How to Chart Donor Cultivation to Reach Fundraising Success

Denise McMahan is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub, and is the founder and publisher of where nonprofit leaders devour Page to Practice™ book summaries, author interviews and sticky applications from the must-read books they recommend.

The term “donor cultivation” has the unique distinction of being universally accepted and appreciated but poorly understood and abysmally applied.

Donor Cultivation and the Donor Lifecycle Map by Deborah Kaplan Polivy challenges you to put a thoughtful focus on donor cultivation and deliberately embed ongoing practices by using her framework—a map designed to orient your donor interactions toward the long view rather than simple year-to-year terms. Polivy introduces personal and non-personal tools to apply when in acquisition, renewal and growth activities. She also dedicates an entire chapter to demonstrating how these tools work with an in-depth case study I highlight below.

Donor Lifecycle Map

The Donor Lifecycle Map, created by Sarah Clifton, 101 fundraising blogger, inspired Polivy to combine her ideas about long-term cultivation with this map in order to write her book. In the Map, the organization is constantly building relationships and moving donors across stages.

Every donor matters and is cultivated through his or her first gift, second gift and active giving over the years. The organization tries to move the active givers to stretch gifts and finally to ultimate gifts such as legacy gifts. Not every donor will follow this path but it provides “a framework for thinking about donors and how to shift them from one segment to the next.”

CPB Major Gifts Initiative

In her book, Polivy shares a case story that demonstrates how Robert Altman, while at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) Major Gifts Initiative, made some changes relevant to actions connected with the Donor Lifecycle Map.

The Challenge

The Initiative determined that CPB was suffering financially because it had mainly been raising money through widespread, smaller donations of less than $100. Several stations signed on to experiment with raising larger gifts to some success.

Corrective Measures

After taking over in Albany, Altman shared some of his changes with Polivy, which relate to building relationships, tools and the Donor Lifecycle Map. A few examples include the following actions the station took. The team:

  • focused on building relationships with donors and outwardly connecting with the community more,
  • rearranged the organizational chart so the major giving and planned giving staff reported to him,
  • sustained donors through automatic renewal deductions from donors’ bank accounts and requests for increases sent through the mail,
  • researched the best fundraising practices (e.g., thank-you calls with no requests produced more results if continued at three months and six months after a donation),
  • researched patterns of interests among donors so it could send invitations to special events in these areas,
  • applied different pitches to minor and major donors,
  • created societies for different giving levels,
  • developed information regarding ultimate gifts and scheduled events around legacy giving,
  • enlisted board members to make thank-you calls to donors,
  • instituted tours several mornings a month, and used its 50th anniversary as a cultivation tool by holding celebratory events.

Why the Map Works

The corrective measures Altman applied to his sleepy fundraising initiative underscore many of the cultivation principles Polivy recommends in conjunction with her Map. When I asked Polivy what readers appreciate most about applying the Donor Lifecycle Map, she said, “How logical and strategic the model is. The question that needs to be asked at each interval is, ‘How can I move my donors forward through the sectors on the map?’ In particular, if they ‘map’ their data, they will see where they are not moving people ahead and where they are ‘losing’ people along the way, i.e. lapsed donors.”

See also:

Fundraising the SMART Way™: Predictable, Consistent Income Growth for Your Charity + Website
Influential Fundraiser: Using the Psychology of Persuasion to Achieve Outstanding Results
It’s Not Just Who You Know: Transform Your Life (and Your Organization) by Turning Colleagues and Contacts Into Lasting, Genuine Relationships
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Denise McMahan

Denise McMahan is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub, and is the founder and publisher of Cause Planet, where nonprofit leaders devour Page to Practice™ book summaries, author interviews and sticky applications from the must-read books they recommend.

February 3, 2016

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