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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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The Benevon Model in Small Communities

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: Our city has a population of fewer than 100,000. There are only a handful of people with significant money. How can we be successful with the Benevon Model?

Tara in Colorado

A: Start by getting to know the donors you already have. Aim to deepen your relationship with them, by inviting them to a private Point of Entry Event hosted by a board member, for example. Aim to have some of these longtime supporters become Ambassadors who host their own private Points of Entry.

Let these existing supporters, very organically, lead you to the next group of interested people. Then follow the steps in the Benevon Model.

Rather than starting by identifying the few wealthy people (who may not have any natural connection to your organization anyway), work to engage your existing supporters first and trust in the power of their relationships and passion for your mission to fan out into the broader community.

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How’s Your Oxygen Level?

Oxygen: a colorless and odorless gas that people need to breathe.

For nonprofits, this essential element comes in the form of engaged individuals.

Without a base of truly passionate and committed individual supporters, no nonprofit organization will ever be fully sustainable.

I believe that nonprofits exist at the behest of the community. That 501c3 tax exempt status is not a right, it’s a privilege. Way back when each nonprofit got started, someone said: we need that service in our community so much that we as individuals are going to pay more taxes so that organizations providing those vital services don’t have to pay taxes.

As soon as a nonprofit organization forgets that fact and stops focusing intentionally on engaging the individuals in their community at whose behest they serve, they have moved off the path of long-term sustainability.

It’s not about the money. It’s about the engagement of those individuals in the real work of the organization.

It’s about having a steady stream of individuals who could genuinely move you to tears in two minutes with an authentic, compelling story or personal experience of why your work is needed.

Like the community organizer at one of our advocacy organizations who knew just the three questions to ask me to take me back to a time in my own life when I had witnessed or experienced injustice and had failed to take action.

It’s about the authentic, continually “refreshed” engagement of individuals who breathe so much life into your organization that, even if they never personally need your services, they are passionate about that need being met in the community.

It’s about being able to leave your organization knowing that dedicated people are looking after it wisely, growing it appropriately, and above all, holding the organization true to its main purpose: fulfilling its overarching mission.

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Engaging Your Board in the Benevon Process

“I’ll do anything to help you—except fundraising!”

How often have you heard this from a board member? Most board members have been around the block a time or two and they presume “fundraising” refers to what Benevon calls “strong-arming the Rolodex.”

Staff must tell board members, from the outset, that there is no requirement in our model for any board member to ever ask anyone for money.

The permission-based Benevon Model suggests three roles for board members. Each of these roles is entirely optional and honors your board members’ commitment to your mission:

  1. Serve as an Ambassador by hosting a private Point of Entry Event for a group of ten or more friends or colleagues. Once your board members have attended your sizzling Point of Entry Event, they will this powerful one-hour event to educate and inspire people, without ever talking about fundraising. ‌‌

    ‌If your board members did nothing more than host one Point of Entry Event each year, they would have made an enormous contribution to the future of the organization.
  2. Thank your recent happy donors. Give board members a list of individual donors from the prior month to call and thank. Leaving a voicemail message is permissible. It won’t take long for board members to realize the positive impression this call makes on each donor who may never have received any personal communication from the organization, let alone from a board member!

    ‌Again, not all board members will want to do this, but once a few members report on the experience at the next monthly board meeting, others may offer to jump in.
  3. Give money themselves. It will come as no surprise to you or your board that your funders and donors will assume that everyone on the board makes an annual financial contribution. While there is no prescribed amount expected in our model, 100% board giving is a requirement.

    ‌Once you have established your Multiple-Year Giving Society, these will be the same levels you can suggest to your board members, without pressuring them in any way to give at any level.

    ‌The more your board members can experience the permission-based power of the Benevon Model firsthand, the more readily they will introduce others and get more involved themselves. Soon they will be thanking you and saying “this has helped me remember why I got involved with this organization in the first place. It makes me proud to be a board member here.”
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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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Increasing Recurring Monthly Donors

Ask Benevon: The Ask Event is Not a First Date

We have been following the Benevon Model for years and are preparing for our Ask Event. One of our fundraising initiatives over the past year is increasing monthly recurring donors. How does this fit into the Ask event?

Beth in North Carolina

At the Ask Event, the first thing you are asking for are pledges to join your Multiple-Year Giving Society with a minimum gift of $1,000 pledged for five years. When you follow up with those donors within 48 hours of the Ask Event, you should be asking how they would like to pay their pledge. A monthly payment option may work very well for some of these donors, while others will want to make one payment annually.

The other option for giving at the Ask Event is the fill-in-the-blanks line, where donors can commit to any amount for any number of years. While follow-up with these donors isn’t required, we highly recommend calling anyone who makes a significant gift, especially if they have pledged for more than one year. You could absolutely ask these donors if they’d be interested in setting up their gift as a monthly donation when you make that follow-up call!

We don’t recommend stressing monthly giving as an option on the pledge card, as we have found too many options can lead donors to be confused or uncertain what the best giving option may be. Since your first priority is to bring donors into the Multiple-Year Giving Society, we wouldn’t want to steer them in another direction with the option of a monthly gift.

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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.