3 Mistakes to Avoid When Cultivating Donors

Image: Jeroen van Oostrom at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: Jeroen van Oostrom at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We fundraisers spend A LOT of time cultivating donors. In terms of the fundraising cycle, cultivation is one of the longest phases. And while there is plenty of opportunity for fun, creativity, and lasting connections there are also some pitfalls. 

Here are 3 common donor cultivation mistakes to avoid:

Mistake 1: Donor cultivation becomes an afterthought

Have you ever started strategizing about how to ask a major supporter for his next gift and then realized that…. wait! You haven’t talked to this person in nine months?! 
Yikes! If you’re not systematic about cultivation, it can easily fall by the wayside. One solution to ensure your donors get the attention they deserve is to build cultivation into your annual development plan. You can also create a personal cultivation plan for your top donors or prospects.

Mistake 2: Donor cultivation is too “mass produced”

Let’s clear up one myth right now – cultivating a major-gift prospect does not mean mailing them an event invitation. An event invitation with a personal, handwritten note from your executive director? Getting closer, but still, no. 

Cultivation around an event happens when your prospect is personally invited to sit with your board chair during the event. And your board chair is prepared with background information about the prospect so she can carry on a personal and intentional conversation.

Too often, fundraisers are not as intentional, strategic or personal with cultivation as they need to be. Sending your donors an e-newsletter four times a year is cultivation but I call this “mass cultivation.” Sure, it’s a touch point but it’s not personal enough to qualify as “major-donor cultivation.” 

Taking someone to coffee with no objectives for the conversation is not personal cultivation either. Instead, even for the most basic cultivation visit, HAVE A PLAN and use the time to move the relationship forward. 

Mistake 3: Donor cultivation is not donor-centered

Too often fundraisers use cultivation visits to talk nonstop about the work of their nonprofit. Donor cultivation should be a two-way street. Come prepared with open-ended questions to engage your prospect or donor—and listen to her answers.

Yes, you can update your donor on recent accomplishments and (great move!) share highlights from the program that your donor supported with her last gift. But leave room for your donor to share her views, her advice, and why she feels connected to your organization. 

Note: If you’re wondering how long the cultivation phase should last, read my recent post on timing your move from cultivation to the Ask.

Special gift for you: Conquer Your Fear of Asking for Money, a step-by-step guide, is available here (click). 

What other cultivation pitfalls should fundraisers avoid? Please share in the Comments box below!