Houston, Texas—Gracewood, a Christian ministry that rescues single moms and their children across the Greater Houston area, has raised a lot of money since they started using the Benevon Model in 2012. Just over $1.2 million, in fact, from their Ask Event luncheons, as well as over $800,000 in capital-related funds, and some sizeable Leadership Gifts.
But if you ask Josh Plumley, director of development, and Jenny Rice, associate director of development at Gracewood, the money is not what they are most proud of. For them, seeing board, staff, and volunteers become more engaged has been the most gratifying outcome.
"It has invaded and infiltrated all of our culture, all of our staff," Plumley says. "Not just the fundraisers on staff, but all of our volunteer leadership, all of our program leadership, our executive director, our maintenance guy. They're all helping to support the system and they say, hey, I play a part in this."
"I don't think that we ever view this as a development issue," Rice says. "This is a Gracewood issue. When we're filling the seats for the luncheon, I tell all our staff, you're our secret weapon. (Donors) want to talk to the people that work with our moms, they want to speak to a Gracewood mom. They don't want to speak to me, they want to hear from the people who are in the trenches."
Plumley adds, "A lot of the staff and the board become huge fans of inviting people to give. They were initially really scared and nervous about actually asking people to make investments. So that was a big surprise early on to see suddenly instead of being nervous, a lot of our team couldn't wait for the next opportunity to invite somebody to become a giver."
Gracewood, which offers residential group care, mentoring, financial planning, teaching, counseling, and referrals to community resources to the single moms they serve, has seen many other benefits to implementing the Benevon Model.
"We've gotten volunteers, we've gotten team members, we've gotten fans," Rice says. "We've gotten churches to come behind us. Services, because our moms need help with an array of different things. We've had cars donated. We've had help with education, tutors. I mean, it's just become a great process."
Rice notes the difference between Gracewood and the other three branches of their ministry.
"We're the first branch that has done Benevon, and it's interesting to see how our trajectory is very different from the trajectory of others, and I think that's because we've had an intentional focus here. It's just helped us become organized. It's like a cookbook or manual. I would love to take the credit when our donors say, ‘You are just so organized, Jenny!' And I just want to say, I just printed what Benevon gave me."
In fact, after noting Gracewood's success with the Benevon Model, another branch of their ministry opted to attend their first Benevon workshop.
"They've done really, really well," Rice says. "I was at their first Ask Event, and I was so proud of them, as we opened up all of the pledge cards, and they had a fabulous time. I wouldn't be surprised to see more Benevon presence in our organization."
For Gracewood, they are now looking forward to a capital campaign and growing their Multiple-Year Giving Society.
"We're making our luncheon, our Ask Event, smaller this year," Rice says. "And I really like that as we go towards major gifts, the focus isn't just on that one day, it's really about a 365-day approach to fundraising."
For nonprofit organizations that might be considering the Benevon Model, Plumley advises, "Decide where you want to be in the next five to ten years. If you really don't have anywhere that you're going, then it's going to be really easy to get there. Make some real decisions about where the mission really needs to grow, and where it needs to be successful over the next term. Because if you're not thinking out that far, then it's going to be a year-to-year cycle. You really can't be sustainable that way."
Rice adds, "Stick to the manuals. Do what (your coach) says. It's a leap of faith. You're talking to someone who was a special events person, I mean that's my wheel house. I can throw a great event. And to come in here, and that's really not the focus….it's been a paradigm shift for me, it's been a paradigm shift for our donors. But it develops this undercurrent that's just so exciting to watch. And to see really how that Benevon wheel spins, and then it keeps spinning, and keeps spinning, and to see what's coming up is just really exciting—for everybody, not just the people on staff, but our donors even see that. It's very exciting."
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