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Assessing Board Engagement: Ten Tough Questions

Leaning Too Heavily on Your Board

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.

How does your board stack up? Here is a series of questions that will get to the truth about how you are doing at involving your board. Write down your answers to each question below.

  1. When it comes to fundraising, what are your biggest concerns about your board? What more would you like your board members to be doing? What would it take for your board to more closely resemble your image of the “ideal” board?
  2. What percentage of your total board members would you rate as truly passionate about your mission? Do the math. The sooner you tell the truth about this percentage, the sooner you can get to work.
  3. What percentage of your total board members understand the Benevon Model and are eager to participate in its implementation (not just how many have heard of the model or nod their heads pleasantly when you discuss Point of Entry Events and the Ask Event)? Rather, what percentage truly understand the power of the Benevon Model to build long-term sustainable funding, which is something most board members would love to leave as a legacy?
  4. What percentage of total board members have attended your organization’s Point of Entry Event? Even if board members think they know everything there is to know about your organization, they will learn something new and personally experience the power of your mission. Tell them in advance that you need their advice and feedback.
  5. What percentage of your board members have invited others to attend Point of Entry Events? Some groups make this a standard part of board participation, going so far as to have board members sign an agreement to participate at a certain level, for instance, to attend at least one Point of Entry Event per year, or to have a minimum number of guests throughout the year, or to become an official Ambassador, filling one Point of Entry with at least ten guests.
  6. What percentage of your board members have been involved in thanking donors? What have they said about it afterwards? Do you give them an opportunity to share these experiences at board meetings?
  7. What percentage of your board members give money to the organization, personally? Your goal here should be 100% participation with no minimum dollar requirement.
  8. Have you completed a Cultivation Interview with each board member once a year? These simple Cultivation Interview Questions (Chapter 9) are very powerful.‌‌

    ‌If your CEO and board chair were to do an annual Cultivation Interview with each of your board members, that would send a message that each board member is very important to your organization. Cultivation Interviews give your board members an opportunity to talk to you and, even more importantly, give you an opportunity to listen to them, which again sends the message that you value them.‌‌

    ‌‌‌Furthermore, if you pay close attention to what they are telling you in these annual interviews, you will see what has changed in their life circumstances and priorities in the past year, what lights them up most about your work, and how you can involve them in precisely those areas, just as you would cultivate a major donor.
  9. What is your plan to increase or retread your board members’ passion?‌‌‌‌

    ‌This new level of engagement for each board member isn’t going to happen automatically. It takes someone to drive it, step by step. Just as you would develop a cultivation plan for each major donor, you need a similar step-by-step plan for cultivating each board member.‌‌‌‌

    ‌This will be a series of personalized contacts, each focusing on the board member’s particular area of interest, which you will know well. Each subsequent contact is driven by the board member’s request during the prior contact.
  10. Do you have an annual board fundraising retreat where each board member signs an annual board agreement, outlining the options and requirements for participation?
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It’s Counterintuitive

It’s Counterintuitive

People refer to many aspects of the Benevon Model as counterintuitive. Why is that?

They point out seeming inconsistencies like:

  1. Not asking for money at a Point of Entry Event once you have educated and inspired people about your work.
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  2. Having a Wish List at a Point of Entry Event if the model says you cannot ask for anything there.‌
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  3. Leaving a voicemail message when you are trying to get one-on-one telephone feedback.‌
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  4. Having a free fundraising event where the guests are told in advance that they do not need to give money.‌

It is true. Each of these points—as well as many others—about the Benevon Model seem to run counter to our intuition, yet in working with more than 5,000 nonprofit teams and tracking the data closely, these are based on what works. The common thread is that they each leave the donor in the driver’s seat.

Let’s revisit each point, looking at it from the donor’s point of view.

  1. Not asking for money at a Point of Entry Event after you have educated and inspired people about your work.

    ‌Just because someone is inspired and educated doesn’t mean they have had the time to digest the information or ask the questions they would need to have answered before they could become involved long-term.

    ‌If we were to ask for money at the Point of Entry, the entire process would be collapsed into a one-step, modified strong-arm approach, which leaves the donor feeling like a victim of a “bait-and-switch,” well before they have even had the opportunity to absorb what they have learned and let you know what they think of your organization.

  2. Having a Wish List at a Point of Entry Event if the model says you cannot ask for anything there.

    ‌The Wish List is designed to connect people to the day-to-day needs of your program and to remind them that, in the face of the wonderful Point of Entry Event they are attending, you still have many unmet needs.
    ‌‌ ‌
    ‌‌‌The Wish List is a handout for each guest and is not discussed as part of the program. It is not an Ask. It is also a touchstone for the Follow-Up Call after the Point of Entry, when you ask people, “Is there any way you could see yourself getting involved with us?” Note that the first item on your Wish List should always be Ambassadors: short-term volunteers who agree to host and fill a private Point of Entry with ten or more people.

  3. Leaving a voicemail message when you are trying to get one-on-one telephone feedback.

    ‌Of course you would prefer to reach the person and speak in person, but if you have tried that with no success, it is perfectly acceptable today to leave a voicemail message. After all, you told the guest at the end of the Point of Entry Event that you would like to call to get their feedback in a few days. They filled out a contact card at your Point of Entry and gave you their preferred phone number. Therefore, you may leave a message just as you would call a friend or business associate and leave a detailed message on their voicemail.

  4. Having a free fundraising “Ask Event” where the guests are told in advance that they do not need to give money.

    ‌This is the ultimate in fundraising “permission.” Guests are asked to come to the event after attending a Point of Entry Event and being cultivated personally leading up to the Ask Event. Be careful never to use your Ask Event as a substitute for a Point of Entry.

  5. In order to attain our metric of having 10% of the guests join the Multiple-Year Giving Society, a minimum of 40% of the Ask Event guests must have attended a private, Ambassador-hosted and filled Point of Entry in the prior year.

    ‌These formulas should be met without any need to pressure guests to give.

For more counterintuitive aspects of the Benevon Model, read The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second Edition.

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Are We Ready to Have an Ask Event?

Are We Ready to have an Ask Event?

Q: What should be our biggest consideration in deciding if we are ready to put on an Ask Event?
Andrea in Georgia

A: Your biggest concern needs to be the number of people that attended your private, Ambassador-hosted Point of Entry Events so far. The success of the Ask Event will depend on having a minimum of 40% of the guests attend a prior Point of Entry Event. We call this the 40% critical mass rule, and it is not hard to achieve.

Furthermore, you should aim to exceed 40%. Of course, the higher the percentage of guests at your Ask Event who have been cultivated through the first two steps of the model, the better. Many groups we work with already know that 50-80% of their Ask Event guests have been cultivated sufficiently so that they will arrive at the Ask Event predisposed to giving.

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Key Metric #4

Key Metric #4

Think you already know what the Benevon Model is? Think again!

We have distilled five key metrics to ensure your success. Here’s the fourth one:

Minimum of 40% of Ask Event guests have attended a Point of Entry Event in the prior 12 months

Answer these questions to see how your organization is doing at meeting this fourth key metric:

  1. Before you set your goal for the number of guests at your Ask Event, do you know how many private, Ambassador-hosted Points of Entry you will need to have to ensure your success with this metric?

    ‌Assume that 50% of Point of Entry guests will be “blessed and released” in the follow-up call. If you have 200 Point of Entry guests attending Ambassador-hosted Points of Entry, you will likely end up with 100 whom you cultivate further. These are the 100 that are invited to the Ask Event by the same Ambassador that hosted their Point of Entry Event.
  1. Do you encourage successful Ambassadors to host more than one Point of Entry Event in a year in order to ensure their success in having at least 40% of their Ask Event guests be prior Point of Entry attendees?

    ‌If you have already had an Ask Event, have you calculated what percentage of your guests had attended a Point of Entry in the year prior to that Ask Event?

    ‌Do not count guests who attended Points of Entry more than one year prior to the Ask Event—these must be well-cultivated recent guests!
  1. Do you provide your Ambassadors who agree to become Table Captains with a list of their prior Point of Entry guests whom you have been cultivating?
  1. Do you give these Ambassadors a script or talking points to use when inviting their prior Point of Entry guests to join them at their table at your Ask Event? See Chapter 15 of The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second Edition.

Once your team successfully meets this fourth key metric, you will never need to default to asking Table Captains to fill their tables with “new” people.

Many organizations aim to have 80% or more of their Ask Event guests be this year’s prior Point of Entry attendees and they raise far more money at their Ask Event. There is a direct correlation!

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Ask Benevon: The Ask Event is Not a First Date

Ask Benevon: The Ask Event is Not a First Date

Q: If you only have two months until your Ask Event, and only half of the people on a Table Captain’s list of invitees have been through a Point of Entry, do they still invite them to the breakfast? Or do they invite them to a Point of Entry instead and then try to invite them to the breakfast in the follow-up call from the Point of Entry? Relatedly: If you have a new Table Captain that hasn’t had a single person on their list come to a Point of Entry, do they invite them to the breakfast or still try to do the Point of Entry first?

 Kimberly in California

A: The only reason to have an Ask Event is to “harvest” all of the good cultivation work you have been doing with the prior year’s Point of Entry guests. The Ask Event is not a substitute for a Point of Entry. Inviting people to the Ask Event as their first exposure to your organization is akin to having first-time guests to your home enter through the back door.

Many nonprofits that attempt to “self-implement” our model, without having a system for developing Ambassadors who fill their Points of Entry, get boxed into a pre-established Ask Event date and then default, out of necessity, to filling that event with traditional Table Captains who dutifully call friends and colleagues to reciprocate prior favors by joining them at their table.

You need a minimum of 50% of your Ask Event guests to be people who have attended a Point of Entry in the prior twelve months. You also want 100% of your Table Captains to have served as Ambassadors in the prior year; this is a key factor in accomplishing the prior goal.

If someone hasn’t invited a single person to a Point of Entry, we would not suggest having them serve as a Table Captain. Engage them in serving as an Ambassador by working to get at least ten people to a Point of Entry and then continue to cultivate them towards being a Table Captain at next year’s Ask Event.

I hope this helps to clarify. Good luck with your event.

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The Art of Blessing and Releasing

The Art of Blessing and Releasing

“Blessing and Releasing” people who are not interested in becoming more involved with your organization is one of the many counter-intuitive aspects of the Benevon Model that will leave guests feeling respected and more favorably towards your organization.

At Step 2: The Follow-Up Call, many Point of Entry Event guests may have a hard time telling you directly that they are not interested in becoming involved, even though that is their preference. They do not want you to think they are mean and uncaring.

Therefore, it is critical that the person making each Follow-Up Call listens carefully to read the signals from a guest who is trying to tell you “No.”

What might these signals look like? They include hesitating, being polite but not forthcoming with any suggestions or responses, being quiet or noncommittal.

If you are listening closely during the Follow-Up Call, you will start to develop radar for those guests who are nicely asking you to “bless and release” them.

However, even if the person does not want to become involved, before you bless and release them, don’t forget to ask them the last question in the Five-Step Follow-Up Call: “Is there anyone else you would suggest we invite to another______ (Point of Entry Event) like the one you attended?” If they give you a name, ask, “May I ask you to contact the person (or group) first to let them know I will be calling?”  Any suggestions, names, or ideas they have given you need to be acted on immediately and, in turn, reported back to them quickly.

Thank them for their time and ask them to keep your organization in mind, and then put a note in their file in your database saying you have blessed and released them.

Do not put them on your mailing lists or attempt to contact them further. In the long run, they will respect you a lot more for valuing their time and involvement in other organizations.

If you do not connect with the initial Point of Entry Event guest:

  • Leave one phone message and send one email message offering to arrange a time to talk.
  • If you do not hear back, leave one more phone message.
  • Then note in your database that you have blessed and released this person.
  • Do not put this guest on your mailing list or follow up with them in any way after this, unless they request it.
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Benevon’s Key Metric #2: Ensuring an Abundance of Ambassadors

The Art of Blessing and Releasing

Think you already know what the Benevon Model is? Think again!

We have distilled five key metrics to ensure your success. Here’s the second one:

Minimum of one new volunteer Ambassador is generated from the follow-up calls after each Point of Entry Event.

Answer these questions to see how your organization is doing at meeting this second key metric:

  1. Was each guest invited to the Point of Entry by an Ambassador with whom they have a pre-existing relationship?
  2. Does each guest know in advance that they will be receiving a follow-up call from your Team Leader to give their feedback?
  3. Does the Ambassador host say, at the start of the Point of Entry, “I am an Ambassador for _________ (organization), which means I am a volunteer who helps spread the word by hosting a _________ (Point of Entry Event) like this. As we go through the next hour together, please be thinking of any other individuals or groups of people in your life who might want to learn more about our organization. I hope you will become an Ambassador”?
  4. Does the Team Leader have enough of a speaking role at the Point of Entry to ensure the guests will remember them and take their follow-up call?
  5. At the end of the Point of Entry Event, does the Ambassador use the following script?“_________ (Team Leader) will be calling each of you in the next few days to get your feedback. Please accept her/his call. If you were inspired by what you’ve seen today, the best way you can help us is by telling others and inviting them to a similar _________ (Point of Entry Event).

    “If you would like to invite others or host a session like this for a group of your own friends or colleagues, please let _________ know that when she calls you. My hope is that, after what you’ve seen today, you will consider becoming an Ambassador. That’s the very best way you can help us.

    Thank you all and have a great day.”

  6. Immediately following the Point of Entry, do you meet with your Visionary Leader to review the names of each guest to see if there are some guests that should be called by the Visionary Leader rather than the Team Leader?
  7. Has your Team Leader set aside enough time to make the follow-up calls two to three days after the Point of Entry Event? Allow 15 minutes per call. If you do not reach the guest, leave one voicemail message and send an email requesting the best time for a call. If you do not hear back within five days, call again. If you need to leave a message, let them know you won’t call back after this. Tell them you’d still appreciate getting their feedback and ask them to call you.
  8. When a Point of Entry guest says they want to become an Ambassador and host a private Point of Entry, are you prepared with possible dates and an explanation of how the process works? Have you scheduled your next call with this new Ambassador to make a plan for filling their Point of Entry?
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Inviting Guests to the Point of Entry

Inviting Guests to the Point of Entry

Q: We are starting our Point of Entry this Friday as a soft start with a few select guests. I am wondering if you have an email that we could use with some key points for our invitation to our guests.

Jennifer in Montana

A: In the Benevon Model, each Point of Entry Event is a private event that is hosted and filled with ten or more guests by a volunteer Ambassador. Ambassadors are board members, volunteers, donors, staff, or parents of students at your school who are passionate about sharing the work of your organization with others in the community by inviting them to a private Point of Entry.

Since you are just getting started with Point of Entry Events, we would recommend that you begin by identifying potential Ambassadors and inviting them to your first few Point of Entry Events. Once they’ve seen the program, they will be able to commit to hosting their own Point of Entry with a full understanding of what that entails. Look for people who are passionate and who follow through on what they say they will do! Reach out personally, by phone or face to face, to invite them to see something new that you’re doing to get the word out about your organization. Stress that this event is not a fundraiser and they will not be asked for money, but that you are going to make a follow-up phone call after the event to get their feedback. Tell them you are hoping they will be interested in hosting something similar in the future for a group of their own.

Once they’ve attended the Point of Entry, in the follow-up call, which happens two to three days later, ask if they would be willing to serve as an Ambassador, hosting and filling a future Point of Entry with ten or more guests. If they say yes, you will work with them to identify their guest list and coach them to invite their guests personally, just like the invitation the Ambassador received to their initial Point of Entry.

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Benevon’s #1 Key Metric

Benevon’s #1 Key Metric

Think you already know what the Benevon Model is? Think again! We have distilled five key metrics critical to your success.

Here’s the first one:
Minimum of two sizzling Point of Entry Events per month, each hosted and filled (with ten or more guests) by an Ambassador.

Answer these questions to see how your organization is doing at meeting this first metric:

  1. Do you have at least two Point of Entry Events per month?
  2. Is each Point of Entry a private, invitation-only event, hosted and filled by a board member, volunteer, or someone from the broader community? In the Benevon Model, a Point of Entry Event is not:
    • An open house that you post in the newspaper and online
    • A recruitment event for new volunteers or new students for your school
    • A presentation at a local civic group, like Rotary
  3. Does the Ambassador have a personal relationship with each of the guests? Relationships are the glue that holds the whole model together. People who agree to serve as a host for the day at an open-to-the-public event or a Table Captain do not qualify as Ambassadors.
  4. Do you open each Point of Entry with a welcome from the Ambassador who explains that she is an Ambassador for the organization, shares her personal story or connection to your mission, and asks guests to consider becoming a future Ambassador as they take the tour today?
  5. Do you have people introduce themselves at the start of the event, stating their connection to your organization if they have one?
  6. At each Point of Entry Event, does your Visionary Leader (executive director or CEO) give an inspiring talk, following the Benevon format?
  7. Do you clearly delineate your organization’s three “buckets” (areas of impact)?
  8. Do you have three carefully thought-out tour stops, each highlighting one of your three buckets, stating a myth, a myth-busting fact, a story (via letter, audiotape, or in person), and a need?
  9. Do you end your Point of Entry with a live testimonial from someone whose life has been changed thanks to your work?
  10. Does your Point of Entry Event last sixty minutes or less?
  11. Are people inspired and moved to tears several times during the hour?
  12. Does the Team Leader have enough of a speaking role at the Point of Entry to ensure the guests will remember them and take their follow-up call?
  13. Do you end your Point of Entry with your Ambassador reminding the guests that they will each be receiving a follow-up call from your Team Leader to:
    • Give their feedback about the event
    • Ideally, become an Ambassador, because the very best way they can help your organization is by telling others and inviting them to a similar Point of Entry?

You will likely find you need to make some modifications and tweaks in your Point of Entry and Ambassador programs to meet this first key metric.

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Nine Essential Resolutions for Long-Term Success

Resolutions for long-term Fundraising Success

It’s the New Year—time for fresh thinking, turning over that new leaf, tackling a nagging goal, and resolving to lick that annoying habit or problem once and for all. This is the perfect time to make your Benevon New Year’s resolutions!

What could you resolve to do in 2018 that will help you grow what you have been working so hard to build—and this time do it even better than before?

Here are nine resolutions you could adopt this year. These are taken from the top “mea culpa” mistakes we hear from our workshop alumni, because they know these are essential factors for long-term success with our model.

  1. We will hold at least two “sizzling” private Point of Entry Events per month for all twelve months of the year. Each private Point of Entry will be hosted and filled with ten or more guests by a volunteer Ambassador.
  2. I will ensure that the Follow-Up Calls are made to every Point of Entry guest within two to three days of the event. These calls will be made by a staff member who met and talked with the guest at the Point of Entry. Furthermore, all notes from the Follow-Up Calls will be entered into our database tracking system that is easy to use by everyone on the team.
  3. From these Follow-Up Calls, at least one guest from every Point of Entry Event will agree to become an Ambassador in the next three months. That is how we will know that our Point of Entry Events are “sizzling.”
  4. Every Table Captain at our Free One-Hour Ask Event will have been an Ambassador in the prior year.
  5. At least 40% of the guests at our Ask Event each year will have attended a Point of Entry Event in the prior twelve months.
  6. At least 10% of our 2018 Ask Event attendees will join our Multiple-Year Giving Society and our lowest Unit of Service will be $1,000 per year for five years.
  7. 100% of our board members will be donors (of any amount) to our organization.
  8. We will have at least two in-person or phone cultivation contacts with each of our Multiple-Year Giving Society Donors this year. In each of these contacts, we will have a real two-way dialog with each donor where they will feel they have been listened to—not just talked to.
  9. We will have at least two Free Feel-Good Cultivation Events this year, and at least 50% of our Multiple-Year Giving Society Donors will attend one of these events.

I’d recommend you post these prominently in your office as a friendly reminder of what you’re out to accomplish this year.

Happy 2018 everyone!