The Courtship of Cultivation

Love is in the air and cupid is working his magic this month. You, too, can play matchmaker by “matching” donors to your nonprofit organization. Read on to find out how to make philanthropic love matches.

As fundraisers, we know the key to major gifts is:

The right potential donor asked by the right person in the right way at the right time for the right request in the right amount.

How do you find Mr. or Mrs. Right?

Building a relationship with a donor is a lot like dating. In this article we will draw parallels between cultivating major donors and the courtship of dating to demystify how to build relationships with donors. We will discuss how to identify a donor (set ups, online options and yentas), cultivate or “woo” your potential donor without smothering them, “pop the question” for a successful solicitation and how to nurture a long-term relationship for happily ever after.

If you want the short version of this article, check out the “Dating Your Donors Checklist“.

FindingYour Match: Identifying potential major donors

The same principles that help single individuals find dates apply to identifying potential donors. In today’s dating world, there are so many online dating sites to choose from: match.com, Eharmony.com, plentyoffish.com, okaycupid.com. These websites provide you with a great deal of information about potential romantic matches. You learn about their interests, hobbies, work, families and passions all in an online profile.

In the fundraising world, there is similar technology to identify donors. Prospect research can be done utilizing expensive wealth screening technology or free online search engines like Google. Purchased software programs like WealthEngine allow you to access detailed wealth information online about potential donors to help determine their charitable giving capacity based on public record assets and donations to other charities. The financial profile on each of these individuals allows fundraisers to better understand their philanthropic interests, their propensity to give and financial capacity to give. Utilize your donor financial profile to determine if this individual is a good match for your organization.

Single mixers are a popular way to quickly meet many potential dating matches in a fun social setting. In the nonprofit sector, the equivalent are charity fundraisers and community events where many community leaders and philanthropist can be found. The social setting provides an easy way to approach philanthropists and get to know them. Careful not to solicit or do a hard pitch of your nonprofit.

Before online dating, single individuals placed personal ads in the paper. While this may be outdated in today’s online dating world, the paper still provides a very important resource for identifying potential donors. Daily newspapers and local magazine publications identify the business players in town including those individuals and companies whom like engaging in goodwill for the benefit of their company’s image. The society columns of local publications do a wonderful job of covering the charity events and even identifying philanthropists with photos while connecting them to the charities they support. Learning who are the prominent players in town will help you to identify whom to engage with your organization.

Yentas: The fundraising role of the Board ofDirectors

Much like the Jewish community has yentas or matchmakers, nonprofit organizations have Board member “yentas” who are willing to make matches between potential donors in the community and the nonprofit. Board members tend to be well-known community members who are connected to powerful local businessmen and women and philanthropists.

Enlist your Board members and current donors to host their friends and colleagues at small receptions in their homes. The goal is to match potential donors with your organization. At this gathering, a short presentation should be given about your organization along with a compelling testimony by an individual who has been positively changed through the programs. Food and drink are served in a relaxing atmosphere.  This is a low-pressure way to expose a group of people in a neighborhood to your organization and determine if these individuals have an interest. If you are able to pique the interest of a new individual, add them to your prospect donor list so you can continue to engage them in the future.

It is important to train and talk to your Board members about their role as yenta and how to make introductions. Host a training at your next Board meeting or retreat. Write ascript and have Board members practice “rehearsing” with each other. The idea is to give them the right tools so they feel comfortable inviting their friendsto get to know the organization on a deeper level.

Blind Dates: Effective cultivation techniques

To confirm a major gift, an individual must firstbe cultivated or courted. Cultivation is what transitions a stranger into adonor and courting is what transitions a stranger into a significant other.

Most likely, we have allbeen “set up” before with a potential date by a mutual friend. It is often ablind date and can be awkward at first, but it is part of how two people get to know each other.In fundraising, often the first meeting with a donor is “blind”. They do notknow the organization nor have they met you in person. To get to know your“blind date” or potential donor, invite him or her out to your facility tolearn more about your organization. An effective cultivation method is a tourof your organization’s facility so the potential donor can see your programsfirsthand.

Make sure it is a convenient time and comfortablesetting for your potential donor. Create a dialogue, not a monologue. Often ithelps to have your “mutual friend” attend as well. Just like when you are on adate, establishing a mutual interest is key to developing a connection that canbloom into a relationship. Create meaningful conversation that is not onlycentered on your organization so you get to knowyour potential donor personally. Ask the prospect donor abouttheir passions, hobbies, where they like to travel, and their children. At thesame time try to find a common interest or passion they have that fits withinyour organization’s programs or mission. If you are unsure of their interest, presentdifferent programs and projects to see which ones strike a cord with him or her.

The key to cultivationis the continued attention to your potential donor. Continue to cultivate or“woo” your potential donor. Just like in dating, you want to keep in contactand continually invite your date to events allowing them to learn more aboutthe organization– but don’t smother them.

OnlineDating: Online cultivation and solicitation strategies

Today, we do almost everything online from business to booking travel to banking and even dating. Before going on a date, it is common to check out our date online through an online dating profile or a simple “google” search to learn more about their background. What we read online forms an initial impression of a potential mate.

It makes sense that nonprofit organizations should have an online presence to effectively present themselves to the World Wide Web to make a positive first impression to potential donors. A study by Mindshare Interactive Campaigns and Harris Interactive found that nearly 40 percent of people who support nonprofit organizations either as a donor, volunteer, or advocate report that they consult online sources of charity information before making donations. More than six in 10 supporters who said they conducted online research on charities said they went to the organizations’ websites to get information.

Thesefacts make a very persuasive case for every nonprofit organization to have anupdated and detailed website. People don’t read every word on a website, sokeep your message short and compelling. Make every word count toward yourmission. Utilize graphics and images to visually break up the text, and makesure the pictures and captions also drive your message. Whether a pagedescribes the need for donations, volunteers or advocates, make the call toaction clear and in line with your other communication mediums. Connect apersonal story to a specific program when soliciting donations online to makethe need come alive for the online reader.

Socialmedia and online tools like E-newsletters, Websites, Facebook, Twitter,Linkedin, and blogs provide great methods for engaging donors via the onlineworld. Utilize social media outlets to tell and share stories fromorganization. Tell stories that demonstrate the success of your programs – suchas stories about individuals who were positively affected by your organization.Post pictures and include quotes to bring the story to life.

You have to put the time and energy into onlinefundraising and communication but it is very powerful. Social media is a greatcommunication tool to cultivate and stay in touch with donors. Utilizing one ormore of these outlets allows for nonprofits to effectively garner onlinedonations.

TheProposal: Developing a Case for Support

Once you have made a successful match –whetherwith a potential mate or donor – it is time to craft a thoughtful proposal tomake your “case” for a meaningful lifelong partnership. A marriage proposal iscarefully planned and thought through just like the proposal you will presentto a potential donor. A nonprofit’s proposal often takes the shape of a casefor support. The case for support states who you are, why you exist, whatyou’re doing and how donors can and should help. A successful case for supporthas twelve components: mission, overview, history, need, vision, organizationalsuccess to-date, program descriptions, budget, how a donor can help, board ofdirectors, staff, and contact information.

Begin your case by stating the mission of theorganization and a short overview of your organization. Carefully craft theneed of your organization. The need answers why your organization exists. Thevision describes where the organization is going and what it hopes to accomplishin the future. List out the success that your organization has had. How manypeople did you serve last year? How many programs did you offer? Did you winany awards or recognition in the community? This section is an opportunity foryou to brag about how great your organization really is!

Write a description for each of your programs.Include enough detail to accurately describe the programs, but keep it brief.Stay away from acronyms and technical jargon that you may use internally withthe other staff, but is not appropriate for the general public. Include yourorganization’s annual budget. With many nonprofit scandals in the news, it iseven more important now to be as transparent as possible. Let the donor knowhow she or he can help by providing amounts and ways they can contribute to theorganization. A list of your Board of Directors lends credibility andprominence to your organization. Include a list of your staff, their positionsand of course, the contact information of the organization.

Utilizing the case forsupport, craft an individualized proposal for the potential donor outlining thedonation amount and the specific need it will fill at the organization. Framethe presentation from the potential donor’s perspective and how their donationwill make a significant different within the organization.

Popping the Question: Successful Solicitation

After you havecultivated a meaningful relationship with your potential donor, it is time topop the question. Getting down of one knee and making a successful proposal requiresadvance planning and coordination. The same is true of a donor solicitation. Aface-to-face meeting is the most strategic way to ask a donor for money. Canyou imagine asking your significant other to marry you over email? You wouldprobably wont’ receive the hoped for response. The same is true with donors.Set up a face-to-face meeting where a meaningful conversation can occur and aspecific solicitation can be made.

The meeting can be held at the organization’sfacility, lunch at a restaurant or a meeting in the potential donor’s officealthough the latter is not as preferred because the office can be verydistracting for the potential donor.

Strategically design theconversation that will happen during the solicitation meeting. Who will bepresent? This meeting should include a board or committee member as well as astaff member who can present the mission and needs of the organization. Boardor committee members are the “peer” in the meeting to the potential donor. Theyhave already given of their time and money and are setting the example for thepotential donors.

What will each personcontribute to the conversation in order to build the case for the donor togive? Sketch out a script and determine who will say what before the meeting. Ask theboard or committee member to share why he or she is involved with theorganization and highlight certain programs and/or exhibits they are mostpassionate about. When someone is passionate about something, it is contagious.Your goal is to capture the potentialdonor’s heart and mind.

Be Upfront; Be Specific; Be Clear. Explain theneeds of the organization and how the potential donor can help. Explain thevision and long-term plan of the organization and how filling this need willbuild a foundation for the future growth of the organization.

Now comes the hard part: the actual solicitation. Adonation amount should be asked for in a direct manner. Ask the potential donorto give a specific donation amount to the organization. The specific amount isimportant and should be a well-researched number that you think your potentialdonor is capable of and will be a “stretch” for them to give. You always wantto ask for “too much” rather than “too little”. Once the solicitation is made,be silent. Allow for the potential donor to respond to your proposal.Hopefully, you will receive a positive response and engage this individual withyour organization.

Happily Ever After: Stewarding your donors for a lifelong relationship

We all want to end upat “happily ever after” in our personal and professional lives. Just like youwould nurture a marriage, you will want to steward a donor. Yes, ittakes time, energy and focus to build a strong relationship with a major donor,but then again, isn’t it the same in marriage?

To continue to nurtureand steward this relationship just like you would a long-term relationship,make sure to thank the donor. Most donors prefer a simple thank you and wouldrather not have the organization spend part of their donation on a recognitiongift. But you need to know your donor! If they prefer a small gift or plaque orother form of recognition, make sure to provide it.

Once a donation is made, keep your donor in theloop by updating him or her about the program they funded. Set up a times tovisit with them whether it is in person, on the phone or via email. Add thedonor to your newsletter mailing list so they can stay abreast of the latesthappenings in your organization. Just like in a marriage, communication is thekey to a healthy and vibrant relationship.

BreakUps: Ways to lose a donor

We’ve all heard the phrase “What happens inVegas, stays in Vegas”, but that is not true in the nonprofit sector.It is great if you have the opportunityto socialize with your donors outside the organization – it helps further buildyour relationship – but is not necessary to engaging them as a donor. However,this does not mean that as a professional fundraiser, you are allowed to getdrunk, act disorderly or inappropriate with your donor. What happens in Vegas,will not stay in Vegas. Most likely this will negatively affect yourrelationship with your donor.

Unfortunately, sometimes relationships end.We’ve heard the reason of “It’s not you, it’s me”. Sometimes donors loseinterest in the organization and it is not your fault. Or they choose to directtheir funds to a different cause because it has become more important to them.This is okay. Graciously let them go. Continue to acknowledge their pastsupport.

Be careful that a donor doesn’t break up withyou because of your lack of stewardship. Have you ignored or neglected yourdonors? Only contacted them when you have your hand out and want money? Yep, wecall that a booty call in the dating world. And it does not create a meaningfulnor committed relationship between the donor and your organization. Rememberyou have to spend time continually woo-ing your donors.


Utilizing these strategic moves will helpyou to successfully build a relationship with a major donor so when the match s right, the gift issignificant.

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