Targeted Impact: Episode 3 Recap with Sean Kosofsky

Membership July 09, 2020

Sayana Izmailova

By Sayana Izmailova

WildApricot’s Targeted Impact is a free bi-weekly Q&A session with experts in the membership and nonprofit space, dedicated to helping membership organizations thrive. 

We invite experts to answer your most pressing questions on topics ranging from membership growth to virtual fundraising and everything in between. 

In Episode 3, we sat down with Sean Kosofsky, MPA, “The NonProfit Fixer” and the founder of Mind the Gap Consulting. Sean has over 27 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, with expertise in the areas of fundraising, management and board development. 


In this episode, Sean answered questions from the audience on a large variety of topics, including how to grow membership and engage members, how to fundraise and earn revenue from streams other than member dues. If you missed this episode of Targeted Impact, be sure to check out the recording and hear the insightful conversation.


Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to answer every single question from the audience, so in this blog post, Sean will address the most common questions we received. These are grouped by topic, so feel free to read it in order or jump to a topic that interests you the most:

Member Engagement

Q: Do you have any tips on membership outreach and engagement? 

Step 1. Brainstorm with your team (a good 2 hours) and create a long list of tasks that would help your organization reach its mission but that you don’t have the current capacity to accomplish. This could be anything from stuffing envelopes, to proofing the content on your website, to escorting patients to the hospital, checking in on older volunteers during COVID, pitching newsrooms about your work, etc. Survey your own members too about how they want to be useful in this time.

Step 2. Rank all these tasks and really think about which members would want to help with which task. You can even create buddies and groups/teams for people to work collaboratively. For example, you could ask a bunch of younger members to help you with user-testing (practicing using your website to make sure it has a good user experience.)

    • Is the search function working? 

    • Is it easy to navigate? 

    • Are there any broken links? 

    • Are there aesthetic challenges? 

    • How hard is it to locate your most popular resource on your site? 

There are many ways to ask members to pitch in. I am a huge fan of Facebook Fundraisers and asking all your members to create them for your nonprofit.

Step 3. You can also engage members to make them feel heard, connected and valued. We don’t survey our own members enough. Do focus groups. Ask them about the new logo or a new program. Ask them about parts of your state where they could help you be more visible. Surveys or zoom focus groups could be great. 

If you are super strategic, you can try to kill multiple birds with one stone while doing outreach and updating everyone’s contact information (data/list cleaning). When you contact them, request that supporters give you their birthday (not birthdate) because 14 days before someone’s birthday Facebook prompts them to run a Facebook Fundraiser. You should email them 15 days before their birthday and say “Facebook is about to encourage you to run a fundraiser. Can you choose our organization? Here’s how.” Year-round you could raise many thousands of dollars. My Facebook course mentioned above is $10 and is packed with great tools for your nonprofit.

Step 4. Finally, see if members are willing to be mentors for younger members or youth in your organization. Are they willing to lead a task force to help the organization investigate and solve a problem (a new donor database, investigating how to produce a solid virtual fundraiser, etc.)? 

These are just a few.

Engaging older members with technology 

Q: How do you get people over 65 to commit to technology? 

This is a  broad challenge faced by all organizations. If it is fundamentally essential to get them to use a specific tool, you can do more training on the tool. Many organizations have to train older folks to use new voting machines, smart devices and more. 

Older folks know how to use many forms of technology. Many learn how to operate hardware for their health. They are trainable! We might just have to strip the technology down to its basic elements and train people through remote control of their computers or bite size training videos and practice. It can be done. 

Growing Membership 

Q: What's the most effective way to grow membership?

You will have to demonstrate to members and potential members that you provide real value to them, their loved ones and society. Answer the question for potential members, “Why would I take time from my busy life and/or give you my money?” Find something really compelling. Check out my free resource on How to Create a Unique Value Proposition for your nonprofit.

In order to provide value you need to:

  1. Demonstrate that you are solving a really important social problem that is negatively impacting people (not just landscapes and critters, but actual human beings). 

  2. Provide value. Many membership groups like AAA and AARP have found a very particular way to deliver value. Other organizations provide training, credentials, certification, fellowship, social connection. Think about what your members want, and what problems/pain points in their life you can help solve, and focus 80% of your member outreach and recruitment on those things. 

Membership as a general rule is falling. It does not mean that interest, participation and dollars are falling. We must rethink membership. People want to join an organization that is doing good work AND making their life better. Others join an organization (Rotary, Elks, veteran’s groups, scouts ) because of the prestige or pride they feel in being part of a group that is doing kick-butt work and taken seriously by society.

Say you’re a ski club. Are you trying to get more people to ski? Are you trying to get more skiers to join your organization? Or do you just want more revenue? These are VERY different questions, and each deserve their own thought and course of action. 

Why do you want people to become members? What do they get by being a member that they don’t get as a regular skier? What problems do you solve? Conduct research among your audience. Read the magazines, and the letters to the editors. Read their gripes and gloats on Facebook and Reddit forums and in other online venues. Listen for their pain points. If everyone is struggling with finding out how to make their gear fit correctly, help solve that problem somehow (maybe guest expert interviews on your site from Holly Hensen?) Are your members struggling with unused passes at the end of the season? Find a solution for turning those into charitable gifts. 

Personally, I would be likely to join a ski organization if I thought that my dollars were going to conserve land, reduce pollution, offer leadership programs for kids through sports or even offer scholarships to kids who can’t afford to ski, so they can experience the beauty. People want to know something they are a part of is doing great things that no one else thought to do. 

All membership organizations need to periodically evaluate their Unique Value Proposition and list of perks. But figure this out from your audience. Then address it. Then recruit!

Using mailing lists to grow membership

Q: Are mailing lists an effective way to connect with potential members and convert them to paid members? 

Email and mail have low engagement rates, but they are higher than almost every other means of engagement (among existing members) other than phone calls and meetings. If you have a big list, email and mail are very efficient. You just have to make each communication better and more strategic than the last one through testing and evaluation. 

I don’t know if mail is a strong choice to convert someone to membership. I imagine you would need a very slick or very compelling piece of mail to get them to your website. Professional mail firms can tell you more. 

With political mail, you must get your message out between the mailbox and the garbage can, but the “ask” is easy: vote for this candidate. Getting someone to donate/ join from a mailer will be hard. Now, having said that, if your community or issue is facing a crisis (the shutting down of your only community library, an oil pipeline has burst, forming a union to protect workers from layoffs) you may succeed through the use of mail. You can match your mailing list to the voter file (in the US) for a fee and see who votes and who doesn’t and that will tell you who is more civically involved. 

Using datasets is also key. For example, the voter file can tell you who is registered to vote in every household in America. These are folks that are more civically involved. One climate change organization found data showing people who were alarmed about climate change and were living within 2 miles of a proposed oil pipeline. They mailed them, urging them to action, and it worked. They killed the pipeline and raised money. Think about creative use of data. It is all around you and sometimes free.

Increasing Non-Dues Revenue

Q: What are your recommendations for strategies that increase non-dues revenue?

Here is my blog post “The Big List of Fundraising Methods”

Events are really hard right now. Online events really need to be creative, but they can engage way more people at lower dollar points, allowing you to diversify your organization’s attendance.

  1. You can upsell existing donors on your donate page, prompting them to give one more time. Ex. “Thanks for renewing. Could you also contribute $10 more dollars for those who are struggling to renew right now because of COVID?” 
  2. Prompt donors to pay the processing fee when they donate. 

  3. Facebook Fundraisers should now be part of your revenue stream, and your most engaged board, volunteers, staff and other evangelist supporters should participate. You can make 25K in a month twice a year or more often if you really commit to getting 20+ people at once to run a Facebook Fundraiser as a campaign. 

  4. Consider joint fundraisers with other organizations where you pitch people to join for a one-time initiative to support both organizations in work you are already doing.

  5. One creative tactic is to start offering online workshops, courses (live or recorded) or other skills-based classes for a fee. Teachable allows you (for free) to host courses on their platform, but you can also use Kujabi, Podio or Thinkific. For live paid workshops, consider JoinStream or Eventbrite + Zoom. Or offer free classes and then make a pitch. I have seen entertainers who are really struggling (comedians, cabaret singers, dancers) doing live shows and asking people to Venmo cash to them with their Venmo handle right there on the screen.



Q: Should targeted response to sponsors be a blanket or individual reach?

Make sure your outreach to potential sponsors is individual. Each approach and each proposal and each relationship needs to be customized when the dollars are big and potential for renewal is high. Blanket requests run a high risk of being ignored unless you are a frontline service organization (food insecurity, shelters, etc). Find workers at the company you are targeting to help you get funding. Remember that companies give from their marketing budget, so they typically want recognition. Some have foundation arms too.

Evaluating Membership Management Software

Q: How does one evaluate CRM/MMS systems? 

The two things I use to decide what software I want to buy: 

  1. Will it meet my needs in the next three years? I don’t care about bells and whistles I won’t use and so I won’t pay for those. They are sexy but not a factor for me. Can the software pull the reports that I need? The main reason you are using a MMS is to automate tasks and make accessing information fast. If your MMS can’t get you the exact info you want when you want it, you will be held back. WildApricot has great testimonials from its customers! 

  2. Does my staff like and enjoy using it? If everyone is griping, or the system is buggy or even just ugly to use, you will never get full use out of the MMS system. That’s how I decide.

Additional Resources

The Management Center is an amazing nonprofit that trains nonprofits on management and gives away all their sample tools online for free. Need a sample script to hire/fire someone? They have it. Need a sample agenda for a staff meeting? They have it. Go hog wild and read their book “Managing to Change the World” and ask them if you can join their Slack channel.

So there you have it! A huge thank you to Sean for being a guest on Episode 3 of Targeted Impact and for taking the time to answer the questions we didn’t get to in the live Q&A session.

Don’t forget, if you didn’t get a chance to attend the live session, you can check out the recording here.

What’s Next?

Episode 4 of Targeted Impact is just around the corner. On Thursday, July 16, at 3:00 PM EST, we will be joined by WildApricot’s very own Brennan Moore. Brennan is a Software Support Consultant and will be able to answer all your questions specific to the WildApricot software and how it can help your organization. 

Sign up here and come prepared with your questions for Brennan. Hope to see you there! 

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Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

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