- Let go of any written or unwritten rules you may have about the “right” way for board members to participate in fundraising.
- Above all, let go of the notion that all board members must ask others for money.
- Accept the 20-60-20 rule when it comes to fundraising and your board. That is, 20% of the board will enjoy being involved in fundraising, 60% will be neutral about it and the remaining 20% will want nothing to do with it.
- Stop thinking that every other nonprofit organization’s board members do more fundraising than your board members do. It’s irrelevant (and highly improbable).
- Recognize that your board members are volunteers who are giving you the gifts of their time and attention. In today’s world, those gifts are more precious than money. They are not paid staff, and, in most cases, do not wish to become paid staff.
- Know that your board members are looking to you to steer the fundraising process and to make requests of them as needed. Do not assume that anyone on your board wakes up each morning worrying about the fundraising needs of your organization.
- Treat each board member with the care and respect that you would give each major donor or potential major donor. If over time you consistently shower them with that level of personal attention and respect, they will naturally become significant donors.
- Thank your board members sincerely and promptly for every little thing they do. A quick e-mail or voicemail thank-you tells them that what they did mattered to you. Whether they have served on your board for ten months or ten years, make certain they know you do not take them for granted.
- Meet with each board member individually once a year to be sure you understand what most interests them about your organization. Find out why they got involved on your board in the first place and what keeps them involved. When interacting with each board member, keep these interests and self-interests foremost in your mind. Let go of any expectations or illusions that these will ever change. Do your very best to fulfill these interests.
- Make two lists and have them available as you meet or talk with each board member. (Stay tuned for these two lists featured in next week’s E-New$!)
- List #1: Ten easy and meaningful things for board members to do to advance your organization’s individual giving program.
- List #2: Five valuable and useful roles for development committee members.
Q: What if we do not have full board buy-in for this approach?
Claire in Georgia
A: While you will likely not have 100% of your board initially overjoyed about the prospect of implementing the Benevon Model, you do need the majority of your board to be in favor of launching this process.
Put yourself in their shoes:
- If they have served on non-profit boards before, they have been well trained to assume that the mere mention of any type of fundraising means they will be asked to ask their friends for money.
- They don’t fully understand the key distinctions of the Benevon model—the Point of Entry Event, follow-up (including “bless and release”), and the cultivation process.
- They don’t understand that their role will not be to ask their friends for money.
- Rather, if they choose to participate as Ambassadors (which is optional), they will be inviting friends to non-ask, get-acquainted events and that a staff member from your organization will follow up with them for their feedback—not their money.
- In other words, the Point of Entry Event is when the relationship is transferred from the board member to the organization, if the guest is truly interested in the mission of the organization.
Once board members come to understand that, should your organization adopt the Benevon approach, their role will be to introduce people to your mission at your inspiring and educational one-hour Point of Entry Events (especially after they have attended one themselves), they generally become much more willing to support the process.
If you choose to work with Benevon, your team needs to include two to three board members, i.e., not all of your board needs to participate actively in your implementation.
Ideally, the rest of the board members will become supportive, once they have attended a Point of Entry themselves and have come to trust the process. Many will become volunteer Ambassadors, hosting and filling a private Point of Entry with ten or more of their friends or colleagues.
Do not be discouraged if some board members never become interested in participating in this at all. That’s okay, so long as they do not stand in the way of you doing it.
I’d recommend having your board watch our 55-minute video and work with us to directly to answer their questions. before you decide to implement this process.
Shift your mindset. Ask yourself this question in every interaction that you have with each board member: is this the way I would treat a major donor?
Here are five ways to show your board members how much you value them:
- Honor their commitment to your mission. Even if you occasionally question their passion for your work, give them the benefit of the doubt. There are plenty of other nonprofit groups that would love to have them on their boards. If they have chosen to serve on your board, it’s pretty safe to assume that at least some part of your organization’s mission appeals to them.
- Honor their time. Board members are volunteers—not paid staff. They weren’t signing on for a job when they agreed to serve on your board. Be respectful of the other things they have going on in their lives. Don’t bother them with the small stuff. Before asking them to make phone calls, fill tables, come to meetings, or sign letters, ask yourself: would I bother the biggest donor in town with this sort of thing?
- Honor their brains. These folks are smart—technically smart, people smart, and financially smart. In some cases, they are just plain wise. Use their time to gather their input on the strategic issues that will help shape your future, not on the smaller tactical details. They will be more likely to offer to help you on the tactical pieces after they have helped to create or shape the larger strategy and direction. (And they will also be more likely to fund it!)
- Honor their contacts. Board members know that you know who they might know. Respect those relationships by asking board members to invite their friends and colleagues to Point of Entry Events at your organization, rather than rushing in to ask their friends for money. Treat your board members as distinguished ambassadors, not as salespeople for your work.
- Honor their privacy. If this were the biggest donor in your community, perhaps you’d use a little more discretion. Leave messages with their assistants—don’t call them at home, text, or e-mail their private address unless they’ve given you explicit permission to do so. Any information you have about their lives that could be regarded as private must remain confidential. Err on the side of discretion and courtesy. Be respectful.
We call it the Benevon Golden Rule: Treat every board member as if they were your most precious major donor!
Use our Board Retreat Sample Agenda template to plan a 90-minute meeting that will keep the Benevon Model fresh with your board members, and leave them feeling informed and inspired.
This week’s feature is an excerpt from The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second Edition. For more information and to buy the book, visit our store. Also, see below for an account of how the Benevon Model benefitted one organization’s board.
Most nonprofits aspire to have their board become a “fundraising board,” either because they think that is what an ideal board should be, or because they think it would handle their fundraising needs forever. They berate themselves for not having this ideal fundraising board. I refer to this as “board envy,” and it is not rooted in any reality I have ever seen.
When you pull back the curtain from those well-established organizations with “fundraising boards” that are the envy of every other group, you will find a team of dedicated, hard-working staff who coordinate the process of strategically cultivating each donor and engaging volunteer board members at every step of the way, including the ultimate Ask.
The fantasy of the magical fundraising board that will do all the work and raise all the money is just that: a fantasy. Those organizations with “ideal” fundraising boards have a systematic plan for how they grow and cultivate relationships with donors. While they involve their board members strategically in the cultivation and asking process, they certainly don’t rely on their board members to save the day.
We work with many groups that have well-established fundraising programs, including groups that are already raising many millions of dollars each year before they come to our workshops. They often tell us they still do not feel they have a system for keeping their board members engaged. They experience board burnout and turnover, just like the small and mid-sized organizations do. They use our model as a mission-centered strategy for ongoing donor— and board—engagement.
If you are truly committed to leaving the legacy of self-sustaining funding, there is no better place to start than with your board. Rather than distracting your focus and wasting time comparing your board to others, get to work on specific strategies for keeping your board engaged.
Watch this testimonial from a board member at Respite Care in Fort Collins, Colorado, about how the Benevon Model provided a system for involving their board members in the fundraising process.
Q: How can we prepare our board for getting started with the Benevon Model? How do we explain to them what’s different about it?
Michael in Rhode Island
A: The Benevon Model is first and foremost about engaging individual donors in an organization’s larger mission. It focuses on building relationships with donors over time, with the money coming after the donor is well cultivated and committed to your organization’s mission. This approach will likely be very different from most fundraising methods your board will have tried in the past. To get them familiar with the Benevon Model and to prepare them for this new approach, have them view our 55-minute introductory video, Creating Sustainable Funding for Your Nonprofit.
Ultimately, everyone will need to think of Benevon as an operating system, not an app. Sometimes using that analogy helps to shift a board’s mindset.
This week’s feature is an excerpt from The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second Edition. For more information and to buy the book, visit our store.
How does your board stack up? Here is a series of questions that will get to the truth about how you are doing at involving your board. Write down your answers to each question below.
- When it comes to fundraising, what are your biggest concerns about your board? What more would you like your board members to be doing? What would it take for your board to more closely resemble your image of the “ideal” board?
- What percentage of your total board members would you rate as truly passionate about your mission? Do the math. The sooner you tell the truth about this percentage, the sooner you can get to work.
- What percentage of your total board members understand the Benevon Model and are eager to participate in its implementation (not just how many have heard of the model or nod their heads pleasantly when you discuss Point of Entry Events and the Ask Event)? Rather, what percentage truly understand the power of the Benevon Model to build long-term sustainable funding, which is something most board members would love to leave as a legacy?
- What percentage of total board members have attended your organization’s Point of Entry Event? Even if board members think they know everything there is to know about your organization, they will learn something new and personally experience the power of your mission. Tell them in advance that you need their advice and feedback.
- What percentage of your board members have invited others to attend Point of Entry Events? Some groups make this a standard part of board participation, going so far as to have board members sign an agreement to participate at a certain level, for instance, to attend at least one Point of Entry Event per year, or to have a minimum number of guests throughout the year, or to become an official Ambassador, filling one Point of Entry with at least ten guests.
- What percentage of your board members have been involved in thanking donors? What have they said about it afterwards? Do you give them an opportunity to share these experiences at board meetings?
- What percentage of your board members give money to the organization, personally? Your goal here should be 100% participation with no minimum dollar requirement.
- Have you completed a Cultivation Interview with each board member once a year? These simple Cultivation Interview Questions (Chapter 9) are very powerful.
If your CEO and board chair were to do an annual Cultivation Interview with each of your board members, that would send a message that each board member is very important to your organization. Cultivation Interviews give your board members an opportunity to talk to you and, even more importantly, give you an opportunity to listen to them, which again sends the message that you value them.
Furthermore, if you pay close attention to what they are telling you in these annual interviews, you will see what has changed in their life circumstances and priorities in the past year, what lights them up most about your work, and how you can involve them in precisely those areas, just as you would cultivate a major donor.
- What is your plan to increase or retread your board members’ passion?
This new level of engagement for each board member isn’t going to happen automatically. It takes someone to drive it, step by step. Just as you would develop a cultivation plan for each major donor, you need a similar step-by-step plan for cultivating each board member.
This will be a series of personalized contacts, each focusing on the board member’s particular area of interest, which you will know well. Each subsequent contact is driven by the board member’s request during the prior contact.
- Do you have an annual board fundraising retreat where each board member signs an annual board agreement, outlining the options and requirements for participation?
Q: How can we involve our board in the model without pressuring them? Can you lean too heavily on the board?
Louis in Nevada
A: When it comes to fundraising, yes, you can lean too heavily on the board. The sooner the model becomes an organic, self-generating process that is not dependent on the board, the more your board will want to get involved with it!
Within the first several months of implementing the Benevon Model, we recommend that each nonprofit team put on a special Point of Entry Event for their board and have the Team Leader (most often a development staff member) make the follow-up call to each board member, just as you would make to any other guest.
If the Point of Entry is “sizzling,” you should hear board members saying, “Thank you! That tour reconnected me to why I got involved here in the first place.” When asked if there is anyone else they’d like to invite, many will offer to become official Ambassadors, hosting and filling a private Point of Entry with ten or more of their colleagues, friends, or family.
Of course, you would love it if every board member became an Ambassador and then a Table Captain at the Ask Event. Whether or not they serve as an Ambassador, you want as many board members as possible to attend the Ask Event (have them sit at VIP tables) just to experience it.
If you meet Benevon’s metrics for having a minimum of two Ambassador-hosted private Points of Entry per month, with each Point of Entry generating at least one new Ambassador, by the second year, you should have so many people referring others that you won’t need to rely on those same board members inviting people to Points of Entry.
In fact, you should have people so excited about your organization’s mission that they are asking how they can become one of your board members!
And those new board members, who have “come through the model” will naturally understand the relationship-based underpinnings of the model. They will likely be able to recommend other people to be Ambassadors and Point of Entry guests.
This model honors board members and always remembers, above all, that board members are volunteers who are giving you the gift of their time and expertise. The Benevon Model will help you keep them connected to their passion.
Q: One of our donors made a generous gift in October, which we announced with a press release and online news story. Six weeks later, the donor added to that gift. What would be the best way to announce this increase in the original gift?
Ann Marie in Michigan
A: Recognition of major donors is an important element of the cultivation process. You want to be sure that the recognition is appropriate, timely, and most of all, meaningful to the donor! If they appreciated the press release, it might be best to do another one announcing the additional gift. If the increase was nominal in comparison to the initial gift, a press release might not be appropriate, but perhaps a personal visit or call from your CEO or a key board member would be. Many times, donors have a specific type of recognition in mind. While we could spin our wheels trying to guess what would be most meaningful, it is often best to just come right out and ask, suggesting one or two options, yet leaving it up to the donor to choose. We find that major donors appreciate that consideration.
Q: We are starting our Point of Entry this Friday as a soft start with a few select guests. I am wondering if you have an email that we could use with some key points for our invitation to our guests.
Jennifer in Montana
A: In the Benevon Model, each Point of Entry Event is a private event that is hosted and filled with ten or more guests by a volunteer Ambassador. Ambassadors are board members, volunteers, donors, staff, or parents of students at your school who are passionate about sharing the work of your organization with others in the community by inviting them to a private Point of Entry.
Since you are just getting started with Point of Entry Events, we would recommend that you begin by identifying potential Ambassadors and inviting them to your first few Point of Entry Events. Once they’ve seen the program, they will be able to commit to hosting their own Point of Entry with a full understanding of what that entails. Look for people who are passionate and who follow through on what they say they will do! Reach out personally, by phone or face to face, to invite them to see something new that you’re doing to get the word out about your organization. Stress that this event is not a fundraiser and they will not be asked for money, but that you are going to make a follow-up phone call after the event to get their feedback. Tell them you are hoping they will be interested in hosting something similar in the future for a group of their own.
Once they’ve attended the Point of Entry, in the follow-up call, which happens two to three days later, ask if they would be willing to serve as an Ambassador, hosting and filling a future Point of Entry with ten or more guests. If they say yes, you will work with them to identify their guest list and coach them to invite their guests personally, just like the invitation the Ambassador received to their initial Point of Entry.