Posted on

The CEO Golden Hour—Option 1: Calling Donors

What does it mean to “cultivate” a donor and how would a busy CEO find the time to do that even if they knew what to do?

This is a question we are asked regularly by the groups in our Sustainable Funding Program, now that they have an ever-increasing number of donors in their Multiple-Year Giving Society.

Rather than merely invoicing donors and expecting them to dutifully make their pledge payment for each of the next five years, these wise CEOs and development directors have discovered that with a high-touch system of personalized contacts, even the busiest of CEOs can begin—and even enjoy—the donor cultivation process!

Today we begin a series of three features entitled the CEO Golden Hour, highlighting the top three things your busy CEO can do to impact donor cultivation and major gifts if they are willing to dedicate merely one hour a week to this critical process.

CEO Golden Hour
Option 1:  Personal cultivation phone calls to donors in your Multiple-Year Giving Society (who have pledged at least $1,000 a year for the next five years)

Purpose:  Getting to know your donors

Preparation:

CEO/Executive Director: Block out one hour per week for calls on CEO’s calendar

Development director:

  • Schedule four calls in advance. Tell each donor the call will last ten minutes at most.
  • Use the five minutes before each call to brief your CEO on each donor’s background.
  • Bring a back-up list of other donors in case you finish early.

During the Call:

CEO/Executive Director:

  • Ask questions to engage donors in a dialog and learn more about their particular areas of interest and passion for your work:
    • How did you first learn about our organization or become involved with us?
    • Is there a particular area of our work that most interests you?
    • Do you have a personal connection to our mission?
    • Where or how do you think we’re really missing the boat?
    • What advice do you have for us?
    • What cues might we have missed from you?
    • How better could we be telling our story?
    • What could we be doing to involve more people?

Development Director:

  • Listen quietly.
  • Take notes and enter into donor database.

Stay tuned for Option 2 next week, Small Group Lunches.

Posted on

Choosing Units of Service

Q: We want to structure our giving units based on the Benevon suggestion of $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 annually. 

Looking at our individual giving over the last two years, only 4% of our donors have given above $1,000 annually. In this situation, are the units of $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 too aggressive?

Richie in Colorado

A: We have a formula for determining your units of service:

Look at your organization’s single largest, unrestricted gift from an individual or a family foundation in the past two years.

  • If that gift was less than $10,000, you should be using the levels $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 for five years.
  • If the largest gift was $10,000 or more, you should be using $1,000, $10,000, and $25,000 for five years.

While either of these options may sound too large given where you are now with your fundraising, you should keep in mind that the giving society is a pathway to building a major gifts program. The levels are intentionally high so that you can grow into them as you engage more people in your organization and grow your donor base.

You may only have people join at the $1,000 level in either scenario in your first year, but some of those very same donors will increase to those higher levels even in their first five years if you cultivate them and bring them closer to your organization and your mission.

If at least 40% of your Ask Event guests have attended a Point of Entry Event in the prior year, you should expect 10% of the Ask Event guests to join the giving society.

Also remember (or see the sample pledge form on page 186 of Terry’s newest book, The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second  Edition) that there are two additional boxes on the pledge form beyond the three larger giving levels:

  • Box 4 is a fill-in-the-blanks box where donors can tell you how much they want to give and for how many years. This box is where your smaller donors can make their gifts or where larger donors can make gifts for less than five years.
  • Box 5 says: “Please contact me. I have other thoughts to share.”
Posted on

Cultivation Tip #1: Think Like a Donor

To get insights into how to cultivate a donor, the place to start is to look at what motivates you personally as a donor. Here is a simple but powerful exercise. Make a list of the organizations you give money to. Not just the obvious one or two, but go a little deeper. Come up with at least five. Next, take the time to answer each of the following questions for each contribution you make.

What patterns or trends do you notice in your giving? For example:

1. For how many years have you been giving to the same organizations? Have you increased your giving over the years? What, if anything, has the organization done along the way that has inspired you to give more?

2. Are you a loyal or a fickle donor? Or a little of both? Do you give faithfully to your old standby favorites? Do you intersperse them with new ones? If so, what does it take to become a new recipient of your gift?

3. Is there any correlation between the amount of your time and money you give to an organization? Do you feel differently about giving money to the places where you also volunteer in some way?

4. What kind of thanks do you receive? Are you thanked more or less than you would like? Does it feel personal enough? Does it seem like the organization knows you or wants to know you better?

5. Is your name prominently displayed in places that matter to you? On plaques, or in annual reports. Though this may not seem like it matters to you, notice your reaction should your name be inadvertently omitted.

6. In terms of ongoing connection, is there more each organization could be doing? Do they invite you to other events throughout the year? Do you feel sufficiently connected to their mission? If it’s a national organization, are you part of a larger national “society” or group recognition program?

7. What more would it take for them to receive a larger gift from you? More information, more direct contact, more recognition? Maybe just a phone call?

Notice what makes you tick when it comes to giving away your money.

Notice what more an organization could have done to get to know you and your passion for their work. Often just a phone call or a personal invitation to a meeting or program of interest will make a big difference. Perhaps you’ve already done that with some of your favorite organizations and now you need something more. Perhaps they’ve missed your cues and their attempts to “cultivate” you feel too heavy-handed.

As you begin the cultivation process with each donor, remember, first and foremost, that you are a donor. Your name is on a list at each of these nonprofit organizations. Someone within those organizations may be trying to “cultivate” you right now!

Rather than girding yourself for approaching hostile strangers to awkwardly get to know them so that you can ultimately convince them to part with their precious money, think of approaching them as you would want to be approached—as real human being with concerns, opinions, a busy life, and a commitment to making the world a better place.

It will make your fundraising efforts easier and more natural. Happy cultivating!

Posted on

Results are the Best Recognition

Ask any donor what type of recognition they most like to receive for their gift and then listen closely to their answer:

  • They want to know that their gift made a difference.
  • They want to know that their gift was used wisely for the purpose intended—to forward a research project, to advocate for abused women, to provide hospice care to one patient.
  • They want to know that, at the end of the day, their financial contribution to your organization made life better for someone or made the planet a better place.
  • They want the facts.

Do not underestimate the power of facts and statistics on donors. Share with them as much detail as you can.

One young man I know sent me an accounting of exactly where every dollar I had sent him was used to fund programs in Vietnam. Granted, the program was small and he was in charge of spending all the money so he had ready access to the facts. Nonetheless, it impressed me to see how much of the money went to which orphanages, how much to the Agent Orange program, and how much to the schools.

Although he is only a teenager, he knew the essential secret about raising funds from individuals: that we are emotional donors looking for facts to justify our emotional decisions to give. He didn’t underestimate the facts for one minute.

Yet he took it one step further. In addition to the factual accounting of how the money was spent, he sent a personal letter describing his trip to Vietnam to visit each of the programs and present them with their funds. He enclosed a signed photo of three little girls in the orphanage.

That was all the recognition I needed. I will be a donor for life to this young man’s organization.

In a simple, low-budget way, he had done a superb job of recognizing me by connecting me to the factual and emotional impact my gift had made.

He could have sent me all kinds of baubles and plaques. While they might have looked nice when hung on my wall, I would have wondered why he spent money on all the trinkets rather than on the programs he was so dedicated to supporting.

How could this simple approach work for you?

It starts at the initial Point of Entry. In this case, the young man’s Point of Entry had been a little meeting at his home. I went because his mother is a friend and I have an interest in Vietnam.

The programs and needs he talked about at the Point of Entry were the very same programs my small contribution went to fund. There was consistency in his message. I connected instantly to the stories he was telling about the children and families affected. The facts and statistics were compelling, as was his personal commitment to making a difference in Vietnam.

It was impressive. He never asked for money. He asked me to think about what I had heard and said he’d like to call me for advice and feedback a few days later.

When he called, I told him that I really didn’t have time to get more involved but that I would like to know when he might be hosting other informational evenings like the one I attended, as I would like to encourage a few friends to attend. I told him that when he was ready to raise money for the effort, I would be happy to support him with a modest gift.

Sure enough, he called back about three weeks later. He gave me the date of the next Point of Entry Event. By this time, I had mentioned the project to the two friends I had in mind and they had given me permission to have the young man call them directly to invite them. I did that in the phone call.

Also, in the same call, he told me he would be leaving shortly for his trip to Vietnam. He said that with the help of his mother and his church, the cost of his trip had been underwritten, so that all the funds he raised could go directly to the programs. There was virtually no overhead.

Before he even asked, I told him the amount I wanted to contribute and he told me where to send the check. He said he would be back in touch after he got back.

About three months later I received the recognition package with the letter, the accounting statement, and the signed photo from the children in the orphanage. The report was actually four or five pages, typed single-space, chocked full of detail on each of the programs he visited.

My entire experience with this young man and his project was consistent and truthful. He had delivered on everything he promised. I felt great about the experience.

The key takeaway from all of this: Whether yours is a complex research program, a public policy group, or a domestic violence shelter, there is an equally compelling way to recognize your donors with your version of the facts about what their money allowed you to do and the first-hand stories about the lives it changed.

This deeper recognition will be what they ultimately are yearning for, and what will have them remain loyal to your organization for a lifetime.

Posted on

Showing Donors the Impact of their Donation

Leaning Too Heavily on Your Board?

Q: Do donors expect an explanation of what is being done with their donations?

Sam in Texas

A: Penelope Burk’s wonderful research has shown that donors need two things most to have them keep giving.

First, thank them promptly.

Second, tell them what impact their contribution has had on individual people’s lives and the community at large. If you are following the Benevon Model, you will have two personal contacts with each major donor each year, focused on the aspect of your work that is most important to them.

Posted on

The Science of Special

The only way your organization will ever be able to grow the model to its potential is by mastering the cultivation process. Whether you are aiming to grow your Point of Entry guests into Ask Event guests and Multiple-Year Donors, grow your Multiple-Year Donors into Challenge and Leadership Gift donors, or grow your Challenge and Leadership Gift donors into major gifts, capital, and endowment donors, they will only proceed around the circle with you if you tend and nurture their unique interest in your work.

While it is easy to feel overwhelmed and burdened by the thought of having to cultivate so many people at so many different levels, it is worth stopping to recognize how far you have already come if you have been following our step-by-step process.

Can you see that if you had a similar step-by-step process for cultivation, you could gradually ramp up the entire model to the next level and begin to experience the spiraling effect that our long-term implementers all talk about?

We refer to this process—this personalized cultivation system—as the “science of special,” and just like the rest of the model, it is highly effective if you take it one step at a time and follow the system.

What Do We Mean By “Cultivation”?
For each donor, everything that happens between the Point of Entry follow-up call and the Ask (either one-on-one or at the Ask Event) is what we call the Cultivation Superhighway. That careful listening during the Five-Step Follow-Up Call, when each person tells you if and how they might see themselves becoming more involved with your group, determines the next step you will take with them.

It’s as if a good friend of yours stopped by your office, you took some time to show him around, and the next time you talked to him, you thanked him for coming by and asked what he thought. Imagine that he immediately zeroed in on the environmental program, which is one of many programs you offer. Even though you would have other priorities for growing other programs first, you would never think of derailing your friend into another program area. You would invite him back to meet with your great staff members who are working on the environmental program.

Over time, if gently nurtured with occasional phone calls, emails, and face-to-face contact with your program people, scientists, and students, your friend would become more and more engaged in your work. He would contribute naturally that which he has in abundance—his knowledge, passion, contacts, time, and, when asked to make a longer-term financial contribution, he would naturally sign on for five years and probably offer to be a Table Captain at your Ask Events each year.

In future years, he would likely become an Ambassador, hosting a private Point of Entry for his friends or colleagues, he might very naturally serve as a Table Captain at your Ask Event, where his Point of Entry guests would join him at his table. He would come to know many of your staff and volunteers. He would have helped to grow your environmental program. His relationship would be with that aspect of your mission that most mattered to him. He would stay involved because your group’s work is important to him, rather than out of any sense of guilt or obligation to you.

Likewise, you would have gotten to know him better. You would know his family situation and, eventually, his giving capacity. He would likely become a board member or honorary advisory committee member.

When you launched your endowment campaign to ensure the future of the organization, you would be sure to talk with him and his family about a named family endowment structured to sustain the environmental program into the future.

That simple, natural, organic flow of contacts and communication is what we call cultivation. At Benevon, we define cultivation as tending, growing, and nurturing something gently over time.

More specifically, cultivation in our model means a minimum of two personal contacts with a donor in the course of a year—each one highly customized to that donor’s particular interests, needs, and style. There is not a simple template for donor cultivation other than this simple mandate: it’s got to be personal!

Posted on

Calling Your Donors—It’s the Magic

I’m beginning to think the old-fashioned phone call is going the way of the hand-written letter: ancient history! With texting, tweeting, and email as the easy, quick alternatives, picking up the phone and having a two-way, voice-to-voice conversation with a real human being feels almost scary.

Yet it is precisely what is needed to develop and maintain donor relationships. That genuine dialog is at the heart of donor cultivation—it’s the magic.

If you plan to use the Benevon Model for its intended purpose—to engage and develop relationships with lifelong individual donors and build towards long-term financial sustainability—then some members of your team will need to have regular telephone contact with your individual donors.

Here’s how I recommend you begin:

Set aside one hour a week, every single week of the year, for the sole purpose of calling your donors.

While most executive directors, development directors, and board members are not uncomfortable speaking with people, when it comes to calling a donor, many people fear the donor will think they are calling to ask for more money. Here is an outline of what to cover on each call.

  1. First, thank them sincerely for their gifts. “I’m calling today as a _____________ (board member, executive director, volunteer) with the Community Reintegration Program (CRP) just to thank you for your gift. It made a huge difference to us.”
  2. Second, give one specific example, or tell one specific story of the difference their gift meant to your organization. Let them know you really mean it.
    • “Your gift allowed us to work with one recently released inmate named Sal to provide an apartment, a job, and classes at the community college to help him build a new life.
    • Many people don’t appreciate the daunting challenges that prisoners face when they are released back into the community—the temptations of their old lifestyle, the difficulty finding work after serving time.
    • Despite the state cuts in funding that meant we had to cut three staff in our community re-entry program and serve 200 fewer clients per year, your gift allowed us to continue serving Sal. And for him, it made all the difference.
    • Furthermore, just your awareness and support for our mission here at CRP inspires us and boosts our morale in these challenging times.”
  3. Never say thank you without telling a story of how your organization changed a life (or a community or an issue) thanks to their support.
  4. You may be surprised when the donor wants to talk further. The easiest way to deepen or begin to build your relationship is by asking them a few simple questions.
    • The best question to ask them is, “What is it about our work that interests you? Is there any particular aspect or program?” That way you’ll know how to keep them engaged going forward.
    • Another good question to ask is, “May I ask how you got interested in this issue in the first place?”
  5. Before you know it, you may find yourself engaged in a real conversation with a passionate donor.
  6. Finally, invite them to any upcoming mission-focused events, such as a graduation for your program participants or a father-and-child birthday party night, etc.

There is absolutely no substitute for talking to your donors. Even if you get an answering machine, leave a message with the same kind of information in it—a heartfelt thank you plus one example of how your gift made a difference, and do leave your phone number for the donor to call you back if they would like to talk further.

Remember that your donors are people who already care about your work. They will be happy to talk with a real person who is working hard to fulfill the organization’s mission.

Do it right now. Pick up the phone and call a donor. Then schedule at least one hour a week to make those calls and “just do it.” Having that true dialog with your donors is where all the magic happens.

Posted on

Creating a Major Donor Pipeline

Q: In the Benevon Model, are there any resources you can share for a creating a pipeline between our annual donors and major donors? We are beginning discussions about how to honor and engage long-term supporters.

Elodie in Minnesota

A: The Benevon Model is a pipeline-filling system for major gifts. In addition to using the model to engage new people who have no prior connection to your work, this process is also a method for further engaging and cultivating your existing donors.

Many groups have a base of donors from prior fundraising events or annual direct mail appeals. While these faithful supporters have been sending in an annual donation or contributing at an event each year, it’s possible that little else has been done to further engage them in the mission.

You can use the Benevon Model to launch a campaign to get to know your donors and to evaluate who would be prospects to become major donors down the road.

Begin by stratifying your list of donors based on the amount they have given. Start with the donors who give the most each year and have done so for the longest period of time.

Identify the best person to serve as an Ambassador for each individual. This should be the person who knows the donor best, and who agrees to personally invite the donor to attend a Point of Entry Event that they are hosting. The relationship between this Ambassador and the donor will make all the difference in your ability to get the donor to a Point of Entry! Tell them that you are hosting these one-hour events to showcase the impact of all that you, and how their support over the years has made a difference.

Once they attend a Point of Entry with the Ambassador who invited them, make the follow-up call within two to three days. Listen for what the person learned and what interested them about your work. Find an immediate next step to further engage this person. Perhaps they want to serve as an Ambassador and host their own Point of Entry Event!

For others, it might be attending a small group meeting with your CEO and other donors to learn more about your current gaps and vision for the future. Make it personal and tied to that individual’s interest in your mission. Keep cultivating until you know the person is ready to be asked. Some donors will take just a few cultivation contacts while others may need several contacts before they are truly ready to be asked.

When the person is ready to be asked, invite them to become part of your Multiple-Year Giving Society by making a commitment of at least $1,000 for five years. This can be done one-on-one or at your Ask Event, whatever works best for each donor.

This five-year pledge gives you even more time and permission to further engage that donor. It’s not just about invoicing them for five years and calling them back in year six to re-up. It’s an opportunity to build a deeper relationship with each donor. Eventually these same donors will be prospects for larger major gifts, capital, and even endowment.