Norfolk, Virginia—Norfolk Christian Schools in Norfolk, Virginia, was relying on the old fundraising standbys of schools everywhere: auctions, banquets, and golf tournaments, despite the fact that those events weren't generating the dollars they did in their heyday.
The events seemed to be ingrained within the history of the private, nondenominational schools, which now serve more than 800 students and their families in the Greater Hampton Roads area at three campuses—an upper and lower school in Norfolk, and a second lower school campus located in Virginia Beach. There, students are equipped spiritually and intellectually to love God and serve as Christian ambassadors in the world.
Rick Nikkel, director of development, recognized that the auctions and golf tournaments weren't successfully connecting donors to the mission of Norfolk Christian Schools.
"We weren't doing a good job, and people weren't absorbing anything," he says. "They were leaving events empty, because we weren't filling them up with anything about the school."
After a board member learned of Benevon, their team attended Benevon 101. Fundraising at Norfolk Christian Schools would be forever changed.
Coming back from their first year of training, Nikkel and his team faced skepticism from many people involved with the school. They didn't initially believe the school could support itself without its special events.
"We said to ourselves, 'We're just going to trust this model,'" Nikkel recalls.
The Norfolk Christian Schools team immediately began holding Point of Entry tours, shedding light on the school's facilities and impact on its students.
"It was obvious right away that people were soaking in our mission more successfully," Nikkel says. "We saw great benefits very early on through increased funding, enrollment, and general interest."
Yet as the first Ask Event neared, skepticism towards the Benevon Model resurfaced.
"Other people were skeptical about the event really lasting one hour, and our team was skeptical about being able to express everything we needed to in only one hour," Nikkel remembers.
The Ask Event silenced the skeptics for good.
"Everyone remarked how it was so impactful and efficient for being only one hour," Nikkel says. "The time limit forced us to boil our message down to what really mattered, and express that in the best way possible, in the form of testimonials."
That message came through loud and clear for attendees, one of whom was so excited by the event that when she returned home, she shared every detail of it with her husband. The following day, she called Nikkel and offered to make a yearly contribution of $25,000.
"She was so excited, and you know there were many others just as excited as she was," Nikkel says.
Norfolk Christian Schools raised $560,000 at their first Ask Event.
"For a one-hour luncheon, that's amazing," Nikkel says. "And it's nothing compared to how much we were raising before. In the first year with Benevon we met our annual fund goals—goals that we hadn't met in five years, and we did it without our two largest events."
After a second Ask Event, which boasted an additional fifty people, Nikkel says those who initially doubted the model truly began to embrace it.
"I haven't heard anyone say to me, 'Don't you think we should go back to doing an auction?'" Nikkel jokes.
Nikkel and his team now encourage everyone involved with the school to share a testimonial or their vision for the school whenever they have the opportunity.
During a concert, one chorale teacher did just that. She shared with the audience the chorus' need for new risers—movable platforms on which the chorus stands while performing. The risers they were using were dangerous and unstable, but the school couldn't afford to replace them.
At the end of the concert, a gentleman approached the teacher, explaining his interest in buying new risers for the school. That man challenged his friend to help out, and together they replaced every single riser, a gift of around $3,500.
Nikkel himself began incorporating brief stories and visions into his email exchanges with one executive. As a result, that man is now providing Norfolk Christian Schools with a gift of 250 new computers, all equipped with the latest software.
Nikkel credits Benevon with teaching him how to connect and express genuine need to people like that executive.
"As a fundraiser, it makes a world of difference because you take on a different outlook," he says. "The biggest benefit of this model is drawing more people into an understanding of the importance of this institution, and getting to see people being drawn in to a better understanding of what this school is doing to impact the world. And doing it in a genuine fashion—that's what really captures me about Benevon, and that's what works the most effectively. There is sincere motivation for what you're doing, and sincere impact."
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