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Five Tips for Cultivating “Expiring” Donors

It happens. Five years ticks by quickly. Before you know it, the wonderful donors who made those generous five-year pledges (of $1,000 or more per year) to join your Multiple-Year Giving Society have just made their third year’s pledge payments and no one from your organization has gotten to know them yet. In fact, they are still complete strangers to you.

Take this as a serious wake-up call and get to work. Set up your donor cultivation plan now, starting with the donors who are nearest to the end of their five-year pledge payoff cycle. If you don’t get to know them and cultivate them systematically now, you will lose most of them at the end of the five years, if not before.

I’m always surprised when people tell us they don’t want to “bother” these loyal Multiple-Year Giving Society Donors. They think they should invoice them dutifully each year, call them at the start of the sixth year, and ask them to re-up on their pledge. That is precisely the opposite of what is needed.

The whole purpose of having donors who make five-year pledges at this level is not for your organization’s financial security. After all, if a donor does not pay their annual pledge, you are not going to take legal action against them. Rather, the purpose of the giving society is to identify those donors who want to be closer to the organization. These donors did not have to make a five-year pledge. They could have opted to give the same amount of money one year at a time. By joining your giving society they are communicating something critical: they want to give to your organization, they want to stay connected to you over the next five years, and they expect you to give them updates, ask for their advice, and include them in major milestones in the life of your organization.

In other words, you should interpret their five-year pledge as their permission to stay connected with them.

We say you should have two personal contacts per year with each donor in your giving society, plus attendance at one Free Feel-Good Cultivation Event. If you have fifty donors, that would be 100 personal contacts. A telephone conversation (not just leaving a message) counts as a contact. But the best contacts are one-on-one and in person, focusing on the donor’s particular area of interest.

Even if your donors are in their third year of their pledge cycle and you have never reached out to them to talk with them or meet them in person, it is not too late. But you need to get going quickly. Here’s how:

  1. Invite a small group of five to seven Multiple-Year Giving Society Donors to a special, private “CEO Golden Hour” with your CEO and board chair in the CEO’s office. Offer a full one-hour Point of Entry Event either before or afterwards. This is a mission-focused event (not merely a nice social event), like a group of five donors having a light lunch.
    • Start the hour by having the board member and CEO thank them for their gifts and give specific examples of what their gifts have made possible.
    • Have a testimonial speaker from one of the programs that benefited from their gifts talk about how your organization changed their life for the better.
    • Resist the temptation to share only the positives. Have your CEO and board members share some of the actual challenges they are facing as well. These donors need to hear your needs and know that their money is making a difference—and will continue to be needed after their first pledge is paid off.
  2. Follow up within two to three days to get their feedback and ask if they would like to serve as an Ambassador by hosting a private Point of Entry for ten or more of their friends or colleagues in your offices, their home or workplace. Tell them you can bring the Point of Entry to their home or workplace if needed. If they prefer not to be an Ambassador, how else might they like to become involved?
  3. After they serve as a successful Ambassador, invite them to host a table at your upcoming Ask Event and fill their table with the same friends and colleagues they invited to the Point of Entry.
  4. If they are not able to come to one of your private lunch events, find another way to meet with them in person, ideally at your offices or program site where they can see your work in action.
    • Offer to meet with them one-on-one or arrange a private meeting with your CEO if appropriate.
    • At the very least, talk with them on the phone and ask them what interested them in giving to your organization.
    • Establish enough of a personal connection so that you will have something to refer back to in future contacts.
    • Set a date for a subsequent contact after each contact.
    • Do not close out their record—always schedule a next step.
  5. Before your next Ask Event, you can approach a small group of these donors to ask them to increase or extend their pledges. For example, you could tell them you are looking for five donors who will each extend their pledges for five more years or increase from $1,000 a year to $5,000 a year as a leadership gift to inspire other donors to do the same thing next year (either at your Ask Event or in a follow-up phone campaign to “expiring” donors who do not attend the Ask Event).

Above all, reach out to these donors now, by telephone. Do not wait until the next event, the next “right time.” Include them in your organization’s family right away. Make sure they know how much you value them. And vow, in the future, to cultivate your five-year pledge donors starting the day after they make their pledge, rather than waiting until their pledge is close to “expiring” before you get to know them.

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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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Recognizing Multiple-Year Giving Society Donors

Inviting Guests to the Point of Entry

Q: We are working on our recognition plan for our Multiple-Year Giving Society Donors. What are your thoughts on giving thank-you gifts or offering benefits for each level?

Katherine in Colorado

A: We do not recommend any type of premium or special benefits for membership. You want to focus your thanking and cultivation of these donors on mission-focused activities. When someone joins your giving society newly, it would be appropriate for them to receive a small token of appreciation that highlights the impact of their gift. For example, a framed picture of a piece of land they helped to protect, or the hand print of a child with the words “thank you” written in a child’s handwriting.

These donors are true supporters of your mission and work and would not be looking for perks in return for their support. What they want is to be closer to your mission and to be reminded of the difference they are making with their gift. The best way to do this is to focus your cultivation and thanking of this donor on personal, mission-focused contacts. These can range from phone calls, emails, or face-to-face visits from your organization’s leadership, to Free Feel-Good Cultivation Events, where you will have special ribbons on their name tags indicating that they are a member of your giving society.

You can always ask each donor directly how they would like to be involved or communicated. That is the best way to find out the type of recognition that would be most meaningful to each donor.

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Choosing Units of Service

Q: We want to structure our giving units based on the Benevon suggestion of $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 annually. 

Looking at our individual giving over the last two years, only 4% of our donors have given above $1,000 annually. In this situation, are the units of $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 too aggressive?

Richie in Colorado

A: We have a formula for determining your units of service:

Look at your organization’s single largest, unrestricted gift from an individual or a family foundation in the past two years.

  • If that gift was less than $10,000, you should be using the levels $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 for five years.
  • If the largest gift was $10,000 or more, you should be using $1,000, $10,000, and $25,000 for five years.

While either of these options may sound too large given where you are now with your fundraising, you should keep in mind that the giving society is a pathway to building a major gifts program. The levels are intentionally high so that you can grow into them as you engage more people in your organization and grow your donor base.

You may only have people join at the $1,000 level in either scenario in your first year, but some of those very same donors will increase to those higher levels even in their first five years if you cultivate them and bring them closer to your organization and your mission.

If at least 40% of your Ask Event guests have attended a Point of Entry Event in the prior year, you should expect 10% of the Ask Event guests to join the giving society.

Also remember (or see the sample pledge form on page 186 of Terry’s newest book, The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second  Edition) that there are two additional boxes on the pledge form beyond the three larger giving levels:

  • Box 4 is a fill-in-the-blanks box where donors can tell you how much they want to give and for how many years. This box is where your smaller donors can make their gifts or where larger donors can make gifts for less than five years.
  • Box 5 says: “Please contact me. I have other thoughts to share.”
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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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Creating a Major Donor Pipeline

Q: In the Benevon Model, are there any resources you can share for a creating a pipeline between our annual donors and major donors? We are beginning discussions about how to honor and engage long-term supporters.

Elodie in Minnesota

A: The Benevon Model is a pipeline-filling system for major gifts. In addition to using the model to engage new people who have no prior connection to your work, this process is also a method for further engaging and cultivating your existing donors.

Many groups have a base of donors from prior fundraising events or annual direct mail appeals. While these faithful supporters have been sending in an annual donation or contributing at an event each year, it’s possible that little else has been done to further engage them in the mission.

You can use the Benevon Model to launch a campaign to get to know your donors and to evaluate who would be prospects to become major donors down the road.

Begin by stratifying your list of donors based on the amount they have given. Start with the donors who give the most each year and have done so for the longest period of time.

Identify the best person to serve as an Ambassador for each individual. This should be the person who knows the donor best, and who agrees to personally invite the donor to attend a Point of Entry Event that they are hosting. The relationship between this Ambassador and the donor will make all the difference in your ability to get the donor to a Point of Entry! Tell them that you are hosting these one-hour events to showcase the impact of all that you, and how their support over the years has made a difference.

Once they attend a Point of Entry with the Ambassador who invited them, make the follow-up call within two to three days. Listen for what the person learned and what interested them about your work. Find an immediate next step to further engage this person. Perhaps they want to serve as an Ambassador and host their own Point of Entry Event!

For others, it might be attending a small group meeting with your CEO and other donors to learn more about your current gaps and vision for the future. Make it personal and tied to that individual’s interest in your mission. Keep cultivating until you know the person is ready to be asked. Some donors will take just a few cultivation contacts while others may need several contacts before they are truly ready to be asked.

When the person is ready to be asked, invite them to become part of your Multiple-Year Giving Society by making a commitment of at least $1,000 for five years. This can be done one-on-one or at your Ask Event, whatever works best for each donor.

This five-year pledge gives you even more time and permission to further engage that donor. It’s not just about invoicing them for five years and calling them back in year six to re-up. It’s an opportunity to build a deeper relationship with each donor. Eventually these same donors will be prospects for larger major gifts, capital, and even endowment.