NPO 040: Developing your Major Gifts Program (Sean MacCready and Stephenie Lazarus, Horizons for Youth)

Today's Guests: Sean MacCready and Stephenie Lazarus
     Sean MacCready serves as the Vice President of External Relations at Horizons for Youth in Chicago. Sean leads the development team in their fundraising efforts, including marketing, events, communications, and individual giving. Prior to Horizons for Youth, Sean worked at the Archdiocese of Chicago, the University of Notre Dame, St. Ignatius College Prep, and St. Agnes of Bohemia School, leading fundraising teams and as a major gifts fundraiser. In his free time, Sean is the host and producer of The Philanthropy Podcast, a podcast that explores best practices in fundraising. Sean has a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame, and M.A.s in education from Loyola University-Chicago and the University of Notre Dame.

Stephenie Lazarus is the Development Director for Horizons for Youth. Stephenie oversees Horizons for Youth’s development team, including student sponsorships, marketing, events, and grants. Prior to joining Horizons for Youth, Stephenie served as the Development Director at Providence Englewood Charter School and the Development Manager at LIFT-Chicago. Stephenie holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a M.A. in Social Work from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.

Nonprofit Spotlight: Horizons for Youth
Horizons for Youth is Chicago’s only organization providing need-based scholarships, comprehensive support programs and educational resources for students of all academic ability levels from kindergarten through the start of their career. Through their holistic approach, 99 percent of their participants have graduated from high school and 84 percent have graduated from college or are currently pursuing their degree. These results prove that with the right combination of competencies, family investment, and community support every child, regardless of socio-economic status, can reach their full potential.

Lessons Learned:
In our conversation, Stephenie and Sean share their experience of raising funds for Horizons for Youth and how to best partner with donors. Some of the key lessons they has learned are outlined below: 

  1. Educating donors… is a good thing!

    1. Sometimes it can be intimidating to share complicated or complex programs with donors. This should not hold us back from sharing these aspects of our programs with our donors.

    2. Sometimes the vocabulary has changed and when you take the time to actually explain the term to your donors, they may recognize that they have personal ties to that issue.

  2. Follow up with funders/corporate partners when you get a “no.”

    1. “Program officers are people too.” Get to know them!

    2. Find out what could have made your application or proposal stronger. Asking about this might lead to an immediate opportunity for funding, but even if it doesn’t it will better inform future proposals.

  3. Moves Management Systems: Tracking the stages of the relationship you’re building with a donor, so that you can support their philanthropic interests and hopefully grow their relationship with your organization.

    1. How to get started?

      1. Take notes from every interaction with a donor.

        1. Use voicemail, voice transcription in an email, or carry a notebook with you and add them into your electronic files later.

        2. Utilize a database, or if you don’t have that, use Google Sheets.

      2. Calendar reminders for following up with people

    2. Identify how frequently you want to be in touch with your donors at different levels. Here are some opportunities for touch points:

      1. Meeting in person regularly with them (with major donors, a goal might be to meet about quarterly)

        1. How to approach those donors to establish that schedule: “I’d love to meet with you quarterly. Is that a good fit for you?”

      2. Reach out with updates about the kids they sponsor or share a photo.

      3. Invite them to come visit you and see your programs in action (the summer program, come to lunch with some students, etc.).

    3. How do you encourage growth?

      1. Thank them really well for the initial gifts and show them the impact of that gift. (This might lead to them giving more on their own.)

      2. For those that don’t increase on their own, present them with the needs that exist and recognize how important they have been to the growth of the organization… and now we need our partners

        1. You want to have this kind of impact.

        2. We have these opportunities for you.

        3. Do you want to be part of this impact? (Always ask for the impact.)


    4. If someone accepts a meeting with you, they’re interested in getting involved. Don’t get

  4. How to measure your development activities? What should you be looking at?

    1. Number of visits, stewardship calls, points of contact with donors

    2. Donor retention (whether donors are upgrading or downgrading their donations)

    3. New donor conversion rates

    4. Prioritize your top 25 donors

  5. Participating in a Giving Day (whether Giving Tuesday or one specific to your organization)

    1. Look at how email titles impact open-rates and how can that encourage our Giving Tuesday efforts this year.

      1. Next After: (Research is shared on this website)

    2. Get a matching donation to encourage people to give on that day!

    3. Track metrics and share back with your matching donor:

      1. How many new donors?

      2. How many lapsed donors returned to giving because of this day?

      3. How many people who only have given at events participated in this day?

Find Horizons for Youth online:


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