Donor Cultivation: 5 Winning Touch Points

Image courtesy of stockimages at

Image courtesy of stockimages at

Cultivating donor relationships is like building a pyramid. Donor cultivation touch points serve to build a relationship with your donor as he or she gets to know the work and mission of your organization. Each touch point represents a foundational building block of your cultivation pyramid, providing a broad base of donor interest, engagement and trust, culminating (ideally) in a gift to your organization.

To create relationships with your donors that stand the test of time (like the pyramids) focus on creating donor-centered individualized cultivation plans. Consider your donor, your organization and you – in that order.

There are some common cultivation steps, or “moves,” that make sense for many donors at some point in the arc of your relationship. Take a look at the 5 suggestions below to get your ideas flowing (and check back next week when I’ll post more ideas). Can you plug any of these touch points into your individual cultivation plans for major donors or prospects?

1. The “Get to Know You” Meeting

Introduce your cause, mission and organization to a new prospect. Keep your “presentation” succinct and include stories that show impact. Be prepared with plenty of open-ended questions to keep the conversation rolling. (What do you know about our organization? How did you first hear of us? What other organizations are you and your family involved with in the community? Why?) Then, listen!

2. Work With Us!

Have you heard of “experiential learning?” Students learn about a topic through observation and interaction instead of reading about it in a book or hearing about it from a teacher. Work-with-us opportunities are experiential learning for donors, giving donors a hands-on view of your organization’s work. A natural history museum invites major donors to help dig for dinosaur bones. Donors serve as special guest readers to young children at an early childhood education center’s story time. These opportunities can be magical ways to increase engagement. Your donors see and feel your organization in action because they are right in the middle of it, as opposed to you telling them about it.

3. Advice Visit

This is one of my favorites. Have you heard the saying, “If you want advice, ask for money and if you want money, ask for advice?” Asking a prospect for advice draws them closer to your organization. Be sure to come to the meeting with a list of specific questions. Here’s a challenge we’re up against and here’s how we’re addressing it – what do you think? What could we be doing better? Who else should be talking to in the community?

4. Meet Our New VIP

A change in your organization’s leadership provides a great opportunity to connect with donors. Invite your major supporters to lunch to meet your new executive director (ED). For the biggest impact, keep these meetings small – just 1 or 2 donors, you and your new ED. Or maybe it’s not the ED. A new director of your donor’s favorite program or the new artistic director of your symphony or the new head of school are just as interesting (maybe more) to your donors.

5. Thank You Visit

These visits are fun and flexible. Say “thank you” and help the donor understand the impact of her gift. Then, as much as possible, ask questions of your donor. Why did you choose to give to our organization? What is the best way to stay in touch with you? What are some of your favorite philanthropic gifts you’ve made over the years and why?

For any of these touch points, be sure to engage your prospect or donor in the conversation. A general rule of thumb is that you should be talking 25% to 50% of the time while your donor talks 50% to 75% of the time. Cultivation is a two-way street! You share information or experiences with your donor while gathering information about your donor’s interests and motivations. Be sure to note all that you learn, to better inform any future contacts.

One more tip – involve your board members or major gifts committee to help you decide which “moves” are right for each donor. Donors are human beings and human beings are complex! You may know one side of your donor, but someone on your committee may know another. Gather as much input as you can to make sure your cultivation approach is holistic and thoughtful.

What other creative, effective cultivation steps do you use with donors? Please share in the comments box below.

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