Truckee, California—When the state of California and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated the Truckee River as being impaired due to the degradation of its water quality (harming fish and wildlife populations), a group of river-lovers came together to form the Truckee River Watershed Council. Their mission was to restore, protect, and enhance the Truckee River watershed by identifying, coordinating, funding, and implementing restoration projects along the Truckee River.
Funding has certainly always been the most difficult task, explains Lisa Wallace, executive director.
"This is an incredibly valuable watershed, in terms of habitat, water supply, and economic driver for our area. But as the only outlet for Lake Tahoe, we are in what we call the glory shadow of the lake," she says. "There is so much focus on protecting the lake, and it receives a tremendous amount of funding. But no money comes into the shadow."
Wallace and her team tried numerous fundraising programs, unsuccessfully.
"Everything we tried went flat, nothing rolled us forward," she says.
After many years of searching and struggling, Wallace discovered the Benevon Model.
"We bought everything we could get our hands on," Wallace says, whose team began to self-implement Benevon's methods. They hosted Points of Entry and held their own Ask Event.
But Wallace says her team struggled without coaching. They were intimidated by having to ask for specific multiple-year pledges at the Ask Event. They weren't aware that they needed to follow up promptly with attendees, and neglected to do so until months later.
"We realized that as challenged as we were in self-implementing, the rest of the program was going to be as challenging, and we really were going to need the help of coaching to meet those challenges," Wallace says.
That realization was what ultimately caused the Truckee River team to attend Benevon 101. The coaching in preparation for 101 also convinced Wallace to hire a development manager.
"Hiring Michele Prestowitz and then going to 101 renewed us," Wallace says. "Everything was scaled down for us into individual steps. The coaches told us, 'You need to do this, this, and this, and need to do it fully.'"
Committing to Benevon has allowed the Watershed Council to truly reap the benefits of the model.
With the help of coaching, Prestowitz and the team doubled the number of guests at their Ask Event, from 100 people to 200. They also solidified their three "buckets"—"restoration, prevention, and community engagement"—and began using those buckets to bring focus and clarity to their interactions with donors.
Prestowitz experienced the power of the team's revamped Points of Entry, "River Talks," when she was struggling to describe the scale of a restoration project to tour guests. The photographs she had at her disposal showed only parts of the restoration site. One guest on that tour was a pilot, and he offered to fly over the restoration site in order to photograph the entire area. When prepping the pilot she discovered he had already flown the route ahead of time, planning out the best route and best lighting conditions for the photographs.
The Truckee River team now also holds Free Feel-Good Cultivation Events, including a day when Multiple-Year Giving Society Donors work at a restoration site. The donors are brought back to the site months later to see how the meadow vegetation and streams have recovered, which Prestowitz says delights them.
She says that as the Points of Entry, Ask Events, and Free Feel-Good Cultivation Events have been refined through coaching, they have helped the organization gain credibility in the eyes of Multiple-Year Giving Society Donors.
The Truckee River Watershed Council team is inspired as a result of the coaching. They have established a ten-year vision, identified some forty-five new restoration projects, and plan to raise $400,000 every year in order to complete them.
"Many of our peers—executive and development directors—ask us why we like the Benevon Model," Wallace says. "We tell them it's because Benevon figures out the formula, figures out the steps, and knows the plan. Because of that, all our energy goes into making the asks, not figuring out, 'Should I do the ask now? In two months? In six months?' That is by far the biggest strength. The materials are developed, it's a proven success, and one hundred percent of our fundraising efforts go into implementing the model and raising the money. We are not creating the tools. Our team is using the tools."
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