Top 10 Tips On the Fine Art of Cultivating Donors

Cultivation is what makes solicitation possible.

Joanne Fritz

Cultivation is what makes solicitation possible. Done well, cultivation sets the stage for easy and successful "asks."

Cultivation covers all the communication and contact you have with prospective donors from newsletters and annual reports to special events and presentations.

Cultivation is not haphazard...but carefully planned and strategic.

Kay Sprinkel Grace in her book, Over Goal!: What You Must Know To Excel at Fundraising Today, makes the following points about cultivation:

1. Cultivation involves board members, volunteers, donors, and staff.

Staff sets up and participates in opportunities for board members and other volunteers to meet and talk with prospective donors. It is a cooperative project but is dependent on your volunteers making themselves available for cultivation events. Be sure to include current donors as well. They are excellent advocates for your cause.

2. Cultivation is strategic.

Parties and events mean nothing if there is not good follow-up based on a good cultivation plan. Cultivation planning has two parts: general and specific. General cultivation is all about regularly scheduled events (think tours, coffees, presentations). Specific cultivation activities are those meant for special prospects, those who may or may not also attend regularly scheduled activities and events.

3. Cultivation is systematic.

Every event or activity should have a follow-up plan. Good ways to follow up are adding prospect names to your mailing list and sending thank-you letters. Follow-up can be an email or personal phone call from a board member or event committee member to patrons of the event. At an event, do assign a board member to each table and provide them with confidential lists and short bios of those at their table. If large donors or prospects attend, make sure a board member looks after them.

4. Cultivation should be coordinated.

All interaction with prospective or current donors should be reported to a central person (development director, executive director, or board chair). Set up forms that staff or volunteers can fill out and fax to the coordinator. If you have a donor database, enter this information. Such "intel" can be crucial to good follow-up and future cultivation.

5. Cultivation should not be limited to large gift prospects.

Make sure that everyone who attends an event leaves it with increased knowledge about your organization. This can be a brief presentation, materials at each table, or a packet given out as attendees leave.

6. Not all cultivation involves personal interaction.

Cultivation occurs anytime you communicate with prospects. Your regular newsletter can be very effective as a cultivation tool, but be sure it is communicating the message you most want your readers to receive:

Does it communicate the impact and results of your programs, or does it focus on your needs?
Does it portray-in words and photos-the kinds of people you serve in your programs?
Does it balance volunteer information, donor recognition, and program impact? Or does it overemphasize your special events?

7. Don't forget that cultivation can be unexpected.

For instance, you might receive favorable press coverage that brings prospective donors to you. Board members and other volunteers, who are enthusiastic about your cause, might arouse interest through their own social gatherings or professional contacts.

8. While it is important to cultivate, know when to ask.

The purpose of cultivation is to ease and ensure the success of your eventual solicitation. Learn the signs that a prospect is open to being asked for a gift. Because cultivation is pleasant and painless, it can easily become all consuming and stave off the inevitable: asking for a gift.

9. Cultivation of corporations and foundations is different.

With these entities you usually know what the deadline is for a funding request, and what the process is for closing the gift. It is easier to sequence your activities. With individuals, there isn't such a calendar. But the same rules apply: cultivation must be systematic, coordinated, and strategic.

10. Make sure there is a budget for cultivation.

Cultivation does not have a predictable or immediate return. Consequently, it may be hard to to make the case that these activities are necessary for eventual gifts. Have at hand a few anecdotes about prospects who became donors as a result of good cultivation.

As Kay Sprinkel Grace points out in her book, Over Goal!, cultivation is a process and a tool. It provides opportunities for the donor to learn about your organization, requires coordination, strategic thinking, and great follow-up.

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