How to Build a Major Donor Program from the Ground Up
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” – Lewis Carroll
When we simply engage in incidental cultivation and stewardship – a meeting here, a party there – the only place we get to is the meeting or the party. Is that our goal? If at the end of the year you’ll be happy if you’ve hosted six house parties and sent out holiday cards to your donors – yet have seen no increase in numbers of gifts or average gift size – then perhaps your time hasn’t been wasted. But I’ll wager that status quo is not your goal. So, how do we move from a random series of unconnected activities to a purposeful, systematic, coordinated approach that is part of an overall solicitation plan?
Cultivation and stewardship can be defined as the strategic “road map” to effective solicitation. The coordinated series of planned “actions” or “touches” with the prospect/donor that we put in place along the way can be viewed as the stopping points we take on the journey towards our destination. Sometimes we stop to refresh ourselves (and our prospects). Sometimes we take in a view (i.e., show our donors the results of our efforts). Sometimes we need to refuel (and re-engage our donors’ passions). If the journey is a pleasant, enriching, rewarding, enlightening and enjoyable one — as opposed to one where we merely wander around, never sure where we are or where we’re going — then reaching the destination is a natural culmination.
Keep in mind these 6 tips to ensure cultivation efforts are not wasted:
Focus should be donor-centered, offering opportunity to learn about the organization, and concentrating on the impact of investment on fulfilling your mission. Indicate to the prospect/donor that they are valued partners with you in providing community services. Remember that not everyone wants the same type of cultivation/recognition. Some want to “belong”. Others want to see the impact of their gift; go “behind-the-scenes”. Some want to transform the world.
- Cultivation can be general (for a group) or specific (for one prospect)
Risk of random cultivation is “burn out” of staff and volunteers – not to mention a too high cost of fundraising (e.g., parties without follow-up; people leaving without increased knowledge of the organization). Good follow-through includes: (1) getting names/addresses of attendees and adding to mailing list; (2) sending thank yous; (3) phone calls; (4) plan for next steps.
- To work “smart” we must focus and channel our energies towards a goal
Not only is continuous cultivation without an “ask” pointless, but it can also be annoying to prospective donors who expect to be invited to join in your mission.
- Cultivation must have a point. It’s a means to an end; not an end in itself
Staff plans and participates in opportunities for volunteers to meet and talk with prospective donors. Volunteers make themselves available for planned events.
- Cultivation is a partnership with board, volunteers, donors and staff
It costs money to raise money. Take care that your efforts are not so lavish that it appears you do not need the contributions you seek. But remember that nothing comes from nothing.
- Cultivation requires a budget and assigned personnel
You’ve got to be in this for the long haul. If you’re not: debriefing staff and volunteers; recording ‘actions’ in your database; viewing and analyzing reports; focusing your efforts on an articulated goal, and planning your next “moves” as part of a systematic plan, then forget about it entirely. It’s a waste.
- Bottom line: Cultivation is about building lasting relationships