How Much Cultivation Is too Much?

Every donor and volunteer should be cultivated. However, some donors should be cultivated more than others.

Since 80% of the funds come from 20% of a nonprofit’s donors, it is tempting to think that 20% deserve 80% of the cultivation. When one of the 20% reaches their capacity to give, intense cultivation is unlikely to yield anything and may cause the donors to disengage. Base your cultivation decisions on the individual donor’s needs rather than a formula.

New donors should receive all the attention they want. If they have sought out your mission because of their passion for what you do, they will welcome the attention and rapid orientation into your family of donors. If a donor’s first contact with your nonprofit was a recent fundraiser and they were there because a friend invited them, a little cultivation to start with is good. You can do more once you understand whether their heart is aligned with your mission. In both cases, new donors need to be brought to the level of engagement they want at a pace that is comfortable for them.

Current donors who are increasing their generosity every year are probably well cultivated. While it is tempting to try to accelerate the growth in their generosity, it is best to monitor their giving patterns. When you notice a change, use that to trigger a cultivation session. Keep in mind that for these donors, giving the same this year as last year is a change.

When a donor with a history of increasing their commitment each year fails to provide an increase, it tells you that the sustainability of your funding stream has declined. This is someone you want to talk with. Something has disrupted your relationship with them. Determining what caused the disruption will help you find a way to restore sustainability.

When you think a donor has the capacity to be more generous but your cultivation fails to produce an increase in generosity, it is a good time to determine the donor’s motivation. If their motivation is guilt, family tradition, gratitude, there may be nothing you can do. At that point use the cultivation time to ensure that nothing is likely to disrupt the relationship.

Overlaying the preceding is the balance between your understanding of the donor’s capacity and their current giving level. People who gave $25 last year, beyond what they spent on event tickets and auction items, are unlikely to become generous donors regardless of their capacity. People who gave $100 last year might be worth cultivating but you will want to consider how much time you should invest and the probability you can double their current gift.

Next Step:

Cultivate new donors as much as they want

Cultivate current donors based upon the changes in their giving patterns

Use your anticipated return on the investment of time to determine what intensity of cultivation each donor deserves

Customize your donor cultivation based upon the desires of the individual or family you are cultivating. Donor engagement depends on how personal the donor takes his or her relationship with your mission. The sustainability of your funding stream depends on the robustness of the relationship. Using a formula, like the 80/20 rule mentioned above, objectifies donors.

Volunteers are donors. They give time. Sometimes their time is worth more than their ability to provide financial support. One example is a passionate volunteer who consistently fills a table at the annual event with generous individuals. Cultivate your volunteers the same way your cultivate your donors.

Take It Further:

Ensure that you and your board chair cultivate each of your board members each year (well cultivated board members are engaged board members)

Use the growth in donors, the generosity, loyalty, and engagement of your donors, and the generosity, loyalty, and engagement of your volunteers as the success measures for your cultivation

Ask your board to use the success of your cultivation as the success measure for your funding (a strong and growing funding stream is the collateral benefit of a well cultivated donor base)


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