Stockton, California—At St. Mary's Dining Room, in Stockton, California, CEO Edward Figueroa and his staff have long had ideas and ambitions for the organization, which responds to poverty in San Joaquin County by feeding the hungry, caring for health issues, and restoring human dignity to over 700 individuals each day. But it wasn't until 2012, when they first attended a Benevon 101 workshop, that they were able to make many of those ideas a reality.
"I think that the (Benevon) Model provides us with a step-by-step process for achieving ideas, some of which we'd thought about but didn't know how to put into practice," Figueroa says. "I think that the model is very specific about how to engage our donors, how to spread the story, how to involve others in our mission."
He uses the example of tours of their facilities, something St. Mary's Dining Room had already been doing as a way to get people onto their campus and to change people's perceptions about the issues they deal with.
"The model gave us a systematic approach to doing (tours), and to incorporate the follow-up, which is essential, which we didn't do before," Figueroa says. "We would get people here on a tour, and that was the end of the relationship. The model teaches us that now we have to engage, we've got to follow up…ask them some pointed questions."
He adds that the "bless and release" element to follow-up in the Benevon Model has been a revelation.
"There's no pressure, there's no expectation," he says. "If people are inspired and motivated, great, let's get them connected. If not, let's let them go on their way. We're not going to convert everybody, and to learn that you don't have to do that, you don't have to feel that we're not doing a good job, or we're not doing the right thing because this person didn't buy in.…you know what? This just wasn't the place for them."
The Benevon Model has also been instrumental in how the staff at St. Mary's Dining Room approaches fundraising.
"They've really embraced our mission advancement, they've really embraced having a more mission-centered philosophy, and they really understand, I think, the importance of the model, and that it's not just a task of the development department or the CEO, but it's for all of our staff," says Rebecca Glissman, director of development. "They're becoming great ambassadors for St. Mary's Dining Room. They're inviting people on tours, they're participating on the tours, and I just think that's wonderful."
Their hard work has paid off in some exciting results. In addition to a more engaged staff, Figueroa notes that they've been able to add additional staff, increase services, and grow their programming.
"We are actually right now in the process of working on adding dinner service to our dining room program," Figueroa says. "This is something that we've dreamed about for years, and we're actually going to see it happen, probably just over two years ahead of what we had originally scheduled, because of the success of the model. That's exciting for us to be able to achieve that dream quicker than we envisioned."
Glissman adds, "We've had new volunteers join, and add to some of our services, because they thought, ‘You have a need, I have a skill'….I'm thinking specifically of a financial literacy workshop that is held here now. And to me, that's very exciting. We've got not just financial donors enabling us to expand our programming, but also volunteers who are enabling us to do so much more for the client."
Their financial results with the model have also been impressive. At their first Ask Event, they were able to raise almost half a million dollars in their Impact Society, which far exceeded their wildest hopes for the event. They added another $200,000 at their second event, and now have 66 members of their Impact Society, who have pledged at least $1,000 for five years. They've also seen their annual budget increase by $300,000 since implementing the Benevon Model.
Perhaps more importantly, Figueroa appreciates the shift in the culture at St. Mary's Dining Room. They are now making more efforts to get to know their donors, and to show appreciation to the donors who make their work possible.
"I think that the model has really given us the tools to be an organization of gratitude, where we have a systematic approach to engaging our donors, to communicating with our donors in a new and deeper manner," Figueroa says. "Before, the extent was generally a prepared thank-you letter that went out for every financial donation—now, it's about the personal touch, making the phone call. Hearing (donors') appreciation of being acknowledged for their support is paying off dividends in increased support they're making to the organization, because they feel it's appreciated, that we've acknowledged it in a special way. So I think that that culture change of being an agency of gratitude is probably the thing that is going to pay off the most for us in the long run."
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