  • Is it the children that you are helping to find a forever home or shelter from the streets?
  • Is it your grateful patients or the families who have the benefit of hospice during unbearably trying times?
  • Is it the music, theatre or dance programs that your company creates, which in turn inspire people throughout your community?
  • Is it the dedicated educators or program people who are relentless in delivering on your mission?

For me, it is having the opportunity to help my clients advance their goals and it’s working with folks who, every day, are shaping a better future for my boys and the world they will inherit.


Regardless of what your inner driver is, I have found that giving yourself a chance to focus on “your why” and recalling the impact you are helping to make happen will inspire you to carry on – even when the mountain of work before you appears somewhat daunting. Thanks for all that YOU do to change the world we live in!

by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Nonprofit Tech Talk: Project Management

38145644 - project management word cloud, business concept

Today’s guest post is by Zachary Stombaugh, MS, Just Write Solutions Consultant.

Previously, we discussed project management as a component of grants activities. In today’s Nonprofit Tech Talk, we’ll dive into some general guidelines for the different ways to manage projects, as well as a few tools you and your organization can use.

So, what is project management (PM)? PM refers to the processes you (or your organization) have in place to ensure you meet the different milestones of any given project. I like to think of PM in four primary stages:

  1. What is the project, what needs to be accomplished, and vague idea of when it needs to be completed.
  2. Who is going to do what, when are they going to do it, and what steps will we take to make sure we are doing what we need to do when we need to do it.
  3. Getting the planned work done and modifying the plan as needed.
  4. Having all work done when it needs to be done.

In a perfect world, each step would occur consecutively without issue. But, the reality is that projects can and will run into problems at some stage. A vital part of PM is including an expectation of issues in the planning stage (sounds easy enough, right?). In doing so, it is important to recognize the different roles your team members will have. The most common roles include:

  • Project Champion. This is the person who may not be directly involved with the project execution, but has a vested interest in making sure the project is completed well, on time, and according to specifications.
  • Project Manager. As the name implies, the Project Manager is most often the person responsible for direct oversight of the project. This individual will coordinate with the various team members (and any other relevant parties) to ensure specific milestones are met. The Project Manager will have a plan in place to accommodate any changes to the project, and will play a key role in ensuring a smooth project time.
  • Project Team Member. These individuals are those responsible for the groundwork in meeting milestones. They are the ones doing the work that needs to be done, and are responsible for communicating with the Project Manager and Champion as to the status of that work.

Now, this outline does not fit all organizations; often, one person may fill several or even all these roles. While an organization grows, it is important to provide these avenues for delegation to not only grow your team but also to keep a structured PM scheme. As the size and scope of your organization’s efforts get larger, having individuals focus on fulfilling any single aspect of a project can lead to efficiency increases and less stress for the team. Further, a well-defined PM schema can help keep expectations clear across projects.

Once you have an idea of how your PM will be setup, you should identify which tools you will use. Today, there are many online and offline tools for project management. To understand which tool is best for you, it may be best to think of your organization’s projects—once again—in terms of size and scope:

  • Basic paper or electronic TO DO lists (like Todoist, a paper notepad, or even a spreadsheet) are simple, straightforward ways to track your project goals. Because of their simplicity, these tools are best on an individual basis, where the roles mentioned above have significant overlap. Even in larger projects, they may prove useful for individual manager or team members. But, for larger projects, they lack the means for continued oversight.
  • Collaborative platforms, such as BasecampFreedcampAsana, or Trello, are the next step up in terms of managing projects. Platforms like these typically include the basic TO DO list, in addition to much more powerful tracking tools (Gantt charts, project templates, member reporting, etc.). I find these tools most effective in small groups that require regular interaction with one another. Typically, the Manager and Champion will be a single person who may also be involved partially in the team’s work. While these platforms are useful for most teams, even they lack organization-wide PM integrations.
  • Enterprise platforms are at the top of the PM hierarchy, both in terms of capability and complexity (and cost!). This level includes the likes of Microsoft Project and smartsheet. The main draws of an enterprise-level platform include information and portfolio management, scheduling, engagement, and software integration / continuum (connecting to your other software tools). In addition, these tools are often installed and operated on-site, managed by a dedicated IT team.

While we hope this blog is useful for you and your organization, we understand that it is not easy to achieve a working PM plan. Even harder is to develop a PM plan that is sustainable and cost-effective. The most common causes of project failure are poor planning and poor communication. Taking steps to outline your PM strategy will not only reduce the stress your personally endure, but also contribute considerably in your organization’s ability to fulfill its mission.

Does your organization use a project management tool, and if so, what tool(s) do you use?

What steps could you or your organization use to improve its current project management plan?

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

Labor Day – American Workers and Today’s Heroes


When Labor Day arrives, I know that summer has officially ended.  Kids are back to school and the warm and balmy days of summer begin to fold into fall activities including soccer season for the kids, football, apple picking and less humid and cooler days ahead.

As we prepare to celebrate the extra day off…I wondered how this holiday away from the office really started.  As you know, Labor Day always falls on the first Monday in September.  It began in the late1800s and is a creation of the labor movement, dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. It is appropriate, therefore, that we pay tribute on this day to our nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.

As we watch the news of Hurricane Harvey impact our fellow Americans in Texas and Louisiana, we have seen pictures and video footage of such remarkable strength and courage of many great American workers.  Firefighters, police officers, medical workers, volunteer workers…all banning together to support relief efforts.  We’ve seen store owners opening their doors to those seeking a place to sleep.  They began as total strangers, but perhaps now, they are friends that will never be forgotten.  All these hard workers banded together with one goal in mind…to help other human beings in need.  Perhaps their selfless efforts helped ease the pain of those that have been greatly impacted by the loss and pain that this natural disaster has left in its wake.

Today, on Labor Day, as fellow fundraisers, fellow workers, I ask you to change it up.  Celebrate Labor Day as a worker in action.  Put in a little work for another who needs some help.  Whether it is writing a check to the American Red Cross or another Relief Agency to support Texas or Louisiana, purchasing some needed items that are being gathered in your community to be sent for relief, or perhaps rolling up your sleeves in your own community to help those in need.

I challenge you today…DO shut off your computer.  DON’T check emails…but DO observe this day a little differently this year…and honor the resilience and contributions of American workers in a way that spreads hope and prosperity across our nation in your own unique way.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions