Participate in #GivingTuesdayNow!


Participate in #GivingTuesdayNow!

“Safety net” nonprofit organizations – and the people they serve – are undoubtedly suffering tremendously right now. Millions of people have found themselves without employment, and/or without access to food and shelter. And many of the organizations that serve them have been forced to cancel major fundraising events comprising significant portions of their budgets. Or, they’re nervous about asking donors to continue to give during these uncertain times.

We at HPS Chicago encourage our clients to stay connected with their donors during these unprecedented times, and even to continuing with gift solicitations.  We’ve been heartened by the number of people who want to help! On May 5, 2020, we all have an opportunity to come together in emergency response to the need caused by COVID-19: #GivingTuesdayNow.

Giving Tuesday, the groundbreaking global generosity movement founded in 2012 in New York City, is spearheading #GivingTuesdayNow on May 5 as a global day of giving and unity to mobilize human and monetary resources. Businesses, leaders, organizations and individuals from dozens of countries are participating – and your organization can, too. Here are a just a couple of suggested ways you can become involved:

  1. Raise funds for a COVID-19 Relief Fund. Has your organization already established a relief fund to help the people you serve? When we moved to shelter-in-place, my client established a relief fund to meet emergency nourishment needs of the people we serve. Members facing lost or decreased income, or families with kids home from school with no access to reduced-fee or free breakfasts and lunches, for example, can request help purchasing groceries.
  2. Mobilize volunteers to spend the day using skills to help others. Have members who can sew? Ask them to make face masks to donate. Enlist individuals who can safely deliver essential goods (groceries, hand sanitizer, prescription drugs) to people and organizations needing help. Encourage volunteers to write notes of encouragement to others, especially people living alone. Do you have people with other skills to offer, e.g. helping prepare tax returns, helping unemployed build resumes, search for jobs, develop interviewing skills? Connect them with the organizations who can use their help. In Chicagoland, org can help connect you.
  3. Share good news stories. Share stories of the good things happening in your community because of people coming together to help one another. Proudly showcase others’ generous acts on your social media channels and website. Generosity breeds generosity!

Visit GivingTuesdayNow Toolkit to access the many ways your organization can stand in unity with the world on Tuesday, May 5.

Remember, people want to use their individual power of generosity, as donors and as volunteers, to remain connected and help others heal. We’d love to hear your stories – share them in the comments section below!

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Come on Team – Let’s Build it!


Come on Team – Let’s Build it!

Last weekend, my family decided to take on an outdoor project.  After many days of rainy weather, I think we were all looking for a way to get outside and create something together. We built a firepit in our backyard and an area around it to sit and gather.  To create this area, in my opinion, was not for the weary.  My husband led the charge with the plans and the rest of us soldiered on as extra hands.  We hauled a LOT of rocks, 40 bags of slate, that in total, weighed more than a 1200 pounds.  It was a lot of heavy-lifting…sweat and muscle really went into the project.

Did we have some challenges? Yes. We needed rocks…WAY more rocks that we realized.  We needed to make-do with a tamper that was well-loved and not quite up to the task. We had a few spills of cement and a wheel-barrow full of rocks fall over before it reached its final destination. Yet, despite some of the roadblocks, when we were all done, we all felt so satisfied.  We built something beautiful, we stuck to the plan as best as we could, and we preserved until it was finished.  We raised a glass and patted each other on the back for a job well done and a team that worked well together.

So, you might wonder, what does this have to do with our work as development officers? Well, it’s about team work and how we set about to accomplish our current tasks and goals.  What is the role of the team at work – now in these new shelter in place times? Our Executive Director? Our Program Staff? The Board Chair? Our various committee members? How is each member of the team’s work now different than before?

During these shelter in place times, we have all had to be nimble and wear a variety of hats…even some new ones.  We aren’t collaborating and meeting face to face, but now rather operating through Zoom meetings, phone calls and emails.  Some of our priorities are shifting and changing as a result of a virus that is forcing us to do things differently, change gears quickly, be nimble and make adjustments, sometimes daily.

I suspect you are seeing more collaboration, more creativity, and overall, more help extended to get the job done to fulfill the mission of the work of the organization. I know this time isn’t easy, and there are days when the worry and stress level is high.  Big worries, like loss of revenue, or for some, will we be able to stay open to serve those that need us? Yet, even at those times, I notice more humor, more compassion and more understanding.  More creative planning and more conversations that we never anticipated.

What new things will we take with us when the world shifts back to the way we once knew it? So, for today, take time to reflect on your team working together in a different way – accomplishing things in a new way.  This is yet another silver living during these challenging times. For now, for today, I say…Applaud it. Celebrate it.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Creative ways to stay connected


Creative ways to stay connected

Like all of you, I am settling in to this “new normal” of working from home, eating at home, visiting with friends at home, and meeting with clients from home.   The good news for development officers in all of this is that we finally have time to do what we are meant to do – connect with our donors.  My conversations this week have centered around what that means for each of my clients.  For those whose work involves first responders or direct service providers, the current situation is compelling, urgent and relevant.  The COVID-19 pandemic certainly makes the “ask” for these organizations easier.  But what if your work doesn’t fall into one of these categories?  How can you stay connected with your donors, especially at a time when we are all being inundated with emails and requests from every possible source.

One of my clients, Canine Therapy Corps, has had to “paws” (pun intended) all of their programming for the time being.  Canine Therapy Corps provides animal-assisted therapy to individuals overcome physical and emotional trauma.  Much of their work is done in hospitals and other public settings; and while their work is a critical component for recovery, the COVID-19 situation has sidelined their work for now.  However, they have come up with some creative ways to stay connected to their constituents.  And I must admit, receiving their daily emails, which come from social media posts, is the highlight of my inbox.  Below you will find an example of how they are staying engaged (and making me smile):

Honoring Medical Professionals on Throwback Thursday

It’s throwback Thursday! Today we’re sharing a fond memory of Rocko at one of our Pet Pause Staff De-Stress Events at RUSH University Medical Center. Our hats go off to all of the medical professionals out there who are on the front lines of this crisis. We work with many doctors, nurses, therapists and clinicians in our programs and are so grateful for their lifesaving efforts during this time.

We wish we could be there to provide stress relief to these important staff members, but for now, we just want to express how grateful we are remotely to everyone fighting this illness, but particularly our program partners at Advocate Children’s Hospital – Park Ridge, Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, Northwestern Medicine, RUSH University Medical Center, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, and Swedish Covenant Hospital. We look forward to reconnecting with you when this is all over!

We look forward to sharing more of our quarantined cuties over the coming weeks. Please reach out to us if we can help you in any way!

In a separate message to their community this week, they shared some fun – and potential revenue-generating – ideas with constituents.  I found it to be a clever way to stay engaged, provide constituents with some creative ideas for engaging with others and raising a some funds:

Canine Therapy Corps will continue to bring light-hearted content to your inbox and social media feeds, and we’d also like to do more and find a way to offer services during this difficult time.  Below are a few of our ideas, which may offer support, brighten a loved one’s day, or provide an enriching experience for your children, while also helping us raise some much-needed funds. We welcome your feedback and any other ideas you may have!​​​​​​​

  • Personalized photos or short video message from therapy dogs at home for you to send to someone you’re unable to be with or in celebration of a special occasion  (e.g., including a sign with a donor or loved one’s name on it)
  • Sending packets of therapy dog trading card sets for kids
  • A virtual therapy dog visit: one-on-one video chat sessions with a therapy dog and handler  
  • Lessons on working animals and therapy dogs for kids during home-schooling

So during this time of social distancing, look for your own ways to stay connected with donors.  And remember, it is always appropriate to send a handwritten note or place a phone call just to say “Hello” and “I have been thinking of you…”.  Stay safe and be well.

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

Keep Calm and Stay Connected


Keep Calm and Stay Connected

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

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

Keep Calm

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

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

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

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

What we ARE all doing is:

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

Stay Connected

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

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

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

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

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

Unprecedented Times


Unprecedented Times

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has created unprecedented times for all organizations including, and some would say especially, Non-Profits.

The stock market is chaotic and unpredictable, all of our missions, business’ and personal realities are being impacted and there is a palpable sense of fear and concern, primarily for the unknown.

What we do know, is that philanthropy and the impact of your specific organization MUST go on.

Continue to communicate with your constituents. Often.

Be painfully transparent with your donors, not only how this crisis is impacting your organization but what you and your leadership team are doing to continue services for your clients and their families.

Continue to show the IMPACT of your organization and tie it to the IMPACT your donors have on your organization.

While there is fear, there is an opportunity, through philanthropy, to highlight the need for community. Highlight how your donors play an integral role in building community and how their partnership with you directly impacts the lives of the people you serve.

Lastly, if you had a solicitation planned or scheduled, move forward. Continue to tie such requests to a specific need and show specific impact. Yes, the market is down and we’re all feeling the anxiety that comes with unprecedented times, but know the human spirit that wants to help others remains alive and well.

by: Michael Bruni, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

Leveraging Lapsed Donors


Leveraging Lapsed Donors

 Living in the Midwest, we are regularly reminded of the passage of time. Crisp fall evenings turn into winter mornings and then finally, opening day for baseball season is around the corner.

I don’t know about you, but as I see spring hesitantly return to Chicago, I am reminded that my client’s fiscal year end is also quickly approaching.

Each spring, we produce a spring mail appeal that is targeted to our lapsed donors, those who have not given in the past 12 months. I feel like this group needs an extra bit of TLC, a little hand holding. After all — they have not responded to gala invitations, they have not mailed back an envelope for a year-end gift.

We have to realize that their regard for the organization might be waning. We need to find a creative way to re-engage them.

I have done this by creating an appeal for a special, tangible project. That is, instead of asking for money for the general mission or general operating budget.  Last year my client was in dire need of updated furniture in a group home for five adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities. We photographed the current furniture (close up to reveal all blemishes, tears and stains) and created a color collage of “before” pictures.  This was mailed with a letter that focused on one of the residents and described the supportive services they receive to maintain dignity and live independently in the community.  The letter described that this would be their forever home.

We also made follow up calls, which are so very important to maintain contact and bolster donor response rate.  When gifts came in and new furniture was purchased, we created an “after” collage with photos of all the new furniture that was provided. The collage was enclosed with the donor thank you letter.

Recognizing that needs like these are ongoing, we have branded this effort “Décor for Dignity.”  We know that everyone deserves to live in a home that is comfortable, safe, and well kept. Our donors have begun to look for this appeal, at about the same time that I begin to look for budding daffodils in my yard.

I offer this because I hope it gives you an idea to re-engage your organization’s lapsed donors that will impact your mission in a lasting way.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

The Importance of Being Counted


The Importance of Being Counted

You may have heard that 2020 is a Census year. And, like many, you may have not given that much thought. No big deal, right? Wrong. The Census — the simple act of being counted — is a very big deal. Here’s why: first, federal funds are allocated to each state based on U.S. Census data. Second, Congressional seats are apportioned based on Census data. In short, being counted is critical to preserving our democracy.

Let’s consider what these two critical reasons really mean on a practical level. According to Forefront’s Democracy Initiative, more than $20 billion in federal money comes to Illinois each year based on U.S. Census data. This funding supports programs like Medicaid, highway infrastructure, SNAP, and programs that help low-income households, rural communities and communities of color. Being undercounted means fewer federal resources coming to Illinois. Loss of funding could lead to further erosion of of our social safety net at a time when needs are growing.

An undercount will have other serious ramifications for Illinois, since Congressional seats are meted out based on Census data. Again, according to Forefront, since 1950 Illinois has lost one congressional seat every Census. In 2020, an inaccurate Census puts Illinois in danger of losing two seats. In turn, a quieter voice of behalf of Illinoisans in government means greater potential harm to the residents who most need supports and opportunity.

As nonprofit leaders, I believe we have a responsibility to educate our constituents on the importance of being counted — and to register, vote and be civically engaged. To learn more about the Census — how you can be counted and ensure others are, too — please visit Illinois Count Me In at

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

And Now For Some Good News


And Now For Some Good News

Listening to a broadcast of the evening news these days can be a daunting experience.  Is the nation really more divided than ever, or does it just seem that way?  Is the world in hopeless peril, or will human ingenuity rise to the challenges that face us as a planet?  Are news stories more shocking than in prior eras, or are we desensitized because everything comes at us so fast and in such gruesome detail?  Listening to a news broadcast is tough!

Local and national news broadcasts almost always carry one “good news” story—usually toward the end of the broadcast—that stands in stark contrast to all the grim news that precedes it.  The focus of this one story is about something really good happening in the world.  It is likely a story about people helping people, overcoming differences, circumventing the bureaucratic solutions to offer direct service, and about a collective group from a community coming together to help an individual or small subset of the community.  Almost always, these human interest stories are about a non-profit organization doing its wondrous work.

Non-profit organizations are more important today than ever before, because they shine the light of goodness in what otherwise can seem like a really bleak world. I would like to see a news broadcast that turns the formula on its head and presents the NPO as the lead story.  Instead of putting the story at the end of the broadcast as an antidote to all the evil that came before it,  let this story serve as a reminder that the overwhelming efforts of the majority of people are focused on family, and neighborhood, and community and on acts that unite us rather than divide us.

All this matters because those of us who lead these non-profit organizations are at the vanguard of righteous action in the world.  To paraphrase a movie title we are the “Guardians of Good in the Galaxy.”  If your work seems hard today (which it is), the hours long (which they are), the mission challenging (which it must be), the opportunities unending (also true!), then celebrate with me, because you are part of something wondrous, and powerful and great, and that is the community of non-profit organizations that are absolutely essential to our future and well-being as a society.  And that is not fake news!

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

Preparation Drives Success


Preparation Drives Success

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”     -Confucius

In advance of a donor visit a few weeks back, I reached out to the Board member connected to our prospect so we could schedule time to discuss and practice our solicitation in advance. His response, “I think I’m good and, besides, I’m super busy and I hate role playing.”

I told him that I understood his reluctance and appreciated how valuable his time was. Then, instead of trying to convince him how critical a pre-meeting rehearsal was to securing an investment — knowing that he’s a huge sports fan — I just asked him to think about professional athletes for a second.

I asked him if he thought that Jack Nicklaus really needed to work on his sand shots before every tournament, why Michael Jordan practiced his free-throws every day, or why football teams spend an entire week specifically preparing for the team they’ll be facing in the next game. They are all elite athletes who have mad skills, so why do they insist on practicing so much?

Fortunately, he accepted my premise and asked me if I really thought it would make that big of a difference to practice in advance of our donor meeting. He knows the donor, he’s been involved with the organization for years and he understands the project we are seeking investments for. I told him that, in my experience, the likelihood of securing a commitment from a donor is directly correlated to the amount of advance preparation and yes, practice, that we can do. If we want to “win” we have to practice in advance, simple as that.

When it comes to a donor solicitations, to ensure our success we have to:

  • plan for who will be talking about what (including who will make the specific ask)
  • prepare the questions we want to ask of the donor (and anticipate how their answers might re-direct the conversation)
  • discuss potential objections and how best to address them.

And, while the actual preparation for a donor solicitation is different than what you need to do in advance of a client presentation, the necessity for preparation and rehearsal is the same. Here are four essential steps you can take as part of your “pre-game” routine:

  • Write out an outline/script for the conversation/presentation
  • Practice with your solicitation team or in front of someone who represents the donor/audience
  • Refine your approach based on what happens during the practice session(s)
  • Create a note card or cheat-sheet to review right before you go into the meeting/presentation that lists the key message points and/or questions necessary to engage your donor/audience

These are not meant to be comprehensive by any stretch, just guidelines for your preparation.

At the end of the day, just make sure that you, and everyone involved in the donor solicitation, makes time to prepare and rehearse. That way, when you’re in the moment, your comfort and confidence level will both be high and you will increase the odds of your success. I’ve seen it work too many times to put my trust in anything less.

Thank you for the amazing work you do each day!

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago