What's all the talk about the Benevon Model lately?

Do you ever feel like phone calls tend to run along specific themes from time-to-time? I know I do. When I was in Support, I remember thinking that fairly often. It turns out that it happens with our account managers, as well. One gal recently mentioned that she has spoken with a few customers who were asking the Benevon Model for donor cultivation and sustainable fundraising, and she asked if I would blog a little bit about the model and how it applies to fundraising software. Always grateful for topic suggestions, I agreed without a moment’s hesitation, and here we are.

The Benevon Model used to be known as “Raising More Money” for those of you who have been working in the nonprofit sector for a while. I am no expert on this specific model, but the idea of models for mapping fundraising processes is ubiquitous among fundraisers. Generally speaking, the Benevon Model is an approach to fundraising that, while very intentionally focusing on the donor, encompasses a series of cultivation stages beginning with meeting the prospective donor, then getting to know them while they get to know you organizationally, moving to making the ask, then showing appreciation and getting the word out to additional prospective donors, and finally starting the process again, identifying new prospects. Any potential donor, once in the cycle, can and should remain in your cultivation cycle/pipeline through any number of iterations as your organization and its needs change over time.

As with all effective fundraising models, the vast majority of the work that results in successful implementation is “head work.” That’s not to say that your fundraising software isn’t invaluable, but the choice of fundraising software is almost irrelevant in the context of the model (though I’d prefer you use ResultsPlus, of course). So why am I, a software developer, blogging about this? Because I’d like to identify the key components of software that support your efforts with the model and highlight how these components are standard features of most every major fundraising application available.

I will summarize the stages per my understanding below. This is not intended to be a course on the model, because I am not qualified to teach such a thing. It’s simply a broad strokes summary of the stages for cultivating long-term relationships. The innovative details of each stage are legion and unique to each organization. To learn more about the Benevon Model, I recommend visiting http://www.benevon.com. The folks there provide training and consulting to design and successfully implement their model according to each organization’s needs.

The first stage is generally based on the concept of acquisition. There are many aspects to acquisition, but here I’m looking at those with a high level of human interaction. Acquisition, when framed right, can also communicate gratitude, which is also an aspect of how you complete the cycle and restart it effectively. This doesn’t mean everything you do for acquisition has an aspect of gratitude, but you may be able to find ways of weaving it in.

Events: You may be planning an event to kick off a new project, or an event to celebrate successful completion of a project. Invite people who provided funding, volunteer hours, or emotional support when you and your colleagues were stressed out about meeting some deadline; you get the picture. Here’s where it’s fun. Don’t just invite those people, invite them to bring along a family member or friend who may also enjoy the festivities.

Software: Your software can help you identify and retrieve constituents in your system that have shown an interest in supporting similar past projects, attending similar events, and in many cases, even help you expand that list to other people in your database who have known relationships with those constituents. Perhaps your list is “hand-picked.” Your software should support your desire to add those people to a temporary working list or “group” as you identify the people you wish to invite.

Elevator Pitch: We know we need one, but do we have one? If not, it’s time to come up with one. We want to be able to let people know what we do, why we feel they may be interested, and how to get more information. And we need to have a way to do this that can be used anywhere, any time. This is an example of “head work.” Your software cannot help you craft a concise, eloquent, interesting message. It would likely come out looking something like the statements generated by Catbert’s Automatic Mission Statement Generator (yes, that Catbert, of the Dilbert cartoons). But wouldn’t it be great if it could?

Storytelling: Every organization has a story to tell. Tell yours; tell it well and tell it often. Make sure you start with something that entices your reader or partner in conversation to want to know more. What’s compelling about it? Margaret Battistelli Gardner’s recent editorial, Arm(adillo) Yourself, in Fundraising Success highlights a wonderful example of this. Again, here’s where the work can only be done by clever humans.

The second stage involves growing your relationships. This means following up with the people you’ve met, engaging them in additional ways, seeking to know more about the constituent’s uniqueness and interests, and sharing more about the unique and meaningful aspects of your organization. In short,

Get to know your donor: If this person is brand new to your organization, respect that as part of the development process. If you have volunteers, know and respect that relationship and grow it from that base. Long-time donors have different needs and expectations, and so on. The key is that each donor is unique and deserves an approach respectful of that. Think back to how you met your various friends. Each of those relationships developed in their own unique ways and on their own timetables. Perhaps you were introduced to some of them by other friends, you worked together, you volunteered at the same event, etc. Your relationships with your donors may evolve much the same way, meaning not necessarily in the same way at all! Engaging your board and other stakeholders in this series of steps is also incredibly important. These are not things your software can do. However, there are things your software can and should be able to do to help you manage knowledge and use it effectively in the context of engagement and relationship development.

Software: Your software cannot tell you the approach to take with your donors. However, it can help you keep track of your strategy, which contacts have been made, when, by whom, when additional contacts are scheduled. It can help you track changes to your strategy, identify where you feel you are in your relationship with the donor, whether or not it is appropriate to make “an ask” at this time, what events a person has been invited to, which ones they’ve attended, who else was at those events, in what ways the person has already been involved with your organization, whether or not you know of a connection between them and a board member, staff member, volunteer, or another constituent. Now that you’ve reached the end of my seemingly-never-ending sentence, you get the idea: Intellectual capital can be documented and stored for later retrieval, analysis, scheduling, and so on.

At some point during the development of your relationships with your donors, it will be appropriate to ask them for monetary support. And so we enter the third stage.

Ask For Money: Asking is an aspect of the model that is taught so that the “asks” can occur naturally and without pressure. Making “the ask” is, of course, something best done in person by a human! But having various giving programs and ideas for making a donation “do more” by promoting additional donations from others are things your software can support. One specific example used to aid in asking for money identified on the Benevon website involves the creation of a multiple-year giving society.

Software: The Giving Society is a great example of something that your software can support. Most every application supports the creation of giving levels that can span a lifetime, a year, or a custom set of criteria.

If you are asking a donor for a leadership gift, some software applications today support the storage and access of your actual proposal documents, names of persons who met at the time of the proposal, and so on.

Challenge gifts are also accommodated in software, and have been for many years via the concept of “matching gifts.”

After you’ve been the beneficiary of your constituents’ generosity, it is only right to thank them well and often. And perhaps that thank-you can be an invitation to a lovely, free event, and the donors can be encouraged to bring a friend, thus introducing new prospects to you and your organization. This brings us to the final stage of the Benevon Model, designing and integrating ways to introduce new people, who have a desire to know more about your organization, to your organization. At events like these, the word of the day is “capture.” Capture names, addresses, emails, what brought the people to your event…whatever you can. When you get back to the office, document all this in your fundraising system so that you can embark on a new iteration of your effective cycle.