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How to Conquer the Fear of Asking

The fear of asking for a charitable contribution from a complete stranger (or worse, from a close friend) is legitimate. I certainly would not want to do that either. It puts everyone in an uncomfortable position. But if you follow the Benevon Model, by the time you ask a potential donor for money, they will have been cultivated sufficiently to be ready to give. There should be no awkwardness or fear. It will merely be a matter of nudging them gently to do something they had already been thinking about doing.

Most of the fear associated with asking for money has nothing to do with money anyway. It is our fear of asking for anything. There you are at the fancy dinner party, sitting at the round table of ten people, desperately scheming how to have the salt or butter passed to you from the other side of the table. Asking seems like intruding. It seems rude. It seems selfish. From a very young age, we have been taught not to intrude. At Benevon, we call it fear of “please pass the salt.”

When you overlay that fear of asking for anything with our cultural neurosis about money, it is no wonder we all have so much baggage about asking.

In our workshops, we remind our participants that people would rather say yes than no when asked for something. Think of the last time someone asked you for something and you said no. How did it make you feel? Most people feel like they are being mean when they say no. We feel like a much nicer person when we say yes.

So your job, as an asker, is to figure out what you can ask people for that they can naturally say yes to. We say that people can only contribute freely what they have in abundance. Anything else would be sacrificial giving, which is inconsistent with the abundance-based principles of the model.

Make a mental list of a few things which you personally do not feel you have enough of right now. Perhaps you feel you don’t have enough time or money. Now imagine that someone comes to you and asks you, very persuasively, to give them some of your time or money. Although you would like to say yes, if you are true to yourself, you would have to say no.

Now think of a few things that you have just about the right amount of—friends, family, clothes, pillows. If someone were to ask you to give them some of your friends or pillows for a project of interest to you, you would be more likely to say yes.

Finally, make your mental list of those things that you have in abundance. Books, shoes, old sporting goods? If someone were to ask you to give some of those, it might feel as though they were doing you a favor to take them off your hands.

Your job with your donors and potential donors is to discover what it is that they have in abundance, and then to ask them only for that. You are no longer looking for sacrificial donations. You will need to get to know each donor well enough to know that they can easily and naturally say yes to what you will be asking them for.

Even if it means you may get less than you had hoped, you will have left your donors with a positive experience of giving, rather than a negative experience of being pressured to do something they did not authentically want to do.

That way, they will be looking forward to staying in contact with your organization throughout the next year as you deepen your relationship further before asking them to give again.

In the Benevon Model, the key to successful, terror-free asking is the answer to only one question: Is this person ready to be asked? Another way of saying it is: “Have we gotten to know this person enough so that it would feel natural to ask them to make a financial contribution to the organization now? Would asking this person now be nothing more than nudging the inevitable?”

If your answer is anything other than a resounding “yes,” if it feels to you as if it is too soon to ask, then wait. Go back, re-listen, re-involve, re-cultivate, until the person is sufficiently engaged.

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The Glue that Holds it All Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ideal Follow-Up Call person must:

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

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

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Fitting Existing Donors into the Benevon Model

Dealing with Table Overflow at the Ask Event

Q: How do we fit our existing donors into the Benevon structure?

Brian in Maine

A: Existing donors are some of the first people you will want to introduce to the Benevon Model.

First, you need to connect or reconnect to them with a Know-Thy-Donor Program. Let’s say you want to integrate your direct mail donors into the model; take all of those direct mail donors from over a certain number of years (you decide—maybe the past three or five years), and then stratify them by how much they have given.

Next, have a handful of high-level people in the organization (like the executive director, board members, and long-standing volunteers) call those donors to thank them for their loyalty and ask each donor a few specific “Cultivation Interview Questions” over the phone. These are open-ended questions like:

  • How did you come to learn about our organization in the first place?
  • What more do you think we could be doing to involve people like yourself?
  • What advice do you have for us?

Through these interviews you will find out what it is about your work that most interests each donor and why they have continued giving to you. Conclude the call by inviting each donor to a Point of Entry Event. Then follow up and cultivate them further. Over time they might become Ambassadors, who in turn will invite others to Points of Entry.

After you’ve called your top tier of direct mail donors, you’ll have refined which questions to ask and determined your next tier of donors to be contacted. Continue to invite these loyal long-time supporters to privately hosted Points of Entry and follow the model from there.

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Meaningful To-Dos for Board Members

Meaningful To-Dos for Board Members

Here are eight easy and meaningful things for board members to do to advance your organization’s individual giving program:

  1. Speak positively about your organization with the people in their day-to-day lives. Talk about the good work you are doing and share their genuine passion for your work.
  2. Attend a Point of Entry Event at least once a year to update their knowledge of your program and get re-inspired. Give you their honest feedback afterwards.
  3. Be an Ambassador: Host and fill a private Point of Entry for ten or more of their friends or colleagues (or book club, etc.) in their home or office.
  4. Attend one-on-one meetings or small-group CEO Golden Hours with Multiple-Year Giving Society Donors with the executive director. Be prepared to tell why they got involved with the organization.
  5. Make a personal financial gift to your organization annually.
  6. Attend Point of Entry “Conversion” Events (golf tournaments, galas, etc.) wearing a special board member ribbon or nametag and be “on duty” as a proud representative of your organization throughout the event, ever alert to guests who might want more information.
  7. Attend Free Feel-Good Cultivation Events in their “official” capacity as a board member and bring a friend. Genuinely thank and appreciate the guests for all they have given to your organization.
  8. Make brief thank-you calls to recent donors. (Leaving a message is acceptable.)

In addition to doing these eight easy and meaningful things to advance your organization’s individual giving program, here are five valuable and useful roles for development committee members.

  1. Be involved in planning the entire individual giving fundraising system for your organization.
  2. Regularly review the lists of people who have attended Point of Entry Events and offer strategic advice and guidance about additional ways to involve or connect these potential donors (second or third “dates”).
  3. Conduct open-ended telephone interviews with prior donors to gather feedback about what your organization could be doing better.
  4. Ask selected donors or potential donors for financial contributions when they are ready, i.e., after the donors have been sufficiently educated, inspired, and involved.
  5. Host additional private meetings or group cultivation events with major donors as needed.
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How to Think Like a Donor

How to Think Like a Donor

To get insights into how to cultivate a donor, look at what motivates you personally as a donor.

Here is a simple but powerful exercise:

  1. Make a list of the organizations you give money to. Not just the obvious one or two—go a little deeper. Come up with at least five.
  2. Next, take the time to answer the following questions for each contribution you make.

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

      • For how many years have you been giving to the same organizations? Have you increased your giving over the years? What, if anything, have these organizations done over the years that have led to an increase or decrease in your giving?

      • 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?

      • 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?

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

      • Is your name prominently displayed in places that matter to you? On plaques, or in annual reports? Though this may not seem important to you, how would you feel if your name were inadvertently omitted.

      • 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?

      • 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!

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Having a Donor Database You Love

Having a Donor Database You Love

Q: How do you define a “good donor database?”
A: Have you—personally—used it in the last 24 hours?

I clearly recall, way back in 1992, purchasing the first database program for our school with my own money. I knew then that if I was going to be successful as the sole staff member working on fundraising, a great database would be essential. Most of my days were spent sitting at a little desk in front of my computer screen with my headset on, reconfirming Point of Entry guests, making follow-up calls, making phone calls to supporters and donors, and tracking every single conversation in our database.

Years after I left the school, subsequent development directors thanked me for setting up that database and for the quality and detail of my notes, which taught them the importance of entering such critical information.

Rather than regard the database as a burden or annoyance or something to be “managed” by someone who is peripheral to the process, I have always thought of my database as the full-time equivalent of a super-smart staff member or member of my team.

I recommend you design it to be something that you and each team member can rely on as your personal memory bank, diary, or journal.

In other words, consider that your tracking system could be something you love!

Use your database to track Point of Entry guests, information gathered from each question in the follow-up call, cultivation contacts, volunteer involvement, Ambassador activity, Ask Event Table Captains, gifts and pledges, ongoing major gifts cultivation, and one-on-one Asks.

Furthermore, if it is properly secured, easy to use, readily accessible to everyone on your team, and linked to a calendar function, it can become an easy and natural way to communicate updates on donor contacts, manage the next contacts for each donor, and manage your overall cultivation calendar as well.

Here are Benevon’s minimum requirements for your donor tracking software if you are serious about implementing the model.

Tracking System—Minimum Requirements:

  • Has a sufficient notes section for tracking conversations and relationships over time, not just basic contact information and gift history
  • Tracks follow-up call dates, messages left, and what was said on the call
  • Easy to use by everyone on your team
  • Interfaces with your website, so that website information is captured directly into the database
  • Delivers and stores individual and mass emails
  • Provides a log of contacts
  • Built-in tickler system, so that all notes have dates and action items that link to the appropriate date in your daily planner
  • Tracks relationships between people
  • Tracks which events people attended (when invited and by whom)
  • Tracks which mailings/contacts people responded to

To summarize, your tracking system should be the one solid, reliable repository for the chronology of every contact with each donor, potential donor, and volunteer. That is the only way everyone who has access to your database will come to count on this as the sole source for up-to-the-minute information on each donor.

Learn more about Bloomerang for Benevon, a special version of the Bloomerang software that incorporates Benevon’s model for engaging and developing relationships with individual donors.

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Ask Benevon: The Ask Event is Not a First Date

Ask Benevon: The Ask Event is Not a First Date

Q: If you only have two months until your Ask Event, and only half of the people on a Table Captain’s list of invitees have been through a Point of Entry, do they still invite them to the breakfast? Or do they invite them to a Point of Entry instead and then try to invite them to the breakfast in the follow-up call from the Point of Entry? Relatedly: If you have a new Table Captain that hasn’t had a single person on their list come to a Point of Entry, do they invite them to the breakfast or still try to do the Point of Entry first?

 Kimberly in California

A: The only reason to have an Ask Event is to “harvest” all of the good cultivation work you have been doing with the prior year’s Point of Entry guests. The Ask Event is not a substitute for a Point of Entry. Inviting people to the Ask Event as their first exposure to your organization is akin to having first-time guests to your home enter through the back door.

Many nonprofits that attempt to “self-implement” our model, without having a system for developing Ambassadors who fill their Points of Entry, get boxed into a pre-established Ask Event date and then default, out of necessity, to filling that event with traditional Table Captains who dutifully call friends and colleagues to reciprocate prior favors by joining them at their table.

You need a minimum of 50% of your Ask Event guests to be people who have attended a Point of Entry in the prior twelve months. You also want 100% of your Table Captains to have served as Ambassadors in the prior year; this is a key factor in accomplishing the prior goal.

If someone hasn’t invited a single person to a Point of Entry, we would not suggest having them serve as a Table Captain. Engage them in serving as an Ambassador by working to get at least ten people to a Point of Entry and then continue to cultivate them towards being a Table Captain at next year’s Ask Event.

I hope this helps to clarify. Good luck with your event.

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Recognizing Major Donors

Recognizing Major Donors

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.