In Pursuit of Engaged Donors

Here are five things you can do as part of your cultivation to increase donor engagement:

Clarity – Donor generosity depends on donors having a clear idea of what their gifts will do. If your donors are disappointed by what their gifts accomplish, there are two possibilities. One is to provide your donors with a better understanding of your mission and its limitations. The other is to look for ways to include what your donors expect into your mission.

Growth – If you want your donors to give more, you must demonstrate growth. Growth can be in the number of clients served, increased effectiveness of your mission, or both. It is best when it is humble growth. “We served 10% more clients than last year.” is better than “We are now the largest food bank in the city.” Even better is, “We reduced hunger in the city by 10% last year.” There is value in the growth. The donors can easily understand the impact their gifts are having on the problem and the community.

Change – The change needs to be meaningful, measurable, and durable. Donors prefer to be part of the solution. That means your services must prevent a problem or cure a problem. Passing out a sack of food treats the problem. Teaching people to be self-sufficient cures the problem. Encouraging people to be self-sufficient before they experience hunger is preventative.

Data – Present data that demonstrates that your anecdotes happen frequently rather than rarely. The results may be exceptional but the number of times the exceptional results are achieved should be common. In addition, never provide data unless it is relevant to the donor based upon what interests them. It should also be framed in a way that reminds the donor they want to hear the data (“I know you care about the success of our afterschool program. I hope you will be delighted to know …”). If their reaction is something other than delight, determine what numbers would delight them or if their interests are changing. Also know how they will interpret the data you are giving them. Even if it is of interest to them, if it lacks a purpose that is important to the donor, it is a waste of the donor’s time to listen, which means they are likely to become disengaged instead of engaged.

Convene – Bring small groups of donors together. They will enjoy the fellowship. It tells them that they have value beyond their checkbooks. It reinforces their belief that they are part of something important and part of something that others find important. Your conversations with them and among themselves will provide you with new ideas and opportunities. All together, it boosts your fundraising success and the sustainability of your funding stream.

Next Step:

Determine the generosity and loyalty (retention) of your average donor

Tailor each of the preceding five points for each donor

Determine the generosity and loyalty of your average donor six months after making the cultivation changes

Use the change in donor generosity and loyalty to convince your board and senior management that those measures of the effectiveness are more important than reaching the annual fundraising goal. When those numbers are increasing, you know your funding stream is becoming more sustainable, which means reaching future fundraising goals will be easier. It will make your nonprofit’s financial planning more accurate.

Having effective donor cultivation is an important part of increasing your nonprofit’s sustainability

Take It Further:

Use the same process with your volunteers

Invite a board member to each of your donor group meetings because they are donors, their presence will emphasize the value your nonprofit places on its donors, and the first-hand experience will provide your board members with new insights


Designated Gifts

Some donors prefer to make designated gifts because they want their gifts to help solve a specific problem. They regard overhead and other expenses to be unrelated to the problem or the solution. However, if every donor adopts that method of driving effectiveness, every nonprofit would be forced to close because of a lack of staff, facilities, utilities, etc.

The simple solution is to ask designated-gift donors to trust your management team and board to use the donors’ gifts wisely. Having a few comments from donors about how happy they are with management’s decisions and statistics that show a significant majority of your donors are satisfied can be very compelling.

A more complex solution is to create a catalogue of giving opportunities. One opportunity might be feeding a hungry vet. Let us assume that 10% of the nonprofit’s staff, office and storage space are needed to support the food program. It is logical to assume that 10% of overhead expenses (administration, marketing, utilities, interest, fundraising, etc.) are also necessary for the food program. When you divide the fully burdened cost of the food program by all of the meals provided, it is probably a good meal for an unexpectedly low prices.

If the price of a meal is higher than a donor is likely to find acceptable, there are two choices. One is a frank discussion with donors about the need to create efficiency (improve productivity, increase the number served, etc.) and ask for their support. The second is to redefine the opportunity. In this case, it might be changing the description from ‘feeding a hungry vet’ to ‘a day of housing for a vet’, which of course would include food and many other services. While the price tag might be higher, the total cost might seem more reasonable to the donor.

A third solution would be to make an assumption, based upon past giving patterns, about how much undesignated and general income your nonprofit is likely to receive. Use that number to reduce the overhead burden on the catalogue items. Potentially that will make the prices of various items more attractive.

Regardless of how you calculate the cost of a catalogue item, include an additional percentage of your cost to cover building a reserve. Having a reserve is critical to the sustainability of all of your programing. The only way to be ready for the unexpected is to create a reserve before the need arises. Trusting that the donors will respond in a time of need sounds good but if the need for a reserve affects your donors at the same time as it affects your nonprofit (an economic downturn for example), you may need the reserve to respond to the decline in donor support as well as the economic impact.

Next Step:

Educate your donors about the total cost of services

Use the cost of services to inform your board’s decisions about where efficiencies are needed and how much to invest in raising efficiency

Use your donors’ interests and the reasonability of your costs to inform how you structure your catalogue of giving opportunities using mission-centric wording

Remind your donors to think about the value of your services rather than the costs

When donors understand your value, the cost becomes less important. For example, if it costs $10,000 per year for four years to keep a young man from being incarcerated at a cost of $80,000 per year, the long-term value dwarfs the service’s costs. It is reasonable for donors to encourage the nonprofit to invest in efficiencies to reduce the costs. It is also reasonable for the donors to demand statistics as well as anecdotes that demonstrate the services are effective. If the statistics show that the program is successful 50% of the time, it is very valuable and cost effective. At the same time, it is reasonable for the donors to expect the nonprofit to have a plan for increasing effectiveness. If the nonprofit is willing to continuously invest in increasing effectiveness, it will have increasing sustainability.

What a mission can and does do for clients attracts support and grows generosity. Each catalogue item should be described in mission-centric terms. It addition, the description should tell the donors how the item helps the clients to thrive both in the short term and over time. It is the long-term impact of the item that creates the value that justifies a generous gift.

Take It Further:

Ask donors and other supporters to give feedback on the catalogue descriptions before you finalize them

Review the catalogue descriptions annually with your donors to ensure your descriptions evolve with your donors’ interests


Create Clarity for Your Donors

Donors want a clear and compelling reason to fund your mission. You must be clear about what you want, why their help is needed, and why their gifts will be effective.

When executives and fundraisers are asked why their nonprofits exist they respond with a simple but unclear answer. You might hear something like, “We help the disadvantaged.” That is certainly a simple answer and easy to understand. However, it is so broad that it is meaningless. It is unclear if the disadvantaged are from one or many demographic groups. It is unclear if the disadvantaged have problems because of temporary economic change, a health issue, lack of education, criminal history, etc. It is unclear whether the nonprofit provides treatment for the problem, a cure, or preventive services. It is unclear why the nonprofit needs help or what help the nonprofit wants.

A better answer might be, “Homeless veterans need more than temporary shelter. Our donors enable us to provide the services that allow a veteran to thrive. By thrive we mean become sustainably self-sufficient.” The reason is now obvious to the listener. We know precisely who is being served. The prospective donor understands what donations can do. Also notice that the problem has been scaled down to a single veteran. It seems like a problem that can be solved. Problems need to be scaled down so that donors feel like there is hope and that their gifts can make a difference. The solution is something that is meaningful, measurable, and durable.

Donors also want to know what your business model looks like. When a donor understands your business model, they have confidence your nonprofit can fulfill the promises of your mission statement. Continuing the preceding example, the nonprofit might describe its business model this way, “We offer veterans temporary shelter. While in our shelter we assess their needs and provide them with services such as job training, counseling, mentoring, and wellness classes. After they are employed, we help them improve their financial literacy and develop long-term plans.”

Donors also want to hear about the evidence that proves your process works. They want the evidence to show that your results are consistent, reproducible, and scalable. As long as you are improving, the donors will be happy and supportive. Again using our example, imagine in the first year, only those with traumatic injuries were served and only one in every 100 found a job. If five years later the program serves those with traumatic injuries and PTSD and one in every ten finds a job, it shows that the process is reproducible and scalable and becoming more consistent. While there is much more to be done, there is good reason to believe that, with growing support, the nonprofit will have a significant impact.

Tell your donors about two or three ways they can help immediately, see results in the short term, and do something that is meaningful (from their perspective) with a durable effect on a client’s life. You want your donor to feel personally important to your clients.

When your donors understand their importance, you have created a relationship with a high level of sustainability. Now you have increased the sustainability of your funding stream and your nonprofit.

Next Step:

Talk about why your nonprofit exists in simple, clear terms that make the donor a key part of a client’s success

Describe client success in a way that assures the donors success is meaningful, measurable, and durable (a problem is truly being solved)

Make it easy for your donor to understand how your business model creates consistent, reproducible, and scalable results

Connect your donor to three or fewer things that are currently important to them and will provide results that are important to them (make the donor feel important to the client)

When you have a well refined answer, a clear definition of client success, and an understandable business model, you will find it easy to share them with every donor. It will take only minor changes to make what you have compelling for each donor.

Connecting a donor to something specific and meaningful to them takes time and effort. Your early cultivation activities must capture the information you need to spot the opportunity. Then you need to patiently wait for the right opportunity to arise. Even then you will need to customize the opportunity. For instance, you might find something that interests your donor but is beyond their capacity. The solution is to ask your donor to join a group of donors who together have the capacity to meet the need. Whether the group is real or just a concept will depend on many factors.

The sustainability of the donor-nonprofit relationship depends on periodic cultivation. Your nonprofit is evolving and your donors are evolving. Cultivation keeps the two synchronized.

Take It Further:

Treat your volunteers like donors

Remind your board that your presentation material is for individual donors and may differ in style and content from the marketing material which is for a broad, diverse audience


Is This Good Stewardship?

After a recent hurricane, a nonprofit gathered some volunteers and supplies and replaced the exterior surface of a homeowner’s roof to eliminate leaks and allow the owner to continue to live there. It is important to note that before replacing the exterior surface of the roof, the volunteers reported to the nonprofit that the house had been poorly maintained. In its current condition the house was unlikely to survive the next 10 years. Even knowing the condition of the roof and other structural problems with the house, the roof surface was replaced. In short, about $5,000 worth of materials plus volunteer labor were used to create a roof that has the potential to last longer and be worth more than the building it is sitting on.

Clearly, the homeowner needed help.

Was it good stewardship of the donors’ gifts (dollars and time) to just replace the roof?

What more should the nonprofit have done?

We strongly recommend that nonprofits focus exclusively on meaningful, measurable, and durable results. We advise donors to only support meaningful, measurable, and durable results. A new roof is certainly meaningful and measurable. However, when the roof is likely to outlive the building it is sitting on, it is impossible to regard the roof as durable. The value of the results are dependent on how long the structure remains sound enough to allow occupancy, which means the value of the preceding project is limited.

The volunteers know everything you know. They are disappointed. Their disappointment is going to make it harder for the nonprofit to recruit volunteers for the next project. The donors will be disappointed when they learn more, which will make funding the next project more difficult. This project has reduced the sustainability of the nonprofit and its reputation.

This is a project that started with the best of intentions. It achieved its goal (put a new roof on a family’s house). It used the donors’ funds and the volunteers’ time in the way it promised. While the letter of the donors’ and volunteers’ intent was honored, the spirit of their intent (a durable solution) could have been more fully honored.

For all of the reasons mentioned, it is hard to label the project a success. It undermined the nonprofit’s sustainability, damaged donor and volunteer relations, and produce limited value for the family and the community.

Next Step:

Ensure that the use of donors’ gifts and volunteers’ time is meaningful, measurable, and durable

Decline or reformulate opportunities that fail to meet the preceding criteria

Ensure that donor funds and time are always used for mission-centric purposes

The mission of nonprofits (solve an important societal problem) implies they are creating a better world for the next generation. It is incumbent on nonprofits to provide a durable solution that will extend into the next generation. The value of a nonprofit is measured by the durability of the solution provided for its clients.

Durability is especially important to donors and volunteers. They have only a finite number of dollars and hours to offer. They are unable to afford to solve the same problem twice.

The problems each nonprofit was formed to solve will be with society for many years to come. Donors and volunteers need to know that the nonprofits they support will be around as long as the need exists. They are willing to support the nonprofits well into the future but only if the nonprofits are providing durable solutions and have high levels of sustainability.

Take It Further:

Use your anecdotes and statistics to assure your donors that your solutions to society’s problems are durable, they build your nonprofit’s reputations, they provide recognized value for your community, and your nonprofit uses your donors’ resources in the way they intend

Ask your board to use the increase in the sustainability and reputation of your nonprofit as success measures for every result your nonprofit produces (it will increase the sustainability of your fundring stream, make gathering support easier, and make increasing donor generosity, loyalty, and engagement easier)


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)


Brand Strength and Fundraising Ease

Is your mission’s brand the same as the brand your services create?

The strength of your nonprofit’s brand depends on two things. One is how well the promises of your mission statement are aligned with the solution your services deliver. The second is the robustness of your solution. The generosity, loyalty, engagement, and speed of growth of your donor base also depends on the alignment of your promises and services as well as the robustness of your solution. In addition, the sustainability of your nonprofit and your funding stream depend on the same.

Fundraising’s primary role is to promote your brand. When the brand is well understood by your supporters and community, support is optimized. Your donors who understand the value of your mission are your most loyal, engaged and generous within the limits of their resources.

Everyone at your nonprofit needs to understand what people value most about your solution, what they want to have improved, and what they want to have added. Cultivating supporters provides you with the information the rest of your nonprofit wants to know.

How easily your brand attracts support and recognition in your community depends on how well you communicate and how fast improvements are made. If it is easy to attract supporters and increase donor generosity, loyalty, and engagement, you know that your brand is well understood, highly valued, and growing in relevance to your community. If you would like it to be easier to attract new supporters, increase donor generosity, donor loyalty, and engagement, there are eight areas to focus on:

Ensure that the promises of your mission statement align with the solution offered by your services

Ensure that more clients consistently achieve the same level of success

Increase the durability of your solution’s impact on your clients’ lives (outcome)

Make your solution more meaningful by adding depth or breadth to it

Make the solution your mission offers more measurable or measurable in a more meaningful way

Ensure your results are reproducible regardless of how the clients differ in experiences, skills, knowledge, backgrounds, ethnicity, lifestyle, gender, or other demographics

Ensure your nonprofit can scale and handle a growing number of clients without it affecting outcomes, quality, or any of the preceding measures

Ensure you communicate the anecdotes and statistics that are easily understood by all prospective clients, donors, and stakeholders and clearly demonstrate your nonprofit’s success in the preceding seven ways

Next Step:

Audit your brand to determine how well your solution is understood by your community and how well your solution meets your community’s expectations

Create a plan to improve your brand communications

Create a plan that will enhance your solution to better meet your community’s expectations

Your nonprofit better understands what your clients need than your donors do. However, your donors base their support on what they understand. Sometimes misunderstandings occur because your donors want a collateral benefit which may or may not be embedded in your plans. When it is in your plans, it is something you should promote. When it outside the scope of your mission, it is time to gather your supporters and talk about whether your mission should be reshaped to better serve your community, clients, and the desires of your supporters. The sustainability of your nonprofit depends on the generosity, loyalty, and engagement of your donors. When your nonprofit provides the services your donors want your community and clients to have, your nonprofit will have the sustainability you want, and fundraising will be easier and more rewarding.

The strength, value, support, and respect of your brand depends on how well your nonprofit produces the results, outcomes, and solutions your community and donors want and how well your nonprofit communicates its ability to successfully meet your community’s and donors’ expectations.

Take It Further:

Audit your brand annually


Winning a Donor’s Heart and Mind

Winning a donor’s heart is relatively easy. A well told anecdote with strong emotional content and key points that engage the donor’s emotions is usually enough. That is almost a sure formula for obtaining a gift. However, it may only be a single token gift. It is a start but there must be much more to create a durable relationship that grows over time and increases the sustainability of your funding stream.

Each contact with a donor must renew the emotional connection. It must also engage the donor’s mind by building a logical foundation. The logical foundation must be fortified with statistics that prove each anecdote is a common event rather that an exception. You know you have a durable relationship when both sides can say, “You believe what I believe and you want what I want.”

Creating that relationship means:

Both sides are open and transparent so that they can be held accountable

There are shared values and an agreement on what is important

Each side keeps its commitments to the other without excuses, explanations, or exceptions

Effectiveness is more important than efficiency

Working together enables both sides to achieve their unique goals

Both sides are committed to the success of the mission and increasing its effectiveness, long-term impact on the clients and community, and number of clients served

The standards are measurable, documented, and mutually agreed upon

Both sides are concerned about the sustainability of the other and will do what they can to help ensure the other side’s sustainability

Both sides are passionate about their shared vision for the future of the clients and the community

Sometimes the preceding is perceived as providing donors with too much influence. The fact that currently a few donors have a robust relationship with the nonprofit can add to the discomfort because it appears to concentrate too much power in a small group. That reaction overlooks one key point: Nonprofits exist to use donors’ gifts to solve society’s problems. Therefore, donors have the right, some would say obligation, to ensure their gifts are used according to their wishes.

Your donors’ wishes will be honored one of two ways. You can give your donors an active voice or your donors can take their gifts to a nonprofit which will do a better job of serving them.

Next Step:

Determine what your donors want

Tell your donors stories (anecdotes) and provide your donors with statistics that prove you are responsive to your donors’ desires

Use the nine points above to guide your donor cultivation

When you focus on the most promising activities, it usually produces the greatest success. Focusing on a few donors who are either very passionate about your mission or have the potential to be passionate may seem limiting. However, with strong partners supporting you, it will be easier for your nonprofit to increase the effectiveness of your mission and value to your community. Your effectiveness and value will attract additional supporters and your nonprofit’s strength and sustainability will grow.

Take It Further:

Ask your board to use your fundraising success as a way to measure donor satisfaction and mission effectiveness (as defined by donors and your community)


Where Is Your Impact?

Some charitable solicitations are quite creative, others are bold. Some try to inspire and ignite emotions. Those are all good things. But there is more you can do to increase donor engagement.

It is easy to think that just engaging the reader’s heart is enough. After all, if every reader just mailed in $25 and you sent your appeal to 100,000 people, you would have $2.5 million. Since the average response rate is only about 1.25%, the return from 100,000 people is only about $31,000 and it is doubtful that most nonprofits have access to 100,000 people who would recognize their nonprofit’s name. It is equally doubtful that the $31,000 will yield much of a profit.

The preceding fails to create a durable relationship with donors. It is unable to create a sustainable funding stream because anyone with a better strategy can disrupt the relationship.

How do you make your nonprofit stand out in all of that clutter?

Standing out creates a competitive advantage for your nonprofit, which increases sustainability. Engaging the reader’s heart is an important part of any fundraising strategy. The right anecdotes and situational background will do that. You also need to engage the reader’s head. The right statistics woven into the anecdotes and situational background will do that. With both the donor’s head and heart engaged, the relationship has the foundation for being durable. Now the challenge is to increase the durability of the relationship so that you can increase the sustainability of your funding stream and nonprofit.

At this point, the statistics and anecdotes only demonstrate that your nonprofit was effective in the past. An increase in donor generosity depends in part on you committing to more next year than this. This means tell donors you will increase the number of clients served, the effectiveness of your services, the durability of the change your services make in your clients’ lives, or two or more of those benefits. This needs to be your unconditional commitment. Saying, “With your support we will do X”, says you are only committed if they are equally committed. It says in a subtle way that your commitment is subordinate to their support. Their generosity depends on your commitment. When you commit unconditionally, you are saying that your mission, serving your clients, and improving your community is all that matters. If they are unwilling or unable to support your efforts, you will find those who will support your efforts. If you want committed donors, you must demonstrate what you mean by commitment.

Your sincere and unwavering commitment encourages your donors to be equally committed. A committed donor is also a loyal donor. When you have committed and generous donors, you have the foundation for a highly sustainable funding stream and increased sustainability for your nonprofit.

You want your donors to be accountable for their promises. If they make a pledge, you need to be able to trust their commitment. They need you to model that same behavior. Therefore, you need to remind donors that you promised X, Y, and Z and here you are a year later and you achieved, hopefully exceed, each of those goals. Achieving the goals confirms that your donors can trust your commitments. Exceeding your goals will delight your donors. When you delight your donors you create a fundraising advantage.

It is hard to create the kind of relationship that was just outlined through written or video communications. It is best and most easily done through personal cultivation. That is more effort but the rewards more than justify the effort.

Next Step:

Focus on engaging your donors’ hearts and minds

Provide your donors with a reason to increase their giving

Commit to changing the world and invite your donors to be part of the change process

Make your commitments measurable and meaningful and exceed your commitments

Provide your donors with one-on-one cultivation

All of the preceding is part of standing out in the clutter. In addition, avoid the clutter by cultivating your donors year round. Cultivate your donors when it is convenient for them. If they are truly loyal, it will be impossible for another nonprofit’s year-end appeal to spirit them away. It might draw a token gift from them but their loyalty to your mission will ensure that their generosity will be unaffected. If they do find another cause attractive, your cultivation activities will uncover their interests and provide you with an opportunity to make your case.

When you create your fundraising strategy, make it uniquely yours by ignoring what others are doing. Focus on your impact in your community and the lives of your clients.

Take It Further:

Talk with each donor so that you know which anecdotes, statistics, commitments, and results are most important to their hearts and minds

Treat volunteers like donors

Ask your board to measure the success of your fundraising by the number of new donors and the increase in donor generosity, loyalty, and engagement instead of dollars raised


More Committed Donors

Search for something and you find dozens of it. Google and Amazon make easy examples. Identical items are available from multiple sources with similar prices. In addition, there are many slightly different items with similar prices. The selection decision becomes limited to cost and delivery date.

Loyal consumers will overpay for items periodically. Therefore, consumers are wise to never commit to any vendor, supplier, or product.

Donors also think that way. If there are ten youth centers in your area, it is easy for a donor to think that the difference between them is limited to operational costs. Therefore, giving to the nonprofit with the lowest overhead is the best stewardship decision. In other words, the youth centers are identical or their services are undifferentiated commodities.

Without committed donors, a nonprofit has an unstable funding stream and low sustainability. Your nonprofit must use its cultivation opportunities to create committed donors. There are two key points to remember. One is that money, costs, profits, location, longevity, and similar attributes are differentiators with little substance. They might catch a donor’s attention and increase the donor’s willingness to listen but they have limited durability. Second, the differentiators that have substance and create donor commitment are as varied as the donors.

The reasons a donor commits to a nonprofit changes over time. Therefore, your cultivation process must be frequently auditing the donor’s commitment criteria. If your cultivation process fails to uncover the change, there are other indicators. If a donor’s generosity diminishes from one year to the next, it may indicate that their commitment to your nonprofit is declining. The same is true if you discover that a donor has added a nonprofit to the list of nonprofits they support. One of the goals of your cultivation process should be to identify the potential change in commitment before your funding stream and sustainability are affected.

Next Step:

Determine why your most loyal and generous donors are committed to your nonprofit

Use the reasons for commitment from your loyal and generous donors as conversation starters with your other and prospective donors

Determine how to enhance your nonprofit’s uniqueness based upon what your donors mention

Monitor and measure your donors’ commitment and generosity

Committed donors have valuable reasons for being committed. Using their reasons to shape your nonprofit’s uniqueness can create a fundraising advantage. This assumes that your donors are committed to your mission and clients. If their commitment is centered on something else, you will find it hard to retain donors, increase their generosity, and keep them engaged.

Take It Further:

Perform an annual objective review of your nonprofit’s uniqueness

Use the results of your review to cultivate a deeper commitment from your donors


Competing for Donors

The competition among nonprofits for donors is fierce. The competition is much subtler than “Give to my nonprofit rather than those guys.” It is targeted at donors’ hearts, heads, goals, purposes for giving, and desire to help others.

Donors often give to multiple nonprofits in various sectors and many times two or more nonprofits in the same sectors. WIthin the collection of nonprofits they support are a few they support because of family tradition, obligation becauses of what the nonprofit has done for them or others, or some other reason unrelated to their usual reason for being charitable.

Donors support nonprofits in multiple sectors because each sector appeals to different parts of their hearts. They support multiple nonprofits within a sector usually for one of two reasons. They may see a distinct difference between the missions and believe that the promises of the missions are being effectively fulfilled. The other reason is that they feel none of the missions are as effective as they could be so they spread their support.

Through your cultivation of a donor, you can learn who they support and why. The reason behind each of their gifts can tell you how to do more to win a bigger share of the donor’s heart (increase generosity), retain the donor’s support (promote loyalty), and increase the donor’s involvement in your mission (increase engagement). Of course, every other fundraiser at every other nonprofit is doing the same thing.

Your cultivation needs to:

Heart – You need to uncover what makes your donor’s heart smile. What is it about making a donation that engages your donor’s or prospective donor’s emotions?

Purpose – Knowing their purpose for supporting your mission and other nonprofits’ missions will tell you how increase donor loyalty, generosity, and engagement. When you find a donor who has yet to think about making their gifts purposeful, you have the opportunity to help the donor grow. Once they become purposeful, you can help them receive more satisfaction and fulfillment from their gifts by setting goals for each gift.

Goals – What are the specific goals your donor wants to achieve or help your nonprofit achieve by giving a gift? If the donor is unable to articulate their goals, you know one of two things. Either it is a token gift or they have an underdeveloped capacity to give. If it is a token gift, you need to discover how to increase their engagement. To help develop their capacity to give, help them articulate what will increase their satisfaction and fulfillment. When they set goals for their gifts, giving will become even more satisfying and fulfilling.

Impact – The stories about misused funds, disappointing results, and overstated promises can cause donors and prospective donors to think that helping others through giving is rarely successful. You need to share the statistics that demonstrate your anecdotes are consistent, reproducible, and durable. Everyone wants their help to make a significant and long-lasting change in someone’s life. They want the change your mission makes to have the same or greater sustainability as you want for your nonprofit. Therefore, share the statistics about the durability of what you do for each client.

Next Step:

Cultivate your donors by meeting with them individually

Learn all you can about each donor’s giving habits, motivation for giving, and how they want to help others

Use what you learn and your nonprofit’s statistics to demonstrate to each donor that supporting your nonprofit has the potential to provide them with a sense of fulfillment and purpose as well as being emotionally gratifying

Donors live in the same dynamic world you do. Their desires, goals, purposes, and emotional connections are frequently changing. Ensure your donor cultivation includes testing your assumptions to confirm you understand what is currently important to each donor. Keeping current with your donors’ views will also help you increase the relevance of your mission and the sustainability of your nonprofit.

Winning the competition for donors’ hearts can be as simple as talking to each donor about what is important to them.

Take It Further:

Share what is important to your donors with your board at each board meeting

Ask you board to use what is important to your donors to guide the priorities of your nonprofit and the success measures for your mission and client services

Provide your donors giving opportunities that distinguish your nonprofit from all others

Ensure that the results produced by your donors’ gifts are meaningfully and measurably different from other nonprofits