Updated: Aug 1
Cultivation is an often ignored part of the donor cycle. As a consultant, I know that I spend a lot of time talking about prospecting - how can we best identify appropriate people, businesses, and foundations with whom to share our stories?
And then we spend time on soliciting - how do you make the ask? What is an appropriate ask? Which project should we feature in this grant proposal? Stewardship is the next phase - don’t get me started on how important this is to keep people in the donor cycle so that you can ask them to renew their gift! So what is cultivation, and how can we best use the time between donor identification and solicitation?
I’ll start with a story.
During high school, I spent most of my non-class hours in the theater. I’m not sure that I was ever any good - but I was loud and generally unafraid, two traits that had me standing at the edge of the stage for four years of curtain calls.
The Drama Club was home to my people, and even now, memories of high school send my mind right back to that building. (It has been torn down… and replaced by a very impressive arts center, but that’s not what I see in my mind’s eye.) FYI - this was at a prep school known more for its swim team than its musical performances, and my clique was fun but not that cool.
While the chorus was rehearsing a tap dance sequence in the lobby of the theater one afternoon (evening?), we were interrupted by the Headmaster. I remember that he greeted us and asked me how the dance choreography was going.
“I’ve got the left side perfect, but I’m having trouble with my right foot,”
And then he was gone - or maybe he just moved on to interrupt another group of students.
Colleges, Universities, and independent secondary schools have an easy tool for prospecting - graduation. Upon being granted alumni status, we are also moved into development portfolios or onto targeted prospecting lists. Have you been invited to watch a football game with a local alumni club? Hint - it’s not just about singing the fight song. What other tools do they use to cultivate those prospects and encourage them to self-identify as donors? Communication is key! Some come as invitations - to sporting events, watch parties, networking events, and lectures by faculty. Other communication include campus updates, annual reports, and alumni newsletters.
Each of these is an opportunity for cultivation - a chance to draw the previously identified prospect closer to a solicitation opportunity. When I received my first post-High School communication, it was a letter - a congratulatory message from the Headmaster that had been sent to each graduate.
And at the bottom - next to the signature line - was a handwritten note .. “Amy - How’s that right foot?”
For the next several years, at the bottom of every communication from the school, the Headmaster included that same handwritten note. That personal touch - the handwritten scrawl and a reference to a shared experience … that was Cultivation. It served the purpose of keeping me connected as well as informed. It made my experience as a prospect personal.
How should you cultivate prospects?
Add personal notes!
Follow-up with messages or questions that are relevant to the prospect. Are they a theater person? Share a review! Are they a swimmer? Be ready to keep them updated on the team’s (ANY team’s) progress. Find out why they might care about your work and use that to focus your conversations.
Remember that you’re building a relationship - both between you and the prospect AND between the organization and your prospect.
Include the references in your organization’s CRM. I think that Mr. Potter had index cards with alumni names and his inside jokes. Now, we have databases and tools to remind us of the “special” traits and interests of prospects.
Sadly, Mr. Potter passed away before I was ready to move from prospect to donor.
I’m certain that his efforts played a part in creating the active alumni group that supports the school today. My tap dancing does not continue, but, in part because of the annual note from the Headmaster reminding me of my efforts, it will always represent an opportunity for improvement and an invitation for engagement.
I remember his efforts to make each alumnus feel special when I get letters from the school.
Remember that cultivation is an opportunity to help your donors tap dance right through the donor cycle!
Team Kat & Mouse can help-Reach out today for a free consultation.