Relationships are where it’s at!


Relationships are where it’s at!

A few years back, I was fortunate enough to hear a guest lecturer who came to speak at my university’s journalism department. She described the intricate webbing of her career, starting first as a writer for a small Boston-based magazine and eventually working her way into a competitive and exciting foreign correspondence position. She had reported on civil uprisings in Egypt, gender inequities in India and natural disasters in Australia. Her career was astonishing, she was like a modern-day Jack Kerouac in a room full of naive college students, half of whom were probably checking Twitter on their laptops while she spoke.

But I was enthralled. I couldn’t believe the plethora of experiences she had accumulated over the years. When she opened the floor for questions, my hand shot up and I asked the question which she had undoubtedly heard a million times; what’s your secret to success?

I was half expecting her to say that she had graduated top of her class at Princeton or Yale, or maybe Anderson Cooper was her long-lost uncle and he hooked her up with the job. Regardless, I was sure that there must be a complex and sophisticated explanation for her myriad of accomplishments.

“I just kind of met people and made friends,” she explained nonchalantly.

At the time, I remember being frustrated with that answer. While I was glad that she didn’t pull out the overused and generic term “networking” in her response, I was still unsure of how she could so heavily attribute her prosperous career to something like relationship cultivation.

Having worked with HPS Chicago as their summer intern for the past month, I can now confidently say that I am beginning to understand just how important professional relationships are. In development, fostering positive and meaningful relationships with constituents is what drives success. Clients aren’t treated as an item on a to-do list; they’re treated as friends. Whether it’s starting off a Zoom call with a discussion of the latest season of Ozark or just catching up on how everyone is doing during such uncertain times, there is a consistent feeling of mutual care and respect.

As someone who is still in college, it can be easy to perceive the professional world as solely cut-throat and competitive, filled with Mark Cubans and Robert Herjavecs. What I’ve grown to learn, however, is that professionalism doesn’t have to be all about business 24/7. It’s okay to talk about life, the weather, the news. It’s okay to let your guard down and have a laugh with your coworkers and clients. In fact, it’s critical that you do.

Building meaningful relationships is at the core of development. Forging relationships that span years, industries and experiences is an integral part of helping companies and organizations to reach their full potential. In many ways, it seems like collaboration is the language of development.

It’s not always about prestigious pedigrees or jam-packed resumes, these will only get you so far. I’m learning that connectivity, open-mindedness and friendship are the real keys to success.

Cheesy, but true.

by: Ben Matejka, Summer Intern HPS Chicago


Making Connections


Making Connections

My client’s fundraising “event” became an online “funding activity” this year. No, it was not a sophisticated Zoom event with program remarks, but instead we used a mail appeal that was supported by follow up calls, an online video (pieced together by a talented volunteer) and a couple of supporting eblasts. Honestly, it was nothing fancy.

But one thing I did differently, was contact our major donors using my cell phone. First, I gathered my thoughts and wrote down what I wanted to say.  Then I recorded individualized “selfie” videos to my phone and sent them off one by one. Yes, this required lots of “do-overs” and ridiculous outtakes, but despite the added effort, I felt more authentic sending messages this way. It was the closest thing to human contact I could muster.

My message was simple.

To the people who hadn’t given yet, I greeted them by name, and told them (in one sentence how their past support helped this agency) and then asked for their continued support, if they were able to do so.

For those who had already donated, I also used their name in the greeting, and asked them to help spread the word about the online auction to their friends, family members, and work colleagues.

It turns out the donors found it more meaningful than a typical voice mail. Many of them texted back to say so – and honestly, I felt more connected to them too.

One pleasant surprise is that many donors made second gifts. Another is that we got donations from new people (thank you donors who helped to spread the word!)  All in all, we raised more money than ever before for this nonprofit.

Another client’s Executive Director did something similar. He used his computer (Windows’ native camera application) and uploaded the video to his personal YouTube account. Then, he sent links of the video through a clickable hyperlink.

However, we approach contacting our donors, it is evident that we need to reinvent ourselves, and find new meaningful ways.  As we try them out, we promise to pass these ideas on to you. After all, we are all in this together.

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

Coming up for air

sunrise in the sea

Summer is here.  The days are long, the weather is finally hot.  Businesses are beginning to cautiously reopen.  It feels as though we are emerging from a long period of hibernation.  Given that we have been relegated to one location and limited in our personal interactions, it may seem as though we have been on an extended break.  My guess, however, is that this period of time has felt nothing like a “break”.  It has been filled with uncertainty, anxiety, worry, stress.  We have been required to reinvent the way in which we meet, communicate, connect.  We have had to reimagine events.  Carefully consider our words.

Summer is a time when things slow down a bit, we catch our breath.  Families take vacation.  What plans do you have in the coming months?  It may seem fruitless to plan a vacation this year, but I encourage you to reconsider and reimagine this idea.  Vacation comes from the Latin word vacātiō, which means “exemption from service, respite from work”.  Consider that definition.

Exemption from service.  Respite from work.

Although a European vacation would be wonderful, there are other ways in which we can take a holiday.  One of my clients rented an RV and is driving with her husband and two small children to Florida.  Another is planning to visit several local state parks.  Perhaps it means staying home and reading novels or spending time planting a vegetable garden.   Or volunteering (which I realize sounds like work, but for many, it feeds the soul).

So, while you may be thinking, “ why bother to take time off?”, do what you have had to do every day these past few months: recreate.  Walk away from your computer, your phone, your daily responsibilities.  Think about simple ways to find joy.  Reconnect with your family.  Recharge your spirit.

by: Susan Matejka, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

The Power of ONE


The Power of ONE

The race crisis recently came to my neighborhood. At the tender age of 13, my daughter, deluged with images and videos of the injustice to George Floyd, asked to attend the Black Lives Matter march in our small suburban community.

As the markers squawked across the lime green poster board I purchased, my older son discouraged us from going. “Don’t you worry about Covid? Stay home. Why do you want to go? One person won’t make a difference you know.” He went on and on.

But as we know, ONE person has made a difference in history. Plenty of times. Consider Gandhi, Kennedy, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Churchill, Lincoln, Mandela.

Many development offices are sparsely staffed and some of us are on teams of ONE working from kitchen tables. No, your name will never find its way into a history book. Your insightful thoughts will not be printed on a poster. But still – YOU make a difference.

Every day, YOU are nurturing relationships with donors and securing gifts that will save lives and change lives. The missions YOU help reduce stress, enrich lives, bring nourishment, understanding and hope to the many people who rely on your nonprofit. This is the power of ONE person doing the right thing – day after day.

The news this week will no doubt include ugly realities reflecting these difficult times. But remember the words of Edmund Burke who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Then, go out and do SOMETHING. Do what you know. Do what you can to contribute to a better, more just and loving world. Be a good Development Officer.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

The Benefit of Uncertainty


The Benefit of Uncertainty

Undoubtedly, these are uncertain and scary times.

While everyone is dealing with and adapting to new realities, those of us involved with non-profits are wired to see the positives.  We do that on a daily basis.  Whether bringing food to the hungry, sheltering the homeless, mentoring those that are hungry for direction, offering art and music to the underserved, jobs to the disenfranchised or education to the those thirsting for a brighter future, YOU all bring HOPE to those experiencing despair and CLARITY to those that strive to better themselves.

That’s what YOU do.

Pre-Covid, many of us were reliant on events to raise money.  Hours upon hours were spent on gala’s, golf outings and creative ways to build community, foster cultivation of constituents and ultimately, raise money to advance your mission.

Now, in the absence of in-person events, we are forced to focus on the last point, advancing the mission of your non-profit, simply for advancement sake.

Ask yourselves……

Do golf sponsors really need to golf to feel good about bringing hope and clarity to your clients?

Do award dinner sponsors really sign up only to see their names on a big screen while guests eat their dinner and enjoy time visiting with each other?

Of course not,

But we have become so reliant on events, that we have forgotten what donors want most, to make a difference in someone’s life.  This might actually be a silver lining of sorts. This might be an opportunity to recalibrate and get to the heart of why we conduct events – simply to advance the mission of the organization through philanthropy.

As you scramble to reschedule your outing, event, or award dinner, take a breath and use this opportunity to creatively cultivate philanthropic investments that bring impact to those you serve.  After all, that’s why individuals are drawn to you.  They believe in you and your organization’s ability to transform lives and make this a better world.

Be less reliant on the event planning that brings people to you and more strategic on WHAT IMPACT is experienced when they invest in your organization.

by: Michael Bruni, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

We Belong to One Another


We Belong to One Another

 “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”                –Mother Theresa

 Today, as we witness the chaos and violence throughout our country in response to the tragic recent violent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, at the hands of white officers, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mother Theresa’s statement. At its heart, this is basic social contract theory — that as humans we have a responsibility to care for one another.

As nonprofit organizations, I believe we inherently subscribe to the social contract. We’ve committed ourselves professionally to working every day to fulfill missions that serve others.

Yet, like many, I keep asking myself, is that enough? What more can I – must I – do to make our world a just place for all humans – black, brown, white, lesbian, gay, transgender, immigrant, refugee (the list goes on)? In that spirit, I am sharing this list of things we can all commit to doing to fight racism in our country, courtesy of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Please click on the link for detailed how-tos:

  • Learn to recognize and understand your own privilege.
  • Examine your own biases and consider where they have originated.
  • Validate the experiences and feelings of people of color.
  • Challenge the “colorblind” ideology.
  • Call out racist “jokes” or statements.
  • Find out how your company or school works to expand opportunities for people of color.
  • Be thoughtful with your finances.
  • Adopt and intersectional approach in all aspects of your life.

Thank you for all you do every day to make our world more just. Please share any additional resources or ideas you have in the comments section.

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Happy Memorial Day!


Happy Memorial Day!

On Memorial Day weekend, we remember and honor the women and men who lost their lives while serving in the US military. Memorial Day, for many, also marks the start of summer. While we typically attend parades and host backyard BBQ’s with friends and family, the holiday this year looks quite different.  Pools are closed, baseball games are cancelled, and families are working through the “new normal” of shelter is place until restrictions are lightened.

Over the past few months, we have all been busy adapting and pivoting our fundraising plans to do our very best to stay connected with our donors and provide them with up to date information about how we are serving our clients. For many of us, the close of our fiscal year is just around the corner on June 30. We have about one month left before we close the books on this year. So, what does the year ahead look like for you at your organization? Do you have a fall gala or a summer kick-off that needs to be tweaked and redesigned? Do you have a major gift program that you planned to launch? A junior board that you had hoped to develop?

While we would all love to have a crystal ball that shows us the future, we need to be brave and creative to not only learn new ways of doing things but also flexible and nimble as information unfolds so that we can make the best decisions for our organizations. Your development plan for FY 21 might look different than any other plans you have created. Maybe you have Plan A and Plan B for that fall event. Or, a few new ways that you want to connect with your major donors that you never imagined until now. With this uncertainty about the future, it isn’t just business as usual. For many, the unknown isn’t easy and feels stressful because the plan isn’t written in stone. It’s hard to imagine closing that major gift over a Zoom meeting. It feels odd to plan for a fall event that looks nothing like one you’ve ever orchestrated before.

My thoughts for you for this Memorial Day are to first, take a deep breath. Enjoy something you love to do. Maybe it’s going for a walk, a bike ride, reading a book or cooking up a feast. As you start to look at your FY21 plan and begin to adjust it for next year, do the same. Take a deep breath. Think outside the box. Talk to your colleagues. Check out what others are doing. Learn some new things. And know that your revised plan for next year, which most likely will continue to be tweaked and refined as you go along, will be a great roadmap in helping you achieve your goals.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

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