Fundamentals of Donor Cultivation

We’ve all heard the old maxim, “it’s easier to raise money from a donor you already have than from a donor you haven’t met yet.” The meaning of this saying is true, and clear: your best donors are your current donors. They’re likely to give to you again and again, so long as you continue to cultivate them.

No matter what school, church, or charity you are fundraising for, you should have a plan in place for cultivating current donors in addition to your work with prospects. The goal of your cultivation system is twofold: first, to encourage your current donors to keep giving, and second, to encourage them to increase their gifts as time goes on, as well as to open up their own fundraising networks on your behalf.

Here are ten ways you can develop your financial partners:

  1. Have a Plan – Does your ministry have a written donor cultivation plan with timelines and concrete goals? If not, you should. Your donor cultivation plan may be its own document, or could be a part of your overall fundraising plan.
  2. Find the Right Database – A good donor database is crucial in successful donor cultivation. Yours should be able to track donor contacts (or “touches”) as well as allow you to set reminders for future action.
  3. Stay in Touch – The best way to make donors feel like a real part of your team is by staying in touch with them on a regular basis. Remember, most communications should not be asks – keep your donors updated and excited about your organization so that when the time comes to make an ask, they are ready to give.
  4. Use All Mediums – Unless your donor tells you otherwise, stay in touch with him or her through all available mediums: online and off, phone calls, events, emails, printed newsletters, annual appeals, social networking, and more.
  5. But Don’t Overdo It! – Most donors dislike being bombarded by the charities they support, so make sure you’re not overdoing it with the newsletters and updates.
  6. Have a Clearly Defined Path for Each Class of Donor – Your goal in working with donors should be to move them along a clearly defined path of asks, drawing them ever closer to your organization as they make larger and larger gifts. Stratify your donors by likely donation sizes (something as simple as Low, Mid, and High might work) and have a cultivation plan for each level of donor.
  7. Start Donor Groups – Donor groups work for all levels of donors, and make your supporters feel like part of the team. Start some this year!
  8. Tie in Volunteer Opportunities – One of the best ways to cultivate donors and connect them to your mission is by giving them opportunities to work alongside your staff in a volunteer capacity. Even if your ministry doesn’t have “natural” volunteer opportunities because of the work you do, there’s always a way to get volunteers involved, even if it’s only with an envelope stuffing party for your next big event.
  9. Answer Questions – The closer a donor feels to your organization, the more comfortable they are going to feel calling (or e-mailing) your staff with questions and suggestions. If at all possible, have a staff member answer every single question and suggestion from donors, even if it is only to say, “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll look into it for you.”
  10. Be Donor-Centered – Remember, without your donors, your ministry wouldn’t exist. Treat your donors like the integral part of your organization that they are, and they will stay loyal to you and your mission.