The following blog post was written by Sohini Baliga, Director of Communications at Taxpayers for Common Sense, and Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE, CEO & Chief Strategist at Spark Consulting LLC.

Associations don’t always have all the answers (we know, you’re shocked). We definitely have some major advantages, not the least of which is that we are highly a cooperative and collaborative community, in large part because there’s not a lot of intra-industry competition (i.e., the AICPA and the American Nurses Association have basically zero overlap in audiences). But there are some areas where we lag, and where other industries, for instance charitable fundraisers, do things better than we do.

Major Donor (Member) Relationship-Building

In the association world, we tend to want to treat all our members equally: nobody is more important or special than anyone else. That’s a noble impulse and helpful, up to a point. After all, you don’t want your association to seem cliquish, or for any member to feel like the association doesn’t respect or value her.

But the fact of the matter is, some members ARE more important or more special than others. Some members only date your association casually and then move on. Some make significant, long-term commitments. Those two types of members are not equally valuable.

Fundraisers, who manage relationships with donors – ranging from those who give $25 one time to those who make six- and seven-figure legacy contributions – have figured out how to make everyone along that continuum feel known and appreciated in a way that’s commensurate with their giving level. They do that by prioritizing ongoing two-way communication to find out what really matters to their donors, and using that information to deliver experiences that focus on treating donors equitably rather than equally.

Creating and Running Outstanding Campaigns

Marketing automation has been a real time-saver for association executives. You can set up the campaign, and your marketing automation software runs in the background, sending notices out on schedule to everyone who still hasn’t renewed her membership, registered for the meeting, or bought the webinar or book.

But those highly automated campaigns aren’t personal. They don’t tell a story. They aren’t compelling. They don’t make a connection. Because of that, they often don’t live up to expectations.

Fundraisers are experts at doing all of those things. They have to be. They’re not asking for people to give them money to get a direct personal benefit (a membership, a conference experience, professional development, access to vetted information). They’re asking people to give them money to support a greater cause. And they do it really well, by making personal connections and making their donors the heroes of the highly engaging stories they tell.

Attracting Millennial/Young Professional Supporters

Associations are struggling to recruit younger members. Part of the reason for that is that associations have erected barriers to entry rather than removing them.

What’s required to be considered part of your association’s community? A certain degree? A license? A certification? MONEY?

Those are all barriers to entry that a young person may not be able to clear – at least not yet. What you’re telling them, in effect, is: “You are not welcome here.”

Fundraising organizations know that if they can establish a relationship and loyalty up front, the dollars will come. Even if they don’t, those committed young fans will contribute in all sorts of valuable ways: volunteering to help with the mission-driven work of the organization, recruiting other supporters, amplifying messages and stories online and on social media.

To learn more, download your free copy of Steal Like a Fundraiser: Innovations in Cause-Oriented Fundraising for Associations at