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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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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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Renewing the Passion for Your Mission

Renewing the Passion for Your Mission

Scarcity and resignation, thinking it can’t be done—these are the recurring challenges for anyone committed to big results. To deal with these challenges, you and your team need to be able to readily tap into your genuine passion for the mission of your organization.

And there is definitely no scarcity of passion in the nonprofit world if you know where to look for it.

Almost everyone is originally attracted to a cause or organization because its work is something they feel passionate about. Whether that cause is families, foster care, substance abuse, mental illness, international relief, physical or intellectual disabilities, advocacy, faith, the environment, arts, education, healthcare, animal welfare, housing, or public policy, what attracts each person is almost always a prior personal experience.

Perhaps they have a family member with that particular disability or a close friend who experienced discrimination due to a mental illness. Perhaps they developed a love of the outdoors as a child, or their passion for science dates back to the first time they looked through a microscope in elementary school science class.

But passion can become buried or lost over time. When that happens, how do you get it back?

The Passion Retread Exercise
We do a small group exercise at our workshops that we call the Passion Retread exercise. Working in the nonprofit sector, the tread on the passion tire sometimes wears thin. So we ask each person in the small group to answer these two simple questions:

  • Why do you work or volunteer at this particular organization?
  • What is it about their unique work or mission that inspires you and keeps you engaged?

While some volunteers will say that they want to give back to the community, when we ask them to take a deeper look, many tell us they feel called to do the work of the organization. For them it is an avocation.

Answering these simple questions truthfully, in a small group of dedicated board members, staff, and volunteers, reconnects people to their own passion, to each other, and to the mission of the organization.

I once asked a group of board members from a chapter of the American Lung Association to answer these questions. One of their long-standing board members immediately offered his response. “I know exactly why I’m here,” he said. “When my son, Adam, was eight years old, he died in my arms while having an asthma attack. I vowed in that moment to give my life to doing whatever I could to find a cure for childhood asthma so that no other parent would ever have to experience such a tragic and painful loss.”

Before you embark on implementing the Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding, do this exercise with your entire team:

  • Ask each person to look more deeply at their own reasons for being involved with the organization.
  • Then give them the time to share their answer to this question with the rest of the group.

It will focus each team member on their unique connection to the mission of the organization and add new tread to their passion. It will bond you as a team and sustain you as you move forward.

A tip: this exercise also works well when done with long-standing board members, volunteers, and staff.

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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!

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Determining How Much is Enough

Determining How Much is Enough - Success Benevon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Five Critical Characteristics of a Financially Self-Sustaining Nonprofit

Five Critical Characteristics of a Financially Self-Sustaining Nonprofit

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

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