Our team refers to three primary fundraising strategies:
- Ask (solicitation)
- Thank (acknowledgment and recognition)
- Engage (cultivation and stewardship)
Donor engagement is all about deepening relationships and building affinity.
Last week, we explored donor stewardship (the work that happens after a gift is given). This week, we’ll explore cultivation (the work that happens before an ask is made).
Some organizations are on the never-ending hamster wheel of ask and thank, ask and thank, ask and thank. They don’t implement donor engagement practices because they keep focusing on transactional efficiencies, like getting the appeal letter out, sending the gala invitation, assembling the sponsorship package, drafting the grant application, and so on.
It’s time to start prioritizing donor engagement. Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you operationalize cultivation efforts into your fundraising practices. If you truly want to impact your fundraising goals, follow these steps:
- Do – invest in donor-centered fundraising, which includes taking the time to get to know your donors and moving beyond organization-centered conversations. How well do you know your donors and how often are you communicating with them? Last week’s column talked about the importance of top 25 donor lists. Do that work and build a plan for how you will cultivate those relationships.
- Do – plan different cultivation strategies for prospective, current, and lapsed donors because their relationships to the organization are different. Prospective donors will need more time to get to know the mission and leadership, current donors need to remain engaged to continue their support, and lapsed donors need be reminded of, and reintroduced to, your impact.
- Do – ask board members to serve as relationship managers, rather than solicitors. For years, boards and chief executives rate fundraising as the lowest grade on board performance report cards, as reported in Leading with Intent. It’s painful. Board members recoil at the idea of “dialing for dollars” or asking their personal contacts for money. Instead, ask them to help you build relationships with no asking, just engaging.
- Don’t – dismiss the power of a conversation. Cultivation does not have to be a long, belabored process. It can be as simple as a phone call, an email exchange, or a casual coffee meeting. Even if it is an institutional donor, encourage your grant writer to call before spending time writing an application. After all, program officers are human and they want to know you and your work beyond the words written on the page.
- Don’t – treat your donors like an ATM. If you do not engage with them before you ask for another gift, you risk alienating them. You want your donors to feel valued and a partner in fulfilling your mission, not as a cash machine.
- Don’t – procrastinate. Start today, but don’t ask for money. Remember, if you ask for money, then it’s solicitation instead of cultivation. The purpose is to make a connection and tend to the relationship.
After you read this article, pick up the phone and call a lapsed donor.
If you get voicemail, leave a message that you were thinking of them and wanted to reach out. If they answer, ask how they and their family is doing, especially given the pandemic, and share a story about a way in which your organization has responded to the unprecedented need.
Keep it up. The more you embed this work on a daily and weekly basis, the more manageable it is — we promise.
Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO