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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.

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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.