In today’s challenging economic climate more nonprofits than ever before are competing for limited funding. That’s why, with the support and involvement of both the AJLI Board and the individual Junior Leagues, AJLI formed a diversified fund development task force to explore new revenue streams that might supplement the funds collected through Association dues in supporting The Junior League Mission. The funds will be used not only to support the work of AJLI but also to provide funds to individual Leagues through partnerships or re-granting.

In this Q&A, Laurie Dodge, AJLI’s Director of Marketing & Development, and Carol Scott, Junior League of Pasadena member and independent fund development expert and chief advisor to the fund development task force, discuss AJLI’s diversified fund development strategy.


Why do we need this new strategy? Aren’t member dues enough?
Laurie: Although the dues increase, approved in 2011, will enable the Association to continue funding its operating budget, dues alone are not a sustainable strategy for an organization like AJLI that has such ambitious goals for its second century. If we are to continue to deliver the support services our Leagues and members need in the years ahead, such as online leadership training, we need not only to grow our revenues but also to broaden the variety of sources the funds are coming from.

When nonprofit organizations diversify their revenue streams to include a variety of sources, they have a greater chance of fulfilling their mission with continuity and longevity. That’s extremely important to AJLI as an organization that supports the activities of 293 independent Leagues. But it’s also important to the Leagues themselves as they implement their own programs, whether in mentoring at-risk teens, providing access to nutritional food in an urban food desert, or giving women opportunities for civic leadership training and development.

What other funding sources are you looking at?
Carol: Among the additional funding sources currently being explored by AJLI are earned revenue from sales of merchandise or fees from conference attendees, donations from individual philanthropists, grants from corporations and foundations—and in rare cases, government dollars.

Laurie: Cultivating a wide variety of donors is nothing new for AJLI. A cursory look through our archives uncovers not only advertising by an array of consumer products companies that paid for the printing of many issues of The Junior League magazine, but also regional and national initiatives underwritten almost exclusively by foundations and corporations.

In 2000, for example, AJLI produced its Resource Guide for Ending Domestic Violence with funding from the Mary Kay Foundation. In 1984, six years after the introduction of the Teen Outreach Program, which was formed by The Junior League of St. Louis to examine the root causes of the problems facing the adolescent population, AJLI secured funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to replicate the program nationally. It obtained additional funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Stuart Foundations, among others.

In 1985, the Allstate Insurance Company sponsored The Junior League’s groundbreaking, three-year alcohol awareness and education campaign known as “Woman to Woman,” and in 1982, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation made a $290,000 grant to support AJLI’s leadership development initiative for high-school students known as Project LEAD.

Why are you optimistic about the initiative’s success going forward?
Carol: The corporate social responsibility movement has shown that philanthropy is good business. Fundraising, or fund development, is no longer about asking for money, but instead it’s about positioning your organization as a logical partner to potential donors, whether they’re foundations or corporations. The key is to identify donor prospects, through careful research, whose values align with those of your organization and then make a case for how your organization upholds those values in the fulfillment of its mission.

Laurie: It’s really just common sense. Corporate donors want lasting, mutually beneficial partnerships that help them achieve their business objectives while doing good. And that’s why The Junior League as a whole and its 293 independent Leagues bring such credibility to the table—a 111-year record of civic leadership training for women who create lasting community impact. AJLI can make its case as a worthy beneficiary for foundations and corporations that invest in leadership development programs among many other fundable Junior League initiatives.

What lessons can individual Leagues learn from this?
Laurie: You have to be able to demonstrate your value over time. Over the last century we have amassed extraordinary proof of the good work that Leagues have done in their communities through education and advocacy as well as through direct service on variety of issues—from polluted water and alcohol abuse to childhood obesity and domestic violence.

In times of reduced funding for social services, the job of identifying and addressing these problems increasingly falls to enterprising and imaginative leaders from within a community who are equipped with the skills and knowledge required to spearhead changes that improve the quality of life there. That’s what The Junior League does. It trains women to be these well-equipped leaders.

Carol: Being successful in a new fund development strategy may require that a League redefine the way it approaches its initiatives, or at least the ones that will form the case for foundation or corporate funding. At a minimum, you need to understand the criteria that must be met if benefactors are going to provide funding. At the same time, you need to work with your community partners to incorporate tools that measure the success of the program into the initiative from the beginning, rather than attempting to articulate the benefits after the program has been completed.

Anecdotal evidence is no longer acceptable proof that a program works. Quantifying and documenting how many kids have been served through a particular Junior Leagues’ Kids in the Kitchen initiative is not enough. Sophisticated funders are going to want to know how the program changed children’s eating habits and how it influenced the decisions they make about their food choices.

Another recent development in charitable giving is the use of social media to promote a cause and inspire donations in small increments from individual donors. Social media demands that your fundraising campaign is relevant to donors’ lives. While giving overall has still not recovered from pre-2008 levels, it is gradually improving. Even in economically depressed times people want to give, but they want to feel good about it.

What does that mean for AJLI?
Laurie: We believe that AJLI is a great partner for foundations and corporations that also are committed to programs that address community problems or that believe in the value of women leaders. We are building a database of prospective funders and tweaking our case for support, which is provided to all prospective donors and that makes a compelling argument as to why the Association is a smart investment that enhances the donor’s brand and reputation.

Carol: So stay tuned!