The Life-Changing Journey

The Life-Changing Journey

Volunteers of America Kentucky

Louisville, Kentucky—President and CEO, Janie Burks, wanted to take Volunteers of America Kentucky's fundraising program in a new direction—one that didn't revolve around special events.

"We were generally celebrating something that didn't relate to Volunteers of America," Burks says of the event-oriented fundraising method. "People came not because of a knowledge and understanding of our mission, and it was very hard to follow up with and engage someone who attended but didn't really know what we did."

Mom and children served by Volunteers of America Kentucky

Volunteers of America Kentucky offers thirty-two distinct social service programs in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and southern Indiana. Those services include shelter and transitional housing for homeless families; residential substance abuse treatment; housing for low-income seniors and people with mental illness; eviction prevention; employment programs for veterans; and testing, treatment, and education for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Burks and her organization signed up for a five-year commitment with Benevon, a decision that she says has "transformed how we raise money."

The first step in the process was to construct a Point of Entry tour, called a "Journey." Over time, as the tours have been tweaked, Burks and her team have learned the value of having an active client presence during the tours, so they hold most of the Journeys on-site at one of the organization's facilities.

Burks recently hosted a Journey at a home for recovering pregnant women and new mothers. During the tour, a team member told a story through the perspective of a child of one of those women who had struggled with homelessness and addiction and had come to live in this special place.

"Everyone who attended was very touched by the success stories and how personal they seemed. When we finished I think we had the most highly engaged group of people," Burks says. "This is no trick. It's a really honest way of engaging people and really does give them the opportunity to get involved with our mission."

Included in the tour guests are potential board members. One individual whom Burks thought would make an excellent board member was reluctant to join yet another board.

Family served by Volunteers of America Kentucky

"He had served on several other nonprofit boards and didn't feel they were a good fit because they didn't touch his heart. I entirely attribute his being on our board to attending a Journey," she says. "It sealed the deal."

Burks also credits the success of this year's staff fundraising campaign to elements of the Benevon Model.

"We created a Point of Entry for our staff campaign," she says. "We created a series of testimonials, we had Ambassadors, and used a number of the features of Benevon—the engagement piece—to raise money among our staff."

That staff campaign raised $70,000, and Burks says proudly that every staff director is now a member of the organization's Positive Change Society.

Volunteers of America Kentucky

"These are people who already understand our mission, and have the opportunity to get more involved," she says.

Volunteers of America Kentucky's Ask Events have also provided that opportunity. Its first two events raised a collective $600,000, and at every level, Burks says, people are honoring their pledges.

As a way to stay connected to those donors and express their appreciation, Burks and her team members have begun focusing on follow-up calls.

"I do my best to set aside an hour every week for calls," Burks says. "And I am pretty intentional about working with my team to figure out my list of relationships to cultivate."

Burks now recognizes that those individual donors will be the ones to build a sustainable funding stream for Volunteers of America Kentucky.

"My dream is that more and more, those Benevon dollars will enable us to add a little risk capital out there for some more programmatic growth, add staff at higher levels, and have a tuition reimbursement program for continuing education for our staff," she says. "But today, those dollars are keeping the doors open, and they have allowed us to bring really wonderful strategic resources into our organization, so that we have the means to do the planning that we need to do to get through these rocky times."

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