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Co-Membership and Fundraising: Affiliations, Networks and Community

Spiderweb 102714

By Gil Israeli, Director of Prospect Research and Senior Writer, American Technion Society

There is a micro-macro relation between the affiliations of your lay people and the prospects you are seeking to connect with (micro) and your overall existing network of lay people, board members and prospects that comprise your organization’s lifeblood – your community (macro).

When seeking to connect with a prospect, it is smart fundraising to draw on a lay person who knows the prospect. Since this isn’t always possible, the next best strategy is to introduce and connect people who share unique affiliations and affinities. One anthropologist has described these social traits as “co-membership” – unique points of contact in shared identity.

Points of co-membership between your helpful lay people and prospects could involve:

1. A shared interest such as car collecting.
2. A rare personal experience such as a challenging life event (an illness).
3. A rare personal experience such as triumphing over a challenging life event.
4. A shared professional background.
5. Shared experience in ownership and wealth (the self-made man versus inheritance)
And, more specifically, along the lines of “speaking the same language”:
6. An actual shared spoken language such as Hebrew or French.

One fundraiser told me about a prospect and the professor (seeking funds) who discovered that they both were avid table tennis players (saying Ping-Pong would be a neophyte’s misnomer here). They met, donned their sporting white shorts, armed themselves with custom paddles and battled away. So, games (forgive me, I mean sports), fit in here too… with everything else that makes up salient bonding life experience.

Obviously, the confluence of multiple points of co-membership creates that special “simpatico” when your lay person and the prospect meet and hit it off… a connection that is simply natural, easy and flowing.

In social network theory (and fundraising), the dyad is the beginning of every relationship. This dyad is the first step in developing the strength of a fundraising organization, however, the organization’s long-term success is contingent on the expansion of the dyad into triads and more complex structures. Picture a myriad of connections (a complex and messier spiderweb than pictured at top where every cross-point is connected to every other point). This is one reasonable analogic representation of a community and its points of contacts – its opportunities for healthy staff-prospect-donor-lay person-board interactions.

Successful organizations not only nurture personal relationships with individual prospects and donors; they create a culture where all the participants can convene, talk, learn about each other, celebrate their gifts and your organization, discover their co-memberships and ultimately gel (beyond a linear network) into a thriving community replete with messy, overlapping and healthy interconnections.

The micro-macro relation interweaves the fine fibers of your everyday interactions with individual prospects and donors to the special events and annual traditions that bring everyone in your community under your inclusive warm tent and singular banner.

To go back to the spiderweb metaphor, as each strand represents a signficant layperson who helps you reach out to their communities, the more strands the better as they allow for the immediate formation of a stronger and more flexible web of relations and also a stronger web for attracting (and catching) new members.

It sounds simple, yet, honestly, I’ve sketched a naïve picture. Reality speaks to the possibility of donors who don’t particularly like each other or get on well together. No wonder every community naturally forms subcultures, or, more plainly, cliques. But in these cases, when your community coheres, the ultimate and compensating co-membership turns out to be their shared passion for your organization.


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