The donor cultivation process requires the same openness and lack of pretense that we develop with our close friends and family. While the relationship may start off more formally, over time your goal should be to get to know this person, in the same way that you would develop a wonderful new friendship.
1. Thank them promptly after receiving their gift. Make your thank-you personal—a note, a phone call, a letter, or hand delivered gift from one of the participants in your programs; something that lets that donor know you appreciate their unique gift.
2. Show them what their gift enabled you to accomplish. Give specific examples of the number of people it allowed you to reach, serve, educate, or inspire. Tell them at least one story about one of these beneficiaries.
3. Invite them to mission-related events (as distinct from traditional fundraising “entertainment” events). Ideally invite them to an event or meeting related to their particular area of interest in your program, e.g., a meeting with the music director, a guest speaker on the latest discoveries in teaching piano, or the student music performance.
4. Ask for their advice and listen to it with an intention to see how you could follow through on what they are suggesting. Don’t be defensive or default to, “It’s not my job to make something that big happen around here.”
5. Find at least two opportunities each year to communicate personally with each donor. For your higher level donors, these should be face-to-face meetings or personal telephone calls. During these meetings, resist the temptation to do all the talking—ask lots of questions, and listen to what they need and want. (Tip: People like you a lot more when they know you are genuinely listening to them—even if they know you can’t follow through and deliver on all their suggestions).
Terry Axelrod, founder and CEO of Benevon, has more than 30 years’ experience in the nonprofit field. She created the Benevon Model after serving as the first development director at a private inner-city school, where she designed and implemented the fundraising programs that yielded $7.2 million in two years and a significant endowment. Over the past 20 years, Benevon has trained more than 5,000 nonprofit teams to customize this systematic process for building sustainable funding.