What Is the Fundraising Cycle?
I recently attended a golf meeting at the Brickyard Golf Course in Indianapolis, Ind. This golf course is next to the Indianapolis 500 race track. As I left my car to walk into the golf course building, I could hear, very loudly, the sound of race cars practicing on the race track. The Brickyard name is a reference to the yard of bricks that are actually on the finish line of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Even though I have lived in Indianapolis for years and have attended many 500 races, it is always a thrill to hear and see race cars.
What does the Indianapolis 500 have to do with the cycle of fundraising? Think about a race car driving 500 cycles around a track to complete the race. You have to drive one cycle with each prospect. If you have 150 prospects in your portfolio, you now have at least 150 cycles to perform just in the first year with your prospect pool!
In the article, “Fundraising 101—Fundraising Cycle,” it states there are five stages of the donor fundraising cycle, which are identification, qualification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship. Identification is finding and identifying potential prospective donors which can be individuals, corporations, associations, organizations and foundations. The goal is to find potential donors that could be the best fit for the organization.
According to the article, qualification is to see if the identified donor’s interests match your cause and have the capacity to make gifts. Cultivation is the fun stage when you can wine and dine your donors and get to personally know them. Solicitation is where you make the ask knowing the donors capacity and your needs. Stewardship comes into play after the solicitation is positively accepted. This is the step when you attempt to keep donors engaged for as long as possible in the life of the organization.
Manning & Napier notes that donors’ reasons behind giving are becoming more complex. Fundraising professionals must better understand how to effectively engage a stronger donor contingency going forward. With numerous donor motivations behind the giving cycle, one must assess where a donor falls in the fundraising cycle with the organization. View the fundraising cycle as a gift pyramid to motivate long-term donor commitment. When you understand where your donor falls in their cycle of fundraising, and then view the donor in the context of a donor pyramid, which is annual giving (identification and interest), major giving (involvement), and capital giving (information) and planned giving (investment).
GuideStar provides the following insights on how to strengthen the cycle. These insights are:
- Identifying prospects and current Donors with potential—as a first step in the cycle, you need to assemble a list much larger than the amount of donors you really need, which means look into your current and prior donor lists.
- Qualification—determining the qualification of a prospect entails finding out if the prospect might be willing and able to give after a period of cultivation. Conduct prospect research to learn about your prospects.
- Cultivation—during this period of time, which can take anywhere from six to 12 months, find out your donors passion, motivation and goals for philanthropy. Offer the donor a variety of engagement opportunities.
- Solicitation—ask the prospect for a donation. Personalize your ask to your prospects.
- Stewardship—maintain a strong connection through recognition and personal engagement. Balance recognition between public recognition and private recognition.
GiveGab suggests the following to improve the fundraising cycle: asking board members to identify potential prospects, spending 90% of your time in the cultivation step, determining how often to ask and when to solicit a gift, plus showing recognition for gifts made all of the time.
CauseVox encourages you not to just rely on statistics and jargon to get your point across. Use emotional client success stories, impactful pictures and moving videos. Present your information with a sense of urgency stressing that the work your organization does is necessary for your community. Learn about your donor to see what makes them tick. Continue to engage with your donors as much as possible. The first ask is the hardest, but it will be a good indicator of commitment to your cause. The ultimate goal of securing the first gift is to secure repeated giving. Always remember to constantly thank the donor. Show the donor the impact of their gift. Remember to always ask for donor feedback along this cycle to improve ways to interface with donors.
We have seen what the fundraising cycle is and how to succeed using this cycle. We also need to understand the fact that the fundraising cycle is not static but dynamic. This cycle changes over time and you must determine when cycle elements change. In your portfolio of prospects and donors, each individual donor prospect falls into a specific cycle step. As the relationship with a donor matures, the identification step ends, the qualification step should deepen and become clearer; the cultivation/stewardship step should be the major focus point with greater clarity when the next solicitation step should and how to be employed.
Think of your portfolio as the Indianapolis 500. Each race car is a donor going in a continuous circle across the track. The noise is loud but the goal remains the same. Your job is to get the car (donor) to the finish line through a successful close. The donor fundraising cycle is complex but with time and experience, you should be able to master this process. Good luck in your fundraising challenge race. As they say on race day, gentlemen/women, start your engines!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many 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 completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, IN plus Adjunct Professor for Olivet Nazarene University. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.