Engage Major Donors with a Commissioning Club

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The textbook definition of a commission is, “a fee paid to an agent or employee for transacting a piece of business or performing a service.” However I prefer to think of a commission, in terms of the nonprofit world, as connecting inspiration with financial and community support.

Commissioning clubs provide a uniquely inspirational way to connect major donors intimately with the cause they care about. Like the Medicis of Renaissance Italy, your organization could discover others with a passion for the same cause and help them bring it to life.

While your nonprofit may not be able to claim the inventions of piano and opera and the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, your commissioning club can leave a lasting mark in your corner of the world.

What is a Commissioning Club?

A commissioning club is a group at your nonprofit dedicated to introducing new work that supports and uplifts their cause. Most times commissioning clubs are connected to a fine arts organization, like a symphony or ballet.

These clubs operate with a clear timeline and framework and release a specific request, like to facilitate the composition of a new piece of music from beginning to end. A commissioning club would provide the structure and expectations for the artist involved while providing income to allow them to focus on their craft.

Members of the club receive unique insight into the art of creating something and may receive special perks, like behind-the-scenes access to a rehearsal or a debut performed just for them.

In a nonprofit environment, commissioning clubs often charge an annual membership fee to participate. Scholarships are often available for individuals who wish to participate but cannot afford the fee, like this example from Seattle Chamber Music.

Can My Nonprofit Use a Commissioning Club?

A commissioning club may inject new life into your major gift program with its built-in engagement opportunities.

Members of the commissioning club are often the most plugged-in donors. This means a club provides a new fundraising income stream for people who are already your biggest fans and, when implemented well, feels like a donor perk every step of the way.

Even if you are not a fine arts organization, a commissioning club can be an excellent idea. Sofia’s Hope, a Florida nonprofit dedicated to raising money to support pediatric cancer patients, funds research into pediatric cardio-oncology, a rare scientific niche.

“It’s not funding a lab or that kind of research. It’s about the dissemination of information,” explained Sofia’s Hope founder Marta Blanco. “We raise money to publish studies and pay for medical editors. It’s all of these things I never thought we could do.”

Perhaps your nonprofit already uses a scholarship program. Consider adding a commissioning club aspect to inject new life into the scholarship model. Now major donors have an opportunity to get an inside peek into a student’s research or can cheer them on when preparing for a senior recital or presentation.

Again, commissioning just means connecting inspiration with financial and community support. Doesn’t every organization need a dose of fresh inspiration? These clubs are also a great way to build relationships with unique sectors of your community, from scientists to students and artists.

Key Aspects of a Commissioning Club

Commissioning clubs can be a simple affair, with one of the most famous examples still maintaining their operations over a friends’ kitchen table.

However, a few key aspects will help you start off on the right foot.

Narrow Focus

When a club releases a request for commissions, be sure to be very detailed about what you are looking for. Consider the following questions to narrow your focus:

  • What is our medium? (music, choreography, scientific research)
  • When do we wish to premiere this commission?
  • Is there a certain mood or goal for this piece? For example, a song to mark the town’s 200th birthday or a desire to fund the study of a threatened species
  • What is our budget?

When requesting applications for your commission, it is essential to explain exactly what you are looking for. Not only do these expectations help provide the structure for future contracts, transparency will ensure both the nonprofit and your commission partner are truly collaborating.

Clear Timeline

A clearly communicated timeline is one of the most essential aspects of a commission. Often you are working remotely from your commission partner or you have a set date for the premiere of the commission. Artistic differences or other hurdles can also threaten to sink your deadlines.

By being clear of the individual, time-bound deliverables of your project, you can make sure you reach the premiere date on time without compromising any of the experiences for your major donors.

Remember, a commissioning club can contain the entire Donor Cultivation Cycle within its annual cycle. It’s important to keep your promises with donors. The best way to do this is by maintaining a specific schedule.

Member Bill of Rights

Similarly with the point about a clear timeline, it is important to consider the experience you are offering to the members of the commissioning club – your major donors. Consider the following to promote a thriving club capable of introducing fresh ideas into your community:

  • Will this club operate with majority rule or unanimous vote?
  • How will people be able to express their opinions? How will you ensure everyone feels heard?
  • What are the various ways major donors can participate? Is this club welcome to people who work full-time?Is in-person attendance mandatory?
  • When will the nonprofit step in to guide or make decisions? What are the boundaries between club members, the nonprofit, and the commission partner?

Commissioning clubs require a lot of idea sharing so it is important the group can communicate productively. Spend time making sure the club feels inclusive and set appropriate guardrails to keep the interests of the nonprofit, commission partner, and club members protected.

How to Engage Major Donors with a Commissioning Club

As previously mentioned, a commissioning club has the potential to drive every step of the donor cultivation cycle for your major donors.

This fundraising tool contains natural moments for solicitation, both in the initial invitation of club members and by encouraging current members to recruit others.

There are also great moments for stewardship within the standard function of a commissioning club. When the commissioned product is ready to debut, set up a world premiere only for club members. Or produce special merchandise only for commissioning club members. Be sure to invite members in on the process along the way by sharing status updates from the project.

Commissioning clubs provide great opportunities for donor cultivation as well. Nothing helps build a relationship than finding something that resonates emotionally with a donor. A donor helping bring meaningful something to life will undoubtedly provide great insight into your major donors.


A commissioning club is an underrated way to add a fresh spin to your major donor campaigns. These clubs provide coveted insider access to your most engaged donors and inspire them to contribute directly to the causes they care about.

While fine arts organizations use commissioning clubs to debut fresh, contemporary visual art, music, or dance, other nonprofits can also benefit from this model. Consider commissioning research to advance your cause. Or refresh an existing scholarship program with a commissioning approach.

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