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  • Planning Effective Association Fundraisers: 3-Step Guide

When you think of fundraising, nonprofits or schools might come to mind. Nonprofits use fundraisers to fuel their missions, relying on support from donors to assist beneficiaries, pay staff, market their programs, and more.

But, associations can take advantage of the benefits of fundraising too. In addition to helping your organization diversify its revenue sources, fundraising can improve your offerings and lead to an increase in member engagement, recruitment, and retention. By filling in funding gaps with fundraisers, you can expand your programs, create professionally-designed educational courses, and enhance conferences.

So, how can your organization get started? It’s important to understand that fundraising as an association can be more nuanced as it comes with a few key differences from nonprofit fundraising. Specifically, your members are already paying to have access to your association, and they may be confused when asked to contribute more. Also, gifts to your organization don’t benefit a charitable cause like giving to a soup kitchen or animal shelter, so you’ll need to appeal to donors using thoughtful strategies.

While there are challenges that come with fundraising as an association, you can overcome them by taking an approach that embraces the unique distinctions of association fundraising.

To ensure your members feel engaged and inspired to donate, we’ll walk through the following fundraising steps:

The key to successful association fundraising is clear communication. You’ll need to explain exactly why your organization and how contributing will benefit members. Make sure to include these brief explanations in your marketing emails so members are never confused by your requests for additional support.

Let’s start by discussing why you need to use an AMS (and how it can help you communicate clearly).

Step 1: Invest in association management software.

Association management software (AMS) is software designed specifically for associations to assist them in running their organizations and maintaining strong member relationships. Protech outlines typical AMS features, explaining that this software “can automate processes in your association such as membership management, payment processing, professional development events, and data analytics.”

A comprehensive AMS should also include a dedicated fundraising feature that simplifies the process. Your software should have the ability to:

  • Create donor profiles. Create individual donor profiles each time a member donates for the first time. Then, your association can track every interaction with the donor, helping you keep a detailed record of all their past involvement. Not only can you use this data to thank them and recognize their support, but your association can also identify opportunities to deepen the donor relationship.
  • Automate administrative tasks. Tasks like sending invoices, donation and tax receipts, and thank you messages can take hours of your staff’s time. Fortunately, association software can automate these tasks, delivering scheduled messages to reduce staff workloads. Additionally, the increased delivery speed will lead to a more positive, transparent donor experience.
  • Accept different types of donations. With the right software, your association can accept contributions beyond basic one-time financial gifts. Give donors the freedom to choose how they support your cause by accepting one-time donations, recurring gifts, and in-kind donations (i.e., gifts of goods or services rather than money) through your AMS.

When you use your AMS to fundraise, you can also track overall fundraising progress and other analytics more accurately. Quickly generate reports that reveal your association’s advancement toward meeting goals and identify ways to adjust or improve your strategy along the way.

Step 2: Choose a fundraising idea.

The fundraising idea you choose should engage members and make them want to participate. Keep in mind that your association members are busy professionals who likely don’t have much spare time. So, make contributing to the fundraiser as easy as possible.

Here are a few fundraising ideas that are appealing to on-the-go association members to get you started:

  • Crowdfunding. This is one of the most basic, easy-to-launch types of fundraisers. Simply choose a focus for your campaign, like funding a new educational course. Then, center this need in your promotions and fundraising asks. During the fundraiser, supporters will contribute a one-time donation to your association.
  • Product sales. Offer members something in return for donating by selling branded merchandise. Consider offering members accessories like branded tote bags and hats as well as more practical items like pens, water bottles, and coffee mugs. Explain that the proceeds from merchandise sales will benefit a specific program or offering.
  • Fundraising events. Put together a fun event and sell tickets to members who want to support the association. For more formal events, you might organize a gala or charity golf tournament. However, if casual events are better suited for your association, picnics or raffles are also great ways to fundraise.

Consider incorporating a progress tracker like a fundraising thermometer into your campaign to engage supporters. NXUnite’s guide to fundraising thermometers recommends that you set your fundraising goal first, design an eye-catching thermometer with your goal at the top, then track data and update the thermometer throughout the campaign.

Step 3: Organize logistics and hold the event.

While not every fundraiser requires an event to be successful, gathering your supporters to celebrate and support the organization can inspire generosity from them. Additionally, attending the event can be seen as a built-in benefit of donating. If your association chooses to host an event, make sure your AMS has the tools you need for a seamless event planning process.

Here are some of the items to consider and carefully plan to keep your event running smoothly:

  • Choose a venue. Make sure the location is large enough for your event and has ample, convenient parking for members.
  • Recruit and train volunteers. Give your most engaged and dedicated volunteers their own responsibilities, train them, and assign them specific tasks.
  • Secure sponsorships. Offset event costs by securing sponsorships or donations from businesses. For example, a local bakery could contribute baskets filled with baked goods as prizes for a raffle.
  • Organize virtual or hybrid elements (if applicable). If holding a virtual or hybrid event, create and share a guide to using your selected tech platforms for the event.

If your organization is planning a more elaborate event, consider pairing it with another smaller fundraiser. For example, you could promote a crowdfunding opportunity at your fundraising dinner or sell merchandise at a conference. Together, these efforts can come together to offset the costs of the event.

Once your fundraiser ends, leverage the new member data you receive. You can analyze data that shows which communication channels donors responded best to and focus heavily on those channels during your next marketing campaign or merchandise sale. And, most importantly, use these findings to thank donors by using personal details like greeting them by name, describing the support they gave the association, and even referencing the number of years they’ve been members.

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