The Rigors of Seeking Non-Traditional Support for Your Association

“Success is surely right around the corner…we just need to knock on a few doors…”

Uh-oh.

One of your board members just suggested you go and contact some leading Fortune 100 companies to ask for a gift or sponsorship – because “surely they will give money to our organization.” Right?

As your board members pivot in their seats (or peer into their Zoom screen) to hear your eager assent, your eyes widen. As a development staffer or committee member — how do you respond?

Post-COVID (we are “post,” right?), organizations are digging out and looking to make up for lost time – and lost support. Your association’s members may be tapped or distracted and reaching them is a challenge. So it’s only a matter of time before someone suggests seeking sponsorships and grants from non-traditional/non-endemic (that is, non-member) sources.

The plan is pretty alluring – on the face of it, that is…

Attracting support from non-endemic sources is only possible when you have a clear sense of the unique value your organization brings to their table. Identifying that value calls for an honest and focused discussion with your board and leadership, exploring these questions:

  • What does your nonprofit association offer they cannot obtain anywhere else?
  • Does your organization have solid and actionable data regarding its mission impact? About its constituency reach?
  • What would it take to interest a Fortune 100 company in your organization?
  • What types of access and visibility could you offer such a company, to both your members and those they serve?
  • What public or media goodwill might a sponsor enjoy from supporting your association?
  • Are there any categories of sponsors that need to be avoided at all costs?

Data is essential not only to understand your constituency but to allow you to demonstrate how your information is unique.  Because your association’s strength – and philanthropic marketability — lies in the uniqueness of its reach and impact.

Attracting non-endemic financial support also requires a robust development and marketing team and a committed Board of Directors — all with a very good understanding of the market-and-mission benefits your organization can offer to non-endemic supporters. Equally important, you’ll need a dedicated team to acquire this donor relationship, deliver the desired deliverables and outcomes, and maintain the connection and continued support (all while keeping your organizational vision pure as you resist the siren song of mission creep that sometimes is heard in the company of powerful and generous friends…).

Some of the most successful campaigns I have been involved with resulted in annual six-figure support over years.  However, it may take a focused approach, many hours of cultivation, and an organizational shift in mindset in order to meet the demands of a new, non-traditional partner. 

So when your board member makes that innocent suggestion to knock on some Fortune 100 doors, make sure everyone is knocking with their eyes open!


How will your organization find its success in 2022 and beyond?  If you are interested an initial conversation, contact me at:  lori@associationphilanthropy.com

Lori Vega has over 25 years of professional experience in the not-for-profit sector with a focus on business and strategic development and fundraising for major medical societies and other not-for-profit organizations.  She has served in senior executive roles for national medical associations including the Chief Development Officer for the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), and Director of Strategic Partnerships for the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the AAFP Foundation.  Lori’s primary focus is fundraising through corporate sponsorships, developing corporate giving programs and identifying and securing grants for educational initiatives and research, both at the national, local and international levels.

Twelve Ways to Involve Board Members in Fundraising – Without Making an Ask!

While most associations conduct resource development activity, many of their board members avoid the fundraising component of their leadership position and are unsure how to support the organization.

Here are simple suggestions to help your board members get involved in fundraising in helpful and meaningful ways — all without their ever having to ask for a donation.  I recommend that you work directly with your board or committee chair before their meeting to ensure their willingness to introduce this topic and to stress the importance of philanthropy for your association.

I have found success beginning this conversation with three straightforward messages for your board:

  1. We need your leadership and business skills surrounding philanthropy to make our organization more successful.”
  2. “We will not ask you to do any fundraising that you are uncomfortable with.”
  3. “The Development staff is here to do the heavy lifting around fundraising; we will be more effective with your help and leadership.”

Once the board hears that you are not going to put them in uncomfortable situations and won’t involve them directly in asking for a gift, you should find them more receptive to assisting your development efforts.


You can then introduce them to the following list of ways they can — with very little effort or discomfort on their part — transform your organization’s fundraising culture. Whether you choose to frame these as “ideas,” “opportunities” or “expectations,” the point is that they provide every board member an easy path to impact:

  1. Make your personal gift and allow your donation to be listed in the honor roll.
  2. Share your intellectual and business expertise with us regarding members/ individuals/ foundations and corporations you know that have the propensity to donate and an interest in our mission.
  3. Be an ambassador for our association and mention our organizational and philanthropic goals whenever you present to any size group. 
  4. Help us develop strategies for cultivating or soliciting targeted individuals, foundations, or industries.
  5. Open doors — provide an introduction for staff to begin conversations with prospects you know.
  6. Host a small group at your home, office, or club where staff can lead a discussion about the philanthropic objectives and mission of our association.
  7. Volunteer to join staff in attending a cultivation event or solicitation call with a potential donor – your mere presence speaks volumes about the importance of our cause.
  8. Invite Development staff to attend meetings and conferences with you.
  9. Actively participate in stewarding donors:
    • Write the potential donor a handwritten note after a cultivation or solicitation visit.
    • Send a handwritten thank-you after a gift is made.
    • Participate in a post-gift stewardship call.
  10. Review a list of our targeted foundations and provide your insight and connections.
  11. Attend and network at our association’s donor events.
  12. Share your activity with our board to help keep each other motivated and accountable.

The bottom line:  Always stay true to your organization’s culture — and ensure that that culture involves your board’s active support of philanthropy.


If you have any questions, send us an email.  You can reach Brad directly at brad@associationphilanthropy.com or at 630.965.7708.

Brad Hutchins, a Principal in Consultants in Association Philanthropy, formerly served as Senior Vice President of Development for Easterseals.

Building Major Gift Donor Relationships as COVID-19 Drags On

In March 2020, no one could have foreseen the dramatic disruption our organizations, members, and donors have experienced. New variants, shifting guidelines, supply chain woes, disruptive technology, unusual climate events, geopolitical concerns, continue to rock our world. As we roll into this third year of the pandemic still fraught with uncertainty, are you doing your best to build and strengthen major gift donor relationships?

Guiding principles still apply. Fundraising works best when it is simple, practical, and joyful. Major gift philanthropy is about a belief in something bigger than yourself. And, most of all, major gift fundraising is about people, valued relationships, and impact.

Here comes the spoiler alert: The big takeaway is that, in this continued era of COVID, the environment in which we operate is in a state of constant change. Technology drives how we connect, communicate, and relate. No question about that. But the pillars and guiding principles of major gift work still apply as we will illustrate.

Although unwanted, unexpected, and seemingly without end, this disruption presents an opportunity to reassess and approach major gift relationships differently. Do you realize how much you and your team have learned to adapt “on the fly”? As the former mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel famously said, “you never let a serious crisis go to waste.” It is also an opportunity to re-commit to the tried and true, proven principles of major gift, donor-centered fundraising.

The Consultants in Association Philanthropy (CAP) team is reminding our clients that retaining donors and keeping giving stable makes investing in relationship-building even more crucial. If donors are engaged, know, trust, and love you and your organization, and see their support making a difference, odds are they will continue to give.

So, what’s the recipe for success?

#1. If you’re not already grounded in your mission, get grounded!

  • What are the societal benefits of your association and its foundation? Is your mission clear and distinct? Is your impact statement clear and distinct?
  • What are the consequences if you cannot fulfill your mission? Who loses and what suffers if you go away? Remember, no money, no mission.
  • Use stories to humanize the benefits and impact of giving. But don’t forget the other side of the equation–data (in context.)

#2. Your responsibility to secure philanthropic revenue for your association is balanced by your responsibility to identify, match, and fulfill each donor’s interests and passions.

  • Securing money is a result, not an objective. The path to landing that stretch gift is discerning and serving the passions and interests of the donor!
  • People still give to people. And people give major gifts to transform and/or save lives.
  • Think big! Strength attracts investment. Be worthy, not needy. Place a compelling vision, a list of priorities, and exciting, impactful proposals in front of your donors. If a donor is truly qualified, when you present her with a request that truly speaks to her interests and passions, you will have an excellent chance of closing a gift at the maximum level.

#3. In your relationships with donors, authenticity, integrity, and honesty count. Be sincere, open, trustworthy. No bullets for this one; it speaks for itself.

Now, it’s your turn to apply these pointers: 

  • Seek to grow revenue streams/programs that are more resistant to broad economic swings and whatever the next “COVID 19-like event” brings.
  • If you strengthen your association’s emotional ties with donors through a “relational” philosophy versus a “transactional” philosophy, philanthropic revenue becomes more resistant to economic downturns.
  • Be donor-centered! Give the donor the opportunity to do something she truly cares about! It’s not really about your association, society, or foundation; it’s about what donors can do to help people, make an impact, and satisfy their reasons to give.
  • Involve your team.  Leverage your colleagues in identifying new major gift prospects, creating messaging about program impact, assessing donors’ engagement history, and learning more about the passions of your best prospects. Make relationship-building a team sport!

If you follow the pointers above as well as the late General Colin Powell’s 13th Rule, “Perpetual Optimism (believing in yourself, believing in your purpose, believing you will prevail, and demonstrating confidence and passion) is a Force Multiplier” you and your association will enjoy sustained philanthropic success. 

COVID-19’s impact on medical society fundraising

Results of a survey among development professionals serving medical societies and foundations

In Spring 2020, Consultants in Association Philanthropy conducted a survey among members of MSFRN — the Medical Society Fundraising Network — regarding the disruptions they had experienced and their adaptations in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The following presentation reports on the survey data and provides CAP’s takeaways and recommendations for sustained fundraising success.