You remember those days. Your board chair introducing you to who would become your future board member, that person regaling you with their qualifications, her professional skill set, his background, their passion for and admiration of your work. And those further conversations. And the big check that would come. And the world is flat.

Ah, those were the days! And now you have your hybrid events, and you write your appeal letters with ChatGPT, and yet one-on-one donor cultivation may have become elusive to you.

The new rules of cultivation

(hint: they are the same as the old rules, but with a few new features.)

Cultivation is not to be confused with the fundamentals of development that should already be in full-force in your organization. The simple objective of cultivation in philanthropy is to find wonderful people who have the capacity and propensity to give, to establish trust and develop a shared vision for your mission with their personal and financial support.

The new rules reflect a new environment. In the traditional donor pyramid, we strike a weighted balance of grassroots, mid-tier and top-level donors. During the pandemic, many organizations succeeded through grants and a polarized strategy of board- and leadership-level giving and social media/grassroots online programs. Instead of a pyramid, it was more like a half-eaten apple, with emphasis on top-tier and a robust effort for smaller online gifts.

Cultivating prospects often feeds the necessary middle whom we cannot do without, attracts important leaders and skills, and propels long-term the major gifts that secure vision.

  1. Keep doing the old rules – the activities that have worked for you.
  2. Expand your own network without relying on your board. You have time to do this, but if you ignore it, the philanthropic leadership of your organization will become insular.
  3. Ask your board members and top donors to introduce you to some quota of new prospects. Measure this; and rank the prospects.
  4. Develop for your board and development committee a full network map of your organization. Set aside a full meeting or retreat to explain the relationships, their connections, and the future impact these connections can have on your organization.
  5. Establish a trust environment with your donors and prospects who give. This involves personal conversations – in addition to the blast emails they receive from your organization – and ensures that the donor/prospect feels connected and engaged even if they cannot attend events.
  6. Reinforce the reliance and gratitude your mission receives from them. Yes, this is stewardship, but it is also cultivation for future giving.

Want to learn more? Contact Steve Longley.