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How to explain the Benevon Model to your board

How can we prepare our board for getting started with the Benevon Model? How do we explain to them what’s different about it?

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.

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Statistics on Giving at the Ask Event

Q: We’re holding our annual luncheon and I’ve been asked what the fundraising statistic is on the typical number or percentage of guests who will actually donate the day of the luncheon. Our percentage is typically 55 to 58%.

Steffi in North Carolina

A: Assuming you have been following the Benevon Model and your annual luncheon meets the other requirements of a Benevon Ask Event, on average you should expect 40 to 50% of the guests at an Ask Event to give. Ten percent will join your Multiple-Year Giving Society and the other 30 to 40% will make a gift at a different level using the fill-in-the-blanks line on the pledge card. This is based on having at least 40% of the guests having attended a private Ambassador-hosted and filled Point of Entry Event and been cultivated with “second dates” prior to attending the Ask Event.

The percentage of Ask Event guests who make a pledge or financial contribution at the Ask Event should be the same as the percentage of these recently cultivated Point of Entry guests in attendance.

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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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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.

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Determining How Much is Enough

Determining How Much is Enough - Success Benevon

We say that attaining sustainable funding requires each nonprofit organization to clarify its specific metrics, timeline, and plan for reaching the goal. Otherwise it will never happen.

To inspire each team to think big, we challenge them to imagine what life would be like at their organization if worrying about funding were no longer an issue. What if the basic day-to-day financial needs were handled and your organization could move onto fulfilling the next level of your mission—developing the programs you know would make a difference, staffing the departments that leverage the greatest results in the community, undergirding your infrastructure to sustain your operations going forward? How would that change the self-image of your organization, the quality of the work, and the outcomes?

What would have to have happened to make that possible? How much money would be in the bank and by when? How many months of operating reserves would it take for your organization to feel secure: three months, one year, two years? How many individual donors would you have? Would you want to have a big endowment?

At the school where I began to develop the Benevon Model, our definition of sustainable funding ultimately included an endowment fund that was large enough to generate in interest enough money to cover the annual operational gap that we struggled to raise each year. This does not mean, however, that after we had funded our endowment, the school no longer needed to raise funds. On the contrary, they worked as hard as ever to raise more funds and to engage the community in their work.

Like your organization’s mission, the mission of the school was broader than just educating its current students. They wanted to dispel myths, build bridges in the community, educate more students, and support their families. Having an endowment that covered much of the annual financial operating gap meant the administrators were not waking up in the middle of the night worrying about closing the school’s doors. Even with a generous endowment, there was still plenty of fundraising and other work to be done to fulfill the school’s larger mission.

Quantifying Your Legacy
Each group uses different metrics to track their progress in fulfilling their objectives. Some define sustainability as an endowment large enough to throw off in earnings enough money to cover their annual operating shortfall or gap. Their ultimate metric might be to have a $20 million endowment that will generate $1 million a year in income.

Other groups define sustainability as a reserve fund or pot of money set aside that they can get their hands on when they need it. They may decide, for example, that if they had a reserve fund large enough to cover one year’s operations, they could manage the uncertainties of their multiple funding sources year by year. That one year’s reserve fund becomes their metric.

Some groups define sustainability as having a higher percentage of their revenue coming from individual donors. Instead of having 95% of their revenue coming from government grants, 4% from corporations and foundations, and 1% from individuals, their metric may be to increase the 1% from individual giving to 5%.

Still other groups define sustainability as a percentage increase in the number of individual donors they now have, for example, increasing their current number of 200 major donors by 100% to 400 major donors. Of course, each group would define “major” donor for itself.

Another metric might be increasing the raw number of individual donors by a certain amount, for example, adding 100 new major donors per year, or reaching a total of 500 donors. Groups might put specific conditions on these goals, such as requiring that each donor has an ongoing open pledge to contribute at least $1,000 a year for each of the next five years. Their metric is the number of new donors at these levels.

In addition to establishing hard financial and donor metrics, we encourage each group to quantify their goals for softer intangibles like broader community awareness, more people requesting to become board members or volunteers, favorable media coverage, and more support from foundations and businesses. For many groups, these softer benefits are more valuable than the money raised.

Far and away, the number-one benefit our groups report from implementing the Benevon Model is that they are no longer the “best-kept secret” in town. People know them now. One behavioral health organization we work with is located in a rural community with a population of only 2,500 people. Yet people in the town did not know what was really going on inside their building. By the end of their first year using the model, all that had changed. They now had business support, favorable media coverage, and many passionate advocates championing their work at public meetings and the state legislature at budget time. Those results are hard to quantify.

We also understand that each organization’s metrics for attaining sustainable funding may change over time. As they achieve one goal, such as having a reserve fund of a specific amount, they may decide next to embark on a capital campaign or build an endowment, goals which may have been unthinkable until now.

Here are the specific questions to guide this important discussion with your group:

  1. How will we quantify our legacy of sustainable funding for this organization?
    • Short-term goals for the next five years?
    • Long-term goals for the next 10 to 15 years?
    • Be sure to include in these goals specific metrics, for example:
      • $25 million endowment
      • Reserve fund of one year’s operating expenses
      • 20% increase in individual donors
      • Diversifying funding sources by increasing funding from individual donors by 20%
  2. What would be the impact of attaining this legacy?
    • On the people we serve?
    • On our community?

The legacy you want to leave needs to be crystal clear before you begin to implement the systematic approach provided by the Benevon Model. Take the time you need to quantify—and get excited about—what sustainable funding would look like for your organization. You will need it to inspire your group as you embark on the work ahead!

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Five Critical Characteristics of a Financially Self-Sustaining Nonprofit

Five Critical Characteristics of a Financially Self-Sustaining Nonprofit

Before the New Year’s Resolution season has passed, consider that 2018 could be the year to get your organization on the path to financial sustainability. This future is possible for your favorite nonprofit organization if you are willing to do the work to attain it.  Here’s what it would look like:

  1. Your organization has a self-generating group of enthusiastic individual donors who understand and value your work and mission and who consider it consistent with their own values and mission in life. They regard their contributions to your organization as a bold step toward the fulfillment of their own purpose.
  1. These loyal donors understand your work and freely choose to pledge their ongoing financial support by making unrestricted gifts for your operational needs. A subset of these donors also gives for capital projects and endowment. Rather than developing separate categories of donors to give to operations, capital, and endowment, this ever-increasing, single pool of loyal donors support all of these needs. These individual donors and supporters also advocate on your behalf at the legislature, invest in the continuing education of your staff, or offer summer jobs for your students. They are there to help fund a one-time special need for a family or community. They care that much!
  1. Your donors engage others naturally by consistently talking about their favorite nonprofit organization with their friends and colleagues. They do this not because they have to sell tickets or raise dollars before the end of the year, but because they are genuinely excited about the organization’s work, and they want to tell others about it.
  1. As time goes on, a ripple effect takes hold. Instead of board members needing to ask their friends for money, people who have gotten to know your organization over time begin to come to you and ask how they can join your board or help you in other ways. What began as a mere fundraising program has become an ongoing operating system for engaging and developing relationships with individuals who will sustain your work and, in turn, engage others to do the same.
  1. Far beyond being your bread and butter, these loyal and passionate supporters are your oxygen, breathing life and vitality into your nonprofit organization, regularly refreshing your board, your volunteers, your staff, and keeping your organization connected to the current needs of the community. No longer the “best-kept secret in town,” your organization is well on the way to fulfilling its mission with a strong cadre of supporters who are delighted to be involved. For them, your work is their work.