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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.

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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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Benevon Wish List

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: We don’t have a wish list for in-kind items. What should we be sharing on tours? Do guests need an in-kind option to give to before they want to do more? We do get lots of questions about what kind of items we need in our housing (we build affordable housing).

Sarah in Minnesota

A: The Wish List is one of the two handouts people should receive at your Point of Entry (the other handout is the Fact Sheet). Your Wish List should highlight about ten non-monetary items that someone could contribute to benefit your organization.

We never want to list a dollar amount or ask for funding for a specific need on the Wish List. Short of that, you should consider any other volunteer role or tangible item that would truly make a difference for your organization!

The first item on your Wish List should be the volunteer role of serving as an Ambassador. This means hosting a private, invitation-only Point of Entry Event for ten or more guests. Given that all Point of Entry guests should be invited by Ambassadors, everyone at the Point of Entry will have a good role model for what it is to be an Ambassador. They will also be reminded during the event and in the follow-up call that being an Ambassador is the very best way people can help if they are inspired by what they learn at the Point of Entry.

To choose which items to include on your Wish List of ten items, it’s a good idea to interview your program staff, asking what they most need. While you might think of “in-kind” donations strictly as household items, children’s books, or something else that people have tucked away in their houses, your wish list can go beyond that. For example, consider items like:

  • Bus passes/transportation cards
  • A donated meal for a weekly support group that you sponsor
  • Office supplies (printer paper or other supplies, or even new carpeting or furniture)
  • Carpet or air-conditioning for your building

Be sure that the items on your Wish List are things you really need—because you will get them! And yes, as you implied, often an in-kind gift is a starter gift from a potential major donor. Take good care of these donors, inviting them back to see the difference their in-kind gift has made.

Finally, remember to refresh your Wish List two or three times a year as your wishes are granted.

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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.”