The Top 6 Methods of Nonprofit Donor Cultivation

Want to ensure fundraising success? You must build relationships with donors.  So, where do you begin?  The first step is to find your donors. Look to the key players within your nonprofit.  Board of director connections, friends of your current donors, guests of special events, alumni of your programs are all good prospects.  These people are already connected to your organization and should be more willing to hear about what you do and the impact your nonprofit is making. Once you’ve touched base with this tier of connections, your circle of influence will continue to expand. To begin the process of donor acquisition, complete a Sphere of Influence exercise with your board of directors.

The second step, you must begin the donor cultivation process. Please don’t just jump straight to the ask!  You need to cultivate the prospect and build a relationship between them and your organization.  This is not a step that can be skipped. It lays the foundation for the ask.  It is the gateway for building a relationship with your prospect, communicating with them, and ultimately moving them towards the ask.

There are many ways you can cultivate donors to build a strong and growing relationship with your prospect. Ask yourself each time, how will this activity help my nonprofit move the prospect closer to the ask. Below are the top six ways you can begin to cultivate donors.

 #1 – Meetings

Face-to-face meetings still reign king.  Understanding you cannot meet with every prospect prioritize the major donors.  Invite your prospects for lunch, breakfast, or coffee.  If that does not work visit them in their office or their home. Whatever works for the prospect.  Once the meeting is secured.  Do less talking and more listening.  Listen for how interested they are in supporting your work and which of your programs resonate most with them. This will be key information when the time is right for the ask.  For example, it wouldn’t make sense to talk about tax deductions with someone who gives because they feel it’s the right thing to do. The narrative of your nonprofit needs to match the spirit of the giver.

 #2 – Phone Calls

Don’t be afraid to pick up the telephone to call a prospect.  Telephone conversations are great for check-ins to say hello or follow up with a thank you after an event or tour.  With the advent of the cell phone, you can send your prospect a personal video from you or a client saying thank you. Imagine, a prospect toured your facility, and then minutes later they received a video text of your client saying, “Thank you for taking the time to visit us.”  However, this does not replace a conversation.

Phone calls can build bonds of trust between your nonprofit and a prospect because they are personal in nature. The time on the phone also allows you to get to know your prospect better by asking them for their opinion on different topics that affect your organization.

#3 – Newsletters & Other Communication

Make sure you include your prospects on your email contact list. Share with them your e-newsletter as well as your snail mail newsletter.  This communication can be supplemented by copies of your mid-year report, annual report, and postcards.  These pieces of communication should not ask for money.



#4 – Events

Hold non-ask events for prospects such as tours of your facility, roundtable discussions, social events at a board member’s or major donor’s home. A donor cultivation event provides a fun and social setting for your nonprofit to get to know prospects on a personal level.

This purely social event brings together current donors, potential new donors, and lapsed donors. You do not ask for money.  You can use this as an opportunity to instead engage in conversations about your prospects’ interests. Along the way sprinkling in tidbits about your nonprofit impact.

If you decide to do a tour a great strategy is ensuring the prospects meet clients, your staff, and even have a small meeting with your team. If appropriate clients should serve as the tour guide. This can solidify your relationship for years to come.

Take a look at this book that will help you in nonprofit donor cultivation.

 #5 – Volunteer Opportunities

Getting a prospective donor to volunteer at your non-profit can often help them move closer to making a financial investment in your mission.  The volunteer opportunities you offer can include traditional volunteer work (such as serving food at your soup kitchen), serving on an event or advisory committee, or even giving you advice on something they are knowledgeable about.

One of my most powerful prospect volunteer opportunities involves getting them in front of your clients.  So, if you are a youth development organization you can have a prospect serve as a guest panelist giving advice to your kids.  Or if you are a career development organization you can have a prospect offer career advice to your clients.  This will make the prospect feel an emotional connection to your work.  If you can do that, you are well on your way to developing the prospect as a long-term supporter of your mission.

#6- Surveys

Surveys are a valuable tool to learn how your prospect feels. Feedback is paramount. Surveys allow you to ask specific questions about aspects of your nonprofit. And, even better, allow prospects a space to answer anonymously. Ask about your community image, events, volunteering, and the quality of communications. Use surveys to scale issues of importance; prospects’ responses can indicate where you should shift your energy.  Make sure you include a field where prospects can share their thoughts rather than simply checking boxes. Open space for free thought tends to give more candid feedback and can provide information that your nonprofit hadn’t thought to include in the survey itself.

I hope this helps. Your feedback is appreciated. I would love to see how your nonprofit cultivates its prospective donors. Share in the comments below.

If you are a CEO or ED of a nonprofit organization and want to learn from me and others join the Supporting World Hope Facebook Group.


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