Major Gift Donor Cultivation

4 Major Donor Cultivation Strategies

Solicitation is at the center of the major gift acquisition process. It’s the point at which a prospect becomes a donor. But, until the ask is made and the prospect makes that commitment, he or she has to be cultivated.

Donor cultivation is basically building a relationship with a prospect. You don’t simply call someone up and ask for $10,000 at the end of the conversation. You have to get to know the donor, and the donor has to get to know you and your nonprofit.

Leaving a major gift requires careful thought and a strong conviction in the organization the gift is being left to. Both halves of that equation are grown over time.

The better your cultivation is, the better chance you have of converting the donor when the time comes to make your ask.

Make the most of major giving with these four donor cultivation strategies.

1. Put a Cultivation Plan in Place

You can’t move forward with any fundraising process if you don’t put a plan in place first. And that’s certainly true of major gift donor cultivation.

Your team should start with a general cultivation plan that is malleable depending on the prospect you are working with at the given time. Then, as you head into the cultivation stage with various prospects, the plan should be adjusted as needed.

Your plan should account for many variables, including the answers to questions, such as:

  • What constitutes a major gift at our nonprofit?
  • What is my organization’s relationship with this prospect?
  • What does the ideal gift from this prospect look like?
  • How many interactions (meetings, phone calls, emails, etc.) do we estimate it will take to build a strong enough relationship to make an ask?

In other words, given what you know of your potential donor from your prospect research, you’ll be mapping out an educated assumption of what the cultivation process will be.

We’ll get to the identification process in the next point, but you should have a cultivation system in place before jumping into the process. As those questions pointed out, the system needs to be flexible to prospect personalization. However, having a solid plan established increases efficiency by streamlining any redundancies, minimizing errors, and making evaluation and improvement easier.

Your major gift officer and other development staff should know what to expect during cultivation, from start to finish, including an understanding of:

  • Prospect selection
  • Initial contact
  • Meeting formats
  • Team members who need to be involved
  • Proposal templates
  • Plus, so much more.

Take advantage of the management capabilities your CRM provides and ensure that all the actions that you take with your prospects are tracked and stored for quick retrieval.

2. Identify Your Major Gift Prospects

Cultivation of a major gift donor is an extensive process. You can’t afford to spend the time cultivating an unqualified lead. Your prospects should be qualified before they even enter the cultivation stage.

So, prior to cultivation, you’re going to want to build a major donor prospect list.

You have three main options for how you proceed with your major gift prospect identification.

  1. Investigate your own donor pool first. Some of your strongest candidates are going to be right there in your own donor pool, whether they’re mid-level donors who have the capacity and willingness to make the move up or event attendees who are major gift donors elsewhere. Cultivating a major giving relationship with a donor who is already committed to your organization is not nearly as challenging as starting fresh with a new donor.
  2. Perform prospect research. Technically, researching your own donor pool is prospect research, but in the context of this tip, prospect research is investigating prospects outside your donor pool. You’ll be starting fresh with these donors, so keep your research going beyond determining if they are good candidates. Get to know them as well as you can prior to cultivation.
  3. Ask for referrals. You have a wealth of contacts and connections to major gift donors at your nonprofit. Between your board, your leadership, and your most active supporters, you should be able to locate some great prospects. Plus, an introduction from a mutual contact helps establish your organization’s credibility before you even start talking.

The best solution is likely a combination of the three, based on the current status of your donor pool and your relationships within the sector.

Remember, you’ll be looking for prospects with the willingness and ability to give. Finances are definitely a factor, but just because someone has the means to give, that does not mean that prospect will give.

3. Hold an Introductory Meeting and Subsequent Get-Togethers

Once your plan is set and your prospect is selected, it’s time to hammer out the specifics of your proposal.

It’s time for moves management. What is moves management, you ask? Well, let’s define moves, at least in the nonprofit sense, before defining moves management.

Moves are meaningful steps your nonprofit takes to build a relationship with a prospect. When preparing to make a major gift ask, you’ll be making several moves. When that happens, you have to ensure that you have a way to record, organize, and track all that occurs. That’s when you’d use moves management.

Your CRM will be essential to the successful execution of moves management. 

This point was touched on briefly in the planning section of this article, but let me explain it further here. Proper tracking of prospect interactions during this process can make the pivotal difference in your organization’s handling of a future donor.

All members of your team and the prospect need to be on the same page. To assure that everyone is fully aware of what has happened, any time the prospect interacts with your nonprofit, it should be tracked in your CRM. Document whenever a move is made.

Now on to the actual moves. In this case, you’re likely to follow a similar trajectory to the one detailed below.

  1. Begin with an initial, introductory meeting. That might be 30-minute coffee conversation or it could be a 15-minute phone call. Depending on the prospect’s previous experience with your organization and how the conversation goes, your subject matter can vary. Generally though, this is when you’ll explain your organization’s mission and fundraising plans for the near future, while letting the prospect know you’re interested in his/her involvement.
  2. Continue to develop the relationship with various other get-togethers and opportunities for involvement. This next step will be highly personalized according to your organization, but the trick is to get the prospect engaged. Offer volunteering opportunities, send invites to events, give a tour of your office, pick up the phone for a check-in call, and make various other moves. Make sure that your organization is a part of your prospect’s world.

When you feel confident in your relationships, you’ll be able to move the prospects along the donor pipeline to the solicitation stage.

4. Track All Interactions and Adjust Accordingly

Strategy four is when all of your planning and moves management come to fruition.

Now that you have records of your cultivation processes, you can evaluate and adjust. You learn what works and doesn’t work for your organization going forward.

For instance, as your fundraisers have more and more introductory meetings about major gifts, they’ll naturally develop a presentation style and method of conversational prompting to lead the discussion towards major gifts. If that has been tracked, you can highlight the methodologies that have worked best and stick to them.

These four strategies will guide you through the cultivation process. Each has its own merits, but if there’s one note that we should conclude a cultivation discussion with, it is this…

Cultivation is a slow process. 

To borrow from a childhood fable, be the Tortoise, not the Hare.

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