March 19, 2015
Mirroring the corporate world, more and more member-based trade groups, associations and societies – ones that do not have their own 501(c)(3) foundation arm – are adding a social cause component to their signature events. They’re forming strategic alliances with one or more mission-based nonprofits, promising to promote its cause and exposing them to their members and the industries the association serves. To reach members who might not attend the event, oftentimes the association promotes the nonprofit within their social media circles and even provides fundraising links via website and email marketing. For an association event, nonprofit partners are greatly benefitting by receiving space in the reception area, time at the microphone, editorial in the program and ultimately a percentage of revenue from ticket and ad sales.
But with thousands of local chapters, national and international nonprofits to choose from, how are organizations selecting the deserving recipients? Especially when we all know that every Board and Committee member has a favorite charity they’re going to bat for. Well instead of battling it out year after year, here are a few guidelines you may want to put into place to help with the selection process:
- Establish a formal process. Since the partnership involves association marketing and money, do create and stick to written guidelines where there’s a criteria, a submission process or form, a committee making a recommendation based on that criteria and the Board of Directors ultimately approving. You can also create a task group of the Board that handles year-round requests pertaining to charitable partnerships, no matter what committee is involved.
- Do your due diligence. Be sure that part of the selection process includes researching the recommended charity. Look up the nonprofit on sites like CharityNavigator, GuideStar, Better Business Bureau or Philanthropedia to ensure that it is indeed a legitimate tax-exempt organization in good standing with the IRS.
- Consider your own strategic objectives. What matters most to your association and the industries your members serve? You may want to look to your mission, vision or strategic plan to find that alignment with a potential charity and then make sure that it is part of the criteria. For example, if your organization is a professional society for women, you may want to align with a charity that supports women who reenter the workforce. If your association members are interior designers or architects, your criteria may say we must support a charity whose mission is related to the industry, i.e. to build housing and provide furnishings for the homeless.
An error that many associations make in the process is thinking that the partnership is one-sided. You may think that the relationship is only about the association providing the marketing, the monetary contribution and/or the members donating goods to the charity. Not so. Associations can and should ask for support if needed from the charity in return for the contributions. Here are a few examples of what you can ask for:
- Volunteers. Does your association need help at the event itself? Then you may want to include in the criteria that in order to be considered, the selected charity must be able to bring X number of volunteers onsite to work with the association staff and/or volunteers in the registration area or wherever needed on this date.
- Event attendees. Do you find yourselves typically in need of additional event attendees outside of your association member community and industry? Perhaps you need to fill an audience, or you’re looking for more participation for your silent auction. If so, then a criteria for selection to consider is to say that the recipient will receive X number of donated tickets and will be expected to distribute them to its Board of Directors, Advisory Committees and VIP donors. Additionally, the charity must market the event to its own leadership and donor community via email marketing, newsletter, and social media support.
- Marketing opportunities. Are your association’s contributions to the nonprofit restricted in any way, for instance student scholarships or for a specific project being executed by the charity? Then perhaps part of your criteria clearly states that, depending on the arrangement, the charity’s leadership or students or designated representatives must be able to be onsite at your association’s annual meeting on this date, or participate in this video, when your leadership is reporting on the results of the activity to its membership. The charity receiving the benefits should understand that it needs to participate in your organization’s communications to its members and the media.
Don’t forget to ask your charity of choice to add the association to its database to receive year-round publications, press releases and mission-related results. Your members will appreciate knowing that the charity you’ve chosen to align with is effective with a strong focus on results.