Donor Cultivation: Navigating the Donor Cultivation Cycle & Applying a Donor Cultivation Plan

Donor Cultivation: Navigating the Donor Cultivation Cycle & Applying a Donor Cultivation Plan

In the past few years there has been a continual decline in new donors looking to give assistance to nonprofit organizations. This steady decline of donors combined with the amount of resources it takes to attract new donors, which according to Forbes Magazine can be up to 25 times more, makes the Donor Cultivation Cycle one of the best ways to keep your organization or foundation functioning with the possibility of even expanding in a much more cost effective way through the cultivation process.

Creating and implementing an effective donor retention plan that works through cultivation can have a direct and immediate impact on any organization and their fundraising abilities. Clearly understanding the overall donor cultivation lifecycle and the steps needed to identify, engage and cultivate your donors is a must for all nonprofits and is what we will be discussing below.

What is a Donor?

When we are speaking of donors, we are referring to either a prospect, individual donors, foundations, an institution, corporations or even other for profit organizations or their boards that are looking to give your charity or nonprofit financial support through funding or fundraising or in some way make a donation. Donors donations don't always need to be funds, and can also include a major gift like providing space to run your nonprofit, or supplying IT services for free. The people behind the money or services are your donors or prospects, and as you will see each donor goes through a step by step donor cultivation cycle.

What Is Donor Cultivation?

Donor cultivation is a strategic and ongoing process of building meaningful relationships with potential and existing donors in order to bond them with your charity or nonprofit's cause over time, so that at some point in time your donors make a donation or even increase a preexisting one. During the donor cultivation process there are many steps involved in their cultivation, as each donor goes through a donor cultivation cycle that is predictable and can even be mapped out if necessary. The steps in the cycle give nonprofits and each member of their team the ability to understand what step should be taken to maximize donor retention and long-term sustainability for their nonprofits or foundation during the donors cultivation process.

The Donor Cultivation Cycle & Donor Cultivation Plan

The Donor Cultivation Cycle typically consists of several key stages of your donor’s relationship with your charity or nonprofit, each with specific steps to go through. Each major step or phase will have its own objectives and strategies in the cycle that over time will help cultivate and nurture continued support for your nonprofit organization or board and its fundraising capabilities. Depending on the size and sophistication of your charity or nonprofit, the cycles of Donor Cultivation typically include:

Identification Phase - Understanding Your Donor

The identification phase is where you identify that someone is interested in your charity’s mission and may want to help or get involved in some way. These prospects or donors can come from all sorts of sources including referrals, marketing and advertising campaigns or peer outreach. You can even include your own volunteers, event participants, corporations and closely related foundations in the identification phase and initial prospect research.

Once potential donors are identified, it’s time to gather as much information about the donors as possible for their future cultivation. Think of this as creating a major detailed bio on all of your prospects or future donors to make your job easier when it comes to fundraising for your foundation. These can be donors that have interacted with your board or charity in some way and have already given gifts, or someone that has reached out but isn’t at all familiar with your foundation yet.

You want to gather as many details as possible for your future donors reviews so you and your team will be more effective at deciding what sort of donor they are most likely to become during their cycle, and how receptive they’ll be to financially supporting your mission through gifts over time.

Here are a few items that will be very helpful for understanding each donor and how best to move forward with them through the donor cultivation lifecycle:

  • Get all of their personal details like their full name, address and phone number. Include any email accounts, social media groups they’re part of and any other details like where they work, do they have children, pets, etc.
  • What was the first point of contact? Was it at a fundraiser? Did they make a donation, speak with anyone, offer to volunteer or provide services?
  • How do they spend their time? Are they active on social media? Do they have hobbies they’re passionate about?

All of this information may seem trivial, but in the end the more complete your bio is, they better you’ll understand how to plan and approach each donor in ways that are comfortable for your donors during their cultivation.

Once you've gathered as much information on your potential donor, the next step is to contact them.

Engagement Phase – The Initial Contact

The engagement phase usually entails reaching out to the prospect in order to introduce your charity and to understand how receptive they may be to getting involved with your foundation's specific fundraising causes. This is when you’ll introduce them to your mission, types of programs and how to get started, and what impact your nonprofit and its board and campaigns have been able to achieve thus far. This can include calling them directly or emailing, inviting them to upcoming events, or getting them to become involved with any volunteer opportunities.

This is always best to do in person or over the phone where they can connect to your passion for your cause and you’ll be in a position to answer any questions or concerns they have instantly. If they've already made even the smallest of donations, make sure you express how thankful you are and how it will help your nonprofit reach its goals. Even better is to follow up with a personalized thank you email or post on a social media channel they are on.

Don’t rush the prospect and listen closely to what they are saying. This is the first point of contact in the cycle and the impression you leave on them will greatly affect the way they view your organization. Make them feel as comfortable as possible and don’t get over excited. Personalize and plan their experience as much as possible. And once you're finished with the interaction, immediately send them a note thanking them for their time and expressing gratitude for reaching out to your nonprofit.

Engagement Phase – Building Deeper Relationships through Cultivation Strategies 

Now that your prospect is somewhat familiar with what your nonprofit does and its mission statement, it's time to engross them as much as possible so your charity is always in the forefront of their mind during all your donor cultivation ideas and fundraising events. There are a lot of ways to captivate your donor's attention, from sending them personal emails updating them on what your nonprofit and its board is doing at the moment, to what activities are coming up and how to get involved with your plan.

Have your team use as many communication channels as possible when engaging with prospects through cultivation. You’ll learn over time which way they want to be contacted and what they feel most comfortable with. Some people are very busy and don’t have time for small chats on the phone. Others may feel comfortable on a call where they can see the person they’re talking to. Always include information like this in your bio for cultivation use and be respectful to your prospects.

Offer a variety of different ways for prospects and donors to get involved beyond just a monetary donation or major gift. This could include volunteering, attending events, participating in surveys, or joining a peer donor advisory committee. You can even create things like Facebook groups and other peer groups and ask them to get the word out by liking and sharing your content and articles. Maybe even invite them to write something on your campaigns or fundraising approach. Anything that helps them feel as though they are part of something important and that they are valued as an individual and not just a donor throughout their entire cultivation .

If possible, building face-to-face interactions through communities with your donors is also a fantastic way of engaging prospects. This can include having digital video calls with multiple donors to discuss their own private thoughts on your cause and offer their own ideas on how best to cultivate and achieve your goals. Or town hall meetings where you are just updating everyone on what’s been going on over coffee and doughnuts.Personal interaction is always the best way to cement personal relationships and get people passionate about what your nonprofit cares for. So the more you can include the better.

Solicitation Phase – Asking Individual Donors for a Donation

Almost all funding for nonprofits relies on fundraising and gifts that your prospects and donors can offer as funding. The solicitation phase is when you reach out directly to a potential donor and ask for financial contributions to your charity or cause through a prepared proposal or a simple question. Depending on your organization or its board, this can be done soon after you've completed the previous phases, or it could take several months to build a strong enough relationship through cultivation and engagement for the potential donor to feel comfortable enough to give a gift to your cause or fundraising activities.

At this stage of your donors cultivation, you should have a deep understanding of who the prospect is, how passionate they are about your cause, and possibly even understand their financial position and if they have the ability to donate or give a major gift. You should also have a better idea on what tactics to take when making the ask for a donation. Would they like to sit with you face-to-face over coffee? Or will a simple video message suffice?

The most important thing to remember here is to make the potential donor as comfortable as possible when you ask. It's also important to be tactful at this point as pushing too hard or not enough for fundraising or a donation can damage the ongoing relationship.

Stewardship Phase – Make Your Donor Feel Valued

Donor stewardship is all about managing the relationship with your donors on a more personal or intimate level after they have made a donation or gift. You want them to continue to be drawn in and passionate about your mission, while at the same time feeling valued and recognized for their contributions no matter how small the gift. This should always start by promptly expressing genuine gratitude and explaining how their funding will help have a positive impact on your nonprofit's viability and cause.

Again your bio can be a great resource in understanding the best ways to allow your major donor to feel special. Perhaps they like people knowing they’ve donated so you can thank them publicly on your group pages including the gift amount and any other funding they've provided over their time with your foundation, through email newsletters or even posting videos on a thank you page of your website and on YouTube. Whatever it takes, go the distance! One major gift makes a difference and can help funding for a long time to come.

Once your display of initial gratitude is completed, don’t forget to follow up with the donor. You can do little things that can set your nonprofit apart from all the other people vying for your donors support. A small handwritten note thanking your donors again and accompanied with a small gift can go a long way in making someone feel special for their time and funding. Especially if you take the time to create or purchase a gift that connects with them personally.

For example, if they are a small dog lover, perhaps a gift T-shirt that says Best Pet Owner, or a doggie treat gift basket. Small gifts like these allow people to feel heard and seriously valued. This can really make a difference in order for you to stand out from all the other clutter in their daily lives. Inspire and motivate donors and they’ll become lifelong supporters and continue with their gifts for all your major fundraising.

Upgrading Phase – Asking for More Major Fundraising

By now your donor has worked their way through most of the donor cultivation life-cycle and you’ve hopefully built a deep personal relationship with them. Even more ideally is that your donors have made one or more fundraising contributions or gifts and have shown their commitment to your cause through continued engagement with your nonprofit. This is where the upgrading phase comes in.

This is when you look at each donor individually for any and all opportunities to have them in some way upgrade their donations. So for example, if you have a one time donation from an individual or prospect, you can ask them to support you again by making another donation, gift or some other funding. Or better yet, funding through a major gift. You could also try enticing them to generate a monthly donation as even small funding over time adds up considerably..

You can even ask for donors to become a donors donor by asking a friend to give as well. People trust friends for recommendations, especially when it comes to nonprofits and funding.

If you have someone that has donated often, this is where you work on elevating them to major donors. Major donors and their major gift they can bestow are the backbone of any nonprofit and worth all the work that you put into them. This is where following your donor cultivation plan makes all the steps worth it.

Reengagement Phase - Getting Nonprofit Donors Involved Again

Sometimes donors drop off or become less inspired to help with your fundraising, this is when reengaging your donors with your cause again can bring a new desire for them to get involved again. Sometimes life just gets in the way and just by reaching out to your donors, you can get them to become active again, or you can look for new ways to immerse your donors in your cause.

Either way, reengaging someone that has not donated or been active in a while is a much better ROI than looking for completely new donors. These individuals already know you and hopefully trust you, it’s just their priorities may have changed, or even their financial position.

The most important step is to get them passionate again, then find out why they haven’t been involved lately. Try to get them to join your groups or communities. Offer them a VIP ticket to one of your fundraising events. Or just ask them to have a cup of coffee with you and have a chat. The little time it takes to re-engage someone is a lot less than starting over with a new prospect!

Wrapping Up

Nonprofit donors are getting harder to find let alone major gift giving contributors, and the competition from all types of nonprofits and other foundations for funding is only getting more intense over time. But using our cultivation strategies and ideas above, your nonprofit, foundation and your team will be able to get started on a plan to cycle and cultivate engagement and funding opportunities that donors will want to become a major part of. Using gift prospects and their gifts, fundraising campaigns and even the occasional major gift funding that results from a carefully created program like the one described above, all have the ability to keep funding at current levels and even increase future funding. Feel free to schedule demo of how we can help you at every phase of your journey by signing up here.

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