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Cultivate Me: One Example

This week’s feature is an excerpt from The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second Edition. For more information and to buy the book, visit our store.

Imagine yourself as one of the guests at your organization’s Point of Entry Event. You’ve had just this one contact with the organization and you are inspired.

Now what?

They didn’t ask you for money. They sent you home with some materials. You take a minute to read them. How interesting. There is an easy-to-read Wish List of all kinds of things they need. There are little items like toothbrushes, shampoo, pots and pans, help in the office once a week. And there are some medium-sized items like old computers, carpeting for the youth room, a van, math tutors. The list goes all the way up to the really big stuff: a new gymnasium, an underwriter for their international conference, a new office building, a properly staffed reading program.

You see that you could actually contribute some of the things on that list, but you are too busy to pick up the phone and call them or you might not want to appear that “forward.” You put away the Wish List and go on to the next activity in your day.

Two days later, you get a phone call from Sue, that nice staff person you met at the tour or lunch meeting. She is thanking you for taking your time to come and asking for your input. “What did you think of our program?” You tell her in a reserved way how impressed you were. You mention that the intercultural studies program was especially appealing. At some point she asks, “Is there any way you could see yourself becoming involved?” You may be thinking about underwriting that international conference. After all, it links to many other interests of yours, yet you don’t want to lead off with something so big. “I notice you need some old computers,” you respond. “I could help you with that.”

Sue is very appreciative and tells you immediately how much they are needed and for what program. The demand has increased so much that the computer lab is now open every evening and there are still people who can’t get the computer time they need. My goodness, you are thinking, my old computers could really make a difference. We’ve upgraded our system at the office and those old ones are actually in the way. I’d be a real hero if I found a good cause to donate them to.

“Would it help if we came to pick them up?” she offers. “I know how happy it will make the people in the computer lab to have them before the next round of classes start.” Before you know it, they have picked up the computers and you are getting a call inviting you to come back and see the expanded computer program in action one evening when it is in full swing. “Feel free to invite anyone else you’d like,” offers that same warm, efficient staff person.

You arrive with your spouse and two work colleagues just to check it out on your way to dinner. You are dazzled. Those old computers that had been cluttering the back room at the office are now front and center, with eager, curious children and their parents clicking away. The head of the computer program, a brainy-looking fellow, happens to be there in the midst of all the action. He can’t thank you enough.

Of course, as part of the evening’s show-and-tell at the computer center, your low-key guide points out the students from the intercultural program, communicating with their international “e-pals.” “It’s just a start,” she says.

“They’re always hungry for more real connections with other cultures.” You go off to dinner with your friends. Everyone is feeling good, and you are looking like the person of the hour. For your friends, this was a pre-Point of Entry Event; for you it was a validation that you picked a winner.

The next week, the same nice staff person calls back to thank you for coming out again and for bringing those friends. “I hope they enjoyed seeing the program,” she says enthusiastically. You find yourself telling her that one of your friends is a teacher and asked if he could learn more. And those work colleagues who came to the center and then to dinner have spread the word to a few others in the international department at the office. They’re wondering if someone from the program could come out to talk with them about what they do. Before you know it, you find yourself checking calendars and arranging a date for a Point of Entry in a Box at your offices, and you’re supplying the lunches!

And so it goes. A one-time visit to a Point of Entry Event and an effective Follow-Up Call lead to the birth of an in-kind gift, a volunteer, an Ambassador and—down the road—a new major donor. This is why we call it the Cultivation Superhighway.

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Ask Event vs. Individual Asks

Q: At what point do you decide not to hold an Ask Event and focus on individual Asks instead? We have very small communities in which it might not pay off to hold large events.

Bryant in Utah

A: Start with an Ask Event in your main location. It is best to launch the Multiple-Year Giving Society at an Ask Event, even a small one. Then you can do one-on-one Asks in the outlying communities, inviting donors to join the Multiple-Year Giving Society that you have just launched at your Ask Event. Otherwise, if you just start with one-on-one asks, the levels seem surprisingly large.

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How to Conquer the Fear of Asking

The fear of asking for a charitable contribution from a complete stranger (or worse, from a close friend) is legitimate. I certainly would not want to do that either. It puts everyone in an uncomfortable position. But if you follow the Benevon Model, by the time you ask a potential donor for money, they will have been cultivated sufficiently to be ready to give. There should be no awkwardness or fear. It will merely be a matter of nudging them gently to do something they had already been thinking about doing.

Most of the fear associated with asking for money has nothing to do with money anyway. It is our fear of asking for anything. There you are at the fancy dinner party, sitting at the round table of ten people, desperately scheming how to have the salt or butter passed to you from the other side of the table. Asking seems like intruding. It seems rude. It seems selfish. From a very young age, we have been taught not to intrude. At Benevon, we call it fear of “please pass the salt.”

When you overlay that fear of asking for anything with our cultural neurosis about money, it is no wonder we all have so much baggage about asking.

In our workshops, we remind our participants that people would rather say yes than no when asked for something. Think of the last time someone asked you for something and you said no. How did it make you feel? Most people feel like they are being mean when they say no. We feel like a much nicer person when we say yes.

So your job, as an asker, is to figure out what you can ask people for that they can naturally say yes to. We say that people can only contribute freely what they have in abundance. Anything else would be sacrificial giving, which is inconsistent with the abundance-based principles of the model.

Make a mental list of a few things which you personally do not feel you have enough of right now. Perhaps you feel you don’t have enough time or money. Now imagine that someone comes to you and asks you, very persuasively, to give them some of your time or money. Although you would like to say yes, if you are true to yourself, you would have to say no.

Now think of a few things that you have just about the right amount of—friends, family, clothes, pillows. If someone were to ask you to give them some of your friends or pillows for a project of interest to you, you would be more likely to say yes.

Finally, make your mental list of those things that you have in abundance. Books, shoes, old sporting goods? If someone were to ask you to give some of those, it might feel as though they were doing you a favor to take them off your hands.

Your job with your donors and potential donors is to discover what it is that they have in abundance, and then to ask them only for that. You are no longer looking for sacrificial donations. You will need to get to know each donor well enough to know that they can easily and naturally say yes to what you will be asking them for.

Even if it means you may get less than you had hoped, you will have left your donors with a positive experience of giving, rather than a negative experience of being pressured to do something they did not authentically want to do.

That way, they will be looking forward to staying in contact with your organization throughout the next year as you deepen your relationship further before asking them to give again.

In the Benevon Model, the key to successful, terror-free asking is the answer to only one question: Is this person ready to be asked? Another way of saying it is: “Have we gotten to know this person enough so that it would feel natural to ask them to make a financial contribution to the organization now? Would asking this person now be nothing more than nudging the inevitable?”

If your answer is anything other than a resounding “yes,” if it feels to you as if it is too soon to ask, then wait. Go back, re-listen, re-involve, re-cultivate, until the person is sufficiently engaged.

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Expressing Sincere Thanks

Q: Any advice on expressing sincere appreciation for a very generous gift?

Molly in Oklahoma

A: You don’t need to give donors a gift or any “thing” more substantial than a genuine thank you! If you feel it is warranted, you could give the donor a mission-related token of your appreciation—a drawing from one of the children in your after-school program, or a letter from a grateful parent whose son has benefited from attending your school.

More than anything, you should demonstrate to each donor the impact their gift has had on your organization and what it will make possible in the future. How many more families will you be able to serve? How many more meals will you be able to provide? Make sure the examples you share are relevant to that donor’s favorite program or area of impact.

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5 Tips for Building a Sustainable Ambassador Program

This week’s feature is an excerpt from The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second Edition. For more information and to buy the book, visit our store.

  1. To produce a successful Ask Event nine to twelve months after launching the model, you will need to have a minimum of two private Points of Entry per month, each hosted by an Ambassador and filled with ten or more of their friends, family, or business associates.
  2. In terms of length of service, people generally volunteer to be an Ambassador once and to fulfill this commitment within the next three months. The short-term nature of this role makes it very appealing. Your goal and theirs should be to have each of their private Point of Entry Events generate a minimum of one new Ambassador, who in turn hosts ten or more guests at a Point of Entry over the next three months. You do not want Ambassadors feeling burdened by having to dig deeper through their finite list of contacts to help you each year.
  3. Some groups develop their Ambassador program into an ongoing high-status group, with ribbons and badges, social events and celebrations. They keep their Ambassadors involved in the life of the organization. Others keep it very low-key, working one-on-one with their Ambassadors to schedule their Points of Entry.
  4. Whichever route you take, you will need to plan each Ambassador’s succession right from the start. Some Ambassadors have large networks and may invite fifty guests the first year, thirty the next, and so on. But eventually they will run out of people who will say yes when invited to a Point of Entry Event. At that point or sooner, consider inviting them to take on another role in your organization, perhaps as a member of your Sustainable Funding Team or your board. Certainly a person who spreads the word and follows through by having many guests is a person of interest for future involvement with your organization.
  5. We tell our groups that passion is the glue that holds the whole model together. You and your team must be passionate about the work of the organization. Your Ambassadors must be extremely passionate about your work. Your Point of Entry Event must convey that deep passion and really connect with the guests. In that way, those guests for whom your organization’s mission really is their life’s work or their natural calling will be inspired to join you by becoming Ambassadors and inviting others to the very same type of event that just inspired them: your Point of Entry Event.
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Motivating Ambassadors

What Size Tables for the Ask Event?

Q: We are having a hard time keeping Ambassadors motivated to actually follow through on hosting and filling a Point of Entry Event with ten or more people. We only have three active Ambassadors. What advice do you have for us?

Melanie in Texas

A: An Ambassador is someone who has attended a Point of Entry Event, believes in your work, and accepts a short-term volunteer assignment to host and fill a private Point of Entry Event with ten or more guests in the next two to three months.

The key to making your Ambassador program successful starts with the personal invitation they received from their friend to attend the initial Point of Entry. Their friend who is hosting the event (for example, a friend from their book club) tells them that they are serving as an Ambassador by hosting a private one-hour tour of an organization they love, to give them a first-hand experience of the work of the organization. They will not be asked for money at the event and they will receive one follow-up call from someone at the organization to get their feedback and to see if they might like to serve as an Ambassador by hosting and filling a subsequent Point of Entry with their own group of ten or more.

At the Point of Entry, the Ambassador welcomes everyone from the book club, shares why they are so committed to the organization, introduces the Visionary Leader. The person who will be making the Follow-Up Calls has a speaking role during the Point of Entry, sharing their personal connection to the work of the organization, and perhaps serving as the tour guide.

It is very important that the person making the follow-up calls be someone who enjoys talking with people on the phone and is good at building relationships. Their goal should be to identify one new Ambassador from the follow-up calls to the ten or more guests who attend each Point of Entry Event.

When someone tells them that they would like to become an Ambassador, the person making the follow-up calls must be sure to talk through three things: who do they plan to invite, when and where would they like to have the Point of Entry event. Make sure the potential Ambassador can visualize this event in detail before hanging up the phone! Let them know you they will be receiving ongoing support from your (volunteer) Ambassador Manager—someone who has been a successful Ambassador themselves. Tell them the name of that person and to expect a phone call in the next day or two.

The Ambassador Manager must keep in touch weekly or every other week until the big day!  They should also work with t each Ambassador to identify in advance one or two of their guests who might want to become an Ambassador after they learn more about your organization.


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Converting Board “Strong-Armers” to Ambassadors

Rather than having board members rush to the “Ask,” soliciting their friends and business associates following the traditional strong-arming approach of the past, what if your board members and volunteers used that same trusted relationship to invite their friends and colleagues to your organization’s engaging and compelling one-hour Point of Entry Events and let the guests decide for themselves if your work mattered enough to them to get involved?

That is precisely what happened during the two years I worked as the first development director at an urban academy in Seattle, where I began to develop the Benevon Model.

Our board members all truly loved the school and had joined the board because they really cared. They had each already spent time at the school and had listened to and responded to the powerful vision of the school’s founders.

So once we created and began to hold our introductory tours, now called Point of Entry Events, on a regular basis, the board members happily volunteered to invite their friends to their private Points of Entry, often taking their friends to breakfast or lunch afterwards.

I remember the first time one of their guests, Martin, fell in love with the school. As he was leaving his first Point of Entry Event, Martin turned and said to me, “This was amazing! How do I get on the board here?” When I called our board chair, John, to tell him what Martin had said, he was stunned. “He actually said that? Do you know how great that makes me feel? To think that someone of Martin’s caliber fell in love with the school in his own right and could carry on the leadership of our board—that is remarkable!” Martin, like many others after him, joined the board and provided strong leadership for many years.

Compare that outcome to the old approach. One of our board members could have taken Martin out for lunch and asked him to write a check to this great inner-city school. Martin would have obliged dutifully. End of story. Or perhaps a board member and his wife could have invited Martin and his wife to join them at an annual gala or golf tournament, where there would be even less of a connection with the school’s mission.

Instead, we cultivated the relationship with Martin after the Point of Entry Event. I made a Five-Step Follow-Up Call three days later and asked him what he thought of the school and the tour. How else might he like to become involved? Was there anyone he might like to invite to attend a tour?

The result was that Martin became what we now call an Ambassador, inviting first his family and then his business associates to private Points of Entry he hosted at  the school. As we followed up with his friends and family, many of them got involved with the school, and Martin became more involved as well. He was a Table Captain at our first Free One-Hour Ask Event about nine months later; seven of his nine guests had already attended Point of Entry Events. Three of them joined our Multiple-Year Giving Society, pledging $1,000 a year for each of the next five years. One other guest, in addition to Martin himself, pledged $5,000 a year for five years.

That one referral—based strictly on one board member’s relationship with Martin—led to pledges totaling $65,000. And the ripple effect was just beginning. Martin sat on the board of a private foundation, ran a company, and had many other relationships with people he was excited to introduce to the school. Each of our board members was discovering the same thing: it was far more effective to invite their friends and colleagues to their private Point of Entry Event and then leave it to their guest to choose to become involved or not, than it was to ask them prematurely to write a check to the school.

Because they had each attended at least one Point of Entry Event themselves, board members knew their friends would be inspired and educated about the school in that hour, whether or not they ever chose to become involved. They also knew that after the Follow-Up Call, I would “bless and release” those guests who did not want to become involved, so there would be no awkwardness the next time they saw their friend. At that point, it would be the organization’s job to develop an ongoing relationship between the donor and the school, and ultimately for asking for money if that was appropriate.

The first year, we did that asking at the Ask Event. The people who came to the Ask Event were the same people who had already attended the Points of Entry and had specifically expressed interest in staying involved with the organization. They knew they were going to be asked for money. In fact, many wondered why no one had asked them sooner. The same friend who had initially invited them to the Point of Entry—their  Ambassador—became their Table Captain at the Ask Event.

Those relationships between board members, volunteers, staff, and their friends and colleagues had been used to build new relationships between potential donors and the organization itself. Now it would be up to the staff to develop and manage those relationships skillfully, over time, involving volunteers as appropriate, to cultivate each major donor and grow a strong major-gifts program.

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Engaging Ambassadors

Recognizing Major Donors

Q: How do you keep Ambassadors involved after they bring their ten people (especially if the Ask Event is months away)?

 Janet in Texas

A: A successful Ambassador is someone who has met their goal of hosting a private Point of Entry Event for ten or more people. Some of these Ambassadors may be so engaged and committed that they actually want to host and fill additional private Points of Entry. Others may want to continue their involvement in other ways.

You could ask them to be an Ambassador Manager, someone who provides support to other active Ambassadors in meeting their goal of having at least ten people attend their private Points of Entry. This is a volunteer role that would be a natural next step for someone who was a great Ambassador and who is committed to helping you continue to get the word out about your work.

You can also have your development director or a volunteer from your team go to coffee with the person to thank them for being a great Ambassador, get feedback, and see how else they might want to be involved with your organization, for example volunteering on a committee, advisory board, or board.

Some organizations we work with host Ambassador social events once a year. Here you can recognize everyone who has successfully served as an Ambassador in the prior year and also encourage the people who are working towards that goal.

You can also invite them to join your Benevon sustainable funding team if appropriate!