Monday, June 8, 2015

Fundraising and Association Leadership

In the past year, I and my association have gone through dramatic transformations.

With regard to my association, we have significantly increased the amount of money--and our dependence on that amount of money--that is raised from our members through our 501(c)(3) foundation. Gifts have consistently gone from 3- and 4-figures to 4- and 5-figures and, if our efforts and success continue, soon will be tipping into the 6-figure territory.

And as for me, my transformation has been to become our principal fundraiser--something neither my education nor my previous experience have prepared me for. But the responsibility is mine, and now that it is, there are some things I'm beginning to see clearly that I may not have even guessed at before.

The most significant of these things is this: successful fundraising in the association space is absolutely dependent on personal connections and relationships.

Initially, we worked with an external fundraising consultant. Both his preference and my gut instinct was that he wasn't there to raise money for us. He was there to help us build the capacity in which we could raise the money ourselves.

The consultant prepared us well--and now we are operating without him, executing on the fundraising plan and activities that he helped us define and develop.

And as I work this plan I can't help but notice that any success that we have had in converting those 3- and 4-figure gifts into 4- and 5-figure gifts is directly proportionate to my own ability and comfort-level in picking up the phone and engaging people I already know in conversation about what it is we're trying to achieve and what it is we need from them.

Simply put, in our environment, cold calls and direct mail are not winning strategies.

As a result, when I'm at a meeting with our members, I'm much more focused than ever before on shaking hands and engaging as many people as possible in conversations--casual or otherwise. That's always been important. That personal contact at the conference may be the only positive connection I have with a member in a given year. But now, it is literally the primary way that I'm building our potential donor base.

Today's handshake is tomorrow's 6-figure gift. One won't immediately follow the other, but it is the only place, I think, that such a journey can start.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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1 comment:

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