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The Dance: The Importance of Donor Cultivation

Ok. You have a fist full of names of qualified prospects with significant means. Now you just need to hit them up for money and you’ll have what you need for your project, right?

Not so fast. So often nonprofit leaders are so focused on getting funded, that they can destroy their chances before they even get started. Sustainable fundraising takes time. Especially when you are asking individuals to support your nonprofit in a significant way.

You must cultivate a real relationship with them. I call this “The Dance”. Think of fundraising like dating. Are you going to ask someone to marry you on the first date over dessert? Probably not. Major gift fundraising works the same way.

It is critical that you take the time necessary to get to know your prospective donors on a personal level. What excites them about your mission? What is their personal story? How were their lives impacted by any adverse childhood experiences? Did they or someone in their family benefit from the help of others? Are they motivated by emotion or results?

These are the important things that you should know when cultivating your prospect. Understand what drives their decision to give or take action. It builds trust between you and them on behalf of your organization.

You might be thinking, This could get expensive! Well, it doesn’t have to be. For example, if you learn that your prospect likes a particular sports team, and you come across an article about the coach of that team, share the article with them. “Hey Tom, I saw this article and thought it might be of interest to you.” It’s all part of building that connection. A small gesture like that can make all the difference.

What the cultivation process does is inform your next steps. As you get to know your prospects you’ll learn when it's a good time to ask, how much to ask for, and for what project.

Listening is the most important attribute of a good fundraiser. I often use the analogy of a driver and GPS to describe the donor/fundraiser relationship. The donor is the driver. She’s behind the wheel, carefully driving, feeling in control, enjoying the ride. You, as the fundraiser, are the GPS. Your job is to keep the driver on the right road, gently guiding her on your way to your destination - the gift. Sometimes the driver will make a wrong turn - and take the conversation in a very different direction. You as the GPS will need to occasionally course-correct so that you arrive at your destination smoothly.

Understand, you are building and sustaining these relationships not to just land that one big gift. But to land many more like it for years to come.

Shall we dance?

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