Q: This is our sixth year of the Ask Event. We have many returning table hosts. Extensions and increases have become a large part of our organization's earnings at our luncheons, which are around 800 people and raise about $600,000 over five years. Even though this is a great number for us, we do not hit 40% ripened fruit goals nor do we hit 10% Multiple-Year Giving Society level goals. In your guidelines you talk about 50% of your guests attending a Point of Entry in that same year, who are ripened fruit—new to the organization but have had a Point of Entry experience. The other half is un-ripened fruit. However, where do the Table Captains come in? Many have had a Point of Entry, have attended a past lunch and are a donor. Do they get told not to bring a table this year? Do we encourage them to bring some of their guests back? What's the right ratio? We seem to have a room full of current donors every year and it seems to slow our growth, but the current donors love coming. Thanks for your advice!
Sarah in Minnesota
A: Congratulations on the success you've seen at your past Ask Events. Thank you for your question and for looking beyond the dollars raised to see how to improve your Ask Event. As you mentioned, the purpose of the Ask Event in the Benevon Model is to harvest the newly ripened fruit from the prior year's Point of Entry Events. The only reason to have an annual Free One-Hour Ask Event is that your organization has cultivated new people over the course of the year leading up to the Ask Event at your Point of Entry Events and through Follow-Up Calls.
We would have a few recommendations for your organization to get your Ask Event on track. These tweaks should mean you are able to meet our critical benchmarks of at least 40% of the attendees at the event having attended a Point of Entry in the prior year and eventually getting 10% of the attendees to join your Multiple-Year Giving Society by giving at least $1,000 for five years.
First of all, scale down the size of your event and come up with a great Free Feel-Good Cultivation Event for your existing donors to attend. The groups we coach have Ask Events of about 200-300 people each year. A smaller event allows you to focus on only having Table Captains who have been Ambassadors in the prior year. An Ambassador is a short-term volunteer who hosts or brings ten to fifteen guests to Points of Entry within about three months. This should be the only criteria for someone to be asked to be a Table Captain.
Let's assume that someone comes to their first Ask Event as the guest of a Table Captain who has been an Ambassador. This guest would have already attended a Point of Entry, and statistically we find they would give two to four times more money at the Ask Event.
In the follow-up call after the event, in addition to thanking them for their gift, you also ask how they'd like to stay involved. In addition to telling them about special events that will happen throughout the year to thank your donors, you mention the role of Ambassadors and see if they'd like to host a Point of Entry. If they agree and follow through as an Ambassador, you will ask them to come back to their second Ask Event as a Table Captain who has already been an Ambassador. We find that most people will only agree to do this once (be an Ambassador and Table Captain), so after their second Ask Event, you let them know that you'd like to continue including them at the special, mission-focused, program-related Free Feel-Good Cultivation Events and even with some special one-on-one contacts (like a small group or personal meeting with your CEO and a board member).
You may need to have a "transition year" where you scale down from your current 800-person Ask Event to 500 people, and then make the leap to 300 people with the focus on at least 40% ripened fruit. You can invite some of your veteran Table Captains to either be Ambassadors or even to take a year off from hosting a table. Have them come and sit at VIP tables hosted by board members if they'd like to attend. Let them know you have some great new Table Captains that would love an opportunity to host a table and be sure to genuinely thank them for what they've helped you to accomplish at past events. Chances are, some of them will be relieved to have a year off and others will become some of your best Ambassadors once they understand how else they can help.
Assuming this takes hold, your donors will likely not be attending an Ask Event every year, meaning that you will need to have a strategy for cultivating and upgrading or re-upping their pledges before or in their fifth year. This requires truly getting to know these donors and doing high-level cultivation, which is what will lead to larger gifts and increased involvement from these loyal major donors. That's the whole point of the Benevon Model—to build lifelong relationships with these precious donors, not just to get them to the Ask Event each year. Beyond the additional dollars, this will bring a host of great things to your organization!