Q: How do you recommend a local direct service nonprofit (that follows the Benevon Model pretty well) increase tour attendance? And increase the number of referrals from tour attendees? How do you recommend a nonprofit increase the size of its mailing list?
Joey in Virginia
A: In order to successfully implement the Benevon Model, your Point of Entry Events must serve as the place that new people are introduced to your organization. This should all be a function of also having a thriving Ambassador program.
Point of Entry Events should be held twice per month and should always be hosted by someone who serves as an Ambassador. Ambassadors are people who love your organization and who commit to the short-term volunteer role of hosting one Point of Entry Event with ten to fifteen guests. They do this with the goal of at least one of their guests in turn becoming an Ambassador.
The best way to start is to put together a list of the most obvious Ambassadors: board members, long-time donors, former board members, even volunteers or key staff. Help them identify the easiest way to bring together a group for a Point of Entry. Ideally they would invite an existing group such as people they work with, their book club, or running group. They can bring that whole group through the Point of Entry and then go for coffee or lunch together afterwards.
Perhaps you would offer your Ambassadors the opportunity to host a Point of Entry in a Box at a convenient location for their guests, such as the company conference room for a lunchtime Point of Entry for their colleagues. There is always the option to invite a mixed group that consists of family, friends, and other individuals they are connected to, but this option makes it much harder to get everyone to one Point of Entry at one time.
At each Ambassador-hosted Point of Entry, the Ambassador will welcome the guests and identify themselves as an Ambassador. They will say that their biggest hope is that the group will be inspired by the tour and that many of them of them will choose to become an Ambassador and invite other groups of people they are involved with to attend a similar event. They introduce the person who makes the Follow-Up Calls (this should be the Benevon Team Leader who is usually the development director) and highlight that each guest will be asked to consider becoming an Ambassador on the follow-up call. Ambassadors are talked about two more times during the Point of Entry: once by the development director when they introduce themselves as the tour guide and person who will be making the follow-up calls, and once again by the Ambassador in the closing. Throughout the course of the Point of Entry (which, by the way, must be sizzling, emotional, inspiring, etc.), your team should be taking note of anyone who might be a great Ambassador.
Two to three days after the Point of Entry, your Team Leader/development director will go to make the follow-up call to each guest, starting with anyone who was noted as a likely Ambassador. They have two goals: one is to determine who wants to get more involved with the organization and who should be blessed and released; the second is to recruit at least one new Ambassador. By the time the guests receive the follow-up calls, they should understand what it means to be an Ambassador. Once they say yes, thank them and then ensure that they have a plan for how to follow through and be successful.
That plan must include who they will invite (which group, which individuals, etc.), where and when they will host their Point of Entry (until there is a date on the calendar you should not expect them to do any inviting), and how you will follow up and stay in touch. At this point in the process, you will tell the potential Ambassador that you will be passing along their information to your volunteer Ambassador Manager—someone who has been a highly successful Ambassador—to support them through the process of planning and producing a successful Point of Entry Event.
Throughout the whole process, keep in mind the importance of further cultivating your Ambassadors and your Point of Entry attendees who are interested in getting involved in other ways. We like to use a dating analogy to highlight the importance of this: the Point of Entry Event is the person's first date with your organization. You can't tell them everything about your work in a first date! The "second dates" would be opportunities to learn more: perhaps they come back and see a program first-hand or bring one or two people back to a future Point of Entry (in lieu of serving as a full Ambassador).
Cracking the code on this one piece of the Benevon Model will have a direct impact on every aspect of your Free One-Hour Ask Event. Your Ambassadors become your natural pool of potential Table Captains, ensuring that a very high percentage of the guests at the Ask Event are guests from Point of Entry Events from the prior year. These guests give, on average, two for four times more money than people who haven't been to Point of Entry Events in the prior year. We assume that for those Ask Event guests who have not attended a Point of Entry, the Ask Event serves as the "first date," in which case you should not expect them to be ready to give.
Regarding the question about how to increase your mailing list, that is not the intention of the Benevon Model. Rather than bringing you large numbers of names and emails of people you do not even know, this model will bring you a steady pipeline of newly engaged people who are passionate about your mission and, if you take the time to get to know them and cultivate their passions for your work, could become lifelong major donors.