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The Tampa CW Story: Sustainable Funding

This is the fifth in a continuing series of articles about how to start a Catholic Worker community, told through the lived experience of the Tampa Catholic Worker.

Welcome back to our series of articles about how we started Florida’s first and (for now) only Catholic Worker community, Dorothy Day Tampa (DD Tampa). In our previous posts, we shared the influence of the Catholic Worker vision, mission, and values in developing a Dorothy Day House in Tampa. We discussed our decision to establish a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality and the development of our unique media and messaging approach. Our overall strategy is designed to align with Dorothy’s vision and the Catholic Worker House model as we introduce the concept of radical hospitality to the local Tampa community and beyond.

Our long-term goal of providing affordable housing, resources, and community to the homeless means that we must seek support through prayer, volunteerism, and fundraising. Prayer and volunteerism are at the heart of DD Tampa and – as Dorothy emphasized – contemplation and action are at the heart of social justice. Through prayer (contemplation) and volunteerism (action) we are building our ministry and laying the cornerstone for our House of Hospitality. As word of DD Tampa spreads throughout the area, we attract volunteers, as well as the local media, and an assortment of curious onlookers who are drawn to the authenticity of the Catholic Worker Movement’s message of hope, dignity, and love.

That leaves fundraising.

Fortunately, my wife, Ann, and I had previous experience in this area, having successfully launched Love INC Tampa. (Love INC is a national organization that coordinates area churches to provide services to those in need.) This is the story of how we stumbled into the sustainable fundraising method we used at Love INC and that we continue to use at Dorothy Day Tampa.

Shortly after opening the doors of Love INC in 2017, we made our first foray into fundraising, a well-intended IPA beer-tasting event. Despite our optimism, it was a disaster. Our goal had been to sell 250 wristbands for the event at $25 each. A week before the event, our event team had sold…twenty. Thankfully (for us), a hurricane warning enabled us to cancel and regroup.

God Moment: Tampa fundraiser consultant Dave Finkel met with me to provide his guidance on rescheduling our ill-fated beer tasting event. Dave listened and then offered an alternative option: the Benevon fundraising model. Dave and his model changed our fundraising strategy immeasurably. It was successful for six events for Love INC and is now being developed for Dorothy Day Tampa.

What is the Benevon Model for Sustainable Fundraising?

The Benevon model is both a sustainable fundraising and a community engagement tool. This approach moves away from the traditional cycle of annual fundraising, instead aiming to establish an ongoing funding system.

The model is not about simply putting on a single “Ask Event” and hitting people up for money. It is based on relationship building and will provide an organization like DD Tampa with a systemic process for connecting with and engaging with supporters.

At the heart of the Benevon model is respect for the individual. It is about engaging people passionate about a nonprofit’s mission and work, essentially creating the lifeblood for the organization’s sustainability. Just as we want to forge personal relationships with the people we serve, we aim to forge personal, ongoing relationships with the individuals who provide the financial support to make that happen.

Easy? Hardly, but the long-term financial results are breathtaking.

The Benevon model consists of four fundamental steps:

1. Point of Entry Event. This one-hour introductory event serves as an initiation to the cause. Potential donors attend a private event, invited by a friend or colleague who serves as an ambassador for the nonprofit. Attendees learn about the organization’s impact in three key areas: the need addressed, the work undertaken to fill gaps in existing care or services, and the transformative outcomes produced.

2. Follow-up and Involvement. Attendees receive a personal follow-up call within two days to solicit their feedback and gauge their interest in the organization and its mission. This involves careful listening. Those who are interested are engaged in whatever way they prefer. This step includes utilizing a donor management system to log data and plan future interactions.

Point of Entry attendees who are not interested in further engagement are let off the hook completely. We call this “Bless and Release.” Paradoxically, many attendees who decline further involvement are pleasantly disarmed at this respectful response and often feel motivated to refer others who may share values and interests that are more closely aligned with the nonprofit’s mission.

In the Benevon model, the phase between following up (step 2) and asking for donations (step 3) is referred to as the “Cultivation Superhighway”; in Catholic Worker terms, it’s simply about building a personal relationship. The more interactions, or touchpoints with potential donors during this period, the more likely they are to contribute generously and become actively engaged in the work.

3. Asking for Money. After multiple contacts designed to connect attendees to the areas of the mission that they’re most passionate about, the next step is to ask for a donation. This request can happen either one-on-one or at a free, one-hour ask event.

At this event, individuals are invited to participate in a motivational, mission-centric, complimentary one-hour breakfast event. By the event’s conclusion, attendees are encouraged to join a Multiple-Year Giving Society by committing to a minimum gift of $1,000 annually for the upcoming five years.

Every solicitation encompasses two key elements: Five-Year Multiple Year Pledges and Units of Services ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. Our DD Tampa’s donation levels are set at $1,000, $2,500, and $5,000.

Distinct from traditional fundraising events, the Free One-Hour Ask Event requires that all Table Captains have served as Ambassadors in the preceding year, and their invitees must have attended a Point of Entry Event. Importantly, the Ask Event is free to attend, with no obligation for attendees to contribute.

4. Introducing Others, Reconnecting Others. This step is all about expanding connections and re-establishing bonds. Here, donors are reintroduced to the nonprofit’s mission through events that are tailored to specific programs. In addition, donors are motivated to broaden the nonprofit’s reach by stepping into the role of Ambassadors, which includes hosting their own Point of Entry Events in the subsequent year. This strategy fosters the introduction of new potential supporters to the organization. It also provides a way for individuals to move beyond their role as donor and instead, take on a more active role in the organization.

Finally, here are some key lessons I’ve learned along the way.

  • A wholehearted and passionate commitment to long-term sustainability is a prerequisite before adopting this approach. Without that commitment, the effort will fail.
  • A successful nonprofit needs to be fervently seeking a fundraising model that promotes genuine community engagement and cultivates a philanthropic culture. The Benevon model serves as a solution, providing a culture of substantial giving which breathes life into the organization. By emphasizing community building and respect for individuals, this model is an approach to fundraising that is more compatible with Catholic Worker values than other models.
  • The concept of sustainable funding translates into a tangible target, which won’t materialize by chance. Attaining long-term sustainability in a nonprofit organization requires concerted effort over time, a dedicated team, and tenacious work.
  • The Point-of-Entry event is crucial—it serves as both the heart and the engine driving the entire process. Its successful execution cannot be emphasized enough.
  • Donors, like staff and volunteers, are valued members of the nonprofit’s community. Prioritizing donor-centric events is essential—it is donors who make mission fulfillment possible.

Next up in our series: Site selection…choosing a location and property that fits your mission.

To view all of the articles in this series, visit the The Dorothy Day Tampa Story page. For other takes, see How to Start A Catholic Worker Community.

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