“May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” – Peter Marshall
Celebrating America’s Independence for the Greater Good!
I hope you had a great holiday weekend! Much of the news has focused on celebrating being back together! Many of us spent the past weekend at BBQ’s, watching fireworks and enjoying parades. Thankfully, this year looks a lot different than it did last year. We can finally hug our family, friends and neighbors, gather safely, and enjoy each other’s company.
I recently read an opinion piece that shared that the best way to love our country is to fight to make it fairer, more equal and work for more opportunity for all. As I read this, I thought about the work that we all do as development professionals. Whether you work in education, the arts, animal welfare, human services, health care – you name it – we are all working in a space that strives for the greater good of our community, our city, our country, our world.
And while this is the fundamental basis and the mission for our work, I, for one, sometimes get busy and lost in the details and don’t stop to think too much about why we do this work. I’ve been busy thinking about and planning for the year ahead of us. What did I learn from the most unusual year we just left behind and what lies ahead? And yet, while we tweak our plans and map out our year ahead, today, let’s stop for just a moment and be in the present.
Let’s really think about why we do this work…why is it important to us? Yes, we aren’t the ones at the front lines…the counselors, the teachers, the artists, the doctors…but, what we do every day to connect with donors and friends to support our missions helps make this life-changing work possible. And, it makes our community, our city, our country, a better place.
Happy Birthday, America.
Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels
No Means “Not Now, not Never”
As Development officers, we hear “NO”.
A lot actually.
Usually, the “NO” we hear has more to do with being denied the chance to have a conversation or meeting about an impending project or initiative. We call a prospect and hear nothing. We write a prospect, there is no response. A friendly email is sent, met with no return.
It can be deflating.
Remember though, the “NO” we have all experienced is really a way the donor says, either directly or indirectly, “I’m not ready for this discussion or request.” As Development officers, all we can do is continue to advance the mission of the organization we represent and that means respecting the position our donors represent.
So what do you do?
Continue to communicate. Eliminate (for the time being) any financial request and continue to advance information about how the mission is working. Continue to advocate for the clients, students, or audiences you represent through stories that show the mission working.
It’s a lesson we could all learn from Ms. Opal Lee.
Ms. Opal Lee was a driving force to getting the first National Holiday passed since 1983, Juneteenth. She heard NO far too many times to count. She was turned away at the door by legislators, donors, and countless others for well over five decades.
But she was persistent while being respectful. She knew her many audiences needed time. Time to digest what was being advocated for and time to see the impact of celebrating this newly voted upon National Holiday. She didn’t take the many NO’s personally, she just believed in what she was advocating for and never stopped.
As Development officers. Continue to advocate. Continue to communicate. Continue to be patient and yes, give your donors time but never give up on them. Over time, they won’t give up on your either.
- Mike Bruni, Managing Director, HPS Chicago
Are you thinking about DEI?
Is this a topic of conversation at your organization? Or have you shied away from this topic, because you are afraid of saying or doing the "wrong" thing?
Our team started the conversation some time ago, and it has recently become a more integral part of our team meetings. As is evident from our website, our team is comprised of middle-aged white consultants. Like many, we are trying to gain a better understanding of DEI and what it means to each of us, our team, our clients and our community.
We recently met with a DEI consultant, Khalilah Lyons, who is a dynamic and young - yet experienced - leader. We are seeking her guidance in several areas, which includes:
1. Gaining a better understanding of the DEI landscape
2. Finding ways in which we can learn and grow as individuals and as a team
3. Identifying opportunities to be more aware and thoughtful in our approach to the non-profit community and those we serve
Khalilah did not make us feel badly about who and where we are as a team. She simply noted that this is our starting point. This acknowledgement and our collective ability to speak honestly and without fear was a huge relief. With the ability to speak honestly and openly comes trust. And with trust comes progress.
We know this journey will not be easy and it will likely have no "end". But it will be thought-provoking and help us grow in new and interesting ways. I know I speak for each person on the team when I say that we are looking forward to challenging ourselves, expanding our thinking and perspective, and sharing our insights with you. We hope you will join us in this conversation!
Learning from Lockdown
Recently, I listened to an episode of Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast, this one with Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering. In this episode, Ms. Brown and Ms. Parker explore what it means to gather together in a post-lockdown world. The conversation is wide-ranging and surely pertinent to all aspects of post-pandemic life. Of the many thought-provoking questions asked, one has stuck with me: “What will we do with what we learned during lockdown?” Ms. Parker asserts that we must pause, think about all we’ve learned, and make appropriate changes.
I couldn’t agree more.
As I think about this from a fundraising perspective, I consider special events. Like all nonprofits, my client is grappling with future of its events. Truth be told, pre-pandemic, my client had said for several years “we really need to reimagine our events, breathe new life into them,” but there never seemed to be the time nor the needed appetite for risk-taking. Now, we’re forced to ask: should we simply bring back the in-person events exactly as they were? Will people want to come to crowded in-person events? Will it be safe? What, in this new reality, will people want?
During the pandemic, my client was fortunate. Thanks to a creative special events team and a generous community, its reinvented events were quite successful! Looking ahead, my client’s events team has made two decisions regarding future events:
1)Some of the future events will offer a virtual component. Going virtual opened us up to a large new audience. Our annual gala, for example, which usually drew 500 in-person attendees, brought thousands of participants, literally from around the country. Many of those newcomers attended additional virtual events and have become engaged in our community — albeit virtually — and as donors. We don’t want to lose them.
2)At least some of the future events will include a specific beneficiary. Prior to the pandemic, funds raised from special events typically supported a broad, somewhat vague purpose. During the pandemic, in recognition of the suffering of so many in our community, each event focused on a specific cause, e.g. the St. Patrick’s Day event featured a virtual cooking demonstration by Chicago chefs. Funds raised were used to purchase meals from local restaurants to be distributed to homeless shelters throughout Chicago, thus helping local businesses and feeding the hungry. Donors were moved by the mission focus of each event, and were incredibly generous.
Like Bene Brown and Priya Parker, I encourage you to take the time to think about all your organization learned by the forced lockdown and resultant shift. Like my client, I think you’ll find some change will be most welcome.
STOP. START. CONTINUE.
I recently had the privilege of working with a client that was preparing for a Board retreat. While the retreat focused on some heftier goals related to the organization’s newly minted strategic plan as well as creating a culture of diversity and inclusion, another important goal was to allow for some time for the Board to reconnect with one another. The Board retreat is usually an annual event, held in-person, for half a day on a Saturday. This year, because so many of us are zoomed out, it was a virtual retreat for a few hours on a Saturday morning. The planning committee did an excellent job ensuring that the agenda was tight, the content was important and relevant so that the Board felt it was a good use of their time, and yet, it didn’t tap into too much weekend time.
Across the pandemic, we’ve all learned to become much more adept at using technology to stay connected in our work and in our personal lives (Even my 87-year-old parents have become pros at Facetime and Zoom!). While it’s been crucial to have these tools to work and connect, we now find that the world is beginning to open up again and we can begin to get back to business as usual. But what is business as usual anymore? How has the pandemic changed the way we look at things and showed us how to operate differently?
At the retreat, the Board spent some time getting reacquainted in smaller groups in several virtual breakout rooms. We started the conversation with…
During the pandemic - what have you STOPPED, STARTED and WILL CONTINUE doing?
It was a really great conversation amongst the members and not only did they learn more about each other but there were many thought-provoking takeaways as well. In my opinion, this portion of the retreat was as important as the other meatier agenda items. It helped strengthen the cohesiveness of the Board and was a great reminder to each of them of who they are working alongside of to support such an important mission.
After this retreat, it also got me thinking…what do I want to START, STOP and CONTINUE doing in my personal life and in my work? I found this exercise to be very helpful in holding up the mirror and taking a good hard look at what is working, what hasn’t been so successful and what new things do I need to learn, introduce or be open to? I identified a few things…
Join me in this activity! I promise you will find it useful for both your work and personal journeys. So, I ask you…what do you want to STOP, START and CONTINUE?
OK, we held our virtual event. Now what?
Once we’ve played the role of writer, editor, producer and promoter….to get our virtual spring event accomplished, what comes next?
For my client, this year’s virtual event required five separate shoots in order to tell the story we wanted to convey. This compares to one or two photoshoots for our past in-person events. With all the expenses, time, and effort invested we looked for ways to leverage our work after the virtual event was held. Here are some things we did:
Special Events in the Time of COVID-19
Special events, especially galas, have always played a critical role in an organization’s philanthropy plan. Whether you love them or hate them, they raise needed funds and foster feelings of good will amongst party-goers.
The most successful events are those that are truly mission-focused — especially during this past year, when events went virtual by necessity.
Like most nonprofits, my client had an immediate moment of panic with the sudden shift to shelter-in-place last March. We were forced to abruptly cancel an event for 1,000 and, as the seriousness and seemingly endless nature of the pandemic became clear, we began to rethink all of our in-person fundraising events. We were, of course, quite nervous: how do we hold an event virtually? Will people want to attend, not just one, but several virtual events? Will they be generous?
The answer was a resounding yes. Why? I believe it’s because we were truly mission-focused in our virtual events, maybe even more so than during “normal” times. Every decision the special events team made — from planning to execution — was focused on the impact the organization would have on people in need. Of course, offering a good bit of entertainment was important, too. But the mission-focus was absolutely critical.
For my client, that meant each event had a specific, important “cause” donors would support. For example, our typical three-night Christmas concert became a one-hour, pre-taped Christmas variety show. Donors could purchase sponsorship packages that included everything from delivery of a tin of popcorn to an in-home dinner for 10. Donors were also given the opportunity to make a free-will donation to support the annual Giving Tree that provides Christmas gifts, needed supplies, and meals to people in need throughout Chicago. The free-will response was overwhelming! The organization raised more through simply by asking for free-will donations than they ever had through the raffles, auctions, paddle raises of years’ past.
Likewise, its St. Patrick’s Day event — typically a tented party with food, live entertainment, raffles, etc. — offered a pre-taped cooking demonstration along with musical and comedic entertainment. Once again, donors were invited to make a free-will donation, this time to support local restaurants and provide meals to homeless shelters throughout the city. The response was tremendous. Through contributions, my client and a handful of local restaurants hit hard by the pandemic provided more than 2,000 meals to homeless shelters that day. As we debriefed on the event the next day, we agreed that perhaps this could — indeed should — be our new St. Patrick’s Day tradition.
We look forward to the time when we can safely gather again for events. And we’ve surely learned a lot about hosting them and about what truly motivates our donors. One thing is certain: we will be sure we offer concrete, specific ways donors can have an immediate impact on the people we serve. We will be truly mission-focused.
By Molly Galo, Senior Consultant, HPS Chicago
New Donors – Yay! Now, how do we keep them?
Every fundraiser I know worries about donor retention. How do we keep our current donors happy, engaged and involved? We know that it is a lot easier to retain our donors than it is to find new folks to support our organizations. And while it is important to dedicate a significant amount of our time building and fostering relationships with our donors and friends that continue to give to us, it is also critical to add new donors into the fold. To find these new donors, we often work with our Boards, committees, volunteers and our staff to try and cultivate new relationships with people who we think will be inspired by our missions.
So, what do we do when we have the good fortune of securing new donors? What is our plan to keep them? I recently read an article that shared some staggering numbers about new donors. Once we have them – it’s hard to keep them after the first year. When a donor gives her first gift online, on average, a second gift only happens 22 percent of the time (and 29 percent if a gift is made off-line).
Here are just a few things you can do to try and keep these first-time donors from falling away from your organization:
Kindness – It just might be contagious!
Greetings! I am writing this blog on a wintry Chicago day. It’s snowy and gray and feels like the kind of day where you just want to keep your pajamas on, read a good book or binge some Netflix while eating chocolate. And yet…my mood doesn’t really match the overcast feel of the day. In fact, I’m filled with gratitude for people that I don’t even know. At a time when we are faced with a lot of negative news and divisiveness, I’ve seen some light and goodness from a host of generous and kind strangers.
It began at Target this morning when I had to pick up a few incidentals (I’m trying to go at off times when the store is less busy – I might accidently have gone during senior hours as I felt like the youngest person there, which at the age of 54, is unusual!). I was behind an older woman in line who was struggling to find her gift cards in her large purse of which most of its contents were soon scattered on the ground. The young man at the checkout – Jason – was so kind and patient with her. He took the time to help her collect her things and calmed her frazzled nerves. He told her to take a few deep breaths and not to worry about anything. I stood in line and enjoyed watching this sweet exchange. The older woman was so thankful and left with a huge smile on her face. When Jason began scanning my items, he said, “Ma’am, I am so sorry that I took a little longer with the customer ahead of you. She was really struggling and well, she’s my grandma’s age. I just kept thinking about my grandma and how I would want someone to help her if she was in this same situation.”
Jason’s good will was a great start to my day. I arrived back home and began plugging away on my computer. I’ve been working with a not for profit to help build a development program from the ground up. I had several phone calls scheduled with folks that I had never met – that were introduced to me by other colleagues that thought they may have some perspective about this organization’s mission. I spoke to both Nicole and Cora…leaders of two different organizations that gave me loads of time and great ideas. Both of them, busy with their own work, and yet, carved out time to help me…a perfect stranger. In fact, when I thanked Nicole as we ended our call, she said, “This is important…it’s about all of us working together so that we can impact the community that we all serve.”
One nice person after the other, looking out for and helping someone else for the greater good. Asking for nothing in return. I felt inspired by everyone’s kindness and willingness to go the extra mile. I am going to make sure I follow their lead…who knows, it might just be contagious!
P.S. When I approached the store manager to tell her about Jason, she first looked at me wearily and braced herself for a complaint. After I told her my story, she lit up and said, “You literally made my day.” But the best was actually Jason’s beaming face that I saw as I was leaving the store. The manager had shared the story over the employee radios and as I walked out of the store, I heard over and over “Way to go, Jason!”
Written by Senior Consultant Susanna Decker
Groundhog Day occurs this week.
This is one of those obscure holidays that passes without notice, like Casmir Pulaski Day, April Fool’s Day, or National Sorry Day (yes, National Sorry Day is “a thing,” but only observed in Australia, according to my Hallmark calendar.)
Groundhog Day is placed in the appropriate month: February. One grey day blends with the last.
I begin to feel that I am living the same day over and over again. Winter has a strong grasp in -- like a toddler hanging onto my ankle. But it’s also when I am in the throes of spring event planning. That means my creativity and motivation needs to be at its highest.
Personally, I believe that if I’m not interested in the event I’m planning, nobody else will be either. So I try to mix things up from year to year. This time I’m organizing a musical number with the participants that benefit from my client’s organization. They will be lip synching, dancing and clapping along to a number by Justin Timberlake.
We have broken down the song into different verses so the participants have just four lines to focus on. We will bring in instruments and props to make filming more fun. They will be social distanced for safety and the various shots will be edited together.
I’m excited about this and can’t wait to see how it comes together. This will motivate me to call our donors and encourage them to tune in. It also propels me through the other mundane parts of event planning like invitation design and sponsor solicitation.
I encourage you to try to find something that will challenge you with your spring event planning. So you don’t feel like it’s Groundhog Day!