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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!

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Benevon Wish List

How can we prepare our board for getting started with the Benevon Model? How do we explain to them what’s different about it?

Q: We don’t have a wish list for in-kind items. What should we be sharing on tours? Do guests need an in-kind option to give to before they want to do more? We do get lots of questions about what kind of items we need in our housing (we build affordable housing).

Sarah in Minnesota

A: The Wish List is one of the two handouts people should receive at your Point of Entry (the other handout is the Fact Sheet). Your Wish List should highlight about ten non-monetary items that someone could contribute to benefit your organization.

We never want to list a dollar amount or ask for funding for a specific need on the Wish List. Short of that, you should consider any other volunteer role or tangible item that would truly make a difference for your organization!

The first item on your Wish List should be the volunteer role of serving as an Ambassador. This means hosting a private, invitation-only Point of Entry Event for ten or more guests. Given that all Point of Entry guests should be invited by Ambassadors, everyone at the Point of Entry will have a good role model for what it is to be an Ambassador. They will also be reminded during the event and in the follow-up call that being an Ambassador is the very best way people can help if they are inspired by what they learn at the Point of Entry.

To choose which items to include on your Wish List of ten items, it’s a good idea to interview your program staff, asking what they most need. While you might think of “in-kind” donations strictly as household items, children’s books, or something else that people have tucked away in their houses, your wish list can go beyond that. For example, consider items like:

  • Bus passes/transportation cards
  • A donated meal for a weekly support group that you sponsor
  • Office supplies (printer paper or other supplies, or even new carpeting or furniture)
  • Carpet or air-conditioning for your building

Be sure that the items on your Wish List are things you really need—because you will get them! And yes, as you implied, often an in-kind gift is a starter gift from a potential major donor. Take good care of these donors, inviting them back to see the difference their in-kind gift has made.

Finally, remember to refresh your Wish List two or three times a year as your wishes are granted.

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Inviting Busy People to Tours

Q: Currently we invite individuals to come on a tour of our regional clinic and then invite them to a small benefit dinner, where they are asked to consider monthly support of the ministry. A tour is also conducted during this event, which is also held onsite.

Many of the people I contact are busy professionals and not always available to do both a tour and a dinner (which of course we try to schedule within just a few weeks of their initial tour).

How crucial do you think it is to get them to the initial tour prior to the tour included in the dinner?

Linda in Virginia

In the Benevon Model, your goal is to have all of your Ask Event guests attend a Point of Entry prior to being asked to give.

The Point of Entry is—very intentionally—the first step of the model. Rather than happening after someone has been asked to give, the true Point of Entry—one that is hosted by an Ambassador who brings a group of ten or more people to a private, invitation-only event that they are hosting—gives people a powerful initial experience of your mission and lets them control the flow of their ongoing engagement with your organization.

Rather than having your small dinners, where many guests are asked to give before they have attended a Point of Entry, our model would have you asking your biggest supporters (e.g., prior Table Captains) to serve as volunteer Ambassadors by hosting their own Point of Entry Events.

In the follow-up phone calls, you can find out if their guests are interested in your work and how they’d like to be involved. Stress your need for more Ambassadors (both at the Point of Entry and in the follow-up) and ask if they have a group of people they’d like to bring together to learn more about your work. Whether or not they choose to be an Ambassador, you will find out how they want to personally be involved in your work going forward and get them engaged.

You can ask people to invest in your work one-on-one whenever the time is right. Or, if you have held many Points of Entry, hosted by Ambassadors, you can put on a larger Ask Event where you ask people for money. In either scenario, we recommend asking people to join your Multiple-Year Giving Society, pledging to contribute a minimum of $1,000 a year for five years. This can be fulfilled through a monthly pledge (similar to what you are doing) but more importantly asks donors to commit to supporting your work long-term, not just for six months or a year.

This sounds quite different from how you’ve been doing it but would be following the Benevon Model.

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Qualities of Great Ambassadors

Q: We read the book, and thought that the Ambassador concept made a lot of sense. We’d like to start implementing an Ambassador program at our organization. Before we start, we wanted to know: what makes for a great Ambassador? What are the characteristics of a strong Ambassador?

Natalie in Florida

A: The most important quality of an Ambassador is that they have an abundance of passion for the mission of your organization. Perhaps they have shared that they have a personal connection to your mission, or they have volunteered or been a donor, but in some way they have demonstrated that your mission is their mission too. You also want to look for people who say yes to being involved with you, and who follow through by doing what they say they will do. Maybe they have asked, “What do you need?” or “How could I help?” They may be people who are already “natural ambassadors” for your organization in that they have shared your work with others and invited them to come and get involved. Ambassadors need to be passionate about spreading the word in the community about your mission!

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Printed Materials and the Benevon Model

I have a question that I haven’t been able to find an answer to in the book very easily. We just rebranded our organization and printed a few brochures, etc. Can you tell me what you recommend for each of the events? For example, at the Point of Entry, I think I’m giving out too much info, but as we get into more volunteer work days, cultivation events, and Ask Events down the road, I want to be prepared media-wise. If someone could give me some basic understanding here, I would greatly appreciate it!

Leigh in Michigan

A: Congratulations on getting started with the Benevon Model. Below is a basic list of the printed materials you’ll need for the various steps of the model.

Point of Entry:

  1. Sign-in cards

  2. Fact sheet: this provides a reference for guests after the Point of Entry and highlights some of the facts and needs you shared during the one-hour program. Make sure you have lots of white space and follow the format in The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right.

  3. Wish list: on the back of the fact sheet you will print your wish list. These are either in-kind donations or volunteer roles that guests can take on if they are excited about your work and want to get more involved. Be sure you have no more than ten items, and the first item on the list must be the “Volunteer Ambassador” role of being an Ambassador, which means they will host and fill a future private Point of Entry for a group of ten or more people in their life.

Ask Event:

  1. Printed program: showing your brief list of speakers, acknowledging any sponsors, board members, etc.

  2. Pledge cards: these are filled out during the ask for money and will highlight your Multiple-Year Giving Society.

Free Feel Good Cultivation Events:

There are no required printed materials.

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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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It’s Counterintuitive

It’s Counterintuitive

People refer to many aspects of the Benevon Model as counterintuitive. Why is that?

They point out seeming inconsistencies like:

  1. Not asking for money at a Point of Entry Event once you have educated and inspired people about your work.
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  2. Having a Wish List at a Point of Entry Event if the model says you cannot ask for anything there.‌
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  3. Leaving a voicemail message when you are trying to get one-on-one telephone feedback.‌
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  4. Having a free fundraising event where the guests are told in advance that they do not need to give money.‌

It is true. Each of these points—as well as many others—about the Benevon Model seem to run counter to our intuition, yet in working with more than 5,000 nonprofit teams and tracking the data closely, these are based on what works. The common thread is that they each leave the donor in the driver’s seat.

Let’s revisit each point, looking at it from the donor’s point of view.

  1. Not asking for money at a Point of Entry Event after you have educated and inspired people about your work.

    ‌Just because someone is inspired and educated doesn’t mean they have had the time to digest the information or ask the questions they would need to have answered before they could become involved long-term.

    ‌If we were to ask for money at the Point of Entry, the entire process would be collapsed into a one-step, modified strong-arm approach, which leaves the donor feeling like a victim of a “bait-and-switch,” well before they have even had the opportunity to absorb what they have learned and let you know what they think of your organization.

  2. Having a Wish List at a Point of Entry Event if the model says you cannot ask for anything there.

    ‌The Wish List is designed to connect people to the day-to-day needs of your program and to remind them that, in the face of the wonderful Point of Entry Event they are attending, you still have many unmet needs.
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    ‌‌‌The Wish List is a handout for each guest and is not discussed as part of the program. It is not an Ask. It is also a touchstone for the Follow-Up Call after the Point of Entry, when you ask people, “Is there any way you could see yourself getting involved with us?” Note that the first item on your Wish List should always be Ambassadors: short-term volunteers who agree to host and fill a private Point of Entry with ten or more people.

  3. Leaving a voicemail message when you are trying to get one-on-one telephone feedback.

    ‌Of course you would prefer to reach the person and speak in person, but if you have tried that with no success, it is perfectly acceptable today to leave a voicemail message. After all, you told the guest at the end of the Point of Entry Event that you would like to call to get their feedback in a few days. They filled out a contact card at your Point of Entry and gave you their preferred phone number. Therefore, you may leave a message just as you would call a friend or business associate and leave a detailed message on their voicemail.

  4. Having a free fundraising “Ask Event” where the guests are told in advance that they do not need to give money.

    ‌This is the ultimate in fundraising “permission.” Guests are asked to come to the event after attending a Point of Entry Event and being cultivated personally leading up to the Ask Event. Be careful never to use your Ask Event as a substitute for a Point of Entry.

  5. In order to attain our metric of having 10% of the guests join the Multiple-Year Giving Society, a minimum of 40% of the Ask Event guests must have attended a private, Ambassador-hosted and filled Point of Entry in the prior year.

    ‌These formulas should be met without any need to pressure guests to give.

For more counterintuitive aspects of the Benevon Model, read The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second Edition.

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Statistics on Giving at the Ask Event

Q: We’re holding our annual luncheon and I’ve been asked what the fundraising statistic is on the typical number or percentage of guests who will actually donate the day of the luncheon. Our percentage is typically 55 to 58%.

Steffi in North Carolina

A: Assuming you have been following the Benevon Model and your annual luncheon meets the other requirements of a Benevon Ask Event, on average you should expect 40 to 50% of the guests at an Ask Event to give. Ten percent will join your Multiple-Year Giving Society and the other 30 to 40% will make a gift at a different level using the fill-in-the-blanks line on the pledge card. This is based on having at least 40% of the guests having attended a private Ambassador-hosted and filled Point of Entry Event and been cultivated with “second dates” prior to attending the Ask Event.

The percentage of Ask Event guests who make a pledge or financial contribution at the Ask Event should be the same as the percentage of these recently cultivated Point of Entry guests in attendance.

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Key Metric #5

Key Metric #5

Think you already know what the Benevon Model is? Think again!

We have distilled five key metrics to ensure your success. Here’s the fifth one:

Minimum of 10% of Ask Event guests join the Multiple-Year Giving Society at one of the three giving levels

Answer these questions to see how your organization is doing at meeting this fifth key metric:

  1. Do you have three distinct five-year giving levels starting at $1,000 a year? Levels must be either $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 or $1,000, $10,000, and $25,000 for five years. See Chapter 7 of The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: The Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second Edition, to determine which of these two options to choose.
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  2. Have you met Key Metric #3: have 100% of your Ask Event Table Captains been successful Ambassadors in the prior 12 months?
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  3. Have you met Key Metric #4: will a minimum of 40% of your Ask Event guests have attended a private, Ambassador-hosted Point of Entry Event in the prior 12 months? Without a sufficient percentage of well-cultivated prior Point of Entry guests, you will not be able to meet Key Metric #5.
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  4. How sizzling will your Ask Event program be? Will you paint a clear picture of the gap between where your organization is now and where you would like to be?
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  5. Have you followed Benevon’s program format for your Ask Event, starting with a welcome from a board member, a short emotional element (song, poem, or prayer), a simple meal, a powerful Visionary Leader Talk, a moving seven-minute video, a live testimonial, and a succinct pitch following Benevon’s specific pitch script (see Chapter 15 of The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: The Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second Edition)?

Many organizations exceed this Key Metric #5, but only if they have met Key Metrics #1-4!