Cultivation: The Important Journey to Getting a Gift

Cultivation: The Important Journey to Getting a Gift

Rory Green | 22 April 2015

The fifth instalment for the Institute of Fundraising Scotland’s month-long blog series on Major Gifts, by Rory Green, aka Fundraiser Grrl.

Once you’ve found a good potential donor – and you’ve had a great discovery meeting and learned the specific areas of your charity’s mission that your prospect is most interested in. It is now time to cultivate that relationship to get you to a point where you can make an ask. Some people think cultivation means lunches and birthday cards, which is partially true – but donor cultivation is more than that. The purpose of cultivation is to build a relationship with a donor’s head, heart and soul that will lead to them making a gift.      

That means every interaction should be strategic and specific – and should get you one step closer to being able to make an ask.

Often, cultivation is done around one specific project or programme where you think the donor may want to make an investment. You work to build an emotional and intellectual connection to that programme. The goal is to get the donor saying: “This is amazing. How can I help?” 

To be truly successful, your cultivation should be:

  • Planned. It can’t be haphazard; it should be carefully thought out.
  • Documented. Plan out your next several touch points and interactions, and record them somewhere (ideally in your donor database).
  • Personalised. In your discovery meeting (and throughout the fundraising process) you learn more and more about what makes each donor unique. Chose cultivation steps that align with that specific donor based on your growing knowledge about them.
  • Strategic. Remember – the point of cultivation is to get to a gift!


So, let’s take a journey from Scotland all the way to Middle Earth, and brainstorm how to cultivate members of the fellowship of the ring.

1.    Get your prospect to see the work your charity is doing: In your discovery meeting you learned that Merry and Pippin were very impacted by meeting Treebeard and the Ents, and seeing the destruction of the forest by Saurman. Inviting them to see your replanting efforts would be a great way to connect them with an important project that means something to them.

2.    Get them to volunteer. Donors who volunteer give, on average, ten times more than those who don’t. Finding a meaningful volunteer role is a great way to cultivate a donor. Gandalf would be a great candidate for an advisory council, given his wisdom and love of giving advice – while Sam might prefer to work in a community garden, because of his green fingers.

3.    Meeting beneficiaries. Sometimes taking the donor to the actual site of your work may be hard. You may be doing work in another country, or your prospect may have mobility issues. If you met with Gimli and found out he was passionate about helping Dwarf refugee families, a great next step would be to take him for coffee with a dwarf family your charity helped to get their life back on track.  You can also get creative, maybe share videos from people you’ve helped or even create a scrap book with pictures and letters from people whose lives have been improved by your work (and your prospect’s past gifts) 

                                                                           LOTR 2

4.    Invitation to events. It is important that you chose events that match a donor’s interests. Don’t invite everyone to every event. People are busy, and their time is at a premium. Aragorn for example has many constraints on his time as King of Gondor – but inviting him to attend a conference on elf – human relations would align with his interests perfectly!

                                                                           LOTR 3

5.    Personal touch-bases. I like to put all of my top major gifts prospects in Google Alerts, and reach out personally when they are in the news. For example, sending Legolas a note of congratulations when he wins “Elf Entrepreneur of the Year”, or wishing Sam good luck when he announces that he is running for Mayor of Hobbiton. Hand written birthday and holiday cards are also in the tool box of a great major gifts fundraiser!

However you chose to cultivate a donor – just make sure it is thoughtful, personalised and planned out. And never forget – it should all take you closer to making a gift!

I’ve shared just some of the ways you can cultivate a donor. Do you have great ideas or tricks? Share them below in the comment section!


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