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  • Keep Donors Giving! 7 Steps for Building a Donor Cultivation Strategy

“Cultivation” is development jargon for maintaining the relationships with your donors necessary to convince them to maintain and potentially increase their giving to your organization. Think of your donor pool like the plants in your garden – each variety needs different amounts of water, fertilizer, nutrients, space, sun, and pruning.

Your donors are individuals that all need different TLC to keep them happy with your work and giving to support it. Some will grow regardless of how much sun you shine on them, but others need constant attention to feel important.

So how do you organize and manage that type of relationship-building in a work setting? With a specific, planned, donor cultivation strategy!


donor cultivation strategy


1. Put One Person in Charge of Cultivation

A donor cultivation strategy is important enough to your organization that you need to designate a specific staff person to organize efforts and keep track of cultivation moves with each individual.

Forgetting about your donors is the easiest way to lose your donors – and waste all of the energy and time you put into getting the initial gift! This person can be known as your development coordinator, manager, or director.

Also read: 5 Ways to Avoid Donor Abandonment

2. Get a Moves Management Database System up and Running

You need a moves management software program (or a simple database in Excel or Access if you don’t have that many donors). The point of a moves database is to have a central location where all contact information is stored as well as to enter and track steps toward completing your strategy for how, when, why, and where your donors are being contacted and cultivated.

What usually works best for nonprofits, especially small ones, is to have everyone working on contacting and cultivating donors report to the development coordinator you put in charge. The database will help that person keep the cultivation data organized!

The first step is to pick a moves software or donor database system and get all of the contact information for your most important donors entered into it.

For popular donor management (and online fundraising programs) click here.

Read Seven Criteria to Consider when Selecting Fundraising Software to identify a good system for your particular nonprofit.

3. Call for a Donor Strategy Meeting

Now that you have a working donor list in a donor management software system, distribute your list and organize a meeting for your top development officers, executive director, and other critical strategists on your volunteer fundraising board or staff.

You want this group to be relatively small – it could just be your development director or executive director to start. If so, that leader should set a time to look at the donor list and think about each donor individually.

4. Identify Three to Four Cultivation Moves for Each Donor

At your strategy meeting, you should think ahead for four dated moves for each donor on your list. You want to assign a person on your staff, board, or wider network to be in charge of the move as well.

Moves follow a simple formula: contact + thanking + engagement + personalization + asking = greater gifts.

For example, if you have a donor, Mrs. Partridge, that gave a first time gift the year before because she knows your board chair and he asked her to give, your moves management might look like this:

  1. Ask Board Chair to call her and invite her to an organizational event she will like.
  2. Send her a letter with a thank you for attending and for her support afterwards.
  3. Send a personal email bi-monthly with an update from the Director.
  4. Send an appeal for a repeat gift.

A donor that does not like to be contacted often might get one simple letter annually that does all – contacts, thanks, engages in a personalized way, and asks.

The tricky aspect of moves management is that it evolves constantly and is not necessarily fixed on a timeline. If Mrs. Partridge does not go to the event, you will have to change your strategy or perhaps add a move to invite her to a lunch or other get-together.

The important part is that you put the time in to engage her in a personalized way, thank her often, and make her feel as important as she is to you with contact from your highest echelon.

5. Assign Cultivation Moves to Your Board and Staff

Send each person involved in the cultivation strategy a list of their assigned move tasks, by date, and remind them to act!

Also read: 6 Tricks to Find the Right Donor Prospects for Your Cause

6. Research Donors to Fill in Knowledge Gaps

If your Board Chair is a friend of the donor, like Mrs. Partridge, you most likely have adequate insight into her personality, habits, likes and dislikes, family life, education and other factors that determine setting moves and developing a cultivation strategy.

If you do not have that type of insight for a donor, however, you will want to research her first! Blackbaud offers good free advice on how to get started on prospect research.

7. Track Donor Moves

Make sure you note all moves and their results in your database. Your Board Chair might shoot an email to the development coordinator on the results of his call to Mrs. Partridge, for example. Then the development coordinator will adjust the strategy as necessary based on the moves result.

Cultivation might seem like a lot of work, but, in the long run, if you stay on top of keeping your donors happy and soliciting larger and larger gifts from them, you will cut down your funding hunt time incrementally to make your work easier!

Not to mention one other important fact – cultivation is fun! Getting the gift was the hard part; now all you have to do is show off your work, build a relationship, thank your patron, and make her happy. If you do, what started as a little seed will grow into a rooted, blooming bush in your organizational garden.

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