Funding Your Chapter
You probably have many questions about financing your chapter, such as:
- How much money will I need to start my chapter?
- How much money will my chapter need to maintain its activity once the chapter has been organized?
- How important will funding be to accomplishing my chapter’s goals?
- Can ASPEN help my chapter with funding?
Some chapter leaders focus on creating a steady source of revenue; others focus on organizing the chapter with as few expenses as possible.
Funding can come in several forms. However, in general, the two categories of funding are cash and what are referred to as “in-kind” contributions.
Types of funding
At some point your chapter will need cash to accomplish even the simplest tasks, such as submitting paperwork for establishing a not-for-profit entity. Typical cash sources include dues, registrations, and sponsorships. Additional resources, even in the form of in-kind contributions, might also be necessary in order to build your chapter’s website or to pay for meeting space. As chapters grow and become self-sustaining, they might find it is necessary to generate funds to hire staff to handle administrative activities or to pay speakers for chapter events.
However, before you start putting into place plans for generating funds, contact other chapter leaders, many of whom can give you suggestions, ideas, and inspiration. The network of chapter leaders is your best resource for techniques and tactics that have already been proven effective. Log into the ASPEN chapter leaders community in ASPENConnect to correspond with other chapter leaders.
If you decide that you need more ideas, think about other volunteer organizations in your area and consider which of them are the most successful. Contact them to see what has worked for them and add them to the list of fundraising options.
An in-kind contribution refers to anything other than money that your chapter needs or could use (that would otherwise cost money) to accomplish its goals. For example, if you need office space to run your chapter, and someone you know is willing to let you use an empty office in their building without charge, such an arrangement would be regarded as in-kind support. Similarly, if you are running an event that requires snacks and beverages, and an individual or business is willing to contribute those items, such contributions are also regarded as in-kind support. In-kind support can serve the needs of your chapter in general or it can provide support for a specific program, event, or project.
In-kind support can also take the form of human resources. Students from local colleges and universities are often required to perform internships that help them get much-needed work experience. So consider taking on an intern to work on a three-month project, such as something in the area of marketing support, development of communications materials, or cleaning up your membership roster. Similarly, business students are good candidates for helping a chapter create a business plan or develop a funding model.
Sources of funding
There are a number of ways to generate funds, ranging from charging fees to soliciting sponsorships and many other ideas. These are not mutually exclusive.
ASPEN chapters charge a minimum of $5.00 dues per member and a maximum of $25.00 per member. While charging for membership generates funds, doing so creates an expectation among prospective members that they will receive something, either in the form of a tangible benefit (such as a publication, or discounts on products, events, or services) or intangible benefits, such as access, prestige, or that being a part of your chapter will be a personally or professionally satisfying experience. At first it is relatively easy to argue that membership fees are necessary to get things going. In the long run, however, members will only be willing to pay when the chapter provides value, either to them personally or to the community at large.
The ASPEN Ohio chapter, for example, has been highly successful at creating the type of value that justifies a membership fee. Their officers actively lead the chapter and provide an annual event for chapter members.
Prospective members of the ASPEN Florida chapter (FSPEN) can quickly see that by joining the chapter, they will be in the company of leaders and like-minded people. Plus, the advantages of membership include both tangible and intangible benefits.
Some chapters have found that sponsorships from other organizations, such as companies or chapters of other related associations, can bring in much-needed revenue. Sometimes sponsorships are solicited to help support or promote a specific event or activity, such as a meeting. In other cases, chapters encourage industry partners to become organization members, which, if successful, can mean a substantial infusion of cash or in-kind contributions on an annual basis.
Please make sure you report all sponsorships back to the national office to ensure we coordinate and acknowledge appropriately.
What is a sponsor?
A sponsor is an individual, business, or organization that agrees to provide funding or other support to an organization, business, or individual usually with the expectation that there will be a meaningful marketing benefit to the sponsor. Sponsorship can be for the purpose of supporting your chapter in general, or it can be for the purpose of supporting a specific event or activity. Payment is generally made through a transfer of funds or it can come in the form of in-kind support, such as materials, meeting space, advertising or promotion, computers, or other tangibles or intangibles of value.
Opinions about the value of sponsorships vary widely. On one hand, sponsors can provide a large chunk of the money or resources needed, reducing the pressure to obtain similar funding from a variety of sources. On the other hand, sponsors rarely make contributions without expectations. In some cases, sponsors simply want to be able to have their name attached to your chapter or your event. In this case, you may be expected to put their logo on your website or on any materials you distribute. In other cases, in exchange for their contribution, a sponsor might want to have one of their staff members on your board or a voice in making important decisions. You are encouraged to discuss the pros and cons of sponsorships with your board. And you are encouraged to formalize for your chapter a set of guidelines that determines what is and is not acceptable in exchange for sponsorship support.
It is very important to keep in mind the Standards for Commercial Support (SCS) when planning an event that will offer continuing education credit. If you need help understanding the SCS and how it will impact potential funding sources for your chapter event, please contact ASPEN staff.
Remember: Your chapter has value. If you operate your chapter professionally, there are likely to be organizations that see the value of contributing. It is very likely that your chapter’s efforts are going to benefit other organizations. The trick is to figure out what those benefits may be and how to frame the message.
In reality, even the most experienced chapter leader knows that generating sponsorship is a difficult task. It requires dedication, persistence, good contacts, good networking skills, and a thick skin. Even in good economic times, pursuing sponsorships can consume large amounts of time and yield limited results. And even if a business is willing to agree to an ongoing sponsorship, you will need to continue to cultivate the relationship.
If you choose to pursue sponsorships, here are a few tips for attracting sponsors:
- Create a list of potential sponsors. If the goal of your chapter is to promote nutrition education, make a list of the educational institutions in your region, such as colleges, universities, or private businesses that offer education and training. It might be cheaper for them to fund your efforts than it would be to offer a similar service, and they benefit from having their name attached. Local representatives of ASPEN’s industry partners, such as Baxter, Abbott, and Nestlé, have been very supportive of chapter events. Think expansively about what types of organizations and companies might benefit from the work your chapter is doing. Also think about what organizations would simply want to promote a relationship with your chapter as a way to raise their profile.
- Create a win-win scenario. Once you have a list of potential sponsors, discuss with your board or members what specifically it is you need the money for (computers, meeting space, supplies, speaker honoraria), what you will do with the support, and how it will benefit your cause. Then, determine what benefits the sponsor will receive; in other words, what will sponsors get for their support? In most cases, sponsors agree to provide support because doing so puts them in front of an important audience they may otherwise have difficulty reaching. Supporting your chapter might send the message that the sponsoring organization is altruistic or visionary. If what they will get is exposure, then figure out how much exposure they can expect and put a price on the value of that exposure.
- Write out the sales pitch. Once you have your list of sponsors and specific ideas about what you want and what they get in return, create a document that outlines what you are asking, the benefits to both the chapter and the sponsoring organization, and the terms of the agreement or relationship, such as when the support will be needed, in what form it will come, and other details. The more specific you are, the better. Terms can be (and usually are) negotiable. But it’s best to start with something specific.
- Make contact. Contact the sponsor, by phone or email, let them know that you are interested in forming a relationship with them, and ask for a meeting. Meeting in person is always best, but if that’s not possible, talk on the phone, which is more personal than email. Email is fine once a relationship has been established, but it is no substitute for a personal connection. The best connection puts a customer (chapter representative) in front of a vendor (prospective sponsor), ideally at an organizational level appropriate to the amount being requested (i.e., make sure the individual being approached has the authority to say “yes” without having to get further approval).
- Close the deal. If your pitch is successful, and the potential sponsor seems interested, close the deal as soon as possible. It is said that until the check is signed, there is no deal. A verbal agreement is fine, but a signed agreement is better. Prepare a simple document that clearly outlines the terms of the sponsorship arrangement. Include what each party has promised to do as well as the payment terms. Then print out two copies, sign both, and send both to the sponsor. Include a cover letter asking the sponsor to sign both copies and return one for your files.
- Make good on your promise. Do what you said you would do and make sure that your sponsor is happy. Don’t miss an opportunity to thank and recognize a sponsor.
- Hold on to your sponsor. Maintaining a relationship with a sponsor is just as important as getting a sponsor. The biggest mistake chapters make is believing that once the deal is done, they can move on to other things. This is not true. Keeping a sponsor (or a member or a customer) is a lot more cost-efficient than getting a new one. Therefore, it pays to check in regularly with your sponsors. Keep them abreast of your chapter’s successes. Engage them in discussion. Make them feel like they’re an important part of the work you are doing.
Unlike sponsorships, strategic partnerships imply shared responsibilities and benefits. They can offer a practical way for your chapter to achieve more than it could on its own. A partnership can be a one-time arrangement for handling a project or event or it can be a longer-term relationship that aligns a chapter with a larger- or better-resourced organization.
Partnerships help chapters develop relationships with like-minded organizations and businesses that are interested in the expertise your chapter’s members and leaders possess. Most importantly, partnerships can help raise your chapter’s profile and increase your visibility among audiences you might otherwise have difficulty reaching.
Partnerships are especially effective when it comes to planning and implementing events, but they can also provide much-needed resources for other activities, such as educational activities and awareness campaigns. Partners make it possible for you to focus on what you do well while allowing another individual or group to contribute resources or brain power your chapter may not have. And forming partnerships helps engage groups that can serve as your chapter’s advocates.
Please contact Valerie Mickiewicz, Corporate Relations and Conferences Manager if you are interested in pursuing a sponsorship and would like some guidance. In addition, before anything is finalized, partnerships should be approved by the national office.