Donor Cultivation Is Key to Success
Several years ago, I directed a capital campaign to build a hospital facility. The goal was to raise several million dollars. I cultivated a long-time donor to become chairperson of the campaign. I told her I had no plan B because she was instrumental to the campaign’s success. When she realized the truth in my statement and the fact we had history together, she agreed to volunteer. She took charge of the facility plans and helped me with prospect strategies over time.
One of the lead gifts for this campaign came into being because I cultivated, in this case, the donor, the donor’s wealth advisor/board member and donor’s long-term secretary, who was also a donor. There were three different people, and I used three different approaches to their cultivation. These approaches were long-term and sustained. These three donors provided the organization with annual gifts, major gifts, planned gifts and a
seven-figure capital campaign endowment gift that keeps on giving. I am convinced that without constant and purposeful cultivation I would not have been successful with these donors.
We should all realize that cultivation is one of five elements of a Fundraising Cycle. According to the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the five stages of the Fundraising Cycle are identification, qualification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship.
According to Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the cultivation process is the backbone of any successful fundraising operation. In this phase you should be building relationships, engaging the prospect and preparing to make the ask.
The phases of the cultivation process are commonly referred to as the “4Rs.” Development directors suggest that their time is divided among the phases in approximately this way:
- Research, about 25 percent of time
- Romance, about 60 percent of time
- Request, about 5 percent of time
- Recognition, about 10 percent of time
Cultivation strategies are based upon the information gathered in the identification phase. Cultivation refers to methods you will use to build a relationship with a donor.
Questions to consider include:
- How will you make contact?
- How will you inform prospects about your projects and build a propensity to give?
- Who will do the cultivating?
- How will it be achieved and sustained?
Cultivation covers a range of activities from direct mail, telephone and email contact through special events, personal visits and peer-to-peer networking. Examples of involvement include meetings, facility tours of the organization, and fundraising priorities, plus volunteer involvement.
According to GiveGab, “How to Use the Fundraising Cycle for Maximum Results,” cultivation, or building strong relationships with your donors, is an important phase for retaining and ensuring future donations. If you are not investing a great deal of time in cultivation, you are not adequately securing the future of your mission.
Cultivation is all about engaging your donors. CauseVox’s article, “Donor Engagement Cycle: Inspire. Learn. Engage. Ask. Thank. Show Impact.” states that the donor engagement lifecycle consists of the elements of inspiring/recruiting donors to take action, engaging the donor through an offering of engagement opportunities, ask for the gift when you believe the time is right, show impact for the gift and show needs for future gifts, and start the cycle all over again.
Donor cultivation is the key to success. You need to learn what your donors think, feel and know about your organization. You need to quickly understand why they are interested in supporting your organization. You must, over time, match their needs with your wants in a positive way by communicating with them on their terms. You strive for a win-win scenario.
Like dating, you will know how things are going between you and the donor. Create a calendar cultivation plan, and stay in touch with the donor using various methods, including having your donors interact with other donors. Half of the battle is won when your donor is inspired to give without being asked at a level the matches their capacity with your need. Cultivation is hard work and is intense. Always remember you represent the institution and understand the line you cannot cross on a personal basis.
According to Roman philosopher Seneca, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Strive to create your own luck, and the cultivation process will serve you well with your donors.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, educator and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 10 years and has had the CFRE designation for the last 26 years. He has also been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for over 35 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division plus Adjunct Professor for Olivet Nazarene University. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.