FUNdraising Good Times – Cultivation: a first step in the fundraising process

Fundraising is about building relationships.

We all have relationships. When it comes to fundraising – especially major gift fundraising – the question is this: do you – or those you know – have relationships with individuals who can make or influence major gifts?

Relationships with potential major donors typically develop over time. They can be the result of an individual, corporation or foundation making smaller gifts over time. Through these smaller gifts donors get to know more about your organization’s work; they learn how you allocate funds; they may view your financials; and they are exposed to your board members through reporting, marketing materials, and what is known in the fundraising business as “cultivation.”

Cultivation is one of the initial steps in major gift fundraising. This is basically relationship building. The process requires an investment of time, research, and people power. Sometimes that investment can feel like a “large” investment, and it can be. But, you have to keep the end goal in mind: if you want individuals to give to your organization in a meaningful way, they have to get to you know, you have to build trust, and they need to feel confident that yours is the right organization to share their finances and resources with.

The cultivation process includes research and listening. You want to uncover a potential donor’s interests and learn how to engage them. You want to get to know each prospective donor both professionally and personally. This includes things such as their giving history, family and business interests, and civic and social endeavors. You have to be patient, and stay with an agreed-upon “game plan.” While your organization may need major gifts, that does not necessarily impact why and when a donor will give. A gift is just that: a gift. You have to be donor-focused when cultivating major donors.

This process cannot be “farmed out” or “contracted out.” It is about peers cultivating peers. The best people to assist with cultivating new major donors are those women and men who are already making a major gift to your organization.

Here are three things to remember:

  1. You need to have a well thought out cultivation plan.
  2. You need to have the right people, at the right time, to help with the cultivation process.
  3. Asking for money is not the priority during the cultivation process.

The following is a list of cultivation activities to consider as you build your major gifts fundraising. These are listed in order from lowest to highest level of engagement and organizational effort.

  1. Newsletter and annual report
  2. Website and social media
  3. Special event invitation
  4. Invitation to a small luncheon or dinner
  5. Personal notes from board members, campaign leaders and top organizational leadership
  6. Recognition and acknowledgment for prior involvement and/or giving
  7. VIP tours of your organization
  8. Opportunity to visit with organizational leadership

Bottom line: invest your time if you want others to invest their money.

Copyright 2018 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

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