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The CEO Golden Hour—Option 3: One-on-One Meetings with Donors

This is the third and final feature in our three-part series entitled the CEO Golden Hour, highlighting the top three things your busy CEO can do to impact donor cultivation and major gifts if they are willing to dedicate merely one hour a week to this critical process.

I’ve also included here some general thoughts about how to integrate this CEO Golden Hour process into the life of your nonprofit organization.

What does it mean to “cultivate” a donor and how would a busy CEO find the time to do that even if they knew what to do?

This is a question we are asked regularly by the groups in our Sustainable Funding Program, now that they have an ever-increasing number of donors in their Multiple-Year Giving Society.

Rather than merely invoicing donors and expecting them to dutifully make their pledge payment for each of the next five years, these wise CEOs and development directors have discovered that with a high-touch system of personalized contacts, even the busiest of CEOs can begin—and even enjoy—the donor cultivation process!

Option 3: Personal lunches, dinners or visits with the sub-list of donors that have expressed further interest during the CEO personal phone calls or small group lunches. CEO may make donor visits one-on-one or accompanied by a board member or your major gifts person.

Purpose: To get to know each donor better and to feel more connected to them.  Likewise, each donor should feel more knowledgeable about and more connected to the organization.

Preparation:

  • CEO’s assistant, major gifts person, or development director:
    • Phones the donor and invites them to lunch with the CEO. “Sheila would love to update you on some of the current developments here at our center and get your input on a few things.”
    • Sends the guest list with two to three sentences about each guest, including last gift, person who engaged them, bucket area of greatest interest, and any other recent participation.

Suggested Agenda:

  • Greeting
  • Thank you for past support, including one or two specific, human examples of what their support made possible
  • Ask/talk about their “bucket” area of greatest impact. For example, in a senior center, is it meals, social, or healthcare? Give examples of new developments in that area
  • Share challenges the staff are facing and ask questions about how the donor’s expertise might relate to each challenge
  • Ask what is going on in the donor’s life: family, business, other community interests
  • Be genuine, open, and be sure the donor does 75% of the talking
  • Make a plan for getting back in touch with the donor to follow up on any action items discussed and talk about a next date for another meeting
  • Thank the donor
  • Put all notes in database and take prompt action on any suggestions or open items
  • Keep things moving: don’t let too much time pass before the next contact—two to four weeks at longest

General Comments:

  • Whether in your phone calls, small group lunches, or one-on-one meeting with donors, if people ask how else they can help, be sure to invite them to become an Ambassador.
  • Keep using this precious hour of your CEO’s time for any of these three activities. At the end of three months, ask your CEO if she would be willing to increase to two hours a week.
  • By then you will have seen how much coordination time this takes from your development director or major gifts person as well as the volunteers on your cultivation committee.

By then, you no doubt also will have seen how much these simple contacts have deepened each donor’s connection to the mission, which is the whole purpose of donor cultivation.

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The CEO Golden Hour—Option 2: Small Group Lunches

What does it mean to “cultivate” a donor and how would a busy CEO find the time to do that even if they knew what to do?

This is a question we are asked regularly by the groups in our Sustainable Funding Program, now that they have an ever-increasing number of donors in their Multiple-Year Giving Society.

Rather than merely invoicing donors and expecting them to dutifully make their pledge payment for each of the next five years, these wise CEOs and development directors have discovered that with a high-touch system of personalized contacts, even the busiest of CEOs can begin—and even enjoy—the donor cultivation process!

This is the second  feature in our three-part series entitled the CEO Golden Hour, highlighting the top three things your busy CEO can do to impact donor cultivation and major gifts if they are willing to dedicate merely one hour a week to this critical process.

Option 2: Small group donor meetings with CEO and a board member

Purpose: CEO and board members become more comfortable with the donor cultivation process, while giving your loyal donors an inside, personal view of the organization

Preparation:

  • Development director:
    • Confirms five to ten donors for a special meeting with CEO and a board member
    • Sends the guest list to the CEO, including two to three sentences about each guest, time and amount of their last gift, name of the person who engaged them, bucket area of greatest interest, and any other recent participation

Suggested Agenda:

  • Welcome and introductions:
    • CEO starts right out welcoming people and introducing the board member and development staff present (2 minutes)
    • Each guest introduces themselves, tells their involvement with the organization (8 minutes)
  • While people are eating:
    • CEO talks about three things she is most excited about that are happening right now at the organization. Link these three things to your bucket areas (3 minutes)
    • Questions and discussion (5 minutes)
    • CEO talks about three greatest challenges right now, tying these to the three bucket areas (7 minutes).
    • Questions and discussion (10 minutes)
  • After lunch:
    • CEO poses open-ended “focus-group” questions (15 minutes)
      • How do you think we could better convey our needs?
      • What advice do you have for us?
      • How could we be doing a better job of telling our story?
    • Wrap up and thanks from CEO and board member:
      • Be sure to say the development director will call them for feedback in the next two to three days (5 minutes)
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How Many Donors Can One Staff Member Manage?

Dealing with Table Overflow at the Ask Event

Q: I am new to my organization and they’ve used the Benevon Model for about six years now. I would like to know Benevon’s thoughts on a manageable number of multiple-year donors a single employee should realistically manage.

We currently have about 60 multiple-year donors throughout four counties. I am required to continue to cultivate these donors, while working with the board and new Table Captains to increase this number next year. It doesn’t seem practical to do this to its full potential throughout four counties.

Elena in Florida

A: By the third year using the model, the organizations we train and coach in our program should have at least two full-time staff dedicated to the model. One staff manages the cultivation and major gifts process with the existing multi-year donors in your giving society. The other staff member is accountable for keeping the pipeline full and ensuring a sustainable process for generating volunteer Ambassadors who fill the Points of Entry.

One major gifts person can manage relationships with approximately 200 Multiple-Year Giving Society Donors if that is all they are doing. That person would be responsible for ensuring that each of these donors receives two personal cultivation contacts (minimum) every year, and that these contacts specifically relate to each donor’s particular area of interest and passion in your work. The goal of each contact is to get to know the donor better and to deepen their connection to your mission.

These contacts might be what we call CEO Golden Hours, which can take three forms: small groups of multi-year donors meet with your CEO for an update on current issues and challenges at the organization,  one-on-one phone calls with the CEO or one-on-one meetings with the CEO.

In addition to personal cultivation contacts, it is this person’s responsibility to ensure each multi-year donor attends at least one Free Feel-Good Cultivation Event each year where they are further connected to the impact of their giving on the people you serve.

Finally, this person determines when the donor is ready to be asked for an additional gift, an extension on their pledge, or an increase to a higher level of giving, and coordinates that ask taking place. This leverages all of the work you’ve done to get the 60 or so Multiple-Year Giving Society donors you already have by ensuring that those people stay with you. Eventually, they will get involved in ways beyond their financial support. As an example, many of these faithful multi-year donors will become some of your best Ambassadors, by hosting and filling private Point of Entry Events with ten or more of their friends or colleagues.

At the same time, you will need a full-time staff member accountable for keeping the pipeline full with at least two private, Ambassador-hosted-and-filled Point of Entry Events per month with 10 or more guests in attendance. This person oversees your volunteer Ambassador Manager, who in turn supports Ambassadors on fulfilling their short-term commitment to fill and host one tour.

They manage the conversion from Ambassador to Table Captain, where they invite your successful Ambassadors to host tables at your Ask Event with guests who have already been well cultivated and have attended Point of Entry Events in the prior year.

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The CEO Golden Hour—Option 1: Calling Donors

What does it mean to “cultivate” a donor and how would a busy CEO find the time to do that even if they knew what to do?

This is a question we are asked regularly by the groups in our Sustainable Funding Program, now that they have an ever-increasing number of donors in their Multiple-Year Giving Society.

Rather than merely invoicing donors and expecting them to dutifully make their pledge payment for each of the next five years, these wise CEOs and development directors have discovered that with a high-touch system of personalized contacts, even the busiest of CEOs can begin—and even enjoy—the donor cultivation process!

Today we begin a series of three features entitled the CEO Golden Hour, highlighting the top three things your busy CEO can do to impact donor cultivation and major gifts if they are willing to dedicate merely one hour a week to this critical process.

CEO Golden Hour
Option 1:  Personal cultivation phone calls to donors in your Multiple-Year Giving Society (who have pledged at least $1,000 a year for the next five years)

Purpose:  Getting to know your donors

Preparation:

CEO/Executive Director: Block out one hour per week for calls on CEO’s calendar

Development director:

  • Schedule four calls in advance. Tell each donor the call will last ten minutes at most.
  • Use the five minutes before each call to brief your CEO on each donor’s background.
  • Bring a back-up list of other donors in case you finish early.

During the Call:

CEO/Executive Director:

  • Ask questions to engage donors in a dialog and learn more about their particular areas of interest and passion for your work:
    • How did you first learn about our organization or become involved with us?
    • Is there a particular area of our work that most interests you?
    • Do you have a personal connection to our mission?
    • Where or how do you think we’re really missing the boat?
    • What advice do you have for us?
    • What cues might we have missed from you?
    • How better could we be telling our story?
    • What could we be doing to involve more people?

Development Director:

  • Listen quietly.
  • Take notes and enter into donor database.

Stay tuned for Option 2 next week, Small Group Lunches.

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Cultivation Tip #1: Think Like a Donor

To get insights into how to cultivate a donor, the place to start is to look at what motivates you personally as a donor. Here is a simple but powerful exercise. Make a list of the organizations you give money to. Not just the obvious one or two, but go a little deeper. Come up with at least five. Next, take the time to answer each of the following questions for each contribution you make.

What patterns or trends do you notice in your giving? For example:

1. For how many years have you been giving to the same organizations? Have you increased your giving over the years? What, if anything, has the organization done along the way that has inspired you to give more?

2. Are you a loyal or a fickle donor? Or a little of both? Do you give faithfully to your old standby favorites? Do you intersperse them with new ones? If so, what does it take to become a new recipient of your gift?

3. Is there any correlation between the amount of your time and money you give to an organization? Do you feel differently about giving money to the places where you also volunteer in some way?

4. What kind of thanks do you receive? Are you thanked more or less than you would like? Does it feel personal enough? Does it seem like the organization knows you or wants to know you better?

5. Is your name prominently displayed in places that matter to you? On plaques, or in annual reports. Though this may not seem like it matters to you, notice your reaction should your name be inadvertently omitted.

6. In terms of ongoing connection, is there more each organization could be doing? Do they invite you to other events throughout the year? Do you feel sufficiently connected to their mission? If it’s a national organization, are you part of a larger national “society” or group recognition program?

7. What more would it take for them to receive a larger gift from you? More information, more direct contact, more recognition? Maybe just a phone call?

Notice what makes you tick when it comes to giving away your money.

Notice what more an organization could have done to get to know you and your passion for their work. Often just a phone call or a personal invitation to a meeting or program of interest will make a big difference. Perhaps you’ve already done that with some of your favorite organizations and now you need something more. Perhaps they’ve missed your cues and their attempts to “cultivate” you feel too heavy-handed.

As you begin the cultivation process with each donor, remember, first and foremost, that you are a donor. Your name is on a list at each of these nonprofit organizations. Someone within those organizations may be trying to “cultivate” you right now!

Rather than girding yourself for approaching hostile strangers to awkwardly get to know them so that you can ultimately convince them to part with their precious money, think of approaching them as you would want to be approached—as real human being with concerns, opinions, a busy life, and a commitment to making the world a better place.

It will make your fundraising efforts easier and more natural. Happy cultivating!

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Showing Donors the Impact of their Donation

Leaning Too Heavily on Your Board?

Q: Do donors expect an explanation of what is being done with their donations?

Sam in Texas

A: Penelope Burk’s wonderful research has shown that donors need two things most to have them keep giving.

First, thank them promptly.

Second, tell them what impact their contribution has had on individual people’s lives and the community at large. If you are following the Benevon Model, you will have two personal contacts with each major donor each year, focused on the aspect of your work that is most important to them.

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The Science of Special

The only way your organization will ever be able to grow the model to its potential is by mastering the cultivation process. Whether you are aiming to grow your Point of Entry guests into Ask Event guests and Multiple-Year Donors, grow your Multiple-Year Donors into Challenge and Leadership Gift donors, or grow your Challenge and Leadership Gift donors into major gifts, capital, and endowment donors, they will only proceed around the circle with you if you tend and nurture their unique interest in your work.

While it is easy to feel overwhelmed and burdened by the thought of having to cultivate so many people at so many different levels, it is worth stopping to recognize how far you have already come if you have been following our step-by-step process.

Can you see that if you had a similar step-by-step process for cultivation, you could gradually ramp up the entire model to the next level and begin to experience the spiraling effect that our long-term implementers all talk about?

We refer to this process—this personalized cultivation system—as the “science of special,” and just like the rest of the model, it is highly effective if you take it one step at a time and follow the system.

What Do We Mean By “Cultivation”?
For each donor, everything that happens between the Point of Entry follow-up call and the Ask (either one-on-one or at the Ask Event) is what we call the Cultivation Superhighway. That careful listening during the Five-Step Follow-Up Call, when each person tells you if and how they might see themselves becoming more involved with your group, determines the next step you will take with them.

It’s as if a good friend of yours stopped by your office, you took some time to show him around, and the next time you talked to him, you thanked him for coming by and asked what he thought. Imagine that he immediately zeroed in on the environmental program, which is one of many programs you offer. Even though you would have other priorities for growing other programs first, you would never think of derailing your friend into another program area. You would invite him back to meet with your great staff members who are working on the environmental program.

Over time, if gently nurtured with occasional phone calls, emails, and face-to-face contact with your program people, scientists, and students, your friend would become more and more engaged in your work. He would contribute naturally that which he has in abundance—his knowledge, passion, contacts, time, and, when asked to make a longer-term financial contribution, he would naturally sign on for five years and probably offer to be a Table Captain at your Ask Events each year.

In future years, he would likely become an Ambassador, hosting a private Point of Entry for his friends or colleagues, he might very naturally serve as a Table Captain at your Ask Event, where his Point of Entry guests would join him at his table. He would come to know many of your staff and volunteers. He would have helped to grow your environmental program. His relationship would be with that aspect of your mission that most mattered to him. He would stay involved because your group’s work is important to him, rather than out of any sense of guilt or obligation to you.

Likewise, you would have gotten to know him better. You would know his family situation and, eventually, his giving capacity. He would likely become a board member or honorary advisory committee member.

When you launched your endowment campaign to ensure the future of the organization, you would be sure to talk with him and his family about a named family endowment structured to sustain the environmental program into the future.

That simple, natural, organic flow of contacts and communication is what we call cultivation. At Benevon, we define cultivation as tending, growing, and nurturing something gently over time.

More specifically, cultivation in our model means a minimum of two personal contacts with a donor in the course of a year—each one highly customized to that donor’s particular interests, needs, and style. There is not a simple template for donor cultivation other than this simple mandate: it’s got to be personal!

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Calling Your Donors—It’s the Magic

I’m beginning to think the old-fashioned phone call is going the way of the hand-written letter: ancient history! With texting, tweeting, and email as the easy, quick alternatives, picking up the phone and having a two-way, voice-to-voice conversation with a real human being feels almost scary.

Yet it is precisely what is needed to develop and maintain donor relationships. That genuine dialog is at the heart of donor cultivation—it’s the magic.

If you plan to use the Benevon Model for its intended purpose—to engage and develop relationships with lifelong individual donors and build towards long-term financial sustainability—then some members of your team will need to have regular telephone contact with your individual donors.

Here’s how I recommend you begin:

Set aside one hour a week, every single week of the year, for the sole purpose of calling your donors.

While most executive directors, development directors, and board members are not uncomfortable speaking with people, when it comes to calling a donor, many people fear the donor will think they are calling to ask for more money. Here is an outline of what to cover on each call.

  1. First, thank them sincerely for their gifts. “I’m calling today as a _____________ (board member, executive director, volunteer) with the Community Reintegration Program (CRP) just to thank you for your gift. It made a huge difference to us.”
  2. Second, give one specific example, or tell one specific story of the difference their gift meant to your organization. Let them know you really mean it.
    • “Your gift allowed us to work with one recently released inmate named Sal to provide an apartment, a job, and classes at the community college to help him build a new life.
    • Many people don’t appreciate the daunting challenges that prisoners face when they are released back into the community—the temptations of their old lifestyle, the difficulty finding work after serving time.
    • Despite the state cuts in funding that meant we had to cut three staff in our community re-entry program and serve 200 fewer clients per year, your gift allowed us to continue serving Sal. And for him, it made all the difference.
    • Furthermore, just your awareness and support for our mission here at CRP inspires us and boosts our morale in these challenging times.”
  3. Never say thank you without telling a story of how your organization changed a life (or a community or an issue) thanks to their support.
  4. You may be surprised when the donor wants to talk further. The easiest way to deepen or begin to build your relationship is by asking them a few simple questions.
    • The best question to ask them is, “What is it about our work that interests you? Is there any particular aspect or program?” That way you’ll know how to keep them engaged going forward.
    • Another good question to ask is, “May I ask how you got interested in this issue in the first place?”
  5. Before you know it, you may find yourself engaged in a real conversation with a passionate donor.
  6. Finally, invite them to any upcoming mission-focused events, such as a graduation for your program participants or a father-and-child birthday party night, etc.

There is absolutely no substitute for talking to your donors. Even if you get an answering machine, leave a message with the same kind of information in it—a heartfelt thank you plus one example of how your gift made a difference, and do leave your phone number for the donor to call you back if they would like to talk further.

Remember that your donors are people who already care about your work. They will be happy to talk with a real person who is working hard to fulfill the organization’s mission.

Do it right now. Pick up the phone and call a donor. Then schedule at least one hour a week to make those calls and “just do it.” Having that true dialog with your donors is where all the magic happens.

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Cultivate Me: One Example

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.

Imagine yourself as one of the guests at your organization’s Point of Entry Event. You’ve had just this one contact with the organization and you are inspired.

Now what?

They didn’t ask you for money. They sent you home with some materials. You take a minute to read them. How interesting. There is an easy-to-read Wish List of all kinds of things they need. There are little items like toothbrushes, shampoo, pots and pans, help in the office once a week. And there are some medium-sized items like old computers, carpeting for the youth room, a van, math tutors. The list goes all the way up to the really big stuff: a new gymnasium, an underwriter for their international conference, a new office building, a properly staffed reading program.

You see that you could actually contribute some of the things on that list, but you are too busy to pick up the phone and call them or you might not want to appear that “forward.” You put away the Wish List and go on to the next activity in your day.

Two days later, you get a phone call from Sue, that nice staff person you met at the tour or lunch meeting. She is thanking you for taking your time to come and asking for your input. “What did you think of our program?” You tell her in a reserved way how impressed you were. You mention that the intercultural studies program was especially appealing. At some point she asks, “Is there any way you could see yourself becoming involved?” You may be thinking about underwriting that international conference. After all, it links to many other interests of yours, yet you don’t want to lead off with something so big. “I notice you need some old computers,” you respond. “I could help you with that.”

Sue is very appreciative and tells you immediately how much they are needed and for what program. The demand has increased so much that the computer lab is now open every evening and there are still people who can’t get the computer time they need. My goodness, you are thinking, my old computers could really make a difference. We’ve upgraded our system at the office and those old ones are actually in the way. I’d be a real hero if I found a good cause to donate them to.

“Would it help if we came to pick them up?” she offers. “I know how happy it will make the people in the computer lab to have them before the next round of classes start.” Before you know it, they have picked up the computers and you are getting a call inviting you to come back and see the expanded computer program in action one evening when it is in full swing. “Feel free to invite anyone else you’d like,” offers that same warm, efficient staff person.

You arrive with your spouse and two work colleagues just to check it out on your way to dinner. You are dazzled. Those old computers that had been cluttering the back room at the office are now front and center, with eager, curious children and their parents clicking away. The head of the computer program, a brainy-looking fellow, happens to be there in the midst of all the action. He can’t thank you enough.

Of course, as part of the evening’s show-and-tell at the computer center, your low-key guide points out the students from the intercultural program, communicating with their international “e-pals.” “It’s just a start,” she says.

“They’re always hungry for more real connections with other cultures.” You go off to dinner with your friends. Everyone is feeling good, and you are looking like the person of the hour. For your friends, this was a pre-Point of Entry Event; for you it was a validation that you picked a winner.

The next week, the same nice staff person calls back to thank you for coming out again and for bringing those friends. “I hope they enjoyed seeing the program,” she says enthusiastically. You find yourself telling her that one of your friends is a teacher and asked if he could learn more. And those work colleagues who came to the center and then to dinner have spread the word to a few others in the international department at the office. They’re wondering if someone from the program could come out to talk with them about what they do. Before you know it, you find yourself checking calendars and arranging a date for a Point of Entry in a Box at your offices, and you’re supplying the lunches!

And so it goes. A one-time visit to a Point of Entry Event and an effective Follow-Up Call lead to the birth of an in-kind gift, a volunteer, an Ambassador and—down the road—a new major donor. This is why we call it the Cultivation Superhighway.