Cultivation Email vs Solicitation Email: Understanding the Differences for Effective Fundraising Emails

Cultivation Email vs Solicitation Email: Understanding the Differences for Effective Fundraising Emails

In our modern, technology-driven world, email marketing is an integral part of running a nonprofit. Whether you are asking for donations, advertising for your upcoming fundraising event, or simply introducing a new hire, emails allow nonprofits to regularly connect with donors and leads. Without emails, your nonprofit can easily slip to the back of donors' minds, which could be detrimental to your mission.

A wise nonprofit strikes a healthy balance between staying connected with donors without becoming so persistent they send you to the spam folder. In this article, we hope to help you devise the perfect plan for your nonprofit.

Cultivation Email vs. Solicitation Email

The two main types of emails nonprofits utilize are cultivation and solicitation. Both play a crucial role in supporting the nonprofit and generating funds but in very different ways. A cultivation email is meant to inform and connect without a donation ask.  Solicitation emails do the opposite. They ask for some type of action (money, fundraising, ect.) that benefits the nonprofit.

Striking the perfect balance between the two will lead to a positive repour with donors that lasts for years. Overusing one or the other can leave your donors feeling confused and uninformed or over-solicited and exploited. Neither of these is good for furthering the mission of a nonprofit.

The Importance of Email Cultivation 

Cultivation emails are meant to nurture existing relationships between nonprofits and their donors. They keep donors informed about the mission, latest events, awards, and hires and, in return, keep you in the forefront of their minds.

Failing to send cultivation emails can result in a few consequences:

  1. You can fall to the back of the donor’s mind. By not keeping in touch or updating donors, they might forget all about your mission. Donors are busy, after all, and if they forget your nonprofit, they could take their donations elsewhere.
  2. They feel solicited. Solicitation emails are important, but if you only contact donors when you need their money, they can develop a negative view of your nonprofit, no matter how well-meaning you are.
  3. Donors can become confused about your mission. If you don’t keep donors updated about your activities, they could forget what you stand for. Are you for animal protection? Children? Veterans? Make sure these are never questions donors have to ask by keeping them updated about what you’re doing.  

Key Elements of a Cultivation Email

Cultivation emails shouldn’t feel boring, stuffy, or read like a laundry list of to-do’s. Instead, they should contain the same type of information you’d share with a friend. Remember, this is not the time to ask for any kind of donation or fundraising.

While your cultivation emails should be unique and contain a variety of information, there are a few key characteristics to focus on.

Name of donor. Addressing each donor by name adds a personal touch to your message and makes donors feel valued.

Welcome email. Any time you have a new donor or subscriber, make sure to send an automated welcome email with important information about your nonprofit so they know who you are and what to expect in your emails.

Valuable content. Not all content that is valuable to you as a business owner is valuable to your readers. Donors don’t need to know your budget analysis, daily schedule, or the nitty-gritty details of every event. What they do want to know about is upcoming events, successes of the nonprofit, and stories about how their donations are funding the mission.

Types of Cultivation Emails

Newsletters. Newsletters can be sent out weekly, monthly, or whenever you have something important to share with your donors. Include details about recent events, milestones you’ve reached, links to recent blogs, or anything else you feel is important for donors to know. This is also a great time to introduce any new staff members to your donors.

Impact/Story Report. If your nonprofit has recently had an impactful moment at an outreach event, your donors want to hear about it. Share the story of how your team is carrying out your mission so donors can see just how impactful their donations are to the community.

Survey/feedback. A cultivation email is a great place to ask for feedback on a recent event. Send the survey to people who attended your event and ask what they enjoyed and what you can improve.

Blog. If your nonprofit has a blog, consider sending an excerpt of the article to donors' emails with a link to the full piece.

Holiday e-cards. Birthdays and national holidays are a great time to send an e-card to let your donors know you're thinking about them.

The Importance of a Solicitation Email for Donor Leads

Solicitation emails are different from cultivation emails in that they are not intended to inform. Instead, they are meant to elicit an action from the reader. Use solicitation emails to ask for donations, purchases, or fundraising. You may feel uncomfortable asking someone for money through email, but as a nonprofit, people expect donation requests. They know the money isn’t padding your pocket, but is being used to further a mission they care about as much as you do.

Types of Solicitation Emails

In a solicitation email, you want to be personable and address the recipient by name just as you would in a cultivation email, but make your call-to-action (donation request) clear. A few types of solicitation emails are:

One-time donation: Ask for a one-time donation when you have an upcoming event/mission/individual/facility that needs a boost in funds. After the financial need is met, you should send a follow-up email letting donors know exactly how their money was used, including pictures, if possible.

Recurring-donation. Recurring donations are invaluable to a nonprofit. When soliciting donors for a recurring donation, describe your nonprofit's big-picture goals. Tell prospects how their money will fund your mission, the people who will be impacted, and anything else that will show them the importance of their contribution.

E-commerce. If your nonprofit doesn’t have its own branded swag, it should! People love wearing t-shirts, hats, and sweatshirts with emblems that are important to them. Send solicitation emails with a link to your e-commerce shop around the holidays, before upcoming events, or anytime you release a new product. Your donors will receive a piece of merchandise they love and you receive free advertising. It’s a win-win!

Strategic Use of Cultivation Emails 

Like all marketing strategies, timing is key for successful cultivation emails. Connecting with donors through cultivation emails is a great way to show them:

  1. You value them as a part of your organization.
  2. You are using their contributions wisely and effectively.

Failing to utilize cultivation emails can result in donors forgetting about your organization and withdrawing their contributions. However, over-communicating can send you straight to the spam folder. Balance, as usual, is best. Studies show that businesses should send at least one cultivation email per month, but no more than two.

If you plan to send two cultivation emails per month, make sure you have valuable information for each email. Repeating information can make your emails feel mundane and result in fewer opens. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough content for two emails. One monthly newsletter or testimony is plenty.

Timing is also important for sending cultivation emails. There is debate on the best day to send emails, but most studies agree that early in the morning or around lunchtime is best for optimal engagement. Try sending out emails between 6 am and 8 am so your email is at the top of the inbox or between 11 and 1 pm to catch people on their lunch break.

It might take some experimentation to find the best time to send your cultivation emails, as every audience is different. Consider employing the help of an email tracking software like Gmass to find out what time of day results in the most engagement.

Example of welcome email:

       Hi there, Justin!

Let me be one of the first to welcome you to the Mountain Cleanup Project family!

Thanks to our generous donors, volunteers, and community members like you, the Mountain Cleanup Project family makes our forests clean and hospitable for our woodland residents. Last year alone, we saw a 10% increase in the rare red fox population thanks to events like Movies in the Trees! and Clean Up the Woods.

Now that you’re on board, you can expect to be updated on all the new ways we’re discovering to help our woodland friends thrive in their natural habitat. You’ll also get information about ways you can get more involved.

On behalf of all of us at the Mountain Cleanup Project, thank you and welcome to the pack!



        The Mountain Cleanup Project

Example of a happy birthday email:

Hey Justin!

From all of us at the Mountain Cleanup Project, Happy Birthday!! Thank you for your support of woodland creature conservation. Know that with your help, we saw a 10% increase in fox populations last year. We’re grateful to have you as a cherished member of our pack.

Enjoy your special day!


       Your friends at the Mountain Cleanup Project

Strategic Use of Solicitation Emails 

Many of the same principles listed above also apply to solicitation emails. You'll want to address each recipient by name and find a good rhythm for sending out your emails so you don't appear absent or pushy. Solicitation emails, however, serve a very different purpose. Effective solicitation emails should result in action, so the content and delivery must be different.

Make it about the mission. While cultivation emails can be about the nonprofit's team or even the donor, solicitation emails should be all about the mission. Who or what needs help? What kind of financial gap are you facing? How could a donation further the mission of the organization?

Tell a story. Statistics and facts are great, but nothing is more compelling than a well-told story. Instead of telling your donors how much bacteria is in the water of your sponsored village, tell them a story of how a village member contracted an illness from the dirty water. Show them pictures of the water/village. Tell them how a water filtration system could save people from further harm.

Be direct. After you've informed your donor about the need, be direct. Are you asking for a one-time donation or a recurring gift? Are you asking for a specific amount? Do you have a link to your online giving platform? Be crystal clear with your expectations so your donor knows how to proceed.

Timing and Frequency Considerations

Timing your solicitation emails well will take some experimentation, but most research shows that mid-week is best. Monday and Friday can still yield success depending on your goal and audience, but it's best to avoid the weekend altogether. Most people don't check their email and you don't want to get buried in the inbox.

Asking for people's hard-earned money is a balancing act. Ask too often and you could get sent to the spam folder or come across as pushy. Don't ask enough and people could forget about you between emails. You want to send solicitation emails at least once every 30 days, twice at most. Make sure to send cultivation emails between solicitations so your donors don't think you're only interested in their money.

Thank You Phone Calls, Emails or Direct Mail

When a donation of any amount is received either in person or online it's courteous to extend a 'thank you.' This can be done in a few different ways.

Phone call. It might sound tedious, but a thank-you phone call from a team member goes a long way.

Email. Email thank-you notes are quicker ways to thank a donor for their contribution. All you need is an email template and a bit of personalization and your donor will know they are seen and appreciated.

Letter of appreciation. Direct mail is still a valuable way to communicate with others. Sending a postcard, letter, or handwritten card is a personal way to thank a donor for supporting your mission.

Balancing Cultivation and Solicitations in Your Email Strategy 

Successful email strategizing is a balancing act, but one that can pay off if done properly. The goal is to integrate both cultivation and solicitation emails in a way that makes your donors feel connected to the nonprofit and informed about its financial needs without being too pushy. A good rule of thumb is to space each solicitation email with a cultivation email. 

To know if your email strategy is working, use email monitoring software to find out which emails result in the most donations. This may take some time, but once you determine the type and frequency of the most profitable emails, you can adjust your strategy and run more effective campaigns.

FAQs about Cultivation and Solicitation Emails 

How do I write a solicitation email?

A foolproof way to craft an effective solicitation email is to tell a compelling story about how your nonprofit is furthering its mission. Address your donor by name, tell the story with truthful details, and ask for a donation.

Why is donor cultivation important?

Donor cultivation is important because it keeps you connected with the people who fund your mission. Newsletters, Happy Birthday emails, and holiday e-cards are tools that keep you at the top of donors' minds and let them know you value them and their contributions.

What is the difference between cultivation and solicitation?

Cultivation emails nurture the donor-nonprofit relationship without asking for anything in return. Solicitation emails ask for revenue through donations or fundraising.

How often should I send emails to donors?

A good rule of thumb for sending both solicitation and cultivation emails is at least once per month but no more than twice. Following this schedule, you could send an email per week without coming across as pushy.

Start Implementing Successful Fundraising Campaigns Today

We know it can feel awkward to ask for money, but as a nonprofit, donations are the backbone of your company and donors expect you to ask for them. Thanks to cultivation emails, you can connect with donors in a way that makes them feel valued and informed. Cultivation emails act as a buffer between solicitations so your donors don't feel overwhelmed or annoyed. By striking a healthy balance between cultivation and solicitation emails, you will build lifelong relationships with donors that result in generous donations to fund your mission.


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Jordan Thompson

Jordan is an author and copywriter in the home and family niche. Connect with her on Instagram (https://instagram.com/jordanthompsonauthor?igshid=MzNlNGNkZWQ4Mg== ) and Indeed (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jordan-thompson-0916a1262). For copywriting inquiries contact her at jordanthompsonwrites@gmail.com.

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