Panel of Experts Provides Actionable Ideas On Cultivation and Stewardship

By Susan Fields, CFRE

February 8, 2018, Scandinavia House, New York City

Cultivation and Stewardship are the two most important Donor Relations processes in the field of fundraising and development. While Cultivation is the process of building and growing relationships with potential and existing donors, Stewardship is the series of actions and communications that take place after a gift is pledged or received. On many occasions these two concepts overlap—but it is important for fundraisers to recognize the nuances between both activities in order to maximize recruitment, as well as maintain and upgrade existing donors.  

This lively AFP-NYC panel discussion, moderated by Gary Weinberg, President of DM Pros, highlighted the following actionable takeaways for Donor Cultivation and Gift Stewardship:

1.         Personalize acknowledgement letters!  Studies have shown that donors prefer letters that acknowledge how the gift will be used. Handwritten notes at the bottom of a letter or crossing out the formal salutation and adding the supporter’s name or nickname go a long way in making the donor feel special. Most importantly, avoid communications that sound overly businesslike or transactional.

2.         Timeliness is Critical! Nothing turns off a donor more than getting an acknowledgement letter a month or more after the gift was made. Return all email, phone, and written communications within 24 hours. The only exception would be over holidays and vacations unless you intend to do this consistently during the entire relationship with the donor. It’s all about professionalism and courtesy!

3.         Immerse in the Mission. Donors are motivated by “hands on” experiences such as meeting the recipients of your organization’s services. For instance, a nonprofit that provides eye surgery for children in Tanzania might fly selected donors and prospects to the local village to meet the doctor, and possibly even witness the procedure.

4.         Get to know your volunteers! Hold a special recognition event and stand by the door so that you can greet everyone that enters and leaves. Although volunteers often make annual gifts, they are also great prospects for increased lifetime giving and legacy gifts. Of course, don’t forget your Board of Directors or equivalent top leadership—as they are often the most apt to give leadership gifts.

5.         Leverage Colleagues! Use the experts at your fingertips to meet with, thank, and motivate donors and prospects. Include anyone who works for your organization who has something positive to share—senior staff, program directors, staff with a long or interesting track record, and peer workers.

6.         Share information creatively! Create a file of collected materials about the problem your nonprofit is seeking to solve and share it on an ad hoc basis with your donors and prospects. This might include articles or clippings about relevant topics or developments, books, videos, TedTalks, as well blogs and websites.

7.         Send birthday cards. Older donors in particular love them, and will often respond with a note or a phone call. Other landmark dates may also be important to commemorate such as anniversaries or holidays. Mark actuarial birthdays if you issue gift annuities. If you don’t already have this type of information in your database, make it a project to do so.

8.         Don’t forget event supporters. Send timely follow-up acknowledgements to all attendees and donors heralding the success of the event and how the funds will impact your organization’s cause. Prioritize your top five to ten donors/sponsors with a personalized note, email, or phone call the day after the event to acknowledge their generosity. Providing pictures (that include the donor) as well as press coverage is also a big motivator for future generosity.

9.          Target donors that would benefit from micro-stewardship. Through analyzing their giving style and behaviors, develop a personalized journey map with the intention of moving their giving to a top level. For instance, an elderly donor who has given to your organization faithfully for a decade might be an excellent prospect for a sizable bequest. A regular sponsor to your annual gala which raises funds for scholarship might be a prospect for a large endowment gift for the same purpose.

10.     Listen to your donors. Sometimes fundraisers are so intent on talking about their organization that they fail to learn about the interests and needs of their supporters. Ask leading questions, and donors and prospects will share tons about themselves if you give them the time. The more they share, the more likely they will feel good about the encounter as well as your organization, and the more information you will have to cultivate their next gift!

You can download the presentation here. If you found the information in this article to be of value, consider attending the next AFP-NYC Educational Program Managing Your Fundraising Team, on Thursday morning, March 15th

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