Two Sides of the Fundraising Coin: Cultivation and Stewardship

Donor cultivation and stewardship – are there two more important concepts in fundraising? We regularly throw these terms around—after all, they are both steps in the fundraising cycle—but what do they really mean? And how can cultivation and/or stewardship help you to raise more money for your mission?

First, because these terms are often misunderstood or lumped into the same bucket, let’s review some quick definitions. Both cultivation and stewardship are relationship-building tools but there are some distinct differences between the two. 

Donor Cultivation and Stewardship

Cultivation is often defined as the process by which you build or grow a relationship with your donor or prospect. During cultivation, you get to know your donor (prospect) by asking open-ended questions while sharing information about the good work your organization is doing.

Stewardship, on the other hand, is showing your donor the impact of their gift. In other words, when you’re practicing stewardship, you want to show the donor how their gift is being used at your organization and how it’s making a difference. 

We often think of cultivation as happening before a gift is made—although it can, and should, also happen between gifts—while stewardship happens after a gift is made. And both of these terms fall under the umbrella of donor relations since both will help you to build relationships with your donors.

Examples (Or How To Do It)

A newsletter – be it an e-newsletter or a physical newsletter—is a fundraising tool that practices both cultivation and stewardship. A newsletter serves as a cultivation touch-point with a donor. You have taken the time to stay in touch by sending an organizational newsletter to your donor.

On the stewardship side, an effective newsletter will show your donors how their donations are being used. For example, “Thanks to your generous support, the ABC Food Bank was able to serve 2,000 meals last month.” It’s because of your great donors that good things are happening, rather than because the organization is great. This is a critical distinction!

For top-notch advice on incorporating effective donor-centered stewardship language into your donor communications, check out Tom Ahern’s website. Tom is the master of “donor love” and shares many examples of newsletters, thank you letters and other communications, all in an engaging, irreverent and often hilarious manner.

Bottom line: Incorporating both cultivation and stewardship into your fundraising activities will help you raise more money. Donors want to make a difference and by engaging your donors via cultivation and stewardship, you can help them do so! 

To get started, check out Donor Cultivation: 5 Winning Touch Points and How to Create a Rockin’ Stewardship Plan.

What are your thoughts about Donor Cultivation and Stewardship Please share your experiences, thoughts and ideas in the Comments box below! 

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