Creating A Successful Donor Cultivation Strategy

June 26, 2014

Strong donor relationships form the core of nonprofit development. Although finding potential sponsors is the first step in any fundraising plan, it’s far from the last.

Once prospects make that first contribution to a cause, the next essential step is converting all those first-time donors into sustainable supporters – or, even better, inspiring them to become evangelists of the cause.

Donors are the backbone of nonprofit organizations. To ensure that they remain loyal to your cause, it’s important to make them the central focus of your development efforts. Here are some tips to forming a donor cultivation strategy:

Help donors maintain a strong emotional connection to your cause.

When it comes to motivation, nothing’s stronger than an emotional appeal. Donors contribute to your organization because they see value in the work you do, and because they’re persuaded that they can make a difference by becoming involved. To encourage support beyond a one-time gift, that emotional connection needs to become perpetual. Make sure your organization communicates a clear, compelling message about your cause and your mission. Beyond just the need for ongoing support, emphasize the long-term impact or end result of your programs. How can donors make an even greater difference by continuing to support your cause?

Don’t ignore your donors after that first contribution.

It’s easy to think of donations as one-time transactions, without any further action necessary until the need arises for another donation. This is an enormous mistake. In order for supporters to stay invested in your cause, they must be excited about your work and the roles they can potentially play in your mission. Try to:

  • Stay in touch with your donors. Communicate frequently with your supporters, through all mediums at your disposal, to keep them enthused about your cause. Pique their interest with updates, news, invitations, and opportunities.
  • Engage your donors. Keep them up-to-date. Educate and inform them about your organization and its programs. Involve them in as many events and activities as possible, and make sure they walk away with more knowledge than when they came in. Provide ways for them to connect easily with other supporters in the community.
  • Empower your donors. Make them partners in fulfilling your overall mission – not just meeting an immediate need. Show them other ways they can continue to support your organization after their initial gift. If your mission is broad or long-term, focus on smaller aspects of it that supporters can respond to more easily.

Show your donors the return for their support.

However large or small, donors make an investment when they contribute to your cause. Make sure you provide the same continuous value to your supporters that you’ve asked them to share with you.

  • Thank and recognize donors regularly for their support – contact them in person, spotlight them in your newsletter, or honor them at special events. Acknowledge new donations ASAP, and try to respond to donors through same channel they used to contact you.
  • Provide good customer service. Answer your donors’ questions as soon as you can, actively address their concerns, and follow-up with meetings and phone calls on schedule. If donors can trust you to take them seriously, they can trust you to achieve whatever goals they’re supporting.
  • Show donors how their support has made a difference. Keep them up-to-date on the progress of your cause, especially any feedback about what their contributions have accomplished.
  • Personalize as much as possible. Send customized letters and emails, addressing donors by name and referring to any particular events or activities with which they’ve been recently involved. Keep them up-to-date with information that’s relevant and interesting to them. The more personal interest you take in your donors, the more interest they’re likely to take in your organization.

Be ready for the next step.

The process of donor cultivation should be pleasant and painless – after all, it’s meant to ease your supporters gradually toward another (hopefully larger) donation. However, it’s also important to know when to ask for that next gift. As your supporters become more engaged with your organization, pay attention to their responses and actions to determine whether they’ll be receptive to a donation request – and how much you should ask for. For individual supporters, it may be best to start small. Rather than funding, ask them to advocate for your cause and introduce it to other potential supporters. Encourage them to invite friends and family to tours, open houses, and other events – or, for larger donors, even to join boards or committees within your organization.

Create a plan.

While individual donor cultivation leads to the best retention rates, that kind of personalization, unfortunately, isn’t always feasible within a tight nonprofit workflow. If you can’t fit in the same level of engagement for all of your donors, try segmenting your lists to prioritize time and resources. Categorize your supporters by gift size, gift capacity (based on carefully researched personas), or other criteria. Then, develop a cultivation plan for each of these categories, as well as a follow-up plan for each new gift. Whether one-on-one or en masse, segmenting can help you identify the best pathways to move each level of sponsor toward more involvement and larger donations.

No nonprofit organization can succeed, or even exist, without the support of its donors. Focus of your development strategies, and they’ll more likely remain loyal to your cause.

If you’re a non-profit organization looking to boost your development impact, give us a call for a free 30-minute consultation!

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