ACN News & Industry Trends

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  • 12/02/2019 7:54 AM | Kelli Moore (Administrator)

    Membership organizations, like associations, have special challenges.These organizations need to appeal to a variety of member types, each with their own needs, wants and aspirations. This calls for a strategy!

    The key to a successful member engagement strategy is relevance to prospective, new and current members. This is where segmentation – tailored approaches and messaging -- comes in.


    Make a great first impression.

    1. Develop a brand that is well-respected in your industry.

    Your brand is your best recruiting tool. More than a logo and tagline, it represents all the experiences with your organization. It needs to communicate your value, mission and vision. Developing a compelling and durable brand requires research, strategy and planning.

    2. Know (don’t assume) your target market.

    Who are your association’s main prospects? What business problems do they have? What benefits do they seek? Understanding the answers will help you communicate your value.

    3. Produce effective membership materials.

    Do they “speak” your prospects’ language? Are they clearly written with consistent messaging, and do they look professionally designed? Do they show your interest in your prospects’ development.

    4. Consider different levels of membership.

    Having a strategy with a scaled fee and benefits (basic, premium, etc.) can allow you to capture more prospects and generate more income from membership.


    Generate excitement around the benefits of membership and new relationships.

    5. Create an onboarding communications plan.

    Make your new members feel welcome by telling them what to do first and where to go for help. With marketing automation, it’s easy to create a sequence of emails to send automatically based on join date.

    6. Plan a new member orientation session.

    An orientation session will give new members the “lay of the land” so they can take advantage of benefits right away while meeting other new (and current) members.

    7. Host events to introduce new members to current members.

    Networking events, such as “Happy Hours,” create perfect opportunities to connect new members and veterans to each other in fun or unique venues.

    Download our e-book for the final 4 tips on BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS with members … and more on member engagement!

    by Brenda Berman, McKenna Design Group

    About McKenna Design Group

    Founded in 2002, McKenna Design Group specializes in helping trade and professional associations and social impact organizations fulfill their missions through effective branding, marketing and technology solutions. McKenna Design Group: We Are Future Shapers. 

  • 11/20/2019 2:49 PM | Anonymous

    ACN Founding Member Kelly Kleiman

    In this our 30th anniversary year, we are grateful for our longtime members—some who have been with us since the very beginning, when ACN was just a handful of people that met casually in a lakefront park.

    Much has changed in ACN over the years, including our name and the size of our group. One thing that has stayed consistent is the focus of our membership: 51% of ACN members have been a paid consultant for 6+ years and 91% have worked in the nonprofit sector for 6+ years (2019 ACN Member Engagement Survey).

    ACN Founding Members

    • Kelly Kleiman, NFP Consulting

    “When we started ACN we were still trying to get nonprofits and funders to understand that consultants to nonprofits weren’t just the recently unemployed. I hoped it would grow and help its members grow their practices, but I never envisioned the magnitude of the growth. Referrals from my ACN colleagues, exposure in the online directory and RFPs have all been essential in my sustaining a healthy consulting practice for 30 years.” 

    Kelly Kleiman
    Principal, NFP Consulting, ACN Founding Member

    ACN Members of 15+ Years

    • Elizabeth Richter, The Richter Group – BOARD MEMBER
    • Margaret Hennessy, Hennessy Consulting Inc.
    • Amy Cornell, Cornell Consulting, Inc.
    • Carol White, CBWhite – MEMBER ENGAGEMENT TEAM
    • Steve Pratapas, Pratapas Associates, LLC
    • Amy Wishnick, Wishnick & Associates, LLC - COMMITTEE MEMBER
    • Joyce Golbus Poll, J.G. Poll & Associates – COMMITTEE MEMBER

    My initial ACN membership coincided with my launch into independent proposal writing. Fast forward fifteen years and I am still involved. Why? ACN’s member network continues to be a rich source of referrals. Nonprofit executives find me on the ACN website. There is access to RFPs and strong educational programs. ACN and my consultancy practice—they go hand in hand.

    Joyce Golbus Poll
    J.G. Poll & Associates      

    ACN Members of 10-14 Years

    • Wendy Siegel, Millennia Consulting, L.L.C.
    • Gail Straus, GKS Consulting, LLC – COMMITTEE MEMBER
    • Jan Stempel, Stempel Consulting
    • Mary Morten, Morten Group, LLC
    • Laura McAlpine, McAlpine Consulting for Growth, LLC

    ACN Members of 5-9 Years

    • Amy Schiffman, Giving Tree Associates, Inc.
    • Roger (Whit) Shepard, RWS Consulting, Inc.
    • John Davidoff, Davidoff Mission-Driven Business Strategy
    • Jeff Marcella, Marcella Consulting Corporation
    • Meghann Beer, Meghann Beer Nonprofit Consulting
    • Debra Natenshon, DBN & Associates
    • Annisa Wanat – COMMITTEE MEMBER
    • Theresa G. Lipo, Nonprofit and Philanthropy Advising
    I joined ACN after being invited to one of their events by a colleague. I had been feeling somewhat isolated in my practice and knew it was time to start networking and connecting with others in the field. I found the community of dedicated professionals I had been looking for and started to volunteer on committees, ultimately serving on the board for three years. Through ACN, I've had the opportunity to gain exposure to clients, learn new business skills, and grow my network, which has had a powerful impact on me personally and professionally. I'm still grateful for that initial invitation to an ACN event!
    Theresa G. Lipo
    Philanthropy and Development Consultant
    • Rena Henderson Mason, Bold Agenda
    • Jonathan Eisler, Perspectives Ltd. – BOARD MEMBER
    • Belinda Li, Citta Partnership – COMMITTEE MEMBER
    • Barb Vicory, Wg2 Consulting & Management
    • Joseph Villinski, Xseed Fundraising Solutions

    Thank you to our longtime members for being advocates for ACN, as well as your dedication to mission-based work in Chicago and beyond.

    Show your ACN pride

    ACN Members: Download ACN member badges for your website or email signature. Longtime members: we have special badges just for you!
  • 11/13/2019 12:57 PM | Anonymous

    Share your ACN pride! 

    ACN Members: Now you can let clients and prospects know that you’re a proud member of a 30-year association for consultants to nonprofits and that you share our goal of strengthening mission-driven organizations through expertise, education and experience.

    The majority of our members (91%) have worked in the nonprofit sector for 6+ years. Share your nonprofit experience and dedication to mission-based work by posting an ACN member badge on your website or in your email signature. 

    Download ACN member badges

    Note: You must be a member in good standing to access the badges. 

    Longtime members: We have special badges just for you. Download your 10-Year or 20-Year badge and show your dedication to ACN and nonprofit work.

  • 11/09/2019 2:06 PM | Anonymous

    By Amy Wishnick, ACN Member
    Principal, Wishnick & Associates

    The cold open works for Saturday Night Live, not so much for a nonprofit board meeting. Isn’t it respectful of board members’ time to launch directly into the business at hand? Even though it may seem that way, I’m not so sure.

    Nonprofit boards are fueled by many things. Most notably, of course, is an individual director’s connection to the mission. And, effective, thriving nonprofit organizations are led by board members who are committed partners in their leadership and governance roles. To be successful in this endeavor, board members need to trust each other. And, to build trust, they need to know each other.

    My observations, based on attending hundreds of board meetings as a consultant and a board member, suggest that board members tend to arrive ‘just in time’ for board meetings that go straight to business. The push to be efficient may diminish board members’ connection to their board buddies and impact their chance to enjoy the camaraderie of the board room. It bypasses acknowledging that everyone is back together to lead the organization.

    So, let’s imagine ways to foster trust, collegiality, and a companionable atmosphere:

    • Have a meal together, whether supplied by the nonprofit or BYO, if a board meeting takes place over a mealtime. (Don’t get me started about the perils of ‘hangry’ board members.)
    • Begin the meeting with a true welcome statement, rather than jumping directly into the agenda.
    • Go around the table so each board member can share something personal that happened since the last meeting related to the organization or in general.

    Ensuring ways to build rapport increases the opportunity to get to know one’s colleagues. It boosts the satisfaction and geniality that can so enrich the board experience. With the sense of friendliness that accompanies teamwork – and a board is a team – nonprofits reduce the risk of alienating some directors. Board members are less likely to put distance between themselves and the organization when board meetings are framed as welcoming and open, and the members know their colleagues.

    Next time you attend a nonprofit board meeting, take a moment to evaluate the feeling and flow. Make your voice heard and suggest changes to support an atmosphere that fosters connection, which is in everyone’s best interest, board member and nonprofit.

    For more ideas to make board meetings engaging and effective, please check out these other blog posts:

    Amy Wishnick, Principal of Wishnick & Associates since 2004, loves consulting with nonprofits. She works nationally with clients on strategic planning, executive leadership transition management, board development and governance, different types of assessments, meeting and retreat facilitation, and more. She is a past president of the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits and serves on the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management’s selection committee for the Alford-Axelson Awards for Managerial Excellence. 

  • 11/05/2019 12:54 PM | Anonymous

    ACN supports local nonprofits!
    We know many of our members work with groups that are participating in #GivingTuesday on Dec. 3, 2019 and leading up to this year's giving day we are highlighting campaigns from local and national nonprofits that work with our members.
    ACN Members: To feature your client's #GivingTuesday campaign, please share a tweet/Facebook post via this Google form (you must be a current ACN member to participate).
    Follow us on Facebook and Twitter where we will be curating a list of #GivingTuesday campaigns to support this year. 

  • 10/24/2019 2:06 PM | Anonymous

    In anticipation of our 30th anniversary in 2019, ACN conducted a membership engagement survey to gain insights into our members and what is most important to them. 

    CBWhite, a leading marketing research and strategy consultancy, formed a unique team to help ACN tackle this challenge. They presented their detailed results at our 30th Anniversary Celebration & Annual Meeting

    The ACN Board of Directors came together to review the survey data and determine how best to apply it to their strategic goals in order to improve the ACN member experience. 

    How do you plan to use the data generated from the ACN Membership Engagement Survey?

    President – Jill Misra:
    We heard at the 30th anniversary kickoff celebration that members are interested to know how results of the membership engagement survey will be used. Here are just a few examples of how ACN will focus its priorities in the coming months based upon survey feedback.

    • Offer programming content and formats that benefit consultant members and nonprofits alike
    • Explore new partnerships and opportunities resulting in greater ACN visibility, new member benefits and increased value of membership
    • Growth and retention efforts focused on the diverse needs of our members
    Programming - Rashmi Narsana
    The Programming Committee has made a deliberate attempt by reviewing our FY19-FY20 goals with the member engagement survey data. We are working hard to ensure that our programming and networking events are motivated by our member needs—specifically—“Interested in content by experience and practice areas and emerging trends in the nonprofit sector." 

    Membership – Gregg Mellinger
    The membership committee will focus on building relationships among the ACN community by reaching out personally to new members and inviting them to participate in educational and networking events. The committee is also making a concerted effort to ensure all current members are aware of the resources available. In addition, the group is exploring new member benefits that can be shared. If you have suggestions, please contact Gregg or one of the committee members.

    Marketing & Communications – Lidia Varesco Racoma
    The Marketing Committee has increased our social media activity in order to consistently promote ACN events and other member benefits to a wider audience. 

    The data also showed us that members want alternate ways to connect besides in-person events, so we launched a private member Facebook group and have been growing our Facebook and LinkedIn presence. 

    Another key data insight was that almost 75% of our members visit the ACN website regularly, so you can also expect to see changes that make the website easier for members to navigate, as well making it easier for nonprofits to locate and connect with consultants. 

    Nonprofit Relations – Sherry Budziak
    RFPs are important to our membership; therefore we rewrote the RFP form to make it easier for nonprofits to upload their information to the website. As a result we have seen an increase in RFPs and general inquiries which we share with individual and organizational members. 

    The member survey also revealed that ACN members want to have more interaction with nonprofit leaders. With that end in mind, we are working with the other ACN committees to co-host programs with nonprofit groups as well as create a nonprofit relations committee in order to increase ACN's visibility within the community.

  • 10/09/2019 11:02 AM | Anonymous

    Spotlight on ACN Partnerships
    By Liz Duffrin, ACN member

    ACN members Donna Lake and Ellen Shepard collaborated on a strategic planning and communications project for a food pantry.

    Donna Larkin Lake, a communications strategist, didn’t know a single ACN member when she arrived at the annual meeting in June 2018. But over the breakfast buffet, she had a “wonderful conversation” with Ellen Shepard, CEO of Community Allies, who works with community and economic development groups. They exchanged cards.

    Several months later, Shepard contacted her with a project that was a perfect fit for both. Shepard would lead strategic planning for a food pantry, while Lake, former communications director for Northern Illinois Food Bank and Greater Chicago Food Depository, would craft messaging for the plan, and train the board of directors to carry out a communications strategy.

    “I show up at the ACN meeting not knowing anyone, and a few months later end up having this fabulous partnership that benefitted my business and my learning,” said Lake, president of Larkin Lake Strategic Communications.

    Shepard was also surprised at their fortuitous meeting, acknowledging that she is “not a natural networker, so I tend to go to these events and think, ‘I met people but nothing came of it.’ But this partnership was a reminder to me that the seeds you sow could bear fruit later—someone you meet today may be someone you can call on down the road.”

    The two consultants still didn’t know each other well when they began working together in the fall of 2018. “The contract was in my name, so there was a little fear: how confident can I be turning stuff over to Donna?” Shepard recalled. “But I felt comfortable quickly.”

    The collaboration turned out to be even more successful than either had anticipated. Lake offered to take notes in two planning sessions but also lent her expertise to the discussion. “She knew some questions to ask and what might be missing,” Shepard said. “Having another consultant in the room who knew the food pantry world was great for me.”

    Between sessions, Shepard said she often relied on Lake as a thought partner. “‘Let me say this out loud and see if it makes sense.’ And we talked through it in detail. What I was able to provide the client was much stronger with Donna’s input.”

    Including Lake in planning sessions also turned out to be critical to the later success of the communication effort. “Ellen could have completed the strategic plan with the board and handed me the report and asked me to craft messages from that,” said Lake, “but I wouldn’t have understood firsthand the passion that was coming from the board and why the particular strategies they wanted to move forward with were important to the organization.”

    In the meetings, Lake said that she also learned from watching Shepard lead the group so skillfully—keeping the pace and focus while drawing out the quieter members and pausing to let ideas percolate. “Having been a spokesperson for nonprofits, I sometimes feel the need to fill the silence. Watching Ellen in action has made me a better listener, which will help me serve my clients better.”

    Their advice to other consultants: “There are a lot of talented people in Chicago—get out and get to know them,” said Lake. “There are people out there who can help you, but it’s about networking to establish those relationships.”

    Collaboration “made both of our businesses stronger,” she added, “and helped us serve our clients better. I think that together, we’re stronger.”

  • 10/01/2019 5:55 PM | Anonymous

    At our popular recent program, Understanding Social Enterprise: Models, Funding and Legal Structures, the consultant and nonprofit attendees had lots of questions—many of them being: What the heck do all those acronyms stand for?

    Our expert moderator and panelists Suzanne Griffith (Vega Partners), Belinda Li (Citta Partnership), Erica Spangler Raz (Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights), and Bradley Summers (Wells Fargo) used their varied background in legal, fiscal and management to make sense of the social enterprise ABCs.

    B Corp: B Corporation (or B Lab)
    B Corporation certification is a private certification issued to for-profit companies by B Lab, a global nonprofit organization with offices in the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a partnership in Latin America with Sistema B. To be granted and to preserve certification, companies must receive a minimum score on an online assessment for "social and environmental performance," satisfy the requirement that the company integrate B Lab commitments to stakeholders into company governing documents, and pay an annual fee ranging from $500 to $50,000, depending on annual sales. (Wikipedia)

    CFA: Chartered Financial Analyst
    A chartered financial analyst (CFA) is a globally-recognized professional designation given by the CFA Institute, (formerly the AIMR (Association for Investment Management and Research)), that measures and certifies the competence and integrity of financial analysts. Candidates are required to pass three levels of exams covering areas, such as accounting, economics, ethics, money management, and security analysis. (Investopedia)

    CPWA: Chartered Private Wealth Advisor
    Certified Private Wealth Advisor® (CPWA®) is an advanced professional certification for advisors who serve high-net-worth clients. It's designed for seasoned professionals who seek the latest, most advanced knowledge and techniques to address the sophisticated needs of clients with a minimum net worth of $5 million. (Investments and Wealth Institute - CPWA)

    CRPC: Certified Retirement Plan Counselor
    Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC) is a professional financial planning designation awarded by the College for Financial Planning. Individuals may earn the CRPC designation by completing a study program and passing a final multiple-choice examination. Successful applicants earn the right to use the CRPC designation with their names for two years, which can improve job opportunities, professional reputation and pay. Every two years, CRPC professionals must complete 16 hours of continuing education and pay a small fee to continue using the designation. (Investopedia)

    L3C: Low-Profit Limited Liability Company
    A low-profit limited liability company (L3C) is a legal form of business entity in the United States that was created to bridge the gap between non-profit and for-profit investing by providing a structure that facilitates investments in socially beneficial, for-profit ventures by simplifying compliance with Internal Revenue Service rules for program-related investments, a type of investment that private foundations are allowed to make. (Wikipedia)

    PRI: Program Related Investment
    Program-related investments are those in which:
    1. The primary purpose is to accomplish one or more of the foundation's exempt purposes,
    2. Production of income or appreciation of property is not a significant purpose, and
    3. Influencing legislation or taking part in political campaigns on behalf of candidates is not a purpose. (

    UBIT: Unrelated Business Income Tax
    Even though an organization is recognized as tax exempt, it still may be liable for tax on its unrelated business income. For most organizations, unrelated business income is income from a trade or business, regularly carried on, that is not substantially related to the charitable, educational, or other purpose that is the basis of the organization's exemption. An exempt organization that has $1,000 or more of gross income from an unrelated business must file Form 990-T. An organization must pay estimated tax if it expects its tax for the year to be $500 or more. (

    Did we miss anything? Let us know and we’ll update our list.

    Want to learn more about implementing a social enterprise in your organization? Find an expert in our member directory or reach out to our Executive Director to connect with one of our social enterprise member experts:

  • 09/17/2019 10:11 AM | Anonymous

    By: William A. Price

    1. Don’t apply for property tax relief before you get your federal exemption letter. You have the burden of proof of exemption, and though the IRS “Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval” is not enough to prove state qualification, it is a required part of the application packet.
    2. Don’t apply if your zoning or building code compliance is wrong. Local taxing bodies get notice of property tax exemption requests, and if your site is not correctly zoned, you may have local use prohibitions, not just property taxes to pay.
    3. Don’t apply if your organizational entity is not in good standing. Religious or charitable not for profit corporations have to file incorporation papers and annual reports with the Secretary of State. Religious corporations have to file with local county clerks. Proof of current filing status is part of the required property tax application package.
    4. Don’t apply if your other taxes are not paid. Local and state sales tax, federal and state income tax withholding authorities, and other local tax registrars will be informed of any property tax exemption request, and they will get unpaid tax penalties and collections if you are not in compliance, whether or not they also contact the property tax exemption section of the Illinois Department of Revenue or the local assessment appeals boards that rule on your exemption application.
    5. Don’t apply as a charity or religious use property if you cannot prove your use is “exclusively” charitable or religious. The county boards of review, Department of Revenue and reviewing courts all require evidence of free services to all those in need, not just nonprofit operations that do not return profits to individual owners.
    6. Don’t apply as a school if your services are part-time and do not completely avoid the need for public education for children served by your school.
    7. Charitable or religious (or other exempt owner type) title to the property is required, not just a leasehold. You can work with an owner to subdivide and purchase a property on note and mortgage terms that give it back if you don’t make payments, but the ownership has to be free and clear in the exempt entity, not held for profit, or the exemption does not apply.
    8. Make sure you have proof of exempt use for every room and floor and part of a property. Anything less can result in exemption for less than 100% of property tax bills.
    9. Don’t forget the parking lots: these may be exempt if adjacent to and maintained for the benefit of adjacent parcels with exclusively religious or charitable exemptions.
  • 08/21/2019 1:53 PM | Anonymous

    ACN is served by an all-volunteer board of directors and committee members comprised of recognized nonprofit leaders across dozens of areas of expertise.

    We welcome the following returning and new board members for FY2020:

    ACN Board of Directors:
    Jill Misra - President
    Barb Vicory - Secretary
    Bradley Summers - Treasurer
    Rashmi Narsana - VP Programming
    Lidia Varesco Racoma - VP Marketing & Communications
    Gregg Mellinger - VP Membership
    Sherry Budziak - VP Nonprofit Relations
    Emily Taylor - Member-at-Large
    Randy Ford - Member-at-Large
    Suzanne Griffith - Member-at-Large
    James Javorcic - Member-at-Large

    Programming Committee:
    Rashmi Narsana – chair
    Alexis Allegra
    Belinda Li
    Elizabeth Richter
    Daniel Ronan

    Marketing Committee:
    Lidia Varesco Racoma – chair
    Andrew Clarke
    Annisa Wanat
    Kelli Moore
    Liz Duffrin
    Randy Ford
    Gordon Mayer

    Membership Committee:
    Gregg Mellinger – chair
    Sam Odishoo
    Connie Kyes-Myland
    Megan Angle
    Gabe Martin
    Fran Caan
    Governance Committee:
    Jill Misra – chair
    Joyce Golbus Poll
    Leah Lawson
    Amy Wishnick
    Margaret Knell
    Megan Renner
    K.M. Bell

    Are you interested in learning more about joining the ACN Board of Directors or participating in an ACN Committee? Reach out to our Executive Director Tricia Fusilero at to learn more. 

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