Professional Associations Make Great Grantees

Grant funding can be a viable, non-dues revenue source for many professional associations.

By Susan Vogel


Grant funding can be a viable, non-dues revenue source for many professional associations. However, the idea of “grant funding” often evokes one of two fantasies: the first is that there is an unlimited flow of funding just waiting for the asking, while the second is that foundations don’t provide grants to professional associations.

While funding opportunities are not exactly infinite, associations make worthy grantees because:

  1. Their members are the experts in their respective field
  2. They are conveners and foster collaboration across the professional community
  3. They have an expansive extended reach throughout the professional community
  4. They are the hub where research and policy meet practice.

Increasingly, grant funders are looking for projects that include a high level of collaboration as many of the issues addressed by funders and associations today are highly complex and require partnership as a solution. While there are individual authorities outside of the professional community, associations are unique in their ability to convene subject matter experts and foster collaboration across sectors. By the nature of their business, associations also have extended reach because they are tapped into industry leaders, suppliers and vendors, practitioners, and recipients of services. They have the capacity to quickly mobilize industry professionals and other individuals who are invested in a given issue. Additionally, because associations often are at the center of where policy meets practice, they can carry out projects that have a demonstrable positive impact on social issues that align with current national and local policies. For grantors funding these initiatives, this ability to collaborate and organize key stakeholders makes associations strong candidates for grant funding.

Developing a Competitive Proposal

A quick overview of common proposal elements includes a description of the association and its mission, board of directors, history, and major accomplishments. Funders will require detailed financial records including a recent financial audit, organization and project budgets, and a long-term sustainability plan for the project.

In building a case for support, grantors will require a need statement which sets up a logical argument that demonstrates a social need and how the proposed project fulfills that need. The need statement also allows your association to establish its level of expertise on the issue.

Most grantors will require a project overview with a detailed implementation plan, timeline, and concrete deliverables. This should address the nuts and bolts of the project and the operational capacity of the association to carry it out. All grantors will require some level of reporting and metrics to demonstrate success of the project. A high-quality proposal will clearly articulate the evaluation metrics that accurately align with the proposed deliverables.

Leveraging Assets: Case Studies

AMC has a centralized grants management department that works with its clients to develop proposals and manage the grant life cycle. Below are a few case studies that demonstrate how associations make great grantees and how grant funding can be part of a non-dues revenue stream. These case studies highlight the associations’ ability to convene experts and foster communication, extended reach, and their ability to move policy into practice to garner funding.

Convening Experts and Fostering Collaboration

One example of how these attributes benefitted a professional association is recent work conducted by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM), which received more than $7 million in grants in 2018. AAHPM, in conjunction with the National Coalition of Hospice and Palliative Care and the RAND Corporation, was awarded a $5.5 million federal grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to develop two patient-reported outcome performance measures for palliative care. (Note: The project described was supported by Funding Opportunity Number CMS-1V118-002 from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Services. The contents provided are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of HHS or any of its agencies.)

Together with the Center to Advance Palliative Care, the Global Palliative Care Quality Alliance, and the National Palliative Care Research Center and the Palliative Care Quality Network, AAHPM also received a $2.4 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to create a unified quality improvement organization and data registry for palliative care. AAHPM was an attractive and competitive candidate for this funding because of its ability to foster collaboration and its national reach across settings and practitioners. Both projects also directly relate to current national policies on health care, which made the timing of the grant very appropriate.

Extended Reach

Grants do not need to be measured in the millions to have an impact on an association and its members. Highlighting the themes of expertise and extended reach, the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses (AANN) received a $15,000 grant from the Paralyzed Veterans Association (PVA) to provide clinical education on spinal cord injuries to neuroscience nurses. In this case, both groups shared the goal of improving care for individuals with spinal cord injury and AANN had the expertise to develop and implement the educational symposium. Importantly, too, AANN has the national reach to neuroscience nurses across the country, making an impact on a larger scale that includes nurses who provide care to veterans—part of the PVA’s mission.

Policy Meets Practice

In some cases, an association can lead the way in raising awareness for a key policy initiative, which can result in grant funding to advance the effort. For example, the American Academy of Home Care Medicine (AAHCM) has made tremendous impact in addressing the needs of its membership through public policy. AAHCM’s efforts have contributed to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) policy changes that led to improved access to home based primary care (HBPC) for individuals with serious illness and disability. Because of its capacity to move this policy into practice, AAHCM was awarded a generous grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation to implement an integrated campaign that raises payer awareness of home-based primary care as a cost-effective, patient-centered medical care solution.

The grant enabled AAHCM to develop a web toolkit with a white paper, create strategic social media and e-mail campaigns, develop a video testimonial and infographic, and craft press releases and advertisements. AAHCM saw significant results from its outreach efforts: the web toolkit received more than 2,000-page views (61% of which were not part of AAHCM’s current audience); the white paper was downloaded more than 900 times; the press releases were picked up by 183 outlets; and the marketing campaigns reached director and C-suite level medical professionals.

Grants as a Non-Dues Revenue Source

There is valid reason for every association to evaluate whether grant funding can be a reasonable source of non-dues revenue. AMC is pleased to provide services to our clients that help them leverage their assets and create high-quality proposals, effectively manage the life-cycle of the grant, and ultimately demonstrate that professional associations make ideal grantees. It’s important to keep in mind that the grant process is competitive, but attainable. With rigor, patience and attention to detail, it can become a viable option to advance your organization’s mission and increase your capabilities to serve your members.

Wondering Where to Start? Assess Your Readiness

Knowing that the grant process takes time and is highly competitive, engaging in a grant readiness assessment is fundamental to successful proposal development. Here are some ideas to keep in mind when deciding if your organization is ready to apply for a grant.

  1. Know your strategic plan. Every single proposal idea should start with the question “does this project align with our association’s strategic plan?” It’s a yes or no answer. If the answer is no, then that is probably a strong signal to change the project or your strategic plan. While at this point in the process the question is more of an academic one, it will become increasingly relevant to have a solid understanding and consensus on how the proposed project aligns with your association’s strategic plan. Organizations that fail to do this at the beginning meet challenges further down the proposal development process and, if funded, even more challenges in carrying out the project. The lack of alignment with the strategic plan usually manifests in insufficient resources and sometimes even leads to financial losses in carrying out the project. When reviewing grant proposals, funders look for projects that convey a well-conceived business perspective and are feasibly sound in that the organization has the capacity to carry the project within their strategic plan.
  2. Know your status. Some funders will not provide funding to nonprofits with a 501(c)6 tax exempt status. As an alternative, organizations that have a foundation with a 501(c)3 status can apply through the foundation. A consultation with a nonprofit accountant or auditor can provide guidance on proper financial accounting for this type of transaction. If the project entails a collaboration with an organization with a 501(c)3 status, the 501(c)3 organization can submit the grant and list the association as a sub-grantee or contractor. Most grantors will accept this arrangement if a documented memorandum of understanding (MOU) is included in the project implementation.
  3. Know your team. Developing a grant proposal and carrying out a grant funded project is a highly collaborative activity. Identifying the team and assigning roles and responsibilities early on will set up the project for success and will position it as achievable and well thought out. A good team includes thought leaders and advisors, staff who will carry out the project, fina

About the Author

Grants management professional <strong>Susan Vogel</strong> was instrumental in working with AMC to institute a centralized grants management department. This department serves all AMC clients and provides support for medical education, corporate, foundation and government grants.

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