Mobile, Alabama—Goodwill Easterseals Gulf Coast has been serving the Alabama-Florida Gulf Coast Region since 1956.
The organization offers a huge array of services, from therapies for children with severe disabilities, help for parents of children with disabilities, GED classes and job training, and assistance with medical equipment for people of all ages with disabilities, among many other services.
"We really do serve birth to death," said Bill Dillman, Vice President of Marketing and Development at Goodwill Easterseals.
Though its services were having a huge impact on their community, the organization's fundraising efforts were starting to fall flat. They were getting by with the same fundraising events, year in and year out, but they were seeing diminishing returns on those events.
"My staff worked twelve months, and we'd beat ourselves to death chasing $5-10 donations, and then we'd have to do it all over again," Dillman said. "It's not that those donations weren't important, but we were looking for a more sustainable funding stream. Out of the 400-500 people we'd have at a walk, we'd have to go get them all again next year, and the numbers were declining."
The organization started to look for another way. Their CEO, Frank Harkins, attended a Benevon introductory session and asked Dillman to investigate further. Dillman said, "It really was time to change the paradigm."
He checked out Benevon's website, read the books, watched video clips, and in the end, he concluded that attending a Benevon workshop might be the answer.
"We really wanted to get individuals into our facilities to see our mission. We wanted the buy-in from those individuals to continue to engage them in the mission, and we wanted to raise more money."
After attending a Benevon 101 workshop, the Goodwill Easterseals team was finally able to get their message out to their community and involve donors in their mission.
They began by putting together their Point of Entry Event and crafting emotional, succinct stories about their work to tell at the tours.
"What I really liked about it was, even though we've been here 61 years, the individuals we were bringing in to the tours were individuals that still did not know what Goodwill Easterseals was doing in the local community.
"Most of the statements that I received were all the same: ‘We did not know that Goodwill Easterseals did those kinds of things.' I believe what made a difference was that they met individuals and they heard their stories, the pain or frustration and joy in their voices. They connected that way. That's better than reading something in a pamphlet."
The team worked hard and stuck to the model, and was wildly successful in its first year.
"We had a few naysayers who said, you'll have an Ask Event and you'll raise a little bit of money, but when we raised almost $400,000 the first year, they were shocked," Dillman said. "You should not underestimate the power of this model."
"We said the first year, we're going to try this," Dillman said. "If it doesn't work, we'll go back to chasing people all around town for a hot dog and fifty cents.
"The first year you're not making a five-year commitment, you're seeing if it works. And it does work! The coaching, especially, has been wonderful for us.
"Our CEO said, ‘I really didn't think the coaching calls would be anything that would be of use, but those coaching calls have been wonderful.' The coaches held us accountable to the model, answered questions we had, and made us better."
"This is the second piece of this."
As Goodwill Easterseals gained traction with their implementation of the model, they started to see that if they were to be successful, they would need to improve their system for tracking donor information.
"I tried for years to find a donor database we liked." Dillman said. "I had staff, and every one of them had a spreadsheet, I had spreadsheets, and none of them ever matched. We couldn't ever give our CEO the same information twice. It was a mess. Frank and I were talking at the workshop, and I said, we're going to have to invest in some type of donor management system. This is the second piece of this."
Benevon referred them to Bloomerang, and Goodwill Easterseals immediately experienced the benefit of a donor tracking system that works.
"They were wonderful from Day 1," Dillman said. "It's easy to use, it's easy to work. And now that the Benevon Model has been integrated (with the Bloomerang for Benevon product), it really works well. The reports are easy to print out, and they're accurate. If our CEO wants to go talk to one of our funders, or one of the people that we'd like to invite to become more engaged with us, then we have all the information about that person and we can print it right out and take it to the meeting. It's just the simplicity of it. Contact dates, last time we talked to them, what they said, their giving history, the whole nine yards."
Dillman says he especially appreciates the ability to track donors by their preferred area of interest, as well as the ability to pull up donor records when he's talking to an individual on the phone and enter the information about the call right there in the moment.
As Goodwill Easterseals continues to work with Benevon and Bloomerang, Dillman is hopeful about the organization's future fundraising efforts.
"Our goal is to start now with these individuals who attended the Creating Opportunities Breakfast and have attended the tours, to continue to steward them, and to continue to engage them where opportunities become available," Dillman said.
"I would say this is a partnership. We partner with Benevon to teach and train and help us all year long, and through that partnership, we are successful. And that's what it really is. I'm not buying a package of something; I'm investing in a partnership."
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