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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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Triaging Your Follow-Up Calls

In the Benevon Model, every guest at your Point of Entry Event will receive a follow-up call within two to three days. This is not just a quick thank-you call. Rather, this is an interactive research call, a one-on-one focus group in which you gather critical data on each potential lifelong donor and friend.

The purpose of this call is to gauge the guest’s level of interest in becoming more involved with your organization. If the guest is not interested in becoming more involved, they are “blessed and released.” If they are interested in becoming more involved, this follow-up call is the start of an authentic dialog, which is the foundation of any lasting relationship.

With all of that in mind, who makes the call is nearly as important! Keep these guidelines in mind when carefully selecting who from your organization makes your Five-Step Follow-Up Calls.

  • Ideally the person making the follow-up calls will be your Benevon Team Leader, or another staff person—not a board member or volunteer.
  • This person must like talking with people on the phone and enjoy developing relationships.
  • This person must have a speaking role at the Point of Entry Event (tour guide, storyteller). When they make that follow-up call, your guests must already be familiar with this person.
  • It can’t be someone who will just be doing the calls to check them off a list. This person must be passionate about this important step in the Benevon Model—the beginning of a lifelong relationship with potential donors!
  • This person must know how to use your database. After each call, every bit of data gathered must be recorded in your database. Be sure your donor tracking system has a section for you to record and track notes about each donor contact and about your next steps.

Triaging who calls each guest

  • Your staff Team Leader will make the majority of the calls, but there may be times when your executive director or CEO should make the follow-up call, such as when a board member or major donor attends.
  • If you have multiple development staff, there may be times when another staff member does the follow-up because they are already engaged in building a relationship with that donor.
  • Anyone who makes a follow-up call must be well-versed in the process and record the conversation in detail in your donor tracking system.

Having the right person make the follow-up calls will make a big difference in your results moving forward!

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Team Leader: You Can Delegate That

The Team Leader has a unique role on the Sustainable Funding Team—to coordinate the team’s efforts, not to do all the work!

The biggest challenge for Team Leaders is to delegate tasks to people who are often higher in the organization’s hierarchy, such as their executive director or esteemed board members. However, as your team meets regularly, people will naturally take on parts of the process that they enjoy.

Here are nine tasks that the Team Leader can delegate to other members of the team.

    • Managing Ambassadors—if you have a team member who has already been a successful Ambassador, engage her in a new role as an Ambassador Manager, helping new Ambassadors get started and ensuring their success.
    • Handling the logistics for the Ask Event or the Point of Entry Events, securing a venue, organizing table rentals, food planning, etc.
    • Planning and executing Free Feel-Good Cultivation Events and ensuring that your Multiple-Year Giving Society donors each make it to one such event each year.
    • Recruiting successful Ambassadors to be Table Captains and supporting/managing these Table Captains prior to the Ask Event.
    • Being the Cultivation Partner for a number of multi-year donors, leading up to a larger Ask.
    • Being the “sizzle police” for the Point of Entry Event—making sure your organization’s tour maintains all of the elements that make it sizzling with facts and emotion, each and every time you hold the event.
    • Making thank-you/invitation calls to donors.
    • Supporting data tracking efforts by being trained and entering data for cultivation contacts with donors.
    • Board members on the team can be accountable for keeping the rest of the board informed and actively engaged in your organization’s implementation of the Benevon Model.

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Sizzling, or Just Nice?

We say your Point of Entry Event must be sizzling, but what do we mean by that? We mean memorable, compelling, and gripping, even life-changing. It has to leave a visceral imprint on the guest—something they will never forget.

The event needs to tug at the heartstrings several times by including four or five stories, told first person, by letter or using audio tape.

In addition to inspiring people, the Point of Entry needs to let each guest know that you would love to have them get more involved with your organization, in whatever way works for them, ideally by becoming an Ambassador and hosting and filling a private tour with ten or more of their friends or colleagues.

Guests need to know that no matter how nice your surroundings look, you are not “handled.” The mission you are here to fulfill still urgently needs them: you haven’t yet cured that disease yet, ended child abuse or homelessness. There’s still more work to be done.

Unfortunately, not all the Point of Entry Events we visit are that sizzling. Although our groups often give themselves high marks when they rate themselves on their events, our coaches don’t always agree. We see Point of Entry Events that may be technically correct in that they follow the proper one-hour agenda, but they don’t knock your socks off.

These lackluster events leave guests saying, “What an interesting group. Those people obviously know what they’re doing.” But they aren’t compelled to take action. Guests need to leave your Point of Entry saying, “I had no idea,”  or “Wait until I tell Jane—this is just the kind of thing she would love.”

In other words, even if guests choose not to become personally involved, they should be so excited about what they saw that they think  of other people they’d like to tell about it: people for whom your issue is “just their thing.”

I recall an exceptional Point of Entry I visited for a residential treatment home for children who had been abused and neglected. It had a wonderful theme: hands. I was greeted at the front door by an adult and child. The child took my hand and walked me over to the sign-in table. I was both physically and emotionally “touched” from the minute I arrived.

There were handprints of children used as metaphors throughout the Point of Entry. As victims of abuse, these children had come to associate hands with bad things. This residential program aimed to transform that image for these children. They wove this theme into the stories told, and we viewed pictures of handprints in the bedrooms and hallways as we toured the building.

The most memorable moment for me was the finale of that Point of Entry. Each guest was escorted by a child to a tray filled with colorful finger paint, where we got to make our own handprint on a big group poster. I will never forget that little five-year-old boy holding my hand proudly as we walked over to the paint, rolling up my sleeve, covering my hand with the slippery red paint, pushing down on the back of my hand to be sure every single digit was imprinted on the paper, and then walking me over to the bucket of warm soapy water, washing off the paint, and carefully drying my hand.

Before I left, I knelt down and gave him a hug, thanking him for the wonderful experience. It was such a proud moment for this child to know he had made a difference with me. Talk about memorable! It had been a long time since I’d done any finger painting, and the love and care that little boy took in helping me make a beautiful hand print spoke volumes about the work this organization does every day.

I went right home and told several people about this organization and, had I lived in that town, I would defintely have volunteered to serve as an Ambassador and host my own Point of Entry Event.

Keep asking yourself—and other people whose opinion you value: “Did our Point of Entry Event move you to tears?”

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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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Your Treasure Map: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

One of the best ways to identify people to engage through your Point of Entry Events is to create a Treasure Map. In other environments, it might be called a network analysis or a mind map. We call it a Treasure Map because the purpose of the exercise is to unearth the buried treasure that your organization may have.

Create a Treasure Map by writing your organization’s name in a small circle in the middle of a large sheet of paper, and draw out spokes (like a wheel) around that. At the end of each spoke, put the name of a group that your organization naturally comes into contact with. Examples include board, volunteers, donors, vendors, community partners, and staff. Some groups should be further divided into subgroups. For example, “board” could be broken down into former board, advisory board, and governing board. Volunteers could be broken into all of your different types of volunteers. Donors could be broken into events, direct mail donors, special event donors, lapsed donors, etc.

Once you have fully fleshed out the Treasure Map, next to each group write the resources that group has in abundance. Are they tangible resources, like goods and services, or non-tangible resources, like passion or connections? List out two things each group has in abundance.

Next, look at the self-interest of the people in this group for being involved with your organization. This self-interest is not good or bad, it just is what it is. Self-interest might be that it feels good, that it pleases their boss, that they want recognition, or that they are learning a new skill or maintaining a social connection. Go from one group to the next and identify what might be their unique self-interest for being involved with your organization.

Once you have completed the Treasure Map exercise, how should you use it? For starters, identify one or more individuals per group who could naturally serve as Ambassadors to easily reach out to other people who fall into the same group, for example, all of the Tuesday afternoon program volunteers. Find one great ringleader from that group and ask them to host a Point of Entry for all of those other volunteers. Even if they are already involved as volunteers, once they attend the Point of Entry Event, they will likely learn something new about your organization, and, in their follow-up call with your Team Leader, they will likely volunteer to serve as an Ambassador.

Beyond using the Treasure Map to identify Ambassadors, you can use it to identify other individuals or subgroups of people to invite as guests to attend your Points of Entry.

Your organization should complete a Treasure Map exercise at least once a year—although some groups choose to do this exercise more often. Even after several years of implementing the Benevon Model, if you create a new Treasure Map with your current board, staff, or volunteers, they will have different and unique input. Your organization’s network is always evolving and changing, and even if you are looking at groups that have been involved with your organization long-term, there will be new people (think new board members, new event sponsors or donors) who will bring a fresh perspective.

Be sure your team is set up to do a deep dive into this exercise a minimum of once a year and always go back to it when you are looking for people to invite to Points of Entry!

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Three Questions to Prevent Ambassador Fallout

In the follow-up call made to each of your potential gold-standard Ambassadors, after they have come to their first Point of Entry Event, many will volunteer enthusiastically to be Ambassadors.

From the moment an enthusiastic new Ambassador volunteers until the day they host their private Point of Entry Event for ten or more guests, “life” will inevitably happen and there will likely be many temptations for the Ambassador to change their mind, potentially leaving you in the lurch.

To avoid this “Ambassador fallout” here are three things the Team Leader must clarify before you hang up the phone and count this person as a confirmed Ambassador:

When?
When would the Ambassador like to have their first Point of Entry Event? Would the Ambassador prefer to host a private Point of Entry Event or invite guests to the organization’s regularly scheduled Points of Entry? The ideal scenario would be for each Ambassador to host one private Point of Entry Event at your location, with at least ten guests in attendance, within three months of becoming an Ambassador. If the Ambassador is excited and has developed a guest list, there is no need to wait to have the event. Schedule their Point of Entry to take place as soon as possible. Choose the soonest date that works for everyone and make the event happen, capturing the initial momentum.

Where?
Where will the Point of Entry Event take place? Although the easiest location for your staff will no doubt be in the organization’s office, where your team will already have practiced and refined your Point of Entry program, once you have refined your Point of Entry in your office, and tested it over several months, you can begin to offer private Points of Entry in a Box in your Ambassadors’ homes, offices, or other meeting spaces. (See Chapter 16 in The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second Edition.)

Who?
Who will the Ambassador invite to attend? Be sure your Team Leader takes time in that first phone call to help the new Ambassador brainstorm their full Personal Treasure Map, identifying specific social or professional groups, book clubs, etc., that the person belongs to. Do not assume they will do this without you.

Have them walk through the same steps as the Treasure Map you made for your organization, starting by putting themselves in the center circle, adding the groups they naturally come into contact with, what each group has in abundance, the benefits for the groups in coming to a Point of Entry Event for your organization, and the lines connecting those who know each other. Give them enough time to go through all the steps. They probably will be surprised by all the treasure they have.

Then, ask them to make a list of ten to twenty individuals from the various categories on their Treasure Map who they would feel comfortable inviting to a Point of Entry Event. It’s often easiest for people to start off by inviting the people closest to them: friends and family. Beyond that, is there a ready-made group they are part of? Does that group have a standing meeting time? Would that be a group that might have an interest in coming to your Point of Entry Event?

Once you have answered these three questions and you can tell that the Ambassador is excited about hosting the event and has a vision for how it will look and feel, you can refer the Ambassador to your volunteer Ambassador Manager, who will keep in close contact with the Ambassador to ensure the success of their private Point of Entry Event.

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High-Impact Follow-Up Calls

After all your work putting on a brilliant Point of Entry Event, how can you make the most of your Benevon Follow-Up Calls? Here is a more detailed guide for how to ensure you will gently discover whether or not your guest is interested in becoming more involved with your organization and, if so, in what way. I’d recommend keeping this beside your phone as you make your calls. Be sure to enter all your notes into your database to track the entire donor cultivation process.

Detailed Five-Step Follow-Up Call

  1. Thank you for coming.
  2. What did you think?
    • Of the stories you heard?
    • What area of our work most interested you? Was it (bucket #1, #2, or #3)?
    • What new thoughts or ideas did you come away with?
    • Was there a particular aspect of our work that resonated with you? Tell me about it.
    • Did you leave with any questions I can answer for you?
    • What advice do you have for us?
  3. Be quiet and listen.
    • Take notes on what they say.
    • Enter notes into database.
  4. Is there any way you can see yourself becoming involved with us?
    • Become an Ambassador—host and fill a private Point of Entry with ten or more guests.
    • Have a list of things people could do, such as volunteer opportunities; making reminder calls for Points of Entry; or volunteering (e.g., tutoring or mentoring a child).
    • Reference the Wish List items.
    • Activity related to their bucket area of interest (e.g., meet with the program director or tour the facility, invite to a small event).
  5. Is there anyone else you can think of that you would like to invite to a Point of Entry?
    • Who else in your daily life might be interested in learning more about what we do?
      • Are there other groups you participate in, individuals you talked to about the tour, perhaps a family member or friend, someone you know who has a personal connection or a real passion for our work?
      • Example: “You mentioned you work in the healthcare field. Is there anyone else from your work—or from your book club, for that matter—who you think should know about our work?”
    • As you heard at our Point of Entry, our biggest need is to have people help us spread the word about our organization by serving as a volunteer Ambassador. Is that something you might be willing to help us with?
    • [If they answer “yes,” talk through when and where they would like to host their private event and make a preliminary list of who they would like to invite. Remember, the easiest way to fill a Point of Entry is with a ready-made group they are already a part of, like their book club. Schedule a next call to take place within two weeks.]
    • [If they answer “no,” then arrange a next contact—either a second visit to your offices to meet with a program person in the program that interests them, or to attend a special program like a graduation, or to volunteer.]

If you are certain that they are not interested in any further contact, thank them for coming and “bless and release them.” You can enter their name in your database but do not mail them or call them again. Trust that they will come back if and when the time is right.

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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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The Glue that Holds it All Together

From Terry’s book, The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second Edition.

In the Benevon Model, follow-up is the glue that holds the whole model together. When your goal is to build lifelong relationships with individual donors, the follow-up process never ends. Whether after the initial Point of Entry Event or after each subsequent donor contact, you will be asking your donors for their personal feedback and listening closely for clues as to how they might like to become more involved.

The first Benevon Follow-Up Call, which happens after the initial Point of Entry Event, is not just a polite thank-you call, in which case it could be made by the Ambassador or the person who invited each guest to attend. It is fine for the Ambassador to call their guest to thank them for coming. However, the official Follow-Up Call must be made by someone representing the organization, someone to whom the guest can give candid feedback, without any sense of obligation to the friend who invited them.

The purpose of the Follow-Up Call is to discover whether or not this person is interested in becoming more involved with your organization. If the guest does want to become more involved, the Follow-Up Call is the opportunity to determine the particular aspects of your work that most inspire them and who else they may want to invite to attend a Point of Entry Event.

If you discover during the Follow-Up Call that the guest does not want to get involved, the guest is “blessed and released,” but not until you have asked if there is anyone else they might want to invite to a future Point of Entry Event.

Selecting the Ideal Person to Make the Follow-Up Calls
As you begin implementing the Benevon Model, it is worth thinking through who will be responsible for making these critical Follow-Up Calls.

The official Follow-Up Call should be made by the one staff member who is the Team Leader accountable for the successful implementation of the Benevon Model within the organization. This person needs to enjoy building relationships—and talking on the telephone! This person will be each guest’s ongoing primary contact at the organization and will guide the cultivation process leading up to the Ask Event and beyond.

The ideal Follow-Up Call person must:

    • Attend every Point of Entry Event and have a speaking role, either as the tour guide, storyteller, or testimonial speaker
    • Enjoy talking to people on the phone
    • Be accountable for Ambassador recruitment and oversee the Ambassador Manager
    • Have access to the executive director or CEO to get responses to donors’ questions or ideas in a timely manner
    • Possess the maturity and ability to interact with all types of people
    • Enjoy developing relationships with people over time
    • Be detail-oriented and committed to tracking every donor conversation in your database

Choose your Follow-Up Call person carefully and be sure that every guest receives this call two to three days after attending their Point of Entry Event.