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The Zen of Donor Cultivation

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Maine is filled with amazing nonprofit organizations, making a huge positive impact in our communities.  This month, I invited some experts in the field to share their perspectives on effective nonprofit marketing.

Mary-Anne Saxl, the Community Outreach Coordinator for Penobscot Community Health Care, coordinates development and fundraising activities for the organization, as well as managing its volunteer program. This week,Mary-Anne shares a few pointers about how building strong donor relationships can help nonprofits foster steady, loyal support.

Anyone faced with raising funds for a charitable or voluntary organization knows that this is no simple task. Successful fundraising requires time and patience.  A charity first has to develop a strong case for support. It has to catch the attention of potential donors with a clear message about its mission and the purpose for which funds are being raised. Then, it must foster a strong relationship with those donors. Loyal donors tend to make larger gifts, which can really add up over time. What’s more, maintaining a satisfactory donor relationship makes it easier to recognize when each donor is ready, willing, and able to make a more substantial gift – and increases the chance of benefit to the organization.

Strong, ongoing relationships with donors should focus on the donors’ philanthropic goals and objectives, not on the charity’s needs. When donors feel good about what their charitable gifts have accomplished, are well-informed about the cause they are supporting, and feel they are making a difference, their support will be more likely to continue. This is good news for nonprofits.

The first step in identifying a larger gift potential is to analyze your donors’ giving patterns. Do you have donors who have been giving regularly over a period of years? Consider asking these loyal supporters to increase the size of their donations – for example, one organization makes an effort to upgrade every donor who gives $50 a year for two years into one annual donation of $100.

Have some of your donors given larger-than-average contributions over the years? If so, these donors might be willing to continue giving at a higher level – if they have a good relationship with your organization. (The amount of “average” contribution varies, of course, between charities. One organization makes sure that donors who give more than $1,000 are distinguished from the rest of its 70,000 donors.)

Encourage these high-level individuals to become a major part of your cause. Some organizations invite higher-end donors to special functions, such as president’s dinners or breakfasts, and provide them with information and news about the organization. Others encourage donors to attend annual meetings and to offer their input, or to visit or take a tour of the charity’s facilities so that they can see the impact of their donations at work. Whatever your methods, treat distinguished supporters as you would your own board members: keep them up-to-date on what’s happening, and actively seek their input so they feel they are fully involved in the issues you face.

It’s important to remember that donors give to those they know — you must be genuine, and be patient.  Donor cultivation evolves like any garden – you must water, weed, and feed, and nothing happens overnight. It takes time to cultivate your donors.

To learn more about Penobscot Community Healthcare and their positive impact in our community, please visit

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