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April 18, 2018
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May 9, 2018

6 Elements of Stand-Out Donor Cultivation

I’ve been spending some time in my garden as Spring has finally seemed to come to Colorado after some fits and starts. In this somewhat severe climate, gardening seems to me to be a constant task of weeding, trimming, watering, transplanting, and starting again.

Donor cultivation is like that, too. It takes constant attention to build relationships with donors and prospects. Some times of year, you don’t do as much, but without careful and constant attention, your relationships could wither or be taken over by other things.

Also like gardening, donor cultivation has a wide variety of levels of expertise. You could be sort of a novice (like I am at gardening!) and just fiddle around with it, or you can really do it right.

Make sure you are doing it right! Weave these 6 elements of successful donor cultivation into your work:

Spontaneous:  The best donor relationships are built on moments of “I was thinking about you!”

Think breaking news, today’s photos, stories of impact, alerts, and quotes from the front lines. Sending donors things in real time as they happen. 

Personal:  Treat your donors like friends.  You wouldn’t just send an annual report with no note to someone you care about, would you? Of course not! You’d let them know that you thought they’d like to see it. While you may have too many donors to send personalized notes to everyone, be creative about spreading personalized communication as wide as possible throughout your donor base.

Think videos that speak right to a specific audience, e-mail comes straight from the executive director’s desk, and handwritten thank you notes from volunteers and clients of the organization.

Authentic: To be a good fundraiser, you have to be interested in people. You also need to want to connect with your donors and prospects.

Think about how your organization is talking to donors.  Have you considered the language and the tone?  Is there an authentic voice?

Delightful: Life is complicated. The problems we deal with in the nonprofit sector are very serious.  It seems to me that an organization that can delight its donors will be one to remember.

Think about something humorous, beautiful, inspiring, or fun with meaning and connection to your organization’s core.  At Greenpeace, we used to send our donors pieces of an old sail from the Rainbow Warrior – a treasure to any loyal Greenpeace donor.  What would do it for your donors?

Engaging: Your donors represent a well of goodwill, devotion, and energy that your organization could harness beyond their monetary gifts and by building relationships with them, they will be there for you when you need them.  Have you started the conversation?

Think about ways to get your donors to talk back so that you know their interests, skills, and connections.  Consider surveys, informal focus groups, and other ways to involve them in your work – even from an arm chair.

Consistent: Just like friend relationships, you donor cultivation needs to be consistent. Your donors don’t want to only hear from you before they get your annual appeal. They want to hear from you when something interesting happens.

Create some a system to track your activity. Whether you use your database or a spreadsheet, you’ll need a way to keep track of your efforts. (You can check out our donor cultivation calendar as an example of a way to plan out your cultivation.)

How do you make your donor cultivation stand out?


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