Association members: making major gifts?

Here’s a timely tip: maximize this revenue stream for your association or medical society

Are you leaving money on the table?

Oh, wait – that question needs some context. I’m not talking about restaurant tipping (you know, that time-honored practice wherein people choose to give something extra above what’s expected).

No, I’m talking about securing philanthropic major gifts for your organization (you know, that other time-honored practice wherein people choose to give something extra above what’s expected).

Sure, members of our associations and professional societies pay dues to receive benefits from our organizations. But increasing numbers of them are going farther, by making major gifts that support and elevate their organization’s mission.  If your organization isn’t maximizing such revenues, you’re not only leaving money on the table, but missing a valuable opportunity to increase member engagement.

Are major gifts worth the effort?

The answer is a flat-out “yes.” There’s a commonly held misperception that most charitable giving comes from corporations and foundations.  In fact, the opposite is true. According to Giving USA, 86 percent of the $485 billion given in 2021 to US nonprofits came from individuals, bequests, family foundations and donor advised funds. Foundation grants added 10 percent and corporations rounded out the final 4 percent.

That balance pretty much reveals where your real opportunities lie.

Major gifts programs pay off in some very attractive ways:

Increased financial stability. A mature major gifts program can produce 70-80% of all philanthropic revenue, helping to ensure long-term financial stability. By focusing effort on major gifts, your organization can reduce its reliance on less predictable sources of funding (like event participation and giving from foundations and corporations).

Stronger relationships with members. A major gifts program builds long-term relationships with its most committed supporters.

Increased program impact. More resources will allow your organization to expand its programs and services to create greater impact. Major gifts can support new initiatives, research, advocacy efforts, and other strategic priorities that might never happen without limited funding.

Enhanced reputation. A major gifts program can enhance your organization’s reputation; a strong base of dedicated supporters is a great “third party endorsement” that can influence other external stakeholders.

Stronger culture of philanthropy. Donors who give large gifts can change the equation for all donors. Properly communicated, a major donor’s high-profile example can cause other rank and file members to stop and consider their own commitment and aspirations. When it comes to copycat giving, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Consider the facts of life

If this all sounds great, there are some major gift facts-of-life to consider. Major gift request letters seldom work – after all, most of these donors are dipping into their assets to give, not just dashing off a check. Strong engagement is key, so you’ll have to invest in building personal relationships – a process that can take 3-18 months. Also, major donors tend to fund compelling programs and projects rather than general operations, so you’ll have to identify those opportunities and build your case.

The good news is that, with proper stewardship, major donors become more than transactional, annual fund givers. Properly stewarded, they will tend to give again and again, with a lifetime of impact on your organization.

Consultants in Association Philanthropy can help your association, association foundation or medical society establish or enhance a members major gifts program.  See the steps below and visit our website or contact Joe Skvara (; 708-990-1325) for a no-obligation 30-minute consultation.

How to start a major gift program

  • Commit your entire organization to a members major gifts program
  • Determine your priority giving opportunities and their budgets
  • Determine minimum/other levels for major gifts contributions
  • Set a preliminary philanthropic goal and initial timetable
  • Develop a compelling case for support for each of your program/project giving opportunities
  • Identify your major gifts prospects — discover if you have enough prospects in your donor base, even for a modest start:
    • Top $1,000+ annual donors for the past 3-5 years (not gov’t)
    • Top 25 donors (cumulative amount) for all time (not gov’t) 
    • Loyal donors who have given any amount every year for the past 5-10 years
    • Loyal conference and program event participants for the past 5-10 years
  • Consider conducting an electronic wealth screening of your members             
  • Recruit a major gifts committee, with a formal charge and job description
  • Create a major gifts plan; staff and committee should share their plan with your development committee, board, and select major gifts donor prospects.

The Pie You Want a Piece Of

A not-so-secret recipe for sweet grant success

According to Giving USA, foundations gave away $90.88 billion in 2021, or 19% of total charitable giving.

As a nonprofit association, that’s a pie you want a piece of.

The good news for grant seekers: this slice of the pie is growing – up 3.4% over 2020. The bad news: breaking into the grant pantry can take a significant degree of effort, and many organizations are unnecessarily daunted at the prospect.

Grant seeking does require effort: articulating organizational strategy, documenting programmatic outcomes, projecting a grant’s impact, identifying interested grantors. To assemble, sift and stir all those ingredients – for a cake that might never rise – is more effort than some association bakers are willing to put in.

But there’s a great reason to persist: do the diligence one time, and you’re already half-way done for your next grant, because so much of your work can be repurposed. When it comes to grants, muscle memory means money.

The grant writing recipe

Grant writing requires an understanding of the grant-maker’s mission, goals and application process. Writing persuasively and accurately, you’ll need to communicate a compelling idea, demonstrate the project is well-planned, and identify a clear financial need and feasible path to impact.

Key ingredients for a sweet grant proposal:

1. Make your project description easy to understand, clearly stating what the project aims to achieve.  Confront the hard questions head-on: What need does your program address? Why is it important? Why should this funder care? Share relevant data and statistics from multiple sources.

2. Show how this issue relates to your mission and why your organization is the best one to address it. Document knowledge, resources, and services you provide that others can’t match.

3. Show how your needs align with the funder’s priority. Tailor your proposal to match the funding organization’s mission, goals, and funding priorities. For additional insights, find out who they have funded previously.

4. Detail the feasibility of success. The proposal should show that the project is feasible and the organization has the capacity to carry it out. Project timeline, milestones, and budget should show the project is well-planned and achievable.

5. Articulate clear and measurable outcomes. The proposal should outline success measures linked to the need for funding. Be prepared to project how many individuals will achieve successful results from your program. What does success look like when scaled locally, regionally, or nationally? If you can’t supply impact data, provide expert testimonials, photos, or other representations of impact.

6. Demonstrate innovation. Show how your approach to this issue is creative and innovative, while also being sound and evidence-based.

7. Assemble a strong team. Introduce an institutional team with the necessary skills, experience and commitment to complete the project. Include the team’s roles, responsibilities and expertise.

8. Provide a comprehensive budget. Detail overall program cost, the amount of your ask, and how you’ll use it (operating, staff, capital). Include all current and ongoing expenses. It is critically important to demonstrate your organization can successfully manage the grant you are requesting.

9. Address sustainability issues. If your grant request is for a start-up project, include your timeline and show how the program will be administered during the start-up phase. Show how diverse funding streams will be applied over time to sustain the program and provide an exit strategy for the funder.

10. Secure institutional leadership. Ensure the grant request has the support of your administration and board of directors. Communicate the effort required for this program and expectations for their involvement moving forward.

11. Offer sponsorship recognition. The importance of this will vary among grantors. Be prepared to provide examples of how your organization can visibly recognize their support.

12. Steward the foundation grantor. Communicate prior to and following your grant submission and whenever possible.

As a slice of your organizational revenue, grants can be more than just frosting on the cake – just follow our proven recipe. We can’t guarantee you’ll be rolling in dough, but you’ll definitely receive your just desserts.

Consultants in Association Philanthropy’s 35-point questionnaire can ensure your grant request targets appropriately, communicates effectively and asks persuasively.  To find out more, contact Brad Hutchins at or 630/965-7708.

Dear Sponsor: Is the honeymoon over?

Like any strong marriage, sponsor relationships require continual renewal

Your courtship of your organizational sponsor paid off! You proposed to formalize your relationship, and they accepted! Since the day you two took your vows and exchanged benefits, your relationship has been solid. But – as with any marriage – take that relationship for granted and you might not like the results.

There’s good reason to keep the honeymoon magic alive. A growing consensus suggests the nonprofit sector will continue to struggle with economic viability for the foreseeable future. As federal funds wane and the economy fluctuates, associations are relying on their sponsors more than ever — just as those same sponsors face increasing calls to demonstrate a return on their investment in your organization.

A wandering eye is the last thing you want in this relationship. When was the last time your association and fundraising teams reviewed your organization’s sponsorship offerings?  Are you measuring the impact of sponsorships in terms that have meaning to the sponsor? Do you ask for corporate sponsor feedback on the value proposition? 

We encourage direct contact with your spouses – er, sponsors — to discuss what matters to them. Here are some pointers for keeping the relationship vital and current:

  • Solicit input from your most constant, dedicated corporate supporters to determine if the benefits you offer them are still valued the way they once were.
  • Always remember your anniversary.
  • Explore opportunities to expand sponsorship packages and create year-long benefits. 
  • If you forget that anniversary, double down on their birthday.
  • Consider bundling sponsorships that might include additional benefits such as:
    • bonus points for exhibiting
    • access to leaders
    • access to leaders during your association meetings throughout the year
    • enhanced visibility within your organization
    • access to association thought leaders
    • an environment in which sponsors feel free to share their pain points and explore solutions
  • Combine the value of sponsors’ monetary and in-kind donations when providing benefits, and strive to offer sponsors additional benefits when increasing giving levels.
  • Send ‘love’ notes to congratulate your sponsor on milestones or press releases. 
  • When all else fails, chocolate and flowers.

It’s a wise best practice to review your sponsorship benefits every two to three years to ensure you remain current with your supporters’ needs and interests. Include this review activity in your year-end goals and work to keep your corporate sponsors engaged often. If the relationship has begun to drift, consider renewing your vows – with a pledge to love, honor, and mutually benefit from this day forward.

If you have any questions or if CAP can be of help in creating sponsorship packages, please contact Lori Vega at

Your Intention: Team Retention

Leaders are bracing for 2023 to be a tough year in organizations and economies everywhere. Budgets are under review, next year’s goals may be in a state of ongoing change, and the situation may be putting your team on edge. The situation places a premium on clear priorities and confident leadership so you can keep your people focused and your association or society concentrating on what matters.

So, here are a few tips for supervisors getting ready for 2023…

Ask each member of your team these questions. Give them a week to mull them over and email their responses back to you. Then sit down and discuss the results with each individual. You may even consider sharing the aggregated responses at a team meeting or retreat.

“What do you need from me to do your best work?”

It’s essential to devote time to your team. You get busy as a leader. Competing responsibilities pull you in many different directions. You must ensure your team feels like they have the resources they need to do their jobs and that you have their back.

“How would you like to grow within our association?”

Discover where your team members want to grow. Find out what career development they need to seek out and facilitate these opportunities for them.

  • Do they need increased visibility in the organization?
  • Do they need mentoring?
  • Do they need a challenging special project?

“Do you feel like there’s a work-life balance?”

If your team has a work-life balance, they are more likely to be satisfied with their job and to perform well. Help your people prioritize a balance between working hard and playing hard. To help your team reduce their stress levels, prevent burnout, and cultivate a strong culture, you must prioritize a healthy work-life balance

“Do you feel a sense of purpose in your job?”

This question will help you connect their personal values to your association’s values. Find out what’s meaningful to them and connect the dots for how their job impacts the association as a whole. Help them understand that what they do everyday matters.

“Are you able to do your best work every day?”

This question helps you identify their strengths. You must figure out if they are playing to their strengths every day. You could even ask them a follow-up question such as: “What tasks would you eliminate if you could?”

“Are there specific activities we should be doing as a fundraising team?”

This question drives home if they feel like part of the team. Research has shown that employees who have friends at work are more successful in their careers. It’s essential to host events outside of work (you might have to get creative in this era of remote/hybrid offices) to thank your team and show them that you value them.

Powerful leadership will be essential as all organizations continue to transform into a more interconnected and interdependent workplace during whatever the “new normal” of 2023 is. Take the counsel offered in this article to enhance and elevate your leadership and personal brand within your association or society.

Michael J, Bates, MS, CFRE
Consultants in Association Philanthropy

Post-pandemic steps to an engaged and diverse board

Your board is essential for driving your mission and strategic priorities. Over the last couple of years, the pandemic has kept many boards from meetings in person. The lack of face-to-face interaction may have your board members feeling less connected and effective. Now that we are able to gather again, what are you doing to make sure your board is diverse, engaged and well-trained?

Annual Assessment

Each year, a great practice is to conduct an assessment with your board, review where your board stands today, and to determine where there are gaps.  Does your board reflect the community your non-profit is serving?  Do your board members have the expertise and talents needed to get your organization back on track and marching strongly into the future and beyond? Creating a checklist of skills and talents required will help identify collectively where your focus should be on recruiting new members. 

In addition, an annual assessment of each individual board member and the entire group will help your organization identify and stay on top of underlying issues that may be rapidly weakening the effectiveness of your board.

A Diverse Board

According to the National Council of Nonprofits, building a diverse board is top of mind for most nonprofits. Unfortunately, not much progress has been made. Following is a link to the National Council of Nonprofits’ helpful resources to increase your board’s diversity and engagement.  (We found the self-assessment on diversity, inclusion and equity particularly valuable)

Effective Board Practices

Also, at the beginning of each year or following the voting in of your newly elected members, plan a board training session and orientation for a collective review of:

  • Mission/Vision
  • Bylaws
  • Strategic plan(s)
  • Budgets and development plans
  • Financial forecast
  • Association and foundation key programs
  • Volunteer structure, roles and responsibilities statement
  • Organizational policies
  • Process for working with board members who may require training or mentoring
  • Conflict of interest documents (current and renewed each year)
  • Board role in philanthropy and fundraising

As Jonathan Schick, author of The Nonprofit Secret: The Six Principles of Successful Board/CEO Partnership reminds us, at the heart of every successful non-profit is one thing:  the board/CEO relationship.  Prioritize the processes that can keep you and your board connected and engaged.

If you would like to talk through any of these ideas, or if you have any questions, contact Lori Vega, Principal at CAP, directly at  Or, more information and resources are also available on the CAP website: