Posted on

Making the Most of Each Holiday Connection

There you are, standing over the punch bowl at the holiday party, chatting with a former board member or a volunteer you haven’t seen for a while. She’s just walked through your new offices, recalled the early days, inquired about how various programs are going now. She’s reconnected.

Would you be prepared, right there in that moment, to delicately suggest some ways she could be of help to your organization?

Maybe she’s not ready to jump back in to a major volunteer role, but she could host a little Point of Entry or dessert gathering in her home after the holidays—just to help you spread the word. No fundraising, of course!

Or those dear friends of hers you’d just love to meet—could she arrange that lunch for all of you to get acquainted?

The foundation board she sits on—can she help you arrange a meeting with the grants officer?

Her firm’s volunteer department—don’t they look for volunteer opportunities for the employees all year round?

Will you be arriving at the holiday party informed about the guests and armed with your mental list of opportunities for involvement?

If not, get to work!

You may need to brainstorm with your team to be sure your list is broad enough. If you know the guests who’ll be coming to the holiday events, you may be able to get very specific: someone to chair the big event next year, someone to help you launch the computer program, or that new young professionals group you’ve been wanting to start.

Play a game to see how connected or reconnected you can become in each conversation you have over the holidays.

It’s the time for reconnecting and then planting a seed that can be nurtured and grown next year and in the years to come.

Your goal with each holiday interaction is to connect enough in each conversation so that your last sentence can very naturally be: “I’ll call you after the holidays to talk more about it.”

Happy Holidays!

Posted on

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.

Posted on

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 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 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 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.

Posted on

Quantifying Your Legacy

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

We say that attaining sustainable funding requires each nonprofit organization to clarify its specific metrics, timeline, and plan for reaching the goal. Otherwise it will never happen.

To inspire each team to think big, we challenge them to imagine what life would be like at their organization if worrying about funding were no longer an issue. What if the basic day-to-day financial needs were handled and your organization could move onto fulfilling the next level of your mission—developing the programs you know would make a difference, staffing the departments that leverage the greatest results in the community, undergirding your infrastructure to sustain your operations going forward? How would that change the self-image of your organization, the quality of the work, and the outcomes?

What would have to have happened to make that possible? How much money would be in the bank and by when? How many months of operating reserves would it take for your organization to feel secure: three months, one year, two years? How many individual donors would you have? Would you want to have a big endowment?

Quantifying Your Legacy
Each group uses different metrics to track their progress in fulfilling their objectives. Some define sustainability as an endowment large enough to throw off in earnings enough money to cover their annual operating shortfall or gap. Their ultimate metric might be to have a $20 million endowment that will generate $1 million a year in income.

Other groups define sustainability as a reserve fund or pot of money set aside that they can get their hands on when they need it. They may decide, for example, that if they had a reserve fund large enough to cover one year’s operations, they could manage the uncertainties of their multiple funding sources year by year. That one year’s reserve fund becomes their metric.

Some groups define sustainability as having a higher percentage of their revenue coming from individual donors. Instead of having 95% of their revenue coming from government grants, 4% from corporations and foundations, and 1% from individuals, their metric may be to increase the 1% from individual giving to 5%.

Still other groups define sustainability as a percentage increase in the number of individual donors they now have, for example, increasing their current number of 200 major donors by 100% to 400 major donors. Of course, each group would define “major” donor for itself.

Another metric might be increasing the raw number of individual donors by a certain amount, for example, adding 100 new major donors per year, or reaching a total of 500 donors. Groups might put specific conditions on these goals, such as requiring that each donor has an ongoing open pledge to contribute at least $1,000 a year for each of the next five years. Their metric is the number of new donors at these levels.

In addition to establishing hard financial and donor metrics, we encourage each group to quantify their goals for softer intangibles like broader community awareness, more people requesting to become board members or volunteers, favorable media coverage, and more support from foundations and businesses. For many groups, these softer benefits are more valuable than the money raised.

Far and away, the number-one benefit our groups report from implementing the Benevon Model is that they are no longer the “best-kept secret” in town. People know them now. One behavioral health organization we work with is located in a rural community with a population of only 2,500 people. Yet people in the town did not know what was really going on inside their building. By the end of their first year using the model, all that had changed. They now had business support, favorable media coverage, and many passionate advocates championing their work at public meetings and the state legislature at budget time. Those results are hard to quantify.

We also understand that each organization’s metrics for attaining sustainable funding may change over time. As they achieve one goal, such as having a reserve fund of a specific amount, they may decide next to embark on a capital campaign or build an endowment, goals which may have been unthinkable until now.

Here are the specific questions to guide this important discussion with your group:

  1. How will we quantify our legacy of sustainable funding for this organization?
    • Short-term goals for the next five years?
    • Long-term goals for the next 10 to 15 years?

    Be sure to include in these goals specific metrics, for example:

    • $25 million endowment
    • Reserve fund of one year’s operating expenses
    • 20% increase in individual donors
    • Diversifying funding sources by increasing funding from individual donors by 20%
  2. What would be the impact of attaining this legacy?
    • On the people we serve?
    • On our community?

The legacy you want to leave needs to be crystal clear before you begin to implement the systematic approach provided by the Benevon Model. Take the time you need to quantify—and get excited about—what sustainable funding would look like for your organization. You will need it to inspire your group as you embark on the work ahead!

Posted on

Should all board members be on our fundraising team?

Ask Benevon: The Ask Event is Not a First Date

Q: We are starting to put together a team to implement the Benevon Model. I am wondering, why wouldn’t all or most board members have team member responsibilities?

Jamie in Washington

A: Not all board members will want to be part of your fundraising team. Many may already be serving on a board committee. Those who are already on your fund development committee would be the natural candidates for serving on your Benevon team.

Having said that, ideally, every board member will serve as an Ambassador at least once, if not once a year. Serving as an Ambassador means hosting and filling one private Point of Entry with ten or more friends and colleagues.

Beyond serving on your Benevon team and being an Ambassador, board members can contribute by making thank-you phone calls to donors and giving money themselves.

We treat board members like donors, and you would never require all of your donors to get involved on your fundraising team—only those who want to.

Posted on

Seven Great Ways to Get Your Board Started with the Benevon Model

We are often asked how to involve the entire board in the Benevon process. Here are seven key ways to get started that do not include having board members ask other people for money!

  1. Have every board member watch the free online video, Eight Minutes to Sustainable Funding, or the full fifty-five-minute video, Creating Sustainable Funding for Your Nonprofit, to get themselves up to speed on the Benevon Model.
  2. Allow time at each board meeting for your Sustainable Funding Team members to talk up the model within the board. Have them talk about the importance of long-term sustainable funding and the impact it would have on your community. Give board members an opportunity for real discussion about their frustrations with the year-to-year fundraising treadmill and begin to quantify what sustainable funding would look like, using specific metrics.
  3. Ask each board member to become an Ambassador for your work in the community. Ask them to think about groups of people in their lives who would love to know more about your organization and make a plan for hosting and filling a private Point of Entry Event for ten or more guests.
  4. Organize a board retreat about sustainable funding.
    • Start by having each board member say why they are involved with your organization and why they feel its work is so important.
    • Explain the model or have them watch one of the Benevon videos.
    • Tell them your plan to start putting on Point of Entry Events.
    • Invite them to attend a kick-the-tires Point of Entry just for the board.
    • Do a Treasure Map exercise with the board to identify groups in the community and people they think should be invited to Points of Entry.
    • Remind them that the model is mission-based and permission-based. Your organization will not be asking people for money until each potential donor has been educated and inspired about the work of your group.
  5. Invite board members to join your official Sustainable Funding Team, involving them in Point of Entry Events, follow-up, asking, and cultivation.
  6. Have one or two board members each month make calls to thank donors and to ask for their input and feedback after events. Follow the specific Benevon Follow-Up Call protocol. With every “thank you” be sure to include a story or example about the impact that gift made. There is no substitute for a board member calling a donor. Repeat: there is no substitute for a board member calling a donor.
  7. Ask board members to give money personally to the organization every year. Your goal is to have your organization be one of the top three places each board member supports.

Remember the Benevon Golden Rule: treat each board member as if they were your most cherished major donor. In other words, take the time to find out their specific areas of interest in your work and tend them carefully.

Posted on

How’s Your Oxygen Level?

Oxygen: a colorless and odorless gas that people need to breathe.

For nonprofits, this essential element comes in the form of engaged individuals.

Without a base of truly passionate and committed individual supporters, no nonprofit organization will ever be fully sustainable.

I believe that nonprofits exist at the behest of the community. That 501c3 tax exempt status is not a right, it’s a privilege. Way back when each nonprofit got started, someone said: we need that service in our community so much that we as individuals are going to pay more taxes so that organizations providing those vital services don’t have to pay taxes.

As soon as a nonprofit organization forgets that fact and stops focusing intentionally on engaging the individuals in their community at whose behest they serve, they have moved off the path of long-term sustainability.

It’s not about the money. It’s about the engagement of those individuals in the real work of the organization.

It’s about having a steady stream of individuals who could genuinely move you to tears in two minutes with an authentic, compelling story or personal experience of why your work is needed.

Like the community organizer at one of our advocacy organizations who knew just the three questions to ask me to take me back to a time in my own life when I had witnessed or experienced injustice and had failed to take action.

It’s about the authentic, continually “refreshed” engagement of individuals who breathe so much life into your organization that, even if they never personally need your services, they are passionate about that need being met in the community.

It’s about being able to leave your organization knowing that dedicated people are looking after it wisely, growing it appropriately, and above all, holding the organization true to its main purpose: fulfilling its overarching mission.

Posted on

Multiple-Year Giving Society Board Buy-In

Inviting Guests to the Point of Entry

Q: How am I going to convince my board that asking is okay at these Multiple-Year Giving Society pledge levels?

Katherine in California

A: As veterans of many fundraising events, most board members presume their guests will be pressured to give at the Ask Event. They presume this event will be the first time a guest learns about your organization and therefore they rightly fear that asking for these “large amounts” will be off-putting.

Once your board members understand that all the Table Captains at the Ask Event will have served as Ambassadors, hosting and filling their own private Point of Entry Event with ten or more guests, and that these prior Point of Entry guests will be the same people they invite to sit at their tables at your Free One-Hour Ask Event, they will begin to see how different this event is.

We recommend you let these skeptical board members observe and enjoy your first Ask Event, and they will come along at their own pace.

If you focus on having privately hosted Points of Entry, you will naturally meet our metric for having 10% of your Ask Event guests give at one of the three larger multi-year levels. The fourth box on the pledge card lets donors fill in the blanks for their own gift level. We only expect 40 to 50% of Ask Event guests to make any gift at all at the event.

For those board members who do not want to participate in the process, invite them to the Ask Event, seat them with other board members or friends and let them be a part of the whole experience. Do not ask them to be Table Captains.

If your event follows the Benevon Model, your board members will be so proud of your organization, they will likely become supporters of this process and volunteer to serve as Ambassadors over the next year.

Remember our golden rule about treating board members as if they are your most cherished major donors. You would never force your most cherished major donors to do anything. Let them determine their own preferred form of participation.

Posted on

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.