The Benevon Model, presented by our Founder and CEO, Terry Axelrod
Terry Axelrod: Thanks for coming, everyone. Great to have you here. I’m Terry Axelrod, the Founder of Benevon and this is an introductory session about our Benevon systematic approach for engaging and developing relationships with individual donors. People for whom your organization’s mission could become one of their top three charitable gifts in their lifetime. How many of you are someone familiar with Benevon already? Quite a few of you, wow. All right. Some of you I know are already implementing this on your own and some of you have been through our programs already, so we are just delighted. How many of you are Board Members? Quite a few. How about Executive Directors? Very good. How about Development Staff? Yes. Volunteers? Very good. Other staff, program staff, marketing? Yes, great. Great. Benevon is a systematic process for engaging and developing relationships with individual donors. Some of you may know that already. A systematic process for engaging and developing relationships with individual donors. That’s a lot that I just said, and I’ll be, as I go through this, explaining it so you get a better feel for what I mean. It’s a model. A circle in shape and many of you have seen something like this before. I think of this as an old-fashioned toy train track going round and round on the floor, like on Christmas morning and you want those donors to be going around and around that track with you for life.
The model was developed by me at an urban Christian School here in Seattle. Right where we all are right now. When I was brought into the school in the early 1990’s then had not one single donor. At that point, the school was already about 14 years old and the teachers finally came to the Principal at the end of that year and said, “You’ve got to get us some more money.” The teachers were making $1,600 a month on contract. Far less than they could have been making in the public schools. So, $1,600 a month on contract means what? They were taking home maybe $1,200 a month. They came to the Principal and said, “You’ve got to help us get some more money. We can’t make it on this little.” The tuition at the school at that time was $190 a month, if you can imagine. While that may not seem like a lot to you, it was really a lot to those family members. In many cases there were several family members, an aunt, uncle, grandmother who would chip in towards one student’s tuition. It was that big a deal for them to be able to go to the school. To the teachers, the teachers said, “You have to be able to get us more money.” The Principal said, “The only way we can afford to do that is if we raise the tuition, and if we raise the tuition we’re going to price ourselves right out of the market with the families.”So, he called a man in the business community who had approached him a couple of years before and at that time said, “If you ever need any help raising money don’t worry, we’ll put a little group together and we’ll raise you all the money you need.” Not a bad offer, especially not from this man who could deliver. So, they met over the summer. They put this little group together and said go ahead and give raises to the teachers from $1,600 a month on contract up to $2,000 a month on salary. Meaning they would pay everyone’s taxes. That one change cost the school budget half a million dollars a year. Suddenly this little school that had never had to raise any money, did not have one single donor, suddenly had to raise half a million dollars, $500,000 spread out over a 10-month pay period. That’s $55,000 a month.
By the time I was called in as the first Development Director it was the week before Thanksgiving. We were almost three months into the school year and had yet to raise any money. So, to fast forward to the happy ending by June of that same school year, so about seven months later, we had raised not $500,000, but $600,000 and by a year and a half after that, I was at the school for a little over two years as the first Development Director, we had raised $7.3 million. When I left the school, we had pledges for unrestricted operating funds. Unrestricted funding. You all know what that is? The good stuff right, of $850,000 a year for each of the next year. So, $850,000, $850,000, $850,000, we had over $4 million pledged in unrestricted funding. Plus, we had completed the capital campaign for $3.2 million. Moved the children into the new school building by the start of the third year. I learned more in that time than I learned in all my years of fundraising before. I had been doing it for quite a while. What I learned is the statistics are true. The statistics that you had seen, that I had seen, but never really had known how to get my share. You can see from this chart that $290 billion this year that has been given to all charity, all charitable organizations, 81% of that comes from individuals. How many of you have seen a slide like this before? You know the statistics. Well, I knew that too, but I didn’t know how to get in that world of individual donors. I had been spending my time, like most of you probably have, chasing after the corporations and foundations which make up a far smaller slice of that total pie. I wanted to know how to get into the world of individuals.
To continue on with the story, after I left the school and going back to the school story for just a minute. After I left the school, the woman who took over for me as the second Development Director was fabulous. She had never done any fundraising at all before. She worked in the business world. I was involved in hiring her. We all knew she would be terrific, but she was really scared. Right before she started she called me and said, “I’m not sure I’m the right person for the job. You just raised over $7 million in two years and I’ve never done this at all. I don’t want to hurt the school, I want to help the school.” I said, “Look, what I was doing was following a system. I was following a specific step-by-step process and I truly believe that if you take the job and follow the system without deviating it will grow.” She took the job and grew the program three times bigger than what I had left. That’s when I realized we really had a system. Something that could be living on. How many of you have started something in your life? You started a program, started an organization, started a project, right? When you leave it, you figure at best it will probably stay on an even keel. Maybe it will go down, but you never dream it’s going to triple in results. When I saw what she had done, knowing how scared she was and really how inexperienced she was in working in this field, I knew that it was only because she had followed the system. That’s what had me saying, “Wow, maybe this can be taught to other organizations.”
To finish the story, by the time she left we had over 500 donors in what we call our Multiple-Year Giving Society. Those are donors who are making pledges of at least $1,000 a year for each of the next five years. We had over 500 people pledging at least $1,000 a year for the next five years. That’s when the Board said, “I wonder how much money it would take for us to raise an endowment fund so that the earnings along off of the corpus of the endowment would be enough to cover the operating gap every year.” What we call the treadmill number, that dollar goal you are chasing year after year, after year. They set a huge goal and we actually fulfilled that by the end of the seventh year. Just by keeping in touch with, cultivating and ultimately asking the donors who came through this whole process. This is what we want for you. This is what inspired me to start Benevon 15 years ago. We’ve now worked with over 3,000 non-profits to customize this system to their unique needs. Non-profits of all sizes and types so we’re not just talking about schools. We’re talking about policy, advocacy groups, research groups, environmental groups, children’s. You name it. Any type of non-profit organization, arts groups. Over 3,000 non-profits. Someone once said, “Once you’ve worked with one non-profit you’ve worked with one non-profit.” That’s really true when you figure 3,000 is a lot.
As I go through this, I would like to show you the Benevon Model and I’ll show it to you step-by-step. As I go through it, I would like you to be thinking how this could work for you. How it could be customized to your organization and at the end I’ll take questions. Everyone get out the handout that you have in your packet and you’ll see at the bottom of yours, we don’t have it on here, but at the bottom of your handout the name of our website, Benevon.com. On our website is a free 17-minute video of me doing a shorter version of what you’re going to see today, and I tell you that because after today when you go home, you may forget I say this but when you go home people will say, “What was that? How do you describe it?” You’ll be at a little bit of a loss for words and that’s why a lot of people like that video. It actually shows you the technology, the science, the step-by-step process, the metrics. Everything that is behind this that you could use it to explain it to other Board Members and volunteers. The 17-minute video is free on our website. We also have a lot of other good, free resources on our website including a really great electronic newsletter that goes out to many thousands of people permission-based because there are good articles that are in there about this content. You might want to sign up for the free newsletter also. Hold your question if you can until the end. I would like to get through the whole presentation of our model first.
So, the first thing you want to notice is the shape of this. It’s a circle. When most people think about raising money from individuals they don’t think of a circle. What do they think of? Usually a pyramid. You start the donor at the bottom with a small gift, move them up to a medium-size gift and then often right near their death bed will come that ultimate gift. There is nothing the matter with that. Most donors do make their largest gifts late in life but we’re finding nowadays more and more donors are capable of making larger gifts when they are younger. Therefore, our model is a circle, like an old-fashioned toy train track that goes round and round. We want those donors to get on that track and go round and round with your organization for life. Where they get on the track is at step number one with something we call a Point of Entry, a POE for short. A Point of Entry is a sizzling one-hour get acquainted even about your organization. How many of you, if I were to say I’m a funder and I’m thinking I might make a large grant to your organization, but first I need to go on a tour. How many of you would say, “Well, we can arrange that. Yes, we can get a tour fixed up for you, no problem.” Probably what you would do if you brought me on a tour would be more of what I would call a tour of your facilities or a tour of your programs. A Point of Entry on the other hand is a tour of your mission. A tour of your mission. We’re going to help you. We help the groups that are in our program to divide everything that you do into three bucket areas. Three areas of impact that make your work understandable to the community. Many different people tell us this is one of the most valuable things they get out of our program. How many of you have a lot of programs? How many of you have more than three programs at your organization so you’re thinking how do we explain this? We don’t want you to just choose three and show them at the Point of Entry. No, we want you to take all of your programs and divide them into three areas of impact that make it understandable to new people who are coming to learn about you.
Let me walk you through a typical Point of Entry. We had ours at the school on Thursday mornings and we arrived at Thursday mornings after some experimentation with different times of the week, times of the day, like that. We had them 8:00 on Thursday mornings. People would arrive and we had a greeter. Usually it was a student who would meet people right at the front door. The greeter would shake their hand and send them over to the little sign-in table where there would be someone who would help them fill out a little card, an individual card with their name, address, phone number and email, and the name of the person who invited them. People were told in advance when they were invited that they were going to be receiving one follow-up phone call not to ask for money. They were told when they were invited, word of mouth by a friend that this was an informational session, that they were coming to learn about your organization and that they would be receiving one telephone follow-up call to get their feedback. Not to get their money. They were very willing to just fill out this little card. They understood this is how it would work. You’ll see. If you are already thinking it’s not going to be like that. This is some kind of bait and switch. I think you’ll see as we go through this it is very honest. We are very authentic in how we communicate with people throughout the process.
Next is a little mix and mingle time. Mix and mingle, if people arrive early because you are going to start right on time. So, if there is a little time you will have like at our school, we were in the lunch room, which was also the multi-purpose room, the music room, the everything room. We had 600 children arriving before 8:00, scrambling around that room, getting a big hug from the teacher. Someone helped the little kids get their hot breakfast and then a teacher sat beside every child helping them with their homework before the bell rang and they scurried off to class. There was actually quite a bit that people could pick up on just standing around, mix and mingling. The bell rang at 8:00 and the kids scurried off to class and there we were left alone in this rundown lunchroom. We mopped off a couple of tables and pushed them together. We began our Point of Entry event right on time at 8:00. If you are going to have 10-15 people at any one of these Points of Entry and you’ll be doing them twice a month is what we recommend. They are very informal, nothing like this. We don’t have people with PowerPoint. We don’t have a podium. We don’t have a microphone. We don’t have people sitting and taking notes. No, no, no. This is done much more informally sitting around a table. It feels more like 10 friends sitting around a kitchen table just talking. So, we don’t want to have any video there. There is no fancy electronics. It is really very down-home if you will.
The first thing on the program as people are seated is a welcome from a Board Member. Again, if you are one of the Board Members in the room be thinking about well, I know how to do that. I do welcomes all the time. I just say, “My name is so and so, and I’m on the Board.” No, no, no. We want more than that. Each person who has a speaking role at this Point of Entry has got to share very authentically why they are involved with the organization. This is something that can be very tricky for Board Members because they are not accustomed to sharing. We work with you to come up with a simple sentence, a simple statement about why it is that you are involved with this organization. Something from your life, from your childhood, your family. Something that connects to people. “OH, I see, she’s not just on this Board because she wanted to be on a Board. She’s on this Board because it matters to her.”
Next, we have what we call the Visionary Leader talk. Those of you who are the Executive Director, raise your hand again. The Executive Director, the CEO, the Head of the School, this would be you. You are the Visionary Leader and we know that you certainly know how to talk, and you are very articulate, but this talk is a little bit different. It is only five minutes long and the first two minutes of it needs to be your personal story. Again, that is not something that most Executive Directors lead off with. The usually lead off with the litany of we started this many years ago, we have this many programs. They have their little talk all figured out. We don’t want that. We want to know why are you involved with this. We want to make that connection. If you are potential donor sitting in the room you are going to want to be looking from the perspective of, is this person’s heart in the game for the right reason? What is their connection? Is this a leader I can believe in. We do a lot of work to coach our Visionary Leaders on how to articulate this connection. This can be really challenging and very powerful when we finally get it zeroed in on. One minute is on the results. Specific results about what you accomplished, and we ask you to do a brag, we call it, about each of the three bucket areas. Each of the three impact areas. You are going to tell the people these are the areas of our work and here are the things I’m most proud of in each area, or one thing I’m most proud of in each area. Then two more minutes of your vision for the future. What are you planning on. What do you see. Many of you who are the Visionary Leader have a clear sense of where you are going, but you have to put enough gap between where you’re at and where you’re going. Then people will say, “Wow, he really knows, or she really knows where she is taking this organization, but she is going to need some help to get there.” If you make it look like you have the whole thing figured out people are going to say, “I may as well go over and help another organization. This one is handled.” So, we’ve got to make the gap really clear.
Next, we get up and walk around, take a tour. Three stops. Each stop showcases one of these major areas of impact of your work. We spend a lot of time with groups working to identify first the myth and then the myth buster fact about that area, that bucket area we call it. They we tell a story and then a need. Let me give you an example. If there anyone here who works in the field of Transitional Housing? Anybody do Transitional Housing? Okay. Transitional Housing, if you don’t know what it is, a simple way of saying it is halfway between being homeless and all the way back on your own feet, living in your own place, having your gainful employment and such. Transitional Housing programs are fabulous, and we work with many of them. One of the ones I took a tour of typically I think this is pretty typical, it was a three-story walk-up, older apartment building, really clean and there we were about 10:00 in the morning at this Point of Entry and we were upstairs on the third floor in an empty, one-bedroom, lovely, clean apartment at 10:00 in the morning. The person who was taking us on the tour, the first thing she said was, “Many of you may not know this but the average age of a homeless person here in our community is nine years old.” That’s because why? There are so many homeless children. She said, “Let me share a story with you about a wonderful woman named Maria and her son, Johnny who were here with us until about 9:00 this morning when we had a very bittersweet good-bye. You see, when they came to us they were here almost six months which is longer than our average stay which is about three months. When they arrived, they had some unique problems. They had come from a very bad domestic violence situation. Maria had not been allowed to work for over a year and Johnny had been kept home from school for almost a year. There were physical issues. There were emotional issues. Maria had no job skills. There was a lot to be sorted out and it took us the six months to get their lives put back together. So, by the time they walked out of here this morning there was a lot of tears and hugs as we said good-bye to them, as they went off to their own home, their own permanent home that we were able to help arrange. Maria has a job, Johnny is back in school. That’s what we do here every day and as thrilled as we are, as privileged as we are to have been able to work with their family, for every family like Maria and Johnny’s that we can say yes to, we have to say no to nine other families.” The next tour stop is of the Intake Desk where we’re talking to the person who does the intake calls and talking about the name of that bucket stop has to do with their information and referral program about what do they do when they have to say no to people. So, you get the idea. Each story on the tour is told from a different perspective. Sometimes you’ll read a letter, an email from someone. Sometimes you’ll listen to an audiotape. There is no videotape at the Point of Entry. Sometimes you’ll hear from a live person about their own story or a staff member. But the tour ends with a live testimonial where someone gets up and talks about how your organization changed their life. This is very powerful. At our school this ended with a story from a student right at the front door. Right as people were ready to go out the door, already having been moved to tears several times by what they saw and heard, they are hearing now the final story from someone about how the school changed their life. As they are ready to go they are saying this is amazing. I had no idea you did all of this here. You see, if you get the job done right people are only going to come once.
Assume they are only going to come one time to your Point of Entry so you’ve got to make it life-changing. It’s got to be fabulous. Most people are saying and most groups we work with tell us over and over that people right at that point will say to them, “I had no idea you did all of this. I’ve got ideas for you. Other people who should know about this, but I’ve got to go. You told me this was only going to last an hour so I’m out of here.”
That was always my lead-in for the second step in the model. I would say, “No problem. I’ll give you a call.” The second step in the model is a one-on-one follow-up call with every person who has come to the Point of Entry within one week. That’s right. You get on the telephone and you are going to be calling 10 or 15 people twice a month, a couple of days later. This is not just a police thank-you call, in which case you might as well just write them a little letter. This is a term of art in the Benevon Model. This follow-up call has five steps to it. It starts with, “Thank you for coming.” In this day and age, you better mean it when you thank people. For people to take their time to find you, to park, to sit still for an hour to learn about something brand new it’s practically a miracle. So, you better really mean it when you say thank you. Next, “What did you think? What did you think of our cute kids? What did you think of our teachers? What did you even think of the weather?” I just want to get you talking so I can do the third thing which is to be quite and listen. Listen for what are the hot buttons that this tour might have triggered. For example, we work with a group that is working to cure a disease that has seven strains to it. When they make their follow-up calls and say, “What did you think?” People will say, “Well, I’m really glad you are working to cure that disease, but I am most interested in the third strain of that disease. Not all those other ones, because that’s the strain my mother has.”
That is a pretty big hot button. That is somebody telling you when you talk to me in the future focus on what I care about. Focus on the thing that I need. Don’t tell me all of your other needs. So, you’ve got to remember that as you proceed with them. Number four, “Is there any way you could see yourself becoming involved with us.” Now you have no hidden agenda here. You’re not trying to get them to join your Board, to give you a bunch of money to send their kids to your school. This is wide open. Is there any way at all you could see yourself getting involved with us? Lastly, “Is there anyone else you can think of that we ought to invite to a similar Point of Entry?” Now, please don’t call it a Point of Entry. That’s a terribly tacky name. call it something warmer and more inviting like a Power Hour or Welcome To fill in the blank of your school. Something like that of your organization. You come up with a warm, inviting name.
Let me tell you a true story because some people will think at this point, well everyone who comes to our Point of Entry is going to be just dying to get involved with us. That is not the case, unfortunately. Let me tell you a true story. We had a man who came to our school. When I called him to follow-up, before I could even say thank you for coming he said, “I’m not giving you any money. Do you want to know why?” I said, “Okay. But I wasn’t going to ask you for any money anyway.” Notice there is nothing up here that says ask for money. He said, “Well, I believe in the work you are doing at your wonderful inner-city school, but yours is a private school and I’m giving my time and money to the public school, so I’m not going to get involved with you.” To which I said, “That’s fabulous. They are darn lucky to have you at the public schools. Go forth and do your thing for them.” It was so disarming, what was he expecting? He was expecting me to do what I would call the pitiful begging thing. “Oh, but won’t you please, please just give me a little bit of money?” See, if you adopt this model of fundraising you will never again be looking for a one-time donor. That’s all he would have been. By letting him off the hook we have a very technical term. We say we blessed and released him. Blessed and released him. That is very powerful because paradoxically it allowed me to skip down to the fifth question. I said, “Well, I know you’re not interested in getting more involved, but does anyone else come to mind?” You won’t believe what he said. Absolutely he said, “You’ve got to call my wife. She would love this.” I thought, oh my gosh what do I do now? He said, “I’ll go back and tell her all about it tonight. You call her tomorrow and invite her, and I’ll bet she says yes.” Sure enough, his wife is still involved with the school 15 years later. It never would have happened had I not followed all of the steps. So, you’ve got to remember, bless and release people. Definitely do not ask anybody for money at the follow-up call.
Onto step three where we do get to ask for money. Notice now we’re doing this at step three, not at step one, not at step two. Everything between step two and step three is what we call the Cultivation Superhighway. This is where we hasten the ripening of the fruit. We’re looking here for a way to pick the fruit at step three when the fruit is ripened. Everything between steps two and three is what we call the Cultivation Superhighway where we hasten the ripening of the fruit. What makes it ripen faster? Contacts. The research is specific enough to say that the more contacts you have with a potential donor right in here before you ask the more money you’ll get when you finally ask. Five contacts, for example, yields more money than four. Four more than three. Each contact leads to more money. What is a contact? Sending someone a copy of your newsletter? Yes, but that’s not very personal. Sending them an invitation to an event you have coming up? Yes, but it’s not very personal. The best contacts are in-person, face-to-face and based on what they told you they were most interested in when you did that follow-up call like the disease that their mother has.
Let me tell you a true story. You all have people like this. We had a fabulous woman who came to our school. When I called her to follow up, she said, "I already know what I want to do," she said, "I'm on the board of the ballet here in Seattle, and the ballet has a wonderful program where we go into inner-city schools and we teach dance to the children. I'd like to be the matchmaker between that ballet program and your school. What do you think?" Now you have to know I'm thinking to myself, "Lady, were you even paying attention when I took you on the tour? Didn't you notice?" And I didn't paint the scene well at all for you, we had not one book in the school. This was 1992, less than two miles from my house right in Seattle, Washington. The school was 600 children, there was not a book in the school. There was no paper. There were buckets collecting the rain water leaking through the roof along the perimeters of the classrooms, and she's talking about ballet. I'm realizing I clearly blew it, right? We were not communicating. But, because I know the statistics, which are that 90 percent of people in America who volunteer for a charitable organization also give money, doesn't mean they necessarily give money to the same places they volunteer, right? And many of you know this because you've got volunteers who aren't giving to you. But overall, those volunteering kinds of people are giving kind of people. And I knew when she was thinking about this ballet program, she was thinking of it like it was going to become her new volunteer thing, so I didn't want to say no to her. I said to her just what you would have said, I said, "Ballet, that would be fabulous. I can just picture these kids dancing. They'd be some of your very best dancers," and they would have been. "But I've got to tell you," I said, "I've only been here at the school a couple of months, and from what the teachers have told me, there are so many more basic needs that would have to be met first."
The next thing she said was one of the most important lessons I learned the whole time I was at the school. She said, "Like what?" You see, I had been so busy showing off my cute kids and my great teachers that I had neglected to make crystal clear to this very intelligent woman what were our needs. Do you know how easy it would have been for me, before I brought people into the classroom, to say, "When you walk in there, count the books. You're not going to see any. Check out the shoes we had to get donated. Notice the buckets around the edge of the room." It had not occurred to me to do that. I'm embarrassed to this day to say that because it seems so obvious to me that we needed everything, but I tell you this because, if they couldn't connect the dots seeing our school, probably, when they come to your place, it's going to look a lot nicer and they are definitely going to need you to point out for them what exactly it is you need.
Okay, so once I told her the needs, she said, "Oh, now I get it. Let me see how I can help you." And here's how she cultivated herself through the Superhighway. Now everybody does this a little bit differently, but how she did it was by inviting various friends of hers to attend the Points of Entry, and then when we followed up with them, one by one, they got engaged and that got her more engaged. First person she called was her friend who had a big shoe store. He came out and said, "What a great school. I'd like to donate a pair of the latest, greatest sports shoes for every one of your children right before school starts every year." Then she had a friend who had a Walmart kind of place. He came out and said, "What a great school. I'd like to donate a stocked backpack filled with school supplies and a pair of jeans for every kid." So, the kids are now in heaven. They've got the whole look, right, the shoes and the jeans and the backpack, but they had to wear uniforms to school. So, her third friend had a manufacturing company in Asia. He came over and said, "Wow, what a great school. Why don't you give me one of those cute uniforms in every style and size, and we will copy that uniforms and get them manufactured, and we'll donate them back to the school," a huge savings for the parents.
And then she said, "How about my friends from the professional sports teams?" And they came out and took a look at the dingy portables. We had 8 portables in the back room, we had 11...out on the back parking lot we had 8 portables. They were leaky, they were dingy. We had 11 classrooms in this old building. We had nowhere for the kids to play. The kids' school was technically open from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. And they built us a beautiful covered play area; equipped it with all the balls and hoops and paid for a physical education teacher every year.
My point is by the time we got around to asking this woman for money in step number three, she's wondering, "Why hasn't anybody here asked me for any money?" You see, when she's out with her friends and they're saying, "Well, tell me, dear, what are you doing these days?" guess what she's talking about, our school. And she's talking about it as if it's the most meaningful, satisfying volunteer work she's doing these days. Could we have ever dreamed of writing a job description for someone with these unique connections? No way. She's an example of someone I call the “new volunteer”, “new volunteer”. I've written several books — they're in the brochures that you've got there — and two of the books have whole chapters about this, the "new volunteer". And I tell you that because this does not mean you should stop doing anything you're now doing with your volunteer programs, it just means loosen up your definition and let somebody like this come in, because if I had held tight to the truth which was we did not need ballet, no way were we ready for ballet, she would have taken that goodie bag with all that treasure over to the next smart nonprofit, and we would have been the sorry losers. So, I say to you, be on the lookout for the ballet ladies in your world because they're really there.
Most of the groups that we work with and we train and coach in our programs are so busy looking for the short list of the super-wealthy people in town that somehow, they think magically you're going to be interested in them and want to give them big amounts of money, they practically trip over the people who are nipping at their heels saying, "Notice me, notice me. I really believe in you. I really care about you." So, I say to you, be on the lookout for the ballet ladies in your world because they're there.
Okay, onward. We're going now to step three where we finally do get to ask for money. Now notice there's no asking, again, as I said in step one or step two. We've waited now until people have been cultivated. In our model there are two ways to ask for money. Either one on one or at something we call a Free One-Hour Ask Event. The Benevon Model is not about events; the Benevon Model is a pipeline-filling system for engaging individuals who will ultimately become major donors. So, this is a major donor model, okay, a major donor model. Now let's just look at, first, the Free One-Hour Ask Event. I'll come back to this slide in a bit and talk about the one-on-one asking and the two essential ingredients, but I want to start first by telling you about the Ask Event.
Okay, so at this point in our school, we had many, many people who'd come to the Points of Entry. Like the lady from the ballet they had been well cultivated, and it was definitely time to be asking. So, I knew that the best way to do that would be to get them together in one room. There was only one of me; I was the only development person and there were a lot of them, but they were ready. They were the ripened fruit. So, I went back to my database — and if you are going to use this model you must have an excellent database — and I picked up the phone and called 100 people that, according to my database, were the people who were the most passionate people about our school. I did not pick the people who had the most money; I did not pick the people who had the best connections; I picked the people who loved our school, who really got it about the school. And I called them one by one and said, "Would you be willing to be a table captain at a free one-hour breakfast fundraising event that we are going to have in about four months?" And they said, "What?" I said, "That's right, it's free to you to attend. You pay nothing. You don't have to underwrite, sponsor, buy a ticket, buy a table — totally free. One-hour; yes, people will be in and out in 60 minutes. Breakfast or lunch will be served. And, yes, it is a fundraising event. People will be asked to give money at the end of the hour; however, there is no minimum and no maximum." What does no minimum mean? You can give zero. No maximum, sky's the limit. As much as anything, we want people to come to learn about our wonderful organization. It'll be our job to inspire them to give when they get there, or they don't need to give at all.
Now some of you may be thinking, "Oh, here comes the bait-and-switch part. I knew this was going to happen." I don't think so. Let me tell you how I put together the financial projections for our first event. We figured that we would have 1,000 people at this event. A hundred table captains, 10 people per table. Now please do not try to pull off a 1,000-person event. Now, when we teach this, we say 200 to 300 people maximum at your event. But these numbers will scale accordingly, so I'm going to go ahead and use this as my example for you. And I figured that half of those 1,000 people would be the ripened fruit people, the people like the lady from the ballet who had come through the whole program and really were ready to give. And the other half would be brand-new people for whom this Ask Event would serve as their first introduction. It would be kind of like a pre-Point of Entry, so no way would they be ready to give.
Let's pretend you're in that last batch. You're someone who doesn't know anything about my school; the only reason you're coming to this Ask Event is strictly out of guilt and obligation to me. I'm your friend, the table captain. You didn't know how to say no to me. You're driving there, it's a dark, rainy November Thursday morning here in Seattle, and you're thinking, "Big mistake. Why did I tell her I would go to this thing? She said I'd be out of there in an hour; I know I won't be. I'll be late for work. She said I don't have to write a check; I'm going to feel guilty and pressured and have to write a check. Inner-city education, very important cause, but not my thing. I’m involved in some other things right now." And you're driving there, you're thinking, I don't really know, but you pull up in front of this lovely downtown hotel, you get out of your car and who's there to greet you? Little girl, bigger girl, braided hair, plaid uniforms, holding hands, scrubbed faces looking up at you smiling, "Good morning, are you here for the breakfast?" You're thinking, "What time did these kids have to get up to look that cute to greet me?" and, "Where's my coffee?"
And you go inside to the base of the escalator and who's there? Two older boys in their blazers and ties; big, strong handshakes. "Good morning," "Good morning," they look you right in the eye. It's impressive. As you go up the escalator to the ballroom level, you cannot see the ballroom which is set for 1,000 people, but you can hear the voices of the children in the choir standing on the risers in the empty ballroom, belting out their favorite school songs to amplified organ music. You're getting in the mood. You see, this event is choreographed like a theatrical production. You've got people with stopwatches, walkie-talkies, all behind the scenes therefore anything you can do to impact people's mood before the clock starts is to your advantage. So, the cute little girls; the good-looking boys with the handshakes; nothing like music to affect a mood. By the time you're at the top of the stairs, you're thinking, "Maybe this won't be so bad after all." You grab your nametag from out in the big lobby area. You come inside. You find you friend, the table captain, you bond with you buddy. You take your seat and the program begins on time like clockwork with a welcome from a board member, just like at the Point of Entry, followed by the short Emotional Hook. We had our pastor and a little girl do an invocation. Everybody was in tears in the first three minutes. It was so inspiring. But many of you will do a poem. You may do a song. We have all kinds of flag ceremonies, different things that people will do, but something that says to people, "We're not just here for breakfast."
After that, we have the MC, which is a board member, comes up and says, "Enjoy your breakfast. And while you're eating, notice that there are little fold-over pieces of paper in front of each one of you that has a photograph of one of our students on it, or a picture or drawing of them, and then in their own words their stories written out right next to it. Read that one and pass it around because there are 10 different ones. It'll give you a feel for the kinds of students that we have at our school." Also, while you're eating, you feel a tap on your shoulder and it's a little child coming around with a basket of apples, "Thank you for coming. Thank you for coming," making eye-to-eye contact with everyone in the room. Now it doesn't need to be an apple, and it's not about that. When we work with Habitat for Humanity they'll give little hammer pins. And the Red Cross, they’ll give little Red Cross pins. When we work with the Alzheimer's Association they have senior volunteers with a ribbon passing around baskets that have packets of flower seeds in them. Guess what kind. Forget-me-nots. And so, it's really a way to say to the people in the room that day, "These are real people in our community who would benefit if I were to get involved here." It's not about the gift.
Okay. Then, so 10 minutes is over. We're finished eating. Next thing on the program is the Visionary Leader, and that person, that's the same person I said earlier, the executive director or CEO or the head of your school. And now this is a bigger talk. We script this and rehearse this. We leave nothing to chance about this event. And we will be sure that it's about five to seven minutes and covers the key points that tie in seamlessly for people with the other elements of the program.
Next is a video, seven-minute video. Moves people to tears three times, not two times, three times. We have a lot of requirements about this video. They're a little bit different than most videos because the only purpose of the video is emotion. The rest of the program will do the rest of the work. So, we want one vignette told about each of the three bucket areas, like I said, and we work hard to refine this video so that it's seven minutes and really, really moving.
Next, a live testimonial. Someone gets up and talks about how your organization changed their life. In our case, we had about 10 kids from the choir, and we didn't want to give them the microphone, so we had a wonderful lady who asked them three questions. They were all up in front of the room in their little uniforms. She said, "What do you like about going to this school?" "Oh, I love my teacher." "I love the hugs I get." "I love my hot breakfast." And, "What's your favorite subject?" "Math," and, "Science," and "Reading." They couldn't wait to tell you how much they loved they academic subjects. But it was the last question she asked them that mesmerized everyone. She said, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" And in that moment, these little children started to say the same things that they had said...they had written on those table tents. Things like, "I want to be the first one in my family to graduate from high school." "I want to go to college and I want to become a teacher." But they didn't just write it like that. They wrote out the whole story. "This is my third foster home. My goal is to finish school at the same...this year of school at the same school that I started it at. I haven't done that yet, and I'm in the fifth grade. This school goes to eighth grade; my dream is that I could stay here through the eighth grade. And if I could make it through the eighth grade, I'd want to go to high school, and I'd be the first one in my family to graduate from high school. And if I graduated from high school, I'd want to go to college and I'd want to be a teacher, so I could come back here and teach."
They were unbelievable what the kids wrote. And you'd sit there and read them and you'd think, "Wow, this is amazing," but it was something else to hear the kids say it because there they were standing in front of the room being asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and they didn't say, "Oh, I hope one day, maybe if only..." they said, "I'm going to be a teacher," "I'm going to be a scientist," "I'm going to be a pilot." You could have heard a pin drop in that room of nearly a thousand people, I will never forget it, because you're suddenly sitting there thinking to yourself, "Wow, I didn't know very much about this school just a couple of hours ago, and now I can see that if I were ever going to want to get involved with something like this, this one would be a really good one. They definitely know what they're doing here. They're changing lives at this school." In other words, you are about as ripened fruit as you are going to be at this one-hour.
Time for the last element of the program, what we call the "pitch". And you know it's coming, I warned you when I invited you that you were going to be asked for money. So, now you're thinking to yourself, "What are they going to do and what am I going to do? How are they going to ask, and what am I going to do?" They pitch person needs to be what we refer to endearingly as a credible school teacher-like person. Credible in that they are truly linked to your mission. School teacher-like in that they will follow a script. We do not want to leave anything to chance.
So, the pitch person at our first Ask Event was a wonderful man. I'll just tell you what he said. He was on the board, and he was fantastic. He got up and he said, "My name is so-and so," he said, "I'm on the board of this school. I love this school," and he told his own story for how he got involved. And he said, "We know that most of you didn't know what we were going to ask you for today, so when you came here, you trusted the person who invited you. So, when we decided what to ask you for, we realized we ought to just tell you what it is we really need." And he went on to tell them the story that I told you at the beginning today about giving the raises to the teachers. And he said, "Now that we've done that, we have a shortfall in our operating budget of about $600,000, and we have just about 600 students in the school." He said, "If you believe in what you've seen today, and you'd like to help to support the ongoing operations of this school into the future, you have an opportunity to become a founding member of something we're just launching called the "Sponsor-A-Student Society". Now I'd like to pause and ask the table captains to pass out the pledge cards. You see, there was no pledge card conveniently waiting at your table, so you could fill it out and leave early." He said, "Let me walk you through this. Box number one says if you would give us $1,000 a year for each of the next five years, you would be making up the operating shortfall for the equivalent of one student. Notice how I said that, 'making up the operating shortfall for the equivalent of one student,' Okay? In other words," he said," "You don't get a kid." He said, "This is just a gimmick," and he used the word "gimmick" several times. "This is just a gimmick. You're not going to get a kid. We're going to use the money for the electric bills, for the gas for the school buses, to pay the teachers. We're just calling it Sponsor-A-Student."
Out of 850 people who came to this event — we did not get 1,00 people there — 115 of them checked that box. Now the IRS requires that you must report all pledges as if they are received on the day that they are pledged therefore by IRS standards we had just raised over $500,000. He went on, he said, "We know some of you are capable of giving even more. If you would give us $10,000 a year for each of the next five years, you would be sponsoring 10 students," and eight people did that. And then he said, "We know some of you can give even more. We have 25 students in a classroom. If you would give us $25,000 a year for each of the next five years, you would be sponsoring a whole classroom of students," and four more people did that. He paused and said, "I want to thank those of you who've just become founding members of our Sponsor-A-Student Society. And now I'd like to ask the rest of you, who may not have checked off a box yet, to tell us in box number four how much you'd like to give and for how many years." In other words, a fill-in-the-blanks box, leaving the donor right in the driver's seat which is the only place you want to leave your donors. Some people said, "I'll give you $100 once," "$50 twice." Whatever they wanted to give was absolutely fine. The last box we had typed in and it said, "Please contact me. I have other thoughts to share." This was for the people who couldn't write a check that day. They needed to go back, transfer money, sell stock. Maybe even if they wrote a check, they had ideas for you, they wanted to meet with their board or committee. We were happy to give them a call.
So, stand back and take a look. From fewer than 130 people — that's 127 people, circled there on the right — out of 850 people at the top, which is less than 15 percent of the people, we had just raised nearly a million and a half dollars in that hour when you include the pledges. And I wanted to know why. What had we done right? We are absolutely shocked that we had raised that much money. So, I got back on the telephone the next day, and I started to call all the people in these top three levels, and I said to them, "Thank you for coming yesterday. What did you think?" I was quiet, and I listened. It's a good thing I was because they all told me the same thing. They said, "If I had known how great that event was going to be, how terrific your school was, or that I was going to give you all that money, I would have invited other people." This seems to be the natural human response when people feel they've made a true contribution from their abundance as opposed to a one-time donation from scarcity. And they started telling me the names of their friends. I was writing down names of people I'd never heard of. And finally, I caught myself and I said, "You know, here it is the day after this event where you've just given so generously; we're thinking we ought to do this event again next year. Would you be willing, right now while you're excited about this, to agree to be a table captain at next year's event? And you would have between now and next year at this time to do the fourth and final step: introduce those friends and family to our school. How can you do that? By inviting them to a Point of Entry. You get them to come to our school where we will educate and inspire them. Then we will do the follow-up, and if they're not interested, we will bless and release them; if they are interested, we'll continue to cultivate them," like we did with the lady from the ballet, "so that, by the time they're sitting at your table next year, they will be the ripened-fruit people ready to give, or they don't need to give at all." By following this system year after year it's continued to grow.
Let's go back and take a look at this slide. Like I said, we teach you in our classes how to do one-on-one asking, and also asking at the Ask Event. What we'll teach you is how to identify donors who could be giving to you a Leadership or Challenge Gift the first year that could be used as a matching gift to be announced just before the pitch at your first Ask Event as way to double the giving that happens there. But in subsequent years, we teach you how to up level that individual giving so that it becomes the centerpiece rather than the Ask Event. Whichever way you ask, there are two ingredients that must be included. First, what we call Units of Service. What are those? Those are these top three box levels. If we had not had those top three box levels, we never would have raised that much money. Those bite-sized chunks of our mission. That top level, for example, a lot of people saw that, they said, "Wow, that's $83 a month. I believe that much in what I'm seeing. Sign me up." Secondly, we've got to ask people to make multiple-year pledges. This is critical in our model, multi-year pledges. Why? When I was first trained in major gifts fundraising, I was always told the only time you can ask for a multi-year pledge is for a capital campaign gift or an endowment gift, a large gift where the donor wants to split it up over time. But you would never want to ask for a multi-year pledge for an annual gift because the gifts tend to be smaller, the person may not follow through, and you can't increase their gift fast enough. We have found quite the opposite, and I'll tell you why I think that is.
I believe that the people who check one of these top three boxes are telling you something. They're saying, "I can read the form. I see that fourth box there. I could give you $1,000 a year one year at a time if I wanted to, and that's a lot of money. You would keep up with me. You'd cultivate me. You'd thank me. And I probably would keep giving. Therefore, by virtually the fact that I choose box one over box four, I'm telling you something critical. I'm saying, 'I know I don't have to make a five-year pledge to you. I want to.'" And that is a critical element of this model. Those are people saying, "That mission of yours, the incredible work that you're doing in your program, that's my work too. Count me in. I want to be closer to your organization. It doesn't mean I'm going to give you all the money you ever ask for; it just means I'm with you on the mission. Come talk to me, ask me for advice, include me more in your organization’s family." And that allows you to do something that I think is the most critical thing today in fundraising, which is to know where to focus.
So, in our model, where we focus — looking at step four — is on cultivating those new multi-year donors at something we call Free Feel-Good Cultivation Events. These are not a wine and cheese social event. This is not a gala. This is not free tickets to the baseball game or the golf tournament. These are mission-focused events. Something like at our school, the graduation, which is an event that we have to put on anyway, which is a place for the donors to see what all their good investment has bought them and has bought the community. So, for example, at our school we put on these one...the graduation was at seven o'clock in the evening in a big auditorium, and at 6:30 in a smaller room we had a little reception where we had a grandmother and her grandson speak about the impact of the school on their lives, and the principal spoke about the test scores and the grade point averages. And then everybody was invited to go into the big room for the graduation. You see, if you do it right, this Free Feel-Good Cultivation Event serves as a point of reentry. And just like a first-time Point of Entry that gives people the facts, the emotion, captures their names with permission, a second time around point of reentry does the same thing. There was the grandmother and the grandson for the emotion; the facts and the test scores from the principal was the facts. And everybody, we already had their names, we didn't have to collect any names because we knew all the donors, we had invited them. Therefore, three days after this point of reentry, just like three days after a first-time Point of Entry, we were on the phone doing guess what, follow-up. "Thank you for coming to the graduation. What did you think of the grandmother? What did you think of the test scores? Any other way you could see yourself getting involved? Anybody else come to mind that we ought to be calling?" Constantly deepening your relationship with this person leading up to the next ask.
Within six months of this first Ask Event — I repeat — within six months of this first Ask Event we had to launch a capital campaign. We had to move out of our scary, rundown building quickly, and we needed to raise $3.2 million. So, this was only six months after our very first Ask Event. The only donors we had were the donors that I just showed you. What were we going to do? We started to put on small points of reentry just for the new five-year pledge donors. Small, evening, little points of reentry about capital where we showed them the architect's drawings of the beautiful new building we wanted to be in, the pyramid chart with the number of gifts it would take us to get to $3.2 million, and the naming opportunities: you could name the chapel after your family, name the gymnasium after your family. It took us six months, 18 of those donors, we raised $3.2 million dollars, and got back to work.
At that point is when I left the school as I mentioned. The second development director came in. She was fabulous. She tripled the results, and by the time she left, three years later, as I said, we had over 500 donors in our Giving Society. 500 donors at one of those top three levels. And that's when the board said, "Maybe it's time to think about endowment." How much, by the end of the fifth year, we had over 500 multiple-year donors, and the board realized they could raise endowment large enough to generate in interest the $600,000 treadmill number. And sure enough, by the end of the seventh year, we had done that also. So, when you stand back and take a look, these donors, these same donors who had just made the five-year pledges, that was the only source of donors that we had. That was the same pool of donors. In this case, they're giving to unrestricted operating, which is the basis of the model. Every year, you want donors to be giving, making a five-year pledge for unrestricted operating funds. But these are the same pool of donors that we went back to, also, for capital, for endowment. And even for restricted major gifts for the library, for the technology program, these same donors would give to that also.
Okay, so when you stand back and take a look, most of you can probably see this is a system, right? Some of you are thinking, "Wow, we're already doing parts of this, but we never really thought to spin it together quite like this." So, can you see how, if you were to use this model faithfully over time, that old-fashioned toy train track going ‘round and ‘round would start to spiral up and up and up, and your job as a smart development director, board member, executive director would be to cultivate the larger and larger donors allowing you to leave a legacy of a self-sustaining, mission-based individual giving program? This is what we want for you. Thank you all so much for coming today.
I want to tell you a little bit about the programs at Benevon and how we work because some of you may not know this. We work a little bit differently. We are not consultants who come right into your office and bring you programs right there. You actually have to come to us. So, you can see in your brochure that we offer something called the Benevon 101. That's our signature program. That's a two-day workshop that you come to with a team of seven people. So, this is a mixed team of board members, staff, and volunteers. Board members, staff, and volunteers. Seven people. That's kind of unusual, right? We're going to ask you to put that team together and let us customize this for you. And you come to a two-day workshop where you sit at your own roundtable in a room of 10 or 20 other organizations. And in the course of that two days, we guide you through a 100-page three-ring binder workbook of scripts and templates and formulas. There is a lot of math behind this. There's a lot of formulas. We track everything. Having worked with over 3,000 organizations, can you imagine, really, all the numbers and data that we have? So, we're constantly looking at the best way to teach this. So, in the course of the two days, we will customize this model to your organization. You walk out of the two-day training with a plan, a timeline. You would know exactly when are your Points of Entry, who says what when. When is your Ask Event? How much money will your Ask Event raise? What about your Free Feel-Goods? Who is your team leader? How is the Visionary Leader talk supposed to be delivered? All of this is laid out for you with a timeline. And you meet your coach at the workshop who will stay with you over the next year.
You get four one-hour telephone coaching calls spread out over the next year, and those are strategically timed to coincide with major milestones in the model, for example, your first coaching call will happen right after your first Point of Entry event — we call it a Point of Entry pick-apart call — where we will dissect your Point of Entry over the telephone with you to see what worked, what didn't work, and how to make it stronger. The third coaching call happens right before your Ask Event, and that is a rehearsal call for your pitch person, your Visionary Leader, and your testimonial speakers. So, we want to be sure that nothing is left to chance about the Ask Event. There are a lot of ways that can kind of go wrong with that. And we offer the workshops in several cities around the country, and if you'd like to know the dates of the nearest location to you, please come up and see me at the end. I'd be glad to tell you about that.
In addition to your workshops, if you are interested in anything else with Benevon, if you are with a national organization — we do a lot of presentations for national groups — if you are part of that and would like to have us come and speak at a conference. If you are part of a funding organization, we work with many funders around the country who choose to fund many groups to come through the Benevon program because we have the metrics, we have the return on investment. The average group that comes to our program raises $200,000 in gifts and pledges in the first year. We offer a five-year sustainability program. If you want to come back after the first year, you must join our Sustainable Funding Program, and the Sustainable Funding Program has five years of successive training with more coaching. We get a lot more goodies wrapped into that package. But the average group in that program by the third year has raised a million and a half dollars cumulatively, and by the fifth year has raised three and a half million dollars cumulatively.
We're very proud of our reputation. We will not rush you through the process. We really take our time to assess whether this is right for you, whether the fit is right. And if it is, we will encourage you to come into the program. But if it's not, we'll tell you what we think you need to be ready. We don't want to waste your time or your money. We're very proud of our results, and we really don't want to encourage anybody to do this until the timing is right. So, if you are interested after today, come up and see me, I'd be glad to give you the dates and we'd love to have as many of you as possible join us so that we can help you on this journey towards sustainable funding. Okay? Thank you all so much. Really appreciate your time today.
"The service-oriented nature of Benevon leadership is remarkably helpful. They hold themselves to the high standards of relationship building and professionalism that they promote in the program itself."
Steve Hammond, Principal at Saint Patrick Catholic School in Norfolk, Virginia
"Benevon provides us with a map to reach our goals. Following that map is not simple or easy. It takes discipline that we get from the Benevon classes and coaching to stay on course."
Tom O’Brien, Board Member at Marbridge in Manchaca, Texas
"This session fully sold the team, especially the board members."
Paul Dole, Executive Director at KCEOC Community Action Partnership in Barbourville, Kentucky