Cultivation, cultivation, cultivation

Everyone knows the tale of the property magnate who was asked the secret of property investment. He answered that there were 3 critical factors: location, location, location.

I’m pretty sure now that fundraising with individual donors has its equivalent. The 3 critical factors for success with individual donors are: cultivation, cultivation, cultivation.

In major donor fundraising cultivation is king. In fact cultivation is almost all there is to major donor fundraising. That’s a bold claim, so let me demonstrate that it is true with this little test: how long does it take a person of moderate intellect to understand what a charity’s (any charity’s) main purpose is? If the statement of the charity’s aims is even half clear ( now that’s another question entirely!), but if it is reasonably clear, almost anyone is going to understand what the charity is all about in two or three seconds flat. So, all we need to do to land major gifts, then, is get wealthy people to read and understand a reasonably clear statement of aims? Wrong. Completely wrong. In fact, knowing everything there is to know about the charity’s aims, projects, extent of the need being addressed etc. counts for almost nothing in major gifts fundraising. Why? Because the prospect is still a million miles away from making that gift, however well he or she understands the cause. And what is it that will bridge that gap? Its cultivation – the process that, through time and acquaintance, brings the donor to the point of trust. Trust that he or she is giving to a well-managed cause. Trust that the leadership are sound people. Trust that the money will actually do some good. Trust that she/he is in the company of other like-minded donors. Trust, trust, trust. And, as everyone knows, trust simply takes time to build. It also takes a very long time simply to create opportunities for the donor prospect to meet enough of the charity’s leadership and do so often enough for her/him to reach the point where they say to themselves “ Good, I’ve seen enough, I’m satisfied. Now, what can I do to help?”

In legacy fundraising cultivation is king as well. Good legacy fundraisers invest months and years in gentle, helpful contact with prospects. Partly this is in building the donor’s understanding of the cause, of course. But also, and vitally, it is in building trust that the donor’s last great act of philanthropy will be well directed. That the donor’s wish to perpetuate her or his own values after death may be fulfilled. And such trust-building takes time. That’s why steady programmes of relevant contact are never a waste of money and are always repaid with good levels of legacy income.

And in smaller levels of giving, mostly by post, cultivation is critical too. But here, I do think there is a slight difference. In major gifts and legacies, cultivation is groundwork, leading towards that one big donation or legacy. In smaller level giving

( say in the £5-£100 range), it is the habit of giving by post that needs to be cultivated. The more the donor is asked, the more he or she repeats the behaviour. And the more the act of giving is repeated, the more likely it is to happen again. This, in my view, is because the actual act of giving, that moment of writing out the cheque, is the real “high” that the donor enjoys. And, if cultivated properly, will want to enjoy again and again.