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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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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.