This post was originally published to Amy Eisenstein’s blog, and is being shared here with her permission.

Cultivating your potential major gift donors builds and strengthens your relationship with them. Cultivation is a fundraising art, and today you’re going to learn tips on Cultivating Donors. Assuming you’ve been following the Major Gifts Challenge, you already should have a list of your top prospective donors ready to cultivate. If you’re new to the Challenge, check out the introductory video here.

Why Do People Give to Your Cause?

Cultivation includes preparation. You can’t just ask for a gift without knowing something about the prospect. You need to know what motivated them to give to your organization and what will motivate them to give more.

Plan on meeting with them two or three times before asking for a gift. In those meetings you ask thoughtful, open-ended questions to learn more about your donor and their philanthropic goals.

You also want to further engage them in your work.

Building these relationships won’t happen organically. A cultivation plan will strategically build a relationship between each prospective donor and your organization.

You need the right tools and materials to cultivate, and there are some common mistakes to avoid, let’s review them first.

Common Cultivation Mistakes to Avoid

One mistake you can make is to share everything you know about the organization with the donor. Telling stories, facts, and figures, until you are blue in the face and the donor is bored to death.

Think about the best relationships you have in your own life. There’s some degree of back and forth. That’s what you’re aiming for with your donor. You need to come away knowing as much about your donor as they know about the organization.

Another mistake is believing that your donors aren’t interested. Most people want to help but they don’t know how. Your job is to be a matchmaker between helpers and great causes.

A good cultivation strategy will provide relationship opportunities. It will provide opportunity for your donor:

  • to get more involved with your organization
  • to learn more about what you’re doing
  • to get their questions answered

And it will allow you to learn more about their goals and desires.

Remember, the ultimate goal is to move your donor toward making a larger gift by having them feel more engaged and connected with your work.

A Simple Cultivation Plan, Month by Month

Here’s an example of a simple cultivation plan, one month at a time. You needn’t start in January. Apply this plan any time of the year. Apart from a holiday card in December, these actions can be done anytime.

January – Invite them for a tour.

Of course, not everyone will need a tour, especially if they are already an active volunteer and are very familiar with your programs.

February – Send them a Valentine’s card.

A hand-written note on a card will remind your donors why they are important to your organization.

March – Invite them out for coffee.

Invite them to coffee to meet with a board member or the executive director. This allows you and others at your organization to get to know the donor. Ask lots of open-ended questions about why they gave the first time, why they continue to give, and what changes they would like to see in the world.

We’ll cover a first meeting in more detail in a future video.

April – Send them the newsletter with a personal note.

Be sure to pull the newsletter addressed to your top 20 donors out of the bulk mail – whether snail mail or email. Personalize it. Add a post it note or line at the top of the email letting them know you are thinking of them.

May – Personalize their gala invitation.

Let them know you’d love to sit with them, or that you hope to see them there. Request that they buy a table or offer to comp their tickets. Whatever you decide to do, treat them like a friend.

June – Invite them to volunteer.

Ask them to serve on a committee, speak to your clients, or help with a long or short term project.

July – Give them a personal update.

Call with a program update or send a newspaper clipping about your organization.

December – Send them a holiday greeting.

Send them a personalized holiday card. See if you can include a reference to something you’ve learned about them while building your relationship.

You get the idea … cultivate each relationship. You don’t need to do something every month, but you should be in touch consistently throughout the year, regularly working to build your relationship.

If your donors live out of town, use video chat to stay in touch. Let them know you’d love to see them if they are ever in your area. If you plan to ask them for $10,000 or more, it’s well worth a trip or two for you or someone at your organization to visit them.

Challenge Yourself Action Item

Step 1: Create a 1 page cultivation plan.

Create a single page cultivation plan for your top 20 prospective donors. Use the month-by-month sample plan as a template for your plan.

Step 2: Schedule your action items each month.

On the first work day of each month, check all 20 plans and add the appropriate task or action items to your calendar. Then stick with them.

Major Gift Donors Webinar

Going Further with Major Gifts

Want even more details on how to cultivate donors? In Mastering Major Gifts, students receive detailed templates and worksheets to create their cultivation plans. Sure … you could create your own templates, but why reinvent the wheel?

If you’ve been searching for a way to supercharge your major gift program, Mastering Major Gifts could be just what you’ve been waiting for.

Act, Comment and Participate

Now it’s your turn to share your progress with the Major Gifts Challenge.

How do you cultivate donors? What’s the best experience you’ve had building relationships with donors? What are some challenges you are facing?

Let me know about your experiences with cultivation in the comments.

Want to learn more? Join Amy for a TopNonprofits webcast on  How to Start Raising Major Gifts

REGISTER/VIEW  here for free!