Centering on Major Gifts

Centering on Major Gifts

Los Angeles LGBT Center

Counseling and support at Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center

Los Angeles, California—Kenny, 17, came home from school one day to find all of his belongings packed by the door. His parents had gone through his computer and found that their son had been accessing gay websites on the Internet.

"If you're going to be that type of person, you're no longer welcome in our home," Kenny's parents said. "If you're going to be gay, we'd rather you be dead."

Grabbing his bags, Kenny immediately traveled from his mid-west home to the Los Angeles LGBT Center, whose website had been one he had visited. There he was welcomed with open arms. Now, as a graduate of the center's transitional living program, Kenny has built a new family structure and learned to live on his own.

Kenny is just one of the 250,000 client visits the Center receives every year.

Founded in 1971, the Los Angeles LGBT Center offers a plethora of services, including HIV/AIDS treatment, housing and support programs for homeless LGBT youth, legal services, and an addiction recovery program.

Though the center receives governmental grants, they still must raise over $11 million every year to remain operational. The Center had a solid fundraising program in place with a major gift program, a planned giving program, corporate sponsorships, foundation grants, and a variety of special events.

"We just felt that we needed to give our major gifts program a little kick start," says Bart Verry, director of development. "Once we started thinking about a capital campaign, and wanting to look beyond just our annual giving base for our major gifts, we realized that [Benevon] would be a really wonderful model for us to do that."

Verry says that initially board members were reluctant to adopt the Benevon Model.

"A lot of the board members had been complaining, 'I've exhausted my address book,' 'I don't know who else to contact,'" Verry says.

The team conducted tours for those who wanted to learn more about the center, but Verry says they lacked a process. That was what he focused on when he pitched Benevon to the board.

"We thought that this would be a really wonderful way to structure our tour program, and give other people an opportunity to invite people and figure out a way to introduce them to the Center without having to ask them for money initially. And that's really where I sold them I think," he says.

Soon afterward, Verry and his team attended a training session.

"Immediately they all fell in love," Verry says. "It was like an a-ha moment."

Embracing the Benevon Model, the center conducted thirty-eight Point of Entry tours during their first year, far exceeding the amount that the model requires.

During the tour, visitors see the medical clinic and the homeless youth program, two programs that elicit strong reactions.

"So many people have no idea that we house twenty-four homeless youth in our office building," Verry says.

The center's CEO is heavily involved in the tours, acting as one of the tour guides.

"She is very involved in our community—she's sort of a celebrity in the LGBT community—and for people to have a one-hour time slot where they're interacting with her is extremely powerful," Verry says.

Verry was unsure about the best time to hold an Ask Event in L.A., and settled on a Wednesday at noon. His team was extremely pleased to see 300 people in attendance that day. Everyone was affected by the testimonials shared at the event, and they responded by donating a combined $450,000.

Verry says that his team is starting the process of their new capital campaign. He is confident that Benevon will play a pivotal role in enabling the Center to reach their goals by helping to identify potential major donors.

"Beyond money, this is a really great PR system for us," Verry says, adding that his team has shifted their focus from securing Table Captains to establishing Ambassadors.

Benevon has also overlapped into one of the Center's other major fundraising events, the AIDS/LifeCycle. Verry says that around 1,000 riders from the Southern California area participate in the event every year.

"We advertise the Points of Entry to them, saying, 'Come and learn about the Center so that you can become a better fundraiser for the people that you are asking to support you,'" he says.

Many riders accepted the invitation to come on a tour, which Verry says was extremely helpful for them.

"It's hard to quantify that, but I know it helped them tell a better story when they went out to their potential supporters."

Verry says that as the economy has declined, there has been a drastic rise in the number of people seeking the Center's services, including significantly more homeless youth, HIV/AIDS patients needing assistance to afford their medications, and seniors.

"We are very, very concerned about never turning anybody away, regardless of our financial situation," Verry says. "[Benevon] has helped us have that cushion to continue offering our high level of service without interruption."

These organizations have generously contributed their stories with the understanding that our readers will not contact them directly. Instead, please contact us with your questions. Thank you for your consideration.

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