How to Strengthen Community Within Your Association

You’d be forgiven if you think that here at SchoolAuction.net, we really only love school-related non-profit organizations, but that’s definitely not the case. Today, we have a guest blog for our customers, prospects and friends who work at non-profit membership associations. The post comes from Jake Fabbri from Fonteva, a company that provides software to the association-management space.

At the start of the pandemic, many associations captured members’ attention early on with exciting new virtual opportunities. However, the loss of in-person interactions is starting to take a toll. Everyone is burnt out from video chat meetings and associations are scrambling to come up with new engagement ideas. 

As an organizational leader, you may feel your association losing engagement with some of your members. Perhaps you’ve even found yourself contemplating whether you should move forward with any virtual engagement strategies at all.  

However, don’t cancel your plans just yet! We’ve got the perfect way to reinvigorate your association members and get them reconnected with one another. To inspire excitement within your members, your association should get involved in a philanthropic effort.

By taking on a charitable project to benefit a nonprofit or other cause-based organization, you’ll not only do some good within the wider community, but also strengthen the community within your association by bringing members together to work toward a common goal. Your association could also receive some positive press in the process, enhancing your reputation as a philanthropically-minded organization.

Here at Fonteva, we’ve seen firsthand how organizations have used our association management platform to engage members and plan successful virtual events. We’ve compiled a few ideas for bringing your own members together through charity work:

  • Host a virtual fundraising event
  • Challenge members to an ongoing fundraiser
  • Partner with a nonprofit for an educational event
  • Engage members through your association management platform

These ideas can be carried out in conjunction with your ongoing association activities, and you can even incorporate your association’s field into your charity work. For example, if you belong to a culinary association, you can partner with a nonprofit that focuses on food insecurity. With that in mind, let’s jump in!

Host a virtual fundraising event

Whether or not you’ve spent some time pivoting to virtual events before, you’ll be amazed at the energy virtual fundraising events can generate among your members. 

That’s because fundraiser events have a unique way of bringing out not only your members’ sense of altruism but also their desire to accomplish something. Once you set a fundraising goal for your event, members will be eager to see the goal met, because no one likes experiencing failure. Consider taking on one of these virtual fundraising event ideas:

  • Live virtual gala: A virtual gala pairs the excitement of a live event with the fundraising potential of an auction. With a virtual gala system, you can use a video live stream to showcase your emcee or auctioneer and a live chat function that automatically acknowledges all bids and donations. Participants enter their bids without leaving the live auction screen. Be sure to keep your event brief, no longer than about an hour, and choose an entertaining emcee who can keep the audience engaged. 
  • Remote 5K or Fun Run: Racing events reveal the competitive edge in everyone. Your association can create a customized donation page through a crowdfunding platform. Check out this guide for crowdfunding platform options that inspire the family and friends of participants to support their efforts. Then on race day, instead of a large group gathering, participants run a specified distance on the path of their choosing to maintain social distancing. Be sure to offer appealing prizes to those with the fastest times!
  • Virtual concert: Most of us are probably missing the thrill and excitement of live music, but you can offer your members an experience that recreates this feeling at home. Find a local or even a well-known musician (depending on your event budget) to perform a fundraising concert for your association members. Members get a fun night from the safety of their homes and their ticket fees go toward your fundraising goal!

These virtual event ideas are highly accessible for members because they can tune in from home and choose their own level of engagement. Whether they decide to just donate to your chosen charity or become an active event participant, they’ve still engaged with your association and their community at large on a new level.

Throughout these events, be sure to mark your progress using a fundraising thermometer. You’ll create a greater sense of urgency as members see how much is needed to reach the goal.

Challenge members to an ongoing fundraiser

It might be more your association’s style to spearhead an ongoing fundraising challenge that members can contribute to in their own time without having to tune into your live event. This way, if members can’t make it to the virtual event, they can still contribute to a continuous collective effort. 

Here are a few ideas for ongoing fundraising challenges for your association: 

  • Silent online auction: You can host a virtual silent auction to allow participants the flexibility to get involved on their own time. This isn’t exactly an ongoing event, but you can make the bidding period as long as you’d like. At the end of the bidding period, if the auction is successful, you can send out an association-wide message congratulating members on getting involved and reaching the goal. 
  • Matching gift drive: Did you know, according to Double the Donation’s matching gift statistics page that an estimated $4-$7 billion in matching gift funds goes unclaimed each year? To take advantage of this opportunity and help contribute a big funding boost to a nonprofit, you can host a matching gift drive. Encourage your association members to investigate their matching gift eligibility with their own companies and submit forms to get their gifts matched. This drive can be ongoing, as you continuously share matching gift information and send reminders to cash in on matching donations. 
  • Wishlist drive: Many nonprofits have specific goods or items they need to carry out their missions. For example, a nonprofit focused on eliminating hunger might need cooking supplies such as pots, pans, and utensils, and containers to distribute food. A wishlist drive can be a great way for your association members to directly assist your chosen nonprofit. Just ask your nonprofit partner about what items they need, and create a wishlist on an online shopping site like Amazon. Association members can choose items to purchase and the goods are sent directly to the nonprofit.

Be sure to engage your association’s community throughout the duration of these initiatives by posting updates on your communication and marketing platforms. For example, share your fundraising thermometer across your social media pages, or send frequent updates through your email newsletter. 

If it’s been a while since you’ve gotten in touch with members, these ongoing fundraisers are a great excuse to put your organization on their radar again and bring them back into the fold. 

Partner with a nonprofit for an educational event

You have to remember that not everyone can give during this time. Your members will appreciate opportunities to get involved in association events without having to reach into their wallets and donate each time. To fill this need, partner with a nonprofit to put on an educational event for your members.

In a speaker series or webinar, members can gain valuable insight into the nonprofit space and learn about an important cause. For example, you can: 

  • Invite association members to a webinar to learn about a specific nonprofit organization and how they can help out or volunteer from home. 
  • Ask your nonprofit partner to lead your association members on a virtual tour of the nonprofit grounds to give event attendees an inside look at the workings of a local charitable organization. 
  • Partner with a nonprofit to create a customized leadership course that is relevant to the needs and goals of nonprofit staff and association members alike. 

Educational events like these benefit nonprofits by introducing their mission to a new audience. Plus, even though they aren’t specifically fundraising-focused, these events might inspire attendees to give anyway. 

These events strengthen your association community by offering a fulfilling, unique experience to members. Special programs like these also draw in members who might have let their involvement go to the wayside for a bit. 

Once members hear you’ve got an inspirational guest speaker on the calendar or are hosting a comprehensive new training course, they’ll be excited to get involved and glean new insights beyond your typical offerings. 

Engage members through your association management platform

Throughout your philanthropic efforts, it’s important to maintain communication with your association members to update them on fundraising progress and keep them informed on upcoming events. Once you get people involved in fundraising, they want and deserve to know about the progress made toward the goal. 

Your association management software system can be one of your best tools in this process to keep everyone on the same page. 

Our Fonteva association member engagement guide offers a few key strategies for keeping members engaged through your association’s digital platform. These strategies help your association speak to members on a more personal level and create a two-way communication street. 

For instance, your association should: 

  • Send surveys after events. It’s important to offer members the chance to provide feedback on your organization’s activities. This shows members that their opinions are valued and their preferences are taken into account. Send a survey to your members after your philanthropic events to gauge success and gain valuable feedback on how to adjust your strategies moving forward. 
  • Segment members based on interests. Using the information in your association constituent relationship management (CRM) system, you can create member groups based on shared interests. For example, create a group of members who have historically engaged in live virtual events to focus your initial philanthropy event promotion efforts on. Through this technique, members only receive information that’s most relevant to them and that they’re most likely to engage with. 
  • Offer multiple ways for members to engage with each other. Send fundraising updates in your community message boards and provide a space for members to chat about upcoming events. Many members get involved in associations in the first place because of the networking opportunities they provide, so be sure to facilitate ongoing conversations through your membership platform. 

Overall, promotion is the key to your virtual fundraiser and event success. People are looking for a way to help out these days, so keeping members updated on charitable events and opportunities provides an outlet for these altruistic sentiments. Lean on the power of your association management software to help carry out these engagement strategies. 


If you’re ready to recommit to community building within your association, a charitable project is the perfect avenue for engaging members. You’ll do some good in the world while allowing your members to maintain their personal and professional development amid the pandemic. Be sure to investigate the best membership management and event tools to streamline the planning process and ensure a seamless event. Happy planning!

Jake Fabbri is the Chief Marketing Officer at Fonteva with over 20 years of experience working in marketing management. He has experience with lead generation, content marketing, marketing automation, and events.

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