Questions to Cultivate Donors with

Donor cultivation starts after you meet a prospective donor and are confident they want to know more about your nonprofit. This is the same model you use when cultivating a long-time donor.

Start with an open-ended question about your clients, mission, the last story in your newsletter, or something else related to your nonprofit, mission, clients, results, outcomes, or a peripheral current events. Listen closely to the words the prospective donor uses, what is important to them, and their engagement with the subject. Follow with three to five more questions based upon what you heard.

Now you know what is important to them. Pause and adjust what you were going to say. Use their words as you talk about your mission and clients. Emphasize what is important to them. Nurture their engagement. Above all, talk only about what interests them. Talking about something of little interest to them will lower their enthusiasm and engagement.

Break up your presentation with questions. Listen again for the words they use, what they find important, and what engages them as they answer each question. Use the new information to further refine what you are saying and emphasizing. If you are listening carefully, you might realize that a different anecdote and set of statistics will work better than what you planned.

Successful cultivation depends on telling the donor what they want to know rather than what you want them to know.

Part of ensuring that the donor knows what they want to know is ensuring the donor hears the information in an order that makes sense to them. The right information in the wrong order will either be misunderstood or will force the donor to work hard to make sense of what they hear. Being donor centric means doing the work for the donors. The best way to do that is to start by understanding how they think. Their answers to your opening questions will provide the guidance you need.

If you start every cultivation conversation with several open-ended questions, your understanding of each donor will improve and evolve as the donor’s thinking evolves. As your understanding improves, the donor’s loyalty, generosity, and engagement will grow. There will also be an increase in the sustainability of your funding stream and nonprofit.

Next Step:

Prepare carefully for each cultivation session with each donor

Begin every cultivation conversation with several open-ended questions

Use what you hear to refine your presentation

Use the change in donor loyalty, generosity, and engagement as the success measures for your cultivation process

When you use what you learn about each donor, you significantly increase the effectiveness of your communication and the donor’s understanding. As your donors become more knowledgeable and engaged they will become better advocates for your mission, the sustainability of your nonprofit, and your clients. You will be able to measure the increase in advocacy in part by the number of new donors.

Take It Further:

Remind your board that how much a donor gives this year is less important than the number of years the donor gives (it is easier and more cost effective to retain donors than recruit new donors) and the increasing generosity of the donor each year

Treat your volunteers like donors


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