Key Steps to building a robust individual giving program, part II – cultivation of a friendship by Carl Sylvestre

Once you have a manageable list of prospects, the next phase is the cultivation process.  At this stage, you are not concerned about asking for money.  The goal is to engage your prospects with your organization.

Defining Cultivation

Cultivate “is to foster the growth of” and so says the Webster dictionary. For fundraising development professionals, it is the most critical and often the least understood aspect of our work.  What does it mean to ‘cultivate’ a relationship?  On one hand it sounds clinical.  On the other hand it is part of an activity where nothing can be measured and so it might as well be arbitrary.  Cultivation is the process of advancing relationships.  Anyone with a passion for something can use it to form bonds capable of transforming lives and organizations.  During this phase, you will learn more about an individual and determine the extent of their passion.  It either confirms or refutes what is learned from the research.

During the cultivation phase the prospect is given the chance to be engaged and learn about how they can make a difference.  The timing varies, if it is too fast or too slow, it could fall apart when it leads to the solicitation phase.

Getting Started

To get started, invite your prospect to an activity, a program or an event.  This is a chance to see what you do in action.   After the event reach out to them and hear their thoughts.  Give them a chance to talk and find out what different activities mean to them.  If the opportunity exists meet them over a drink or at a social function.  The important thing is to use the information gathered earlier or at that time, to advance the relationship.  If the prospects have a strong interest, share with them information that might not be readily available, as this would make them feel instantly like insiders.  It could be the announcement of a major grant or partnership before it is general knowledge. 

During the cultivation phase someone on staff needs to be designated as the Relationship Manager to make sure that regular on-going communication is taking place.  The Relationship Manager may not be the one talking with the prospect all the time but stays in touch with whoever is moving the relationship along. 

During the cultivation phase, start the activity of reminding someone every once in while that you are thinking about them.  It could be a short note to say hello, sending a newsletter, or a personalized e-blast.  Not every activity will be time consuming.  The important thing is to make sure that something is done.  When the prospects respond make sure you return that courtesy in a timely manner. 

Keep a record of these activities and if someone has attended an event, make sure that you have sent that individual a follow-up note or better yet pick up the phone to say thank you. The objective remains to get the prospects fired up about your cause before asking for money.

Sharing And Learning

Cultivation is an act of sharing and learning.  It is about paying attention to issues that matter to people and giving them the chance to be part of it.  Not every prospect will respond, intelligence can be faulty, the timing may not be right and it is very critical to respect boundaries.  When in doubt, ask the prospects if these are not their interests.  When the time is right for the gift solicitation these activities inform it. 

Transformational Fundraising

The cultivation phase, advances the building of a transformational fundraising culture within an organization.  Somewhere along the way, it eventually dawns upon everyone that they can play a role in fundraising.  No longer is the organization’s fundraising staff solely responsible for building the fan club.  Now other employees, board members, and volunteers are actively helping to raise money even if they are not directly soliciting.  It is everyone’s responsibility to help the prospect understand the work, because sharing stories attract donors.  As you move along the cultivation phase and whatever your role in the organization, do not do it alone. The cultivation phase has great rewards as you deepen your relationship with a prospect.   With a successful cultivation phase you are ready for a solicitation and