Baton Rouge, Louisiana—Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area offers educational support programs to Alzheimer's-affected individuals and their caregivers. It is the only social model respite center in the state of Louisiana, and has received national recognition for best practices. Alzheimer's Services helps over 6,000 people every year.
Barbara Auten is the executive director of Alzheimer's Services. She says that sometimes she receives phone calls from various companies offering to host an event where a percentage of their proceeds will go towards the organization.
When Auten receives those calls, she politely tells them, "No thank you, that's not our model, Benevon is." Then she invites them to a Point of Entry tour.
Called, "A Cause to Remember," the organization's Point of Entry was created with the help of coaches, who encouraged the use of moving and interactive testimonials.
The tour begins with one of the team members holding up a mirror and telling guests the story of one woman whose Alzheimer's became so advanced that she could recognize her jewelry in a mirror, but not her own face.
As they tour around the facility, attendees are able to observe the clients. Team members share another story about a son who brought his father to the organization because the man had ceased all activity and was spending his days watching television.
After two months, the man had already begun to regain his personality and desire to interact. At a Thanksgiving gathering with other family and staff members, the man's son said he was most grateful to the staff for giving him his father back. By Christmas, his father was playing Santa Claus for a group of pre-school children.
"That is a true example of making a difference," Auten says. "Benevon has taught us how to be donor-centered by sharing stories like that, by sharing testimony that has the most impact. It's a paradigm shift that has permeated our whole organization."
Auten and her team have embraced the lesson of donor cultivation that Benevon promotes.
"You ask them questions, and really listen to what they say. And not only listen, but act on it. That component has made all the difference for our fundraising," Auten says. "We have a donor in Florida who has never seen the organization, hasn't been to Louisiana in the past ten years, but because of the relationship we've developed through phone calls, she has made the largest individual one-time gift we've received. All because I called her, sent her pictures, told her what was going on. Maybe that call took thirty minutes, but it certainly was worth it in the end."
It isn't always easy to find the time for cultivation, Auten says.
"Some days I look at my calendar and I just don't think I'm going to get to all the calls I need to. But even if I can just leave a message, it's that touch."
Cultivation relieves Auten and the board of having to constantly nag people for money.
"In my last position I felt like when people saw me coming they thought, 'Oh, she's going to ask me for money.' Nobody thinks that now, they just think, 'She's going to share her message,'" Auten explains.
Auten also appreciates the lesson of "bless and release," which she says not enough people acknowledge.
"I don't spend my time on people who don't care about the mission. I can easily say, 'Thank you very much, please be an Ambassador, share our message with those who can use our services' and let them go. That's a beautiful part of the model."
Cultivating donors has helped Alzheimer's Services raise over $4 million and gain 186 people in its giving society. The organization has more than tripled its annual budget, from $465,000 to $1.6 million.
Auten says that Benevon has also helped Alzheimer's Services by enabling internal transitions to happen smoothly, including her own transition into the position she currently holds of executive director.
"Benevon made it 100% easier to step into the position and know that I already had relationships with the donors through the model," she says. "It was a transition of trust. I moved into calling those donors and sharing with them my vision and letting them know that there would be no change in what we were doing, and that the services and the standards would stay the same. Then I invited them in to see what we were doing and kept that relationship going. The whole model made it easier for the transition; even though we did not have a transition plan in place, the model made it easier to step in."
When asked what Auten's goals for the future are she says, "I want to retire some day, and when I do I want to know that the mission has sustainable funding. $600,000 per year from the model would sound like the magic number to me, and I think it's attainable. This model helps you look at the road ahead, not at the red lights in front of you."
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