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This is part 1 of a 3-part series.

Moneyball, written by Michael Lewis (and was also turned into a film starring Brad Pitt) tells the remarkable story of the Oakland A’s professional baseball team in the early 2000s and how it managed to win enough games to make it the playoffs—despite having a team payroll that was roughly one-third of big-market teams like the New York Yankees.

What does baseball have to do with association management?
Simply put, this team, with a very limited budget, managed to achieve their surprise success by using stats (data) in an entirely new way. Not big data, but actionable data!

We recently published a whitepaper for association executives based on lessons learned from this story.

Download our whitepaper, The Moneyball Effect, now.
We hope that this story will inspire you take a fresh look at your membership, discover what you didn’t know you didn’t know, plan changes and reap the benefits. It’s not the size of your data, or budget that matters, it’s how you analyze and use it to grow your association.

The Moneyball Effect whitepaper offers six lessons to help association professionals define and achieve an actionable data plan for their organization. In this blog post, we’ll look at one of those steps:

It’s important to note that the A’s Manager, intentionally drew attention away from individual statistics (which highlighted star players) and focused more on the team impact of the statistics combined. For associations, this means learning how to better appreciate the collective impact of small actions, rather than focusing on the more visible and focused measures of success.

We often have a vision of the ideal member: the superstar volunteer who gives so much of her time and is so passionate about the field. She goes the extra mile, attends all the events, is an ambassador to member prospects, and one day will accept the Lifetime Achievement award. We should value and nurture these members, but we shouldn’t push everyone to be like them.

What about our content curators? What about the introverts? What about the people who always fill in their digital profiles? We tend to take smaller, less noticeable actions like this for granted, as if they are secondary in importance, but that’s precisely what baseball thought about on-base percentage. Don’t let our cultural obsession with superstars skew how you uncover the secrets to success in your association.

Is your association finding new ways to analyze and use data? If so please share in the comments below your findings, challenges, wins, etc. And don’t forget to download a free copy of the full whitepaper, which includes the all six lessons from Moneyball.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this 3 part series.

The inaugural Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN) Leading Change Summit (LCS) ended last Saturday, finishing up a conference like no other. NTEN CEO Amy Sample Ward kicked things off with the promise that this experiment required a leap of faith by the participants. If we took that leap, we would be rewarded with extreme collaboration opportunities. She, and the entire NTEN staff and volunteer team, stood by that promise.

Unlike most conferences where participants listen to keynotes, breakout sessions, and the occasional round table discussion, the LCS facilitated an interactive approach to leading change. Participants worked together to activate individual talents collaboratively rather than each reinventing the wheel on challenges many nonprofits face.

future of technology

I participated in the Future of Technology track and several themes prevailed through the three days of discussion.

1. Who says the nonprofit sector isn’t innovative? Innovation is often bred out of necessity. When resources are limited, it’s the scrappiest technologists that bring the most innovative approaches to the table. Unfortunately nonprofit funders often don’t reward scrappy, they reward complex project plans and promises of a risk free, conservative approach. We must help reshape the funders’ approach to reward innovation over “safe”.

2. End users want more with less. Many projects fail because end users are scared of the complexities of new technology. Software interfaces and usability standards need to evolve to be intuitive. As one of the LCS facilitators, Peter Campbell, wrote in his blog post on the Future of Technology, “In a world where staff are more independent in their software use, with less standardization, usability will trump sophistication. We’ll expect less of our software, but we’ll expect to use it without any training.”

3. Technology should enhance connections not replace them. In our breakout sessions we were asked to think about our dream projects, problems we would love to solve but don’t have resources, experience, or time. The result was a wall of ideas to create social change, using technology as the backdrop. Technology should be used to help make those connections and collaborations possible, not replace them. And sometimes, good old fashion analog index cards can do the trick!

Dream Projects

We thank the NTEN team for making this a truly unique conference experience, and special thanks to the Future of Technology track leaders: Peter Campbell, Tracy Kronzak, and Tanya Tarr.

The FIn a recent Abila webinar hosted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, presenter Debbie DiVirgilio guided participants through the grant writing process. Debbie is a certified nonprofit grant professional with many years of successful grant writing experience.

Note: if you missed the live webinar, or took part and would like to watch it again or share it with your colleagues, the recording is available for download here.

Whether you’re new to writing grant proposals, or, are an experienced professional, this presentation serves as a primer and also a re-focusing on the “essentials” for securing the most grant dollars for your organization.

A synopsis of Debbie’s presentation:

Competition for grants is growing. New nonprofits are forming all the time to meet increasing societal needs, meaning there are more organizations competing for valuable grant dollars. Anything you can do to give your cause a competitive edge is important, and success in securing grants is more likely if you follow the fundamentals.

First and foremost, when writing your grant proposal focus on the mission and how you plan to directly address problems in your community with the money you’re requesting.

Establish a track record

Debbie used The Paris Foundation as a great example of an organization doing grant proposal writing right. They carried out their mission, providing meals to the homeless in their community, for three years without asking for funding. When the necessity came for additional funding they began applying for grants with a story to tell and a track record with concrete results to back it up: i.e. served 37,000 meals to the homeless in their community. 

While you may need to apply for funding from the very beginning, make sure you have a good story to tell.  Once you receive your funding make sure you follow the funders’ rules, and develop a track record and relationships necessary to establish a reputation for doing great things and making appropriate use of grant dollars.   

Identify Grant Makers

Before applying for a particular grant, do your homework:

  • Are their organizations or programs doing the same work as you?

  • What is the unique need that your program meets?

  • Leverage the expertise, knowledge and contacts of your founder, board and staff

  • Consider promoting your project as a “pilot”, foundations are sometimes more apt to fund pilot programs

Meet the Grant Makers Criteria

The most important rule is to follow the guidelines that grant funders put in place.  Check the Foundation’s website carefully to see what they fund and make sure your program and needs align to their guidelines and criterion. It is extremely important that you follow the exact rules laid out to ensure you win the grant you need, and ensure a quality relationship with the funder in the future.

This could also be as simple as making sure that you staple your final reports versus compiling a formal binder, or, recognizing that they want reports laid out in a particular way.  Do not try and get too fancy if the funder is not tasking for it.

Finding Foundation Funding

  • Start locally – a local foundation is more likely to be interested and vested in helping to meet a local need

  • Develop relationships within the community

  • Building your network by going to community events can be extremely important to developing the relationships you need.

Seeking grants in smaller communities

Raising money within a smaller community can come with some unique challenges, Debbie addresses these with a few recommendations:

  • Identify local corporations that may be seeking to help out within the community

  • Look at competitors as well as potential partners

  • Use The Foundation Center’s directory to conduct a reverse-search function in order to find foundations that work in your geographic area

Develop a Funding Plan

  • Identify funders for 6-12 months out and organize by deadline

  • Research what grant makers want to see and might be looking for

  • Develop a complete overview of your organization and its mission. This will most likely take involvement from your senior leadership and maybe even your board

  • Explain what success looks like to your funder in a way that they can understand how you will directly affect the community

  • Make sure that the goals you lay out in your proposal are realistic and measureable.  It should be easy to determine success at the end of the grant period

Use Data to Tell Your Story

  • Use data to help support the story you are trying to tell

  • During the application process, bring a team together from across your organization to make sure you have the tools and processes in place to measure against your goals

  • Be honest. If you succeed, celebrate!  If you don’t, be sure to explain what you learned from the process and what you will do next time to reach your goals

  • Include a narrative with the budget. Make sure the two agree

  • Use emotion to connect the foundation staff and board to the work you do

Use Reputable Data to Demonstrate Need

Put the extra time into doing some research, even gathering outside, verifiable data that helps confirm the needs your organization is addressing. Some available sources might include:

  • The U.S. Census Bureau

  • School report cards

  • FBI’s US Crime Data

  • HUD promise zone mapping tool – to locate impoverished communities

Nine keys to Grant Writing Success

Debbie summarized her entire webcast with her top nine keys to success when it comes to grant proposal writing:

  1. Focus on the needs of the community.

  2. Calculate the budget using realistic numbers.

  3. Establish a relationship with the funder.

  4. Avoid using too many superlatives when you write your grant request.

  5. Be consistent throughout the application

  6. Connect each section of the proposal with the other.

  7. Double check your proposal for errors and typos.

  8. Give yourself plenty of planning, research and writing time.

  9. Always follow the directions provided by the funder.


While this blog post captures the main points of Debbie’s webcast, I recommend you watch the complete presentation which also includes a Q&A with the speaker and its attendees from the live webcast. An hour of your time is merely a small investment when it comes to the future of your nonprofit organization.

Share your thoughts and your own tips for successful grant proposal writing in the comments section below.

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The summer of 2014 will join the ranks of fundraising legend with the extraordinarily successful ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Whether you loved it, hated it, wrote a check, or threw a bucket of ice water over your head and filmed it for all to see, the Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC) could not be ignored. The last thing I read put the funds raised by the challenge at around $94 million. Wow! Take a moment for that number to sink in.

The surprise success of this campaign does force one to think of the power of peer influence, social media, and the sheer untapped value of online fundraising. Do you have an online and peer-to-peer fundraising strategy? If not, are you working on one and making it a priority?

Here are a few tips to help you get started with your own Fall, or end-of-year online fundraising campaign:

Know your story

It’s a great exercise to define your organization’s story, sleep on it, then come back the next day and simplify it. You have only a few seconds to grab the attention and heart of your potential donor so make them count.

Use these three pointers to get you started and keep you on track:

  • What is your cause?
  • Why is this cause important to you?
  • What difference will each donation make?

Keep the delivery method simple

Don’t re-invent the wheel – there are great existing social media options and technology solutions for you to use to put your request out there. Don’t take the peer-to-peer angle for granted. ASK people to share your story and link with a friend. You don’t need to challenge them to do anything more than read, watch, donate, and spread the word.

Report on results

Don’t be shy about giving regular updates throughout the length of the campaign on the results, whether good, bad, or average. Share the amount raised, the number of donors, thank the donors for their donations and for sharing your message with their peers. This reporting can be done via social media, on your website and in personal thank you emails to donors.

Get everyone involved

You already have access to a number of influencers – from your staff to your volunteers to your board members and your existing donors. Leverage them. Ask them to share your campaign via email and on their personal and professional social media pages.

Have the right software at the front-end, and back-end of your campaign

There are a number of options for online fundraising solutions, but for ease of set-up and use and thorough reporting, we have to suggest our own Abila Fundraising Online. In addition to its value as a fundraising vehicle, it also works seamlessly with Abila Fundraising 50 – a complete donor management solution. Your staff will thank you when they don’t have to manually enter all the donor information collected and will be free to carry out your mission.

If your campaign brings you new donors – and I’m almost certain it will – don’t forget to gather their information, add them to your database and reach out to them (and their peers) again (and again). The true value of an organization lies in its donor database.

Don’t forget to say thank you

A simple but sincere thank you – both individually to the donor and via social media to everyone is important. Apart from the obvious reasons, the thank you and a report on how the donations are being put to use can often spur further donations and shares.

Dream big for 2015!

With creativity, consistency and constancy, 2015 could be the year that your organization has its Ice Bucket Challenge moment.


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We’ve discussed the role of the association as a workplace on this blog in the past. Considering some associations employ up to hundreds, if not thousands, we think remembering the association’s role and responsibilities not only to its members but to the hardworking teams behind the scenes is paramount. We’ve discussed the need for a dynamic workplace culture as a part of the steps to take to ensure your employees are not only satisfied with their roles, but well-positioned to go above and beyond. A big part of that type of culture is offering flexibility while maintaining high quality results. Indeed, a certain degree of flexibility can even go a long way towards ensuring high quality results, depending on the employee and the type of work they’re doing.

Generally speaking, when we discuss flexibility we’re not talking about easing off on deadlines or relaxing certain job requirements—while those things may have a place on a case-by-case basis, they probably won’t be contributing to improve overall morale and productivity in the long run (quite the opposite, actually). But in some situations, a little flexibility goes a long way towards helping your employees and promoting the right type of culture.

There was an interesting piece on Associations Now recently detailing the work disruptions for many Washington DC-based associations during the recent summit of African leaders at The White House. Because of the disruptions, which included street closures, heavy traffic, and lack of access to certain buildings, some DC associations were offering flexible schedules to employees. From the post, which included thoughts from Elizabeth Keyes, COO of American Pharmacists Association:

“’We let folks know how to get in touch in the event that they couldn’t reach the person that they were looking for, but our phones were covered and emails were checked, so there should have been no disruption of service for our members,’ she said. ‘When you’re located in DC—and particularly where we’re located here among the monuments along the National Mall—we have lots of disruptions, and they just become kind of the course of our business activity. So we do what we can to adjust and make the best of it.’”

Allowing employees with the capability to work from home when necessary is a key component to productivity. While not every organization wants to promote full-time teleworking, offering this flexible option in certain circumstances or for certain positions can be an extremely attractive benefit. Not only can it help with productivity in a number of ways (for starters, employees staying home sick but who feel well enough to work can accomplish tasks without worrying about infecting their colleagues), but organizations with work from home options will attract a higher caliber of employee.

This type of flexibility contributes to your overall culture and answers the question of just what type of workplace your association will be. We aren’t arguing that rigidity is always a bad thing—as we stated, being too flexible could cause chaos and have negative implications throughout your team. But the APhA has provided a great example of just how much “rolling with the punches” can make a difference for employees, and that’s what will help you retain the best and brightest future leaders.

What are some ways your association has tried to promote a flexible working culture? How do you feel about telework? Let us know in the comments!

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It seems like a far-fetched theory – who would want to steal from nonprofit organizations, which are tasked to help individuals and groups involved in a host of worthy causes? However, fraud does happen at charities, and more often than you would expect, and nonprofit executives and board members need to know what to do to stop criminals in their tracks.

In the four years between 2008 and 2012, more than 1,000 charities in the United States reported losses of at least $250,000 due to theft, fraud or embezzlement.

Download our Fraud Prevention Infographic.

How can nonprofits best prevent and avoid fraud? Here are some suggestions:

Keep a close eye on people
Executives need to learn to recognize the warning signs. People who commit fraud tend to have a number of similar characteristics, like living beyond their means, having an overly close relationship with either vendors or donors, refusing to allow others to help them with some job functions, and working extra hours and seldom (if ever) taking vacation time.

Be more organized
A great way to identify wrongdoers is to be more organized. Separate duties between employees so that managers make sure everyone’s doing their jobs as they should. Holding external and internal audits is also a smart idea. Moreover, there should be a safe and confidential way for whistleblowers to report suspicious activity with no repercussions.

Switch things around

By having all your staff cross-train for other positions, you can sometimes move people to other tasks, which would reveal discrepancies and even deter would-be fraudsters. Simply enforcing regular password changes for everyone and limiting access to certain information should be routine.

Fall back on technology
There are many technological strategies leaders can implement in-house to help keep criminals out of the system. For instance, some databases and other repositories have permission-based security settings. On top of that, encryption and data masking is crucial for almost any company. Finally, administrators should consider setting up automated alerts that signal fraud could be taking place – like forged checks, modified vendor data and so on. Relying on secure accounting software from day one is also a smart move.

With the right work practices, safeguards and technology solutions, you can prevent fraud or embezzlement from taking place at your nonprofit.

Fraud prevention infographic


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Now that we are already a month into the second half of 2014, many nonprofits are firing up their fundraising engines to begin the sprint towards a big end-of-year campaign. With many organizations raising anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of their total annual donations at the end of the year, the time is right to begin considering an online campaign. The year-end campaign has become even more essential as competition for donor attention becomes ever fiercer. And in this era where people spend much of their day on the Internet, an online campaign is essential to your overall efforts.

Online giving has remained at a steady seven percent of overall nonprofit giving in the last couple of years, and online donations grew by 14 percent in 2013 (compared to five percent growth in overall giving). How much will it grow in 2014 has yet to be determined, but will you be ready to claim a portion of that audience? When is the last time you considered your online donation numbers, and potential methods to improve them?

Here are a few ideas to kick-start your online fundraising plans for the second half of 2014, and beyond.  

Tell a Story with Pictures ­– As we have outlined in previous posts on social media marketing, in the crowded online space, pictures tell a thousand words. Posts on social media with photos, infographics, or other imagery receive far more engagement, reaction and feedback than those without. The same philosophy holds true for fundraising. Create some dynamic images that tell your organization’s story and, most importantly, show potential donors exactly what their money will be achieving. Whether it’s an infographic breaking down how donations are applied, or a simple picture of someone who will directly benefit from the funds raised, images can make a big impact. Integrate them throughout your efforts: into emails, landing pages, and on your social media channels.

Sharing is Caring – Speaking of social media, don’t forget to integrate this key element into your overall online fundraising efforts. If you only do this in one way, this is the most vital: allow your donors to easily share their experience with your organization on their social networks after they give. Taking this step can spread the word about your campaign to thousands, if not millions of potential donors—without costing you a dime. Set up buttons for sharing on the thank-you page, with interesting content that will pre-populate a post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other networks. Also, be sure you’re tracking these links so you can tell how much traffic your cause receives due to social sharing—the results may surprise you!

Get Mobile – We mentioned earlier that people tend to spend most of their days online. What we didn’t mention is that a huge portion of that time spent online is actually while using a mobile device. Smart phones are ubiquitous, there is an app for just about everything under the sun. Does that include your fundraising plan? If you’re not at the app stage yet, the simplest thing you can do is to make your website—include your online donation forms—friendly to mobile browsers, specifically iPhones and Android devices.

Don’t Forget to Follow Up - Retaining donors is paramount to healthy fundraising, so how can we make the online giving experience one that encourages donors to stick around after they hit “submit”? Gratitude is the first step. Certainly, an immediate email thanking the donor for their gift is a must-do. Consider going beyond that automatically generated message, however. No one ever feels special receiving a form email. Do you offer gifts to donors meeting certain levels? Allow them to select their gift immediately, and include a handwritten note. Also, make sure that you’ve effectively lowered the barriers to entry for someone to become a repeat donor. If signing up to give a monthly or bi-annual recurring gift is a simple process, a donor may be more likely to choose the “set it and forget it” approach to giving.

What are your best practices for online nonprofit fundraising? Let us know in the comments!

If you’d like help with getting started on a successful online fundraising campaign, the Abila Activate training and best practices could be the answer.

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Keeping an organization’s financial information secure and reliable is a primary concern for most nonprofit CFOs, finance directors, and financial managers. It isn’t uncommon to see these passionate individuals put a rigorous set of policies in place to provide strong internal control and oversight of financial functions. Operating under the “trust but verify” philosophy, internal control policies frequently focus on individuals, job responsibilities, and codified processes. All of these are important areas to address with effective policy controls, but if you aren’t integrating technology into your security controls, you might be leaving a gap in your financial security strategy.

Here are five ways to incorporate advanced security technology to help you consistently and fairly apply effective internal controls to your organizational processes:

1. Use role-based security features to enforce segregation of duties – Using the advanced security settings of your financial software, you can achieve a greater level of segregation of duties for your organization. Whether the software settings are process-based (which is fairly common), or if your software offers more sophisticated account level security that can limit information available to users at a granular level, these settings can be used to enforce your internal policies within your accounting system. When possible, only allow access to accounts that an individual needs for their role in the organization. By putting these security settings in place, you can reduce the opportunity for individual or collective fraudulent activities as well as reduce the risk of entry errors

2. Enable audit trail tracking of changes – Most accounting or financial software offers some form of audit trail tracking mechanisms. Depending on the application, this could capture more or less information. Make use of this feature and incorporate a periodic review of the information captured in the audit log. If possible in your application, be sure to review transactional information, vendor change information, customer change information, and always review security change information. Try to think of this tool as a proactive way to review system changes for questionable activity and not just a research tool for use after a fraudulent act has been committed.

3. Encrypt sensitive financial or personnel information – Many financial managers rely on the data protection practices of their IT department or a consultant. It is important to remember that protecting your financial data means protecting it from sources of internal and external harm. Be sure to leverage any data encryption functionality your financial application has to offer. This will reduce the risk of someone altering data in your system, either intentionally or unintentionally, as well as protect sensitive data you might have in your system such as account numbers or social security information.

4. Proactively enforce policies through system alerts – Some accounting software might allow you to create user-defined alerts that will notify you of certain activity within the system. These alerts can be triggered by processes such as checks issued for a certain amount, checks issued to a particular vendor, or  a low bank account balance. These alerts can help you enforce your internal controls by notifying individuals when specific events require action. Additionally, these can be used to save you time by automating some of your internal control processes. For example, if you require checks over a certain amount to be signed by multiple individuals – set up an alert that will notify your authorized check signers that the system has generated a check over the threshold amount. The message could ask the signers when they will be available to sign the checks. In addition to being a time-saver and helping you to consistently apply your policies, system alerts can be a great auditable trail that demonstrates your commitment to applying solid internal controls.

5. Actively manage your users – An often overlooked but critical component of maintaining your organizational security and making sure that internal controls are effective is actively managing your system users. Different applications offer various ways to achieve this. If possible, produce and review periodic reports on active users and access levels. Use standardized access groups for login creation to make sure that specific access is given to individual users. Create an organizational-wide password reset policy to ensure that active users are keeping passwords fresh and inactive users cannot login to the system. Lastly, some applications allow automatic termination of system rights to terminated employees in payroll, which can help automate an important but sometimes overlooked close-loop process.

Integrating these five technology-enabled steps into your internal control processes can greatly help protect your donors, you, your employees, and your organization from fraudulent activities. These proactive methods could help you detect questionable activity in your system much sooner than methods that rely only on after the fact detection in the audit cycle.

Using the technological capabilities of your accounting system to automate or enforce your policies not only promotes consistency in the application of your processes, but also provides verifiable proof to your auditors and stakeholders that you are proactively applying measures to safeguard the organization. By advancing your security controls, you will spend less time worrying about processes and have more time to focus on accomplishing your mission.

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Do you ever wonder how your association’s membership practices stack up against others? Maybe you don’t because you know that every association is unique given the profession or industry it serves and its size, budget, location, culture, along with a host of other factors. But I can’t help but wonder what thriving associations are doing that others are not.

I found some answers in Marketing General Incorporated’s 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. This year’s benchmarking survey was completed by 865 association executives, with another 178 executives completing some portion of the survey for a grand total of 1,043 responses.

I’m going to focus on what’s happening at associations with renewal rates of 80 percent or higher, but if you haven’t already, check out Associations Now’s coverage of some of the major findings and interesting tidbits from the report. Download the report for yourself so you can get more detail (and ideas) on membership practices.

Associations with renewal rates of 80 percent or higher raise dues annually. Apparently, members don’t mind paying more when they know they’ll receive high value in return for their dues investment.

They’ve added member research and mobile apps to their benefits package. With the increase in competitors providing content to your members, find something unique and valuable to provide, like member research. If you deliver what your members seek to the palm of their hand, even better.

Their top methods for creating brand awareness are personal sales calls and association-sponsored events. The personal touch is always effective for making an impression and mobilizing members to action – as long as you can get past their voicemail! Look beyond your conference and trade show for branding opportunities. Become more open to your professional community by hosting happy hours, small group lunches or dinners, tours, community service events and free webinars. Don’t be so predictable and boring – experiment!

Word-of-mouth recommendations are the most effective method for recruiting new members. Members are your best ambassadors. Reward them for sending prospects and recruits your way. Share written and video testimonials on all your digital platforms.

Members join for discounts on products or meetings. That’s not usually the primary driver for joining an association but if you have these “golden handcuffs” then you’re likely to have a competitive edge.

They use volunteer or staff welcome phone calls and/or mailed welcome kits to welcome new members. MGI pointed out that fewer associations are using these methods — the email welcome is outpacing them — but those who do have higher retention rates than those who don’t. Test what works best with your new members.

Engagement doesn’t always mean committee service or volunteering. Associations that reported growth have also seen an increase in event, education and webinar attendance, purchases of products and services, and members-only website visits. The biggest percentages were for webinar attendance and visits to the members-only section of the website — online engagement makes a difference.

Increasing non-dues revenue from members is a top goal for them. Members who spend money, beyond dues, on webinars, subscriptions, products and event registrations are becoming more tied to your association — that’s engagement their way. If they rely on you for their professional and/or personal development, or for the tools that help them do their job or make more money, they’re engaged.

They start the renewal process three or more months prior to expiration. Emails get lost in the inbox. Or, they get forwarded to someone else to pay who also has a full inbox. Build some time into the process.

They extend renewal efforts more than three months after expiration. Give your expiring members time to second guess themselves. Make your case – they need you, right?

Direct mail is their most effective membership renewal channel. The inboxes on our desk aren’t nearly as cluttered as our email inboxes. Remember to test and to personalize direct mail.

They offer installment renewal payments and automatic annual Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT). It should be as easy to pay your association bill as it is to pay your Visa bill – and hopefully a lot less painful.

 Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who loves benchmarking reports.


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I recently attended the AICPA Not-For-Profit national conference and was able to speak to nonprofit leaders and auditors about fraud in their organizations. A common refrain I heard was that their organization was too small to have to worry about fraud. Others believe they can trust everyone in their organization, so there is no need to protect against fraud. Unfortunately, everyone who has had it happen to them felt the same way at one time.

Too often there are stories in the headlines about employees taking money from nonprofit organizations, overshadowing the efforts of other employees who are working diligently to move the organization’s mission forward. It is astounding to see how easily fraud is committed within these organizations when due diligence is not taken and available tools are not put in place to help detect this type of activity early on.

Don’t let fraudsters thwart you and your donors from achieving your mission!

Here are my top five takeaways from the AICPA Not-for-Profit Industry Conference on how your organization can easily detect fraud:

  1. Put the processes and tools in place to alert you of suspicious financial activity. This means that your accounting solution should be able to notify you when employees may be engaging in activities that could be detrimental toward your organization, such as when a vendor name is changed or when an employee writes a check to himself. Software automation can help turn good internal controls into great internal controls.

  2. Create a culture of transparency. In small organizations, employees may seem more like family members than business associates or employees. It must be a priority for leadership to create a culture of transparency within the organization. A few key components to creating a transparent culture is to ensure all leaders within the organization are onboard, communicating vital issues to employees on a regular basis, treating employees like adults when delivering bad news and preparing managers to answer tough questions. All employees should be subject to the same checks and balances, despite their title or tenure.

  3. People often steal money over a number of years from a series of small transactions. Headlines talk about the large amounts of money that fraudsters steal from an organization. Many times this is accomplished through a large number of small transactions. This means that it is important to have segregation of duties in place to ensure financial reports, bank and credit statements, expense reports, and any other important financial records are appropriately monitored by several people. Having the right technology available can make this easier for your organization.

  4. Checks and balances are extremely important to ensure that all employees, especially your most trusted employees, have their activity monitored within your accounting technology. Making sure that the security settings are appropriately configured within organizational technology is extremely important during set up and implementation. It is also important to audit these settings periodically, as business processes and internal roles change over the lifecycle of the organization. It is important to ensure that job titles appropriately align with the user rights within all organizational technology.

  5. Offer an anonymous hotline for staff members to report suspicious or unethical behavior. Especially in small organizations, employees may be reluctant to blow the whistle on other employees with whom they have a close relationship. Setting up third-party hotlines and/or e-mail addresses is easy, inexpensive, and could be the most effective option you have when it comes to exposing fraud from your most trusted employees.

For more information on detecting fraud in your organization register for this live webinar, Putting the Tools in Place to Detect and Deter Fraud.

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