Cultivation, Dating Your Donors, Major Gifts, stewardship

The “Magic” in Major Donor Fundraising


When I meet with potential clients, they often think I have a magic wand in my purse that I will wave all around their offices and things will magically change for the better. Like, new donors will instantly start giving or current donors will double their donations. Presto-chango! Instant increased fundraising!!

What I have found is that the “magic” in gaining new and increasing current donations is time and attention. Let me ask you:

  1. Do you make a best friend the first time you met someone?
  2. Do you propose on the first date?

Most likely the answer is “no”. Relationships take time to build whether they are friendships or a “donor-ship”.

How do you build a relationship with a donor?

Just like in a romantic relationship, creating a meaningful relationship with a donor takes “woo”-ing. Cultivation is what transitions a stranger into a donor and courting is what transitions a stranger into a significant other.

Get to know your donor. Create meaningful conversation that is not only centered on your organization, so you get to know your potential donor personally. Ask the prospect donor about his or her passions, hobbies, favorite travel destinations, and children. At the same time, try to find a common interest or passion that fits within your organization’s programs or mission. If you are unsure of the person’s interests, present different programs and projects to see which ones strike a chord with him/her.

What are effective “woo-ing”/cultivation techniques?

Two effective cultivation methods are cultivation receptions and facility tours. A simple one-on-one meeting also works well.

  • Tour of your programs. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a tour of an organization’s facility is worth a million. This is an opportunity for the potential donor to see the programs firsthand.
  • Cultivation Reception. Create an intimate evening for potential donors to be invited by and mingle with their peers while learning more about the organization, programs and how they can help fill the organization’s financial need.
  • Continue the woo. Give continued attention to your potential donor. Just like in dating, you want to keep in contact and continually invite your date to events allowing him or her to learn more about the organization.


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