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Board Members Reignited

Having served on my share of lackluster nonprofit boards over the last forty years (note that I said lackluster boards, not lackluster people or lackluster nonprofit organizations), having been part of many new trends in board development, and having read most of the good literature that is out there on boards, I guess I’m a little old-fashioned in coming back to the simple approach for getting boards to work: keep every member connected to their particular passion for the mission, have the board align on a big common goal, and give them a step-by-step pathway—and a coach—to ensure their success in attaining that goal.

In other words, reconnect them to their passion for your work and then involve them in designing and implementing a plan to attain long-term financial sustainability for the organization.

We believe this is the greatest contribution a board member can make.

At every one of our two-day workshops that I have the privilege of attending, I meet with the board members and volunteers (without their staff members present) for an optional chat at the end of the lunch break on the second day. Remarkably, although they have been working nonstop on this for nearly 20 hours and they know this meeting is optional, they all attend.

They come for two reasons: to meet other like-minded board members and volunteers and to ask the same question we all ask: “how can we get more board members to be thinking this way?”

Even within their own organizations, they are the pioneers. Many are longstanding board members; some are former board chairmen, now officially off the board, but more engaged than ever. Some are new to the board, love the mission, and excited about the opportunity to leave a legacy.

That seems to be the common theme at these meetings—these board members are not complaining in the least. They are turned on and engaged! They say this is the most exciting thing that’s happened in years at their organization.

What has happened to light them up like this? Two things.

First, we have them each share with their teams the answer to these questions: “Why do I volunteer with this organization? What is it about the work of this group that is so important to me personally?” That simple exercise—it takes about ten minutes altogether—is enough to reignite that unique strain of passion in each team member and bond them together and focus them powerfully on a common objective.

Which leads to the second thing: we have them define and then quantify what sustainable funding would look like for their organization. Most of these board members and volunteers are masters of the fundraising “treadmill.” Their arms are muscle-bound from so much strong-arming of friends to give money to their favorite cause.

The thought that they could actually help their organization get off that treadmill once and for all is so freeing for them. When they see that plan on paper—spreadsheets, numbers, formulas—and that it all hangs together in a logical way, they step right into action.

That passion, combined with a clear objective and a plan for fulfilling on it, turns the drudgery of board work back into pleasurable, satisfying work. In the face of all the work they have ahead of them, we don’t hear people complaining. On the contrary, these board members and volunteers leave our workshops on fire, hugging us, thanking us for returning them to their passion and helping them craft a plan. Many tell us that it’s all they ever wanted—to be able to leave that legacy.

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Junior Boards

What Size Tables for the Ask Event?

Q: Our small non-profit is considering creating a junior board or young professionals group. Does Benevon have an opinion on if there is a threshold for when the timing is right to do this? We are a staff of four FTEs and a part-time person.

Kelly in Washington, DC

A: You are wise to consider your existing staff workload before launching such a group. Boards and committees take a lot of time, and starting a new one, even more so. Clarify your intention for this new board. What will you want them to do? How do you see them contributing long-term to the growth and development of your organization? If you are hoping to use this group to groom potential board members, what exactly will you do to engage them? What is your longer-term intention for this group?

Is your organization prepared to dedicate a .5 FTE to staff this new board?

For groups utilizing the Benevon Model, the best role for each member on this new board is to help you get the word out about your organization, by serving as an Ambassador, hosting and filling a private Point of Entry Event once per year. There may be other roles and responsibilities (like serving on a committee or volunteering their time for other things) but asking each member of this new group to become an Ambassador will generate the greatest return on your staff investment.

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Stop Pressuring Your Board Members

Your fresh and eager new recruit arrives at one of her first board meetings. Although she was recruited to fill the “CPA slot,” one of the main agenda items for the meeting is, of course, fundraising. It just happens to be the time of year for the big annual banquet, golf tournament, or fund drive. Before she has even been oriented to the basics of being on the board, the new member is being asked to do the part she dreaded most. Yes, she did know this was coming eventually, and she did agree to help. So she takes a deep breath and scans her address book for her five closest friends or colleagues who cannot refuse her. After all, she has helped them in similar times of need.

Think for a moment about how it feels for her friends to be on the receiving end of one of those Asks. In most cases, those friends cannot say no. Their relationship with your board member, whether professional or personal, would make it very awkward to refuse. In their minds, their contribution is more akin to a business expense.

The times I have been “strong-armed” by my friends on other boards, I have had to say yes. But as soon as my friend goes off that board, I stop giving to that organization. It is not because it was a bad organization. On the contrary, they were almost certainly doing very good work. Had they taken the time to educate and cultivate me personally, I could have become a lifelong supporter in my own right. But in their minds, I was my friend’s contact so they left me alone, not wanting to intrude.

In terms of their love of fundraising, a random sample of board members will pretty much mirror the larger population. In other words, fundraising is just not everyone’s favorite activity. The same folks who may be brilliant at strategic planning, finance, or human resources may not feel they have the knack for fundraising. Remember, you did not initially recruit all of them for their fundraising expertise. That would be akin to asking all board members to be responsible for reviewing the annual audit in detail or securing the next piece of real estate for the organization.

On the other hand, there is a portion of the population that actually likes to ask others for money, especially when they are asking on behalf of an organization they truly believe in. Those are the board members you intentionally recruited to fill the fundraising slots. You put them on the development committee. At the proper point in the fundraising/cultivation cycle, these board members will be of great help in asking for money, but not until potential donors have attended a Point of Entry Event, received a Follow-Up Call, and been cultivated sufficiently to be ready to be asked.

As most of us have learned the hard way, pressuring board members to do fundraising does not work. Even if they say they will make those three calls to ask people for money, many never seem to get around to it. For some, this pressure leads to poor attendance at meetings. Eventually they withdraw or resign from the board feeling guilty, frustrated, or resentful.

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Prospective Board Members

Q: Our organization has been implementing the Benevon Model for several years. What would be your advice on how to best introduce Benevon to prospective board members to get them excited and involved but not to overwhelm them?

Alice in Wisconsin

A: Start by explaining to prospective board members that your goal is the long-term financial sustainability of the organization, getting off the year-to-year fundraising “treadmill.”

Invite each prospective board member to your powerful Point of Entry Event—your “tour of your mission.” When you follow up, explain to them that the Point of Entry they attended is part of a larger fundraising model your organization is using, something to build a stronger connection with donors over time. Explain that the model is mission-focused, and that its purpose is to find passionate individual donors who care about your organization and will stay with you for life.

If one of your prospective board members wants additional information about the Benevon Model, direct them to our fifty-five-minute video, Creating Sustainable Funding for Your Nonprofit.

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Engaging Your Board in the Benevon Process

“I’ll do anything to help you—except fundraising!”

How often have you heard this from a board member? Most board members have been around the block a time or two and they presume “fundraising” refers to what Benevon calls “strong-arming the Rolodex.”

Staff must tell board members, from the outset, that there is no requirement in our model for any board member to ever ask anyone for money.

The permission-based Benevon Model suggests three roles for board members. Each of these roles is entirely optional and honors your board members’ commitment to your mission:

  1. Serve as an Ambassador by hosting a private Point of Entry Event for a group of ten or more friends or colleagues. Once your board members have attended your sizzling Point of Entry Event, they will this powerful one-hour event to educate and inspire people, without ever talking about fundraising. ‌‌

    ‌If your board members did nothing more than host one Point of Entry Event each year, they would have made an enormous contribution to the future of the organization.
  2. Thank your recent happy donors. Give board members a list of individual donors from the prior month to call and thank. Leaving a voicemail message is permissible. It won’t take long for board members to realize the positive impression this call makes on each donor who may never have received any personal communication from the organization, let alone from a board member!

    ‌Again, not all board members will want to do this, but once a few members report on the experience at the next monthly board meeting, others may offer to jump in.
  3. Give money themselves. It will come as no surprise to you or your board that your funders and donors will assume that everyone on the board makes an annual financial contribution. While there is no prescribed amount expected in our model, 100% board giving is a requirement.

    ‌Once you have established your Multiple-Year Giving Society, these will be the same levels you can suggest to your board members, without pressuring them in any way to give at any level.

    ‌The more your board members can experience the permission-based power of the Benevon Model firsthand, the more readily they will introduce others and get more involved themselves. Soon they will be thanking you and saying “this has helped me remember why I got involved with this organization in the first place. It makes me proud to be a board member here.”
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Meaningful To-Dos for Board Members

Meaningful To-Dos for Board Members

Here are eight easy and meaningful things for board members to do to advance your organization’s individual giving program:

  1. Speak positively about your organization with the people in their day-to-day lives. Talk about the good work you are doing and share their genuine passion for your work.
  2. Attend a Point of Entry Event at least once a year to update their knowledge of your program and get re-inspired. Give you their honest feedback afterwards.
  3. Be an Ambassador: Host and fill a private Point of Entry for ten or more of their friends or colleagues (or book club, etc.) in their home or office.
  4. Attend one-on-one meetings or small-group CEO Golden Hours with Multiple-Year Giving Society Donors with the executive director. Be prepared to tell why they got involved with the organization.
  5. Make a personal financial gift to your organization annually.
  6. Attend Point of Entry “Conversion” Events (golf tournaments, galas, etc.) wearing a special board member ribbon or nametag and be “on duty” as a proud representative of your organization throughout the event, ever alert to guests who might want more information.
  7. Attend Free Feel-Good Cultivation Events in their “official” capacity as a board member and bring a friend. Genuinely thank and appreciate the guests for all they have given to your organization.
  8. Make brief thank-you calls to recent donors. (Leaving a message is acceptable.)

In addition to doing these eight easy and meaningful things to advance your organization’s individual giving program, here are five valuable and useful roles for development committee members.

  1. Be involved in planning the entire individual giving fundraising system for your organization.
  2. Regularly review the lists of people who have attended Point of Entry Events and offer strategic advice and guidance about additional ways to involve or connect these potential donors (second or third “dates”).
  3. Conduct open-ended telephone interviews with prior donors to gather feedback about what your organization could be doing better.
  4. Ask selected donors or potential donors for financial contributions when they are ready, i.e., after the donors have been sufficiently educated, inspired, and involved.
  5. Host additional private meetings or group cultivation events with major donors as needed.
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Increasing Recurring Monthly Donors

Ask Benevon: The Ask Event is Not a First Date

We have been following the Benevon Model for years and are preparing for our Ask Event. One of our fundraising initiatives over the past year is increasing monthly recurring donors. How does this fit into the Ask event?

Beth in North Carolina

At the Ask Event, the first thing you are asking for are pledges to join your Multiple-Year Giving Society with a minimum gift of $1,000 pledged for five years. When you follow up with those donors within 48 hours of the Ask Event, you should be asking how they would like to pay their pledge. A monthly payment option may work very well for some of these donors, while others will want to make one payment annually.

The other option for giving at the Ask Event is the fill-in-the-blanks line, where donors can commit to any amount for any number of years. While follow-up with these donors isn’t required, we highly recommend calling anyone who makes a significant gift, especially if they have pledged for more than one year. You could absolutely ask these donors if they’d be interested in setting up their gift as a monthly donation when you make that follow-up call!

We don’t recommend stressing monthly giving as an option on the pledge card, as we have found too many options can lead donors to be confused or uncertain what the best giving option may be. Since your first priority is to bring donors into the Multiple-Year Giving Society, we wouldn’t want to steer them in another direction with the option of a monthly gift.

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Ten Tips for Staying Sane About Your Board and Fundraising

Ten Tips for Staying Sane About Your Board and Fundraising
  1. Let go of any written or unwritten rules you may have about the “right” way for board members to participate in fundraising.
  2. Above all, let go of the notion that all board members must ask others for money.
  3. Accept the 20-60-20 rule when it comes to fundraising and your board. That is, 20% of the board will enjoy being involved in fundraising, 60% will be neutral about it and the remaining 20% will want nothing to do with it.
  4. Stop thinking that every other nonprofit organization’s board members do more fundraising than your board members do. It’s irrelevant (and highly improbable).
  5. Recognize that your board members are volunteers who are giving you the gifts of their time and attention. In today’s world, those gifts are more precious than money. They are not paid staff, and, in most cases, do not wish to become paid staff.
  6. Know that your board members are looking to you to steer the fundraising process and to make requests of them as needed. Do not assume that anyone on your board wakes up each morning worrying about the fundraising needs of your organization.
  7. Treat each board member with the care and respect that you would give each major donor or potential major donor. If over time you consistently shower them with that level of personal attention and respect, they will naturally become significant donors.
  8. Thank your board members sincerely and promptly for every little thing they do. A quick e-mail or voicemail thank-you tells them that what they did mattered to you. Whether they have served on your board for ten months or ten years, make certain they know you do not take them for granted.
  9. Meet with each board member individually once a year to be sure you understand what most interests them about your organization. Find out why they got involved on your board in the first place and what keeps them involved. When interacting with each board member, keep these interests and self-interests foremost in your mind. Let go of any expectations or illusions that these will ever change. Do your very best to fulfill these interests.
  10. Make two lists and have them available as you meet or talk with each board member. (Stay tuned for these two lists featured in next week’s E-New$!)
    • List #1: Ten easy and meaningful things for board members to do to advance your organization’s individual giving program.
    • List #2: Five valuable and useful roles for development committee members.
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Board Buy-In

Q: What if we do not have full board buy-in for this approach?

Claire in Georgia

A: While you will likely not have 100% of your board initially overjoyed about the prospect of implementing the Benevon Model, you do need the majority of your board to be in favor of launching this process.

Put yourself in their shoes:

  • If they have served on non-profit boards before, they have been well trained to assume that the mere mention of any type of fundraising means they will be asked to ask their friends for money.
  • They don’t fully understand the key distinctions of the Benevon model—the Point of Entry Event, follow-up (including “bless and release”), and the cultivation process.
  • They don’t understand that their role will not be to ask their friends for money.
  • Rather, if they choose to participate as Ambassadors (which is optional), they will be inviting friends to non-ask, get-acquainted events and that a staff member from your organization will follow up with them for their feedback—not their money.
  • In other words, the Point of Entry Event is when the relationship is transferred from the board member to the organization, if the guest is truly interested in the mission of the organization.

Once board members come to understand that, should your organization adopt the Benevon approach, their role will be to introduce people to your mission at your inspiring and educational one-hour Point of Entry Events (especially after they have attended one themselves), they generally become much more willing to support the process.

If you choose to work with Benevon, your team needs to include two to three board members, i.e., not all of your board needs to participate actively in your implementation.

Ideally, the rest of the board members will become supportive, once they have attended a Point of Entry themselves and have come to trust the process. Many will become volunteer Ambassadors, hosting and filling a private Point of Entry with ten or more of their friends or colleagues.

Do not be discouraged if some board members never become interested in participating in this at all. That’s okay, so long as they do not stand in the way of you doing it.

I’d recommend having your board watch our 55-minute video and work with us to directly to answer their questions. before you decide to implement this process.