Asthma Coalitions Can Create Winning Fund-raising Models

Vol. 13 •Issue 3 • Page 18
Allergy & Asthma

Asthma Coalitions Can Create Winning Fund-raising Models

Saving lives means spending money, and the Fight Asthma Milwaukee Allies were doing both.

Funded in part by a grant from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), this alliance had recorded progress in improving the health status and quality of life of area children with asthma and their parents. But near the midterm of the funding period, it was clear that a major challenge lay ahead: how to sustain the coalition’s efforts beyond the period of the grant.

Valued by both grant maker and grantee, sustainability is a key variable in successfully obtaining a grant. For an asthma coalition, it represents nothing less than a plan to financially support its programmatic efforts to control asthma after grant funding expires.

As Fight Asthma Milwaukee (FAM) Allies — a group of health care professionals, community leaders, government officials and family members — addressed the issue of sustainability, it became apparent that asthma coalitions, in general, possess the organizational structure and value system to successfully secure a continuous revenue stream.

With some additional planning and expert guidance, your local and state asthma coalitions can transform a commitment to collaboration, diversity and inclusiveness into a winning fund-raising model.

A Compelling Case Statement

The success of a fund-raising enterprise depends on the case for support, philanthropic potential, internal preparedness, and the availability of volunteer leadership, according to Campbell and Company, a national philanthropic consulting firm based in Chicago.

A case for support is a development professional’s best friend. It’s a blueprint for the donor, not the organization, because it explains why the donor should invest in your organization. Although the professional literature on case statements is extensive, most asthma coalitions can write a compelling case for support by following a few simple rules.

First, a case for support should address the questions, concerns and philanthropic interests of prospective donors rather than the needs of your organization. If you remember this important rule, your case will be effective.

Second, play the role of a donor and use the case to answer questions that you might ask about a nonprofit organization before making a generous charitable gift. Campbell and Company recommends addressing the following issues: What’s the business of the organization? What distinguishes the organization from others? What are the lasting benefits of the organization’s success? Who are the organization’s leaders? What’s the timetable? Who will be asked to give? Why should I give now, not six months or a year later?

Third, a case for support is both a marketing tool and an investment tool. Combine rational responses to donor needs and interests with a basic fund-raising rule: Make it personal. For example, the plight of one at-risk child with severe asthma brings a human face to your cause; it adds immediacy, urgency and relevance. Use your case for support to tell a vivid, memorable story that will compel a prospective donor to invest in your organization.

Provide Fund-raising Opportunities

Coalitions offer opportunities to collaborate; however, joint fund raising may be challenging. Underlying reasons for difficulties include issues of decision making and control, unrealistic or differing expectations, poor communication and coordination, individual organizational interests, and unclear management responsibility, according to Mosaica: The Center for Nonprofit Development and Pluralism, which is based in Washington, D.C. (See Table 1.)

FAM Allies further recommends investing in a grant writer or designating writers at key agencies for this important role. Be sure to coordinate grant-seeking efforts with your development office so that your organization doesn’t unintentionally compete with itself for funding.

Our financial advisers also discourage direct mailing to solicit donations from nonmembers and special fund-raising events, such as walkathons, because they’re relatively high-cost and low-yield revenue-making activities.

Instead, talk with coalition members about whom they know, and meet with their contacts in the community. Use their network connections to open doors to foundations, corporations and individuals who share your coalition’s commitment to helping vulnerable children with asthma and their families.

It’s never too early to create a prospect list .by learning who within your coalition can introduce you to people of influence and resources. At least 160 asthma coalitions exist .in the United States, and each alliance is comprised of members who bring a diversity of experiences and professional or community contacts to the coalition.

Stakeholders in asthma include families, clinicians, health care professionals, child-care providers, schools, work sites, public health and other government officials, community leaders, ethnic parent and youth groups, faith-based organizations, housing groups, health care payers, voluntary agencies, and .policy makers. All should be invited to join your asthma coalition.

Incorporate Fund Development

Think about securing a continuous revenue stream as soon as possible. In fact, think .about it as you write grants and develop your infrastructure.

The coalition structure of FAM Allies includes eight standing committees: steering; family and community education; parent and neighborhood organizing and advocacy; care coordination and case management; clinical quality improvement; communications; evaluation and surveillance; and infrastructure and membership development. Our infrastructure and membership development committee has met with development officers from key partner agencies to gather advice about fund raising.

We drafted operating policies and procedures to guide our collaborative efforts. Consistent with The RWJF Allies Against Asthma program, our coalition aims are to improve the quality of life of children with asthma and their families, reduce community asthma emergency visits and hospitalization rates, reduce missed child-care and school days by children with asthma, and develop a sustainable strategy for asthma management. (See Table 2.)

In the policies and procedures, we describe the fiscal agent, Children’s Hospital and Health System, Milwaukee, with an organizational chart and duties of administrators, financial accountants, legal counsel and public relations.

We also describe the qualifications, agency representation, duties, benefits and terms of the coalition director, steering committee members, standing committee chairpersons, coordinating staff and workgroups. We define coalition meeting frequency, notices, quorum and voting, how to respond to requested endorsements, how to manage conflicts of interest, and basic tenets of joint fund raising.

We make decisions primarily by consensus of members; however, the steering committee may make the final decision on important issues after seeking input from the full coalition. We elect committee leaders by votes of the full coalition for the steering committee chairperson and votes of committee members for their chairperson.

Shared and formalized decision making in coalitions creates a positive coalition environment; ensures member benefits outweigh costs; encourages pooling of resources; increases member engagement, commitment, participation and satisfaction; and makes effective planning and evaluation more likely.

Jeremy Miner, a FAM Allies grant writer, gives the following advice when planning a proposal:

First, identify a sponsor using print and electronic resources, for example, for government sources and for private foundations and corporate funders.

Second, analyze the sponsor by writing for application forms and guidelines, calling a past grantee and a past reviewer, and contacting the program officer.

Third, refine your idea by locating statistics that document your problem and casting your coalition in terms that relate to your sponsor’s priorities.

Fourth, develop your proposal. (See Table 3.)

Lastly, follow up your proposal by sending a thank-you note to the sponsor for reviewing your proposal, requesting reviewer comments, and revising your proposal and resubmitting, if rejected.

Value In-kind Support

During the past two years, FAM Allies was successful in securing 50 percent to 60 percent of its operating budget from in-kind support. This primarily included donations of personnel and meeting space.

In-kind support from your own organization, affiliated organizations, community partners and individuals will help stabilize the coalition’s revenue stream between grants and through the peaks and valleys of fund raising. In some cases, it may be the only way to maintain the coalition until it secures a major grant or individual gift.

Once a coalition secures in-kind support, interact with the contributors in the same way you would interact with major benefactors. Establish a process of regularly thanking and recognizing supporters for in-kind gifts. Update them on the work of the coalition as you would a grant maker or major gift donor.

Contributors of in-kind support will value and, ideally, extend their investment in your coalition if you prove that the coalition delivers significant value to them in return.

Dr. Meurer is associate professor of pediatrics (community care), Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and coalition director, Fight Asthma Milwaukee Allies, Children’s Hospital and Health System. Sobczak is director for corporate and foundation giving, Medical College of Wisconsin. Duerst is asthma program coor.dinator, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and clinical quality improvement coordinator, FAM Allies.

The authors thank Jeremy Miner for his helpful editorial comments, and they gratefully acknowledge The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Allies Against Asthma National Program Office at the University of Michigan School of Public Health for support of FAM Allies efforts.

For a list of resources, please call Mike Bederka at (610) 278-1400, ext. 1128, or visit

Table 1. Actions for Joint Fund raising

1. Agree on the scope and limitations of collaborative fund raising and project activities.

2. Establish a mechanism for obtaining and managing funds.

3. Develop a clear mechanism for coalition decision making that all members agree is fair and equitable.

4. Agree on a program management and oversight structure.

5. Define and agree on responsibilities for fund raising.

6. Decide in advance how funds raised will be allocated.

7. Develop a clear written agreement that includes the decisions made about program development.

8. Give credit to members.

Suggestions compiled by Mosaica: The Center for Nonprofit Development and Pluralism. For more information, visit

Table 2. Core Values and Guiding Principles of Fight Asthma Milwaukee Allies

1. Pursue concrete, attainable goals.

2. Include diversity in membership.

3. Foster mutual respect, understanding and trust.

4. Facilitate collaborative partnerships in activities.

5. Build on strengths and resources in the community.

6. Promote learning and empowerment that addresses social inequities.

7. Disseminate knowledge and findings to all partners.

Table 3. Grant Proposal Development1

1. Pursue concrete, attainable goals.

2. Establish your coalition’s uniqueness and credibility.

3. State the problem that you wish to solve.

4. Write your objectives in specific, measurable terms.

5. Detail the methods you will use to achieve your objectives.

6. Define how you will evaluate outcomes and judge project success.

7. .Identify and justify direct and indirect budget costs.

8. Use stylistically appropriate language and a highly readable visual design.


1. Miner LE, Miner JT. Proposal planning and writing. 3rd ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press; 2003.

About The Author