Calling Up the Reserves:  Engaging Auxiliary Boards to Significantly Increase Fundraising

Note:  This blog post is part of my #AFPFC wrap-up, a series of posts writing about my take-aways from the 2015 International Fundraising Conference of the AFP in Baltimore last week. “Calling Up the Reserves: Engaging Auxiliary Boards to Significantly Increase Fundraising,” was a presentation offered by Sara Irmen, VP of Resource Development & Communications at Children’s Home & Aid in Illinois along with Sharon Tiknis from the Alford Group and Emily Lohse-Busch at Global Impact. Sharon and Emily were part of the Alford Group team that worked with Children’s Home on Strategic Planning, redefining and re-organizing their auxiliary groups, and on a multi-million dollar comprehensive campaign.  

Many organizations have some sort of Advisory Councils.  But often these councils, populated largely with former board members or community dignitaries that don’t have time to be board members, languish, largely neglected by the very organizations that have created them. They often have no clear purpose and meet infrequently.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, several organizations are experimenting with Young Professionals auxiliary groups and—while far from a new idea—Women’s auxiliary groups are being revitalized several places as more and more people are understanding the transformative potential of women’s philanthropy.

One organization with which I work has expressed some interest in re-envisioning its auxiliary group (an advisory-type council) so when I saw the “Calling Up the Reserves” session on the AFP conference schedule, I was really excited to be able to attend. 

The session focused on the experience of the Children’s Home & Aid Society of Illinois which has about 7 or 8 auxiliary boards around the state of Illinois. Some of those auxiliaries are women’s groups; some are advisory councils; some are young professionals groups; still others are based in particular cities, neighborhoods, or regions.  

A few years ago, however, the groups’ unique purposes were not clear, their relationships to the Children’s Home was not strong, and, in some cases, their value wasn’t always obvious.  Some of the groups had trouble keeping their members engaged.

The organization called in some help from some outside consultants at the Alford Group who assisted them first in understanding the ROI of these groups—all of these groups were fundraising and raising several million dollars annually, though some were raising more than others. They were introducing the organization to several thousand people each year.  This not only helped to put their value in perspective, but drilling down further, they were able to see that some events were more profitable than others and that some events needed to become more profitable or be eliminated, while others were gems to be nurtured and further invested in.

The organization also engaged each of the groups in an assessment and ask each to identify their particular purpose.  Each group needed to distinguish what it could bring to the organization—what role it could play—that no other group within the organization played.  Each auxiliary identified a unique purpose (serving the organization’s overall mission).

The Children’s Home & Aid Society found that in order to engage the groups and keep them feeling involved, the auxiliaries were in many ways autonomous from (even though they were part of) the larger organization. 

  • The auxiliaries choose their members. 
  • The auxiliaries nominated and elected their leadership.
  • The auxiliaries planned and scheduled their meetings.
  • The auxiliaries chose their programs, service projects, and fundraising events.

To ensure collaboration and coordination, a staff and/or board liaison was chosen to participate in the auxiliary meetings to ensure that the auxiliary had the support that it needed and that the board and staff were aware of the auxiliary’s activities.  Similarly, an auxiliary liaison attended at least some board meetings and many development committee meetings.

The auxiliaries that were most like an Auxiliary Council were viewed by the Children’s Home & Aid Society as a great training ground for future board members.  They were also seen as a great place for retiring board members to continue to have some organizational involvement without the responsibility of board membership.

During the process of re-evaluating the purpose of each of their auxiliaries, the Children’s Home & Aid Society brought each of its auxiliaries into the strategic planning process.  By the end of the process, many of the volunteers engaged in the auxiliary groups reported

  • More positive feelings about the organization as well as about the auxiliary groups
  • Greater sense of engagement
  • Increased social networks
  • Better leadership skills

If your organization is considering forming an auxiliary group, the Children’s Home & Aid Society recommends that you consider whether the auxiliary group structure works better for you for accomplishing your purpose than trying to work directly through individuals and what resources your willing to commit to make it happen.

So a few take-aways for me:

If we want our auxilary groups to be more engaged and to contribute more to the lives of our organization,

  • build trust between them and the board of directors
  • empower the auxiliaries
  • give the auxiliaries more autonomy and, at the same time, do a better job of inviting them in and engaging them

Hope this helps you to know how to help your auxiliary groups and your auxiliary group members’ experience as happy, effective, and meaningful, as possible. 


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