Realizing your vision through developing your resources, why membership may be a resource you will want to use


Kevin Pendergast, president of the O’Riley Institute, gave the presentation and then solicited questions from participants arising from the presentation. Kevin is a business graduate of Lewis and Clark College with an MBA from the University of Oregon. With employment roots in banking and two stock brokerage firms, Kevin ventured into the nonprofit world as Director of Planned Giving at Lewis and Clark College. He was later named Vice President of Development at Cottage Grove Community Hospital and Director of Development for the University of Portland. Kevin now has had more than 25 years of experience building authentic fundraising relationships. Since 1997 he has been a consultant working with non-profits fundraising. At the O’riley Institute he also offers seminars in techniques of fundraising to people working in the development field.

Kevin’s background profoundly affected his presentation which was very informative, but did not dwell on many of the issues often discussed in relation to membership: what is the function of membership levels, membership tracking software, how to retain membership, or how to design membership events. These are topics which will be address at another workshop.

Kevin regards membership as the most effective avenue your organization has to introduce people to and gain greater experience of your organization; it is the vehicle by which most people become engaged with the mission which drives your organization. Kevin recommended that a non-profit organization cultivate membership efficiently. The relationships initiated through membership activities should be cultivated, in a considerate fashion, to further your purpose and to assist you in sustaining your organization fiscally. Thus the majority of his presentation focused on an explanation of how to evolve a fundraising program. Membership is key in this effort because, as mentioned, it is the vehicle by which people come to share your organizations compassionate commitment to your cause.


Kevin suggested that membership levels be kept as simple as possible to administer and that membership should offer people something exclusive. Possible and common benefits of membership might include: reduced admission fees to your and other gardens; discounts to your organizations’s classes, lectures, tours, or at your gift shop; special visiting hours or showings; and other discounts or rewards suitable to your organization and your members preferences. Kevin recommends, doing regular annual surveys (sometime formal sometimes informal) to discern what your membership values. Then, cater membership benefits to their wants. The membership card itself should serve as a promotional tool and should be carefully constructed so that it becomes an image-icon for your organization and helps you with gaining recognition.

To determine the cost of memberships to your organization, the price of its privileges, you should evaluate what a membership costs your organization to maintain (this would include the cost of mailings, discounts, and member only events). Before you set membership fees, however, you then check to see what other similar organizations are charging.

To grow membership in your organization use your database; it will tell you what members were members last year but to this year (LYBNTS) and people who we're members at some point in time, but not this year (SYBNTS). Approach these people in person or by email or phone asking them to renew their membership. Contact people who are donors, but not members. Lastly, get referrals from members and volunteers for whom they think might join. The purchase of lists can also be an effective way to expand your membership, if you can find the right list they are worth their price.

To keep members, create a sense of community among them. Board members and staff should circulate at events and talk to visitors, engaging them, making them feel welcome, and also learning from them about their interests and why they are supporting you. As a way to further foster a special sense of community you can offer some events, small and uncomplicated. The event could be coffee and a mini-tour of the garden at a special time of year.

There are, Kevin suggests four primary income streams for non-profits: mission related income (membership fees, admission, class fees, etc.); sponsorships; auctions (which Kevin refers to as retail therapy); and philanthropy. In his opinion the last is this most fruitful way for you to attempt to achieve the fiscal capacity you require to fulfill your mission.

Fundraising program

Given the population cohort which is most involved in horticulture, our organizations have an opportunity to benefit from planned giving as people in their 50’s and older are planning for their retirement and thinking about what will be there legacy. Our organizations are lucky as a portion of our membership is capable of assisting with the fiscal needs we have if we are to achieve our missions. This is not the case for all non-profit organizations.

The “Pyramid” of fundraising gives guidance, according to Kevin, as to how to organize your fundraising efforts. At the base of this pyramid are grants which are used for seed or enabling money and almost always are devoted to specific projects; at the next level are annual gifts used for maintenance keeping a non-profit in the black each year; at the penultimate layer are major fund gifts which are used to sponsor growth; at the top of the pyramid are estate and planned gifts which are capable of having a transformational impact on a non-profit organization.

To implement a fundraising program your first imperative is to build relationships. To do this, Kevin stressed, you need information and for that, a good database
system. Kevin did not recommend a particular database system, but rather that you match the database system you chose to your organization. The database you use to aid you in developing your relationship with your members can be used for many other purposes as well: tracking volunteer activities, event participation, and membership. When used for fundraise purposes, the database is used to develop the giving relationship. For this purpose, Kevin suggests a wide range of information be collected in the database. He recommended over 30 pieces of information on each donor. Among his suggestions are the following: tracking the number of times you contact the person with whom your are building a relationship, the nature of the contact, their personal interests where they intersect with the organization’s mission even if tangentially, their birthday, the friends they have that they think might be interested in your mission, and much more. When you are considering whom to approach to develop a giving relationship, be aware that the two primary statistical indicators of a person’s willingness to give to a non-profit are: a college degree and the frequency with which they attend church.

Members, in Kevin’s opinion, should receive the annual appeal and those who give are among the prime candidates to be cultivated for the next level up in the pyramid of giving, the major gift. If you grow your memberships and use your database to organize the information, then you are well positioned to build the relationships which generate major gifts. Some members will give major gifts and, if you continue to develop the relationship, may give estate and plans gifts. Such is the path to success in fundraising.

Thus, if you have not already started to build towards a planned giving program, it would be a good idea to do so. A percentage of your staff’s time should be devoted to attending to donors and cultivating them, more time than is devoted to membership maintenance. Start with the annual fund, and when you have the need undertake a major fund effort, invite the membership as well as others to donate to a new program, a new building, or to a land acquisition. If some one with whom you have a relationship does not give, attempt to learn and understand why and record the reason in the database. This effort may lead you to understand what they might give too. Among those who have given and maybe some who have not you will find people interested in planned giving, establishing relationships with people among your active supporters, you will learn how you can have fundraising be effective for your organization.

Establish a Legacy Society composed of members who have made a bequest, Kevin recommends. Possible members in this group will become available as you build your planned giving program. Work with people willing to donate to set up: charitable gift annuities; charitable remainder trusts; or a real estate pooled income fund for your organization. The Legacy Society is similar in some respects to a membership group and a group people may want to join. Your organization should keep administration simple while encouraging a since of community among its members and a since of exclusiveness. All members in the Legacy Society should also be members in your organization, if at all possible. There should be special events for them where they enjoy themselves and learn about something important happening in the organization they support. They should be encouraged to support your organization’s important annual fundraiser in a significant way, marking their exclusiveness. Some one in your organization’s, staff or a board member in development, needs to meet with them personally for coffee or a tour or a class two times annually. Your organization’s relationship with Legacy Society members needs to be personal and on going so members are well aware of your current activities and just how you are implementing your mission and their importance to its realization.

Recap of Fundraising goal

Legacy gifts may support a capital campaign, programs, or the endowment, all of which are efforts which require major gifts. Legacy gifts can also support annual giving on a regular basis. If you learn, that someone has given to the Annual Fund on a regular basis or has given a major gift, it is well worth your effort to further cultivate your relationship with them, getting to know what has brought their engagement with your mission and organization. If you can engage them further, giving them the experience of becoming a part or your community, then it is much more likely they will support your organizations’ realization of its mission in a meaningful fashion. Membership is a key because it is the introduction to your organization and its purpose.


General Meeting


 The GCNN website: Ben Streissguth and Pamela Governale are collaborating on a revision of the GCNN website. The Garden Conservancy has redone their website and would like the look of the new GCNN website to have visual compatibility with the new Garden Conservancy look. The new website will have a new underlying code, Ruby on Rails. This code will allow well for a database structure for the website which in turn makes the website much easier to manage.
The Passport Brochure: The brochure will be available at the workshop next spring at Powells Wood Garden. The committee working on it is still waiting for some organizations to respond with the information required to complete the brochure.
The plan is to incorporate the various offers into a general format. Then we will send everyone their information for review before printing the brochure. Each member organization for the 2015 year will receive 100 copies of the brochure which they may sell or give away as they see fit.


This October, Maurice Skagen is going to be finished writing a pamphlet on the families that settled in the Kent Valley south of Seattle, WA in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Soo’s Creek Botanical Garden, the public garden he opened 5 years ago, is located on a portion of the farm his family started in the 1890’s.
The Lord and Schryver Conservancy will be hiring a Garden Manger/Curator. The job description is here (19kb).
The APGA will be having its 2016 Education Symposium in Bellevue in partnership with Bellevue Botanical Gardens, University of Washington Botanic Garden, & Bloedel Reserve February 22-24, 2016. The title for the symposium is: “Public Gardens, Public Engagement: From Audience Research to Action”


The spring 2016 workshop will be at the Powells Wood Garden in Federal Way, WA. The date will be 19 March. The Topic for the meeting will be “Children’s Education Programs” The topic might cover the following: Bringing historic gardens to life for children; the art of teaching children; and the top 10 things to remember when teaching children.

A location for the Fall Workshop is being sought and the topic is to be determined.



Last update: 18 February, 2018