Why Your Donors Don’t Care About Cultivation vs. Stewardship

Image: Master Isolated Images at Freedigitalphotos.net

Image: Master Isolated Images at Freedigitalphotos.net

“Cultivation” and “Stewardship” are fundraising terms that pop up frequently in development staff meetings, and in every fundraising plan I’ve ever written. They are part of an internal terminology used by those of us in the fundraising profession. 

Both terms are related directly to building or growing relationships. Click here for basic definitions of the two. 

To the outside world -including your donors- these terms are jargon. Your donor-centered approach will benefit when you realize these 3 things about how your donors perceive cultivation vs. stewardship:

From your donor’s perspective, there is no difference between the two.

Donors don’t know the technical definition of these two terms, nor do they care. Would you ever say to a donor, “Now the next step in our plan to cultivate you is that I’m going to invite you on a site visit?” I hope not! 

Visually, a donor’s relationship with your organization is shaped like a circle. YOU may be dividing that circle in halves—before and after the gift—but the donor is not. They care about how they are treated the whole way around.

Your donor’s expectations are set early, so be realistic.

This is an interesting way to think about the link between cultivation and stewardship. As humans, we develop expectations of a thing based on our early experiences with it. 

If you lavish time and attention on a donor during the cultivation process (before they make a gift), rest assured, they will expect this same level of love AFTER they make their gift. Keep this in mind when devising cultivation and stewardship strategies. 

If your staff and volunteer infrastructure does not allow you to maintain the same high level of communication and interactions with your donor post-donation, your donor may be disappointed. Which may jeopardize your chance for a future gift. 

Your donors are self-centered. 

Not self-centered in a bad way. But your donor’s view of your organization is 100% rooted in their personal experience with you. How you treat them and how you communicate. 

This is true to a fault. Donors don’t care how many other donors you are trying to steward, the preparation required by you for your board meeting next week, or the looming grant proposal deadlines. In fact, they will make judgments and statements about your organization to others based solely on their own experience. 

The statements will be one-sided for sure, and perhaps largely incorrect. But this is again human nature—we make sense of the world based on our own experiences in it. A good fundraiser has the ability to step into her donor’s skin every once in a while to understand how that person is experiencing the organization. Give it a try! 

Bottom line: Your donors don’t care about the definitions of cultivation and stewardship but they DO care about how you and your organization build a relationship with them, communicate with them and otherwise respect them.

What are your thoughts on building relationships with donors? Please share your thoughts, tips and advice in the Comments box below!

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