Steward your prospects, cultivate your donors

What is the difference between cultivation and stewardship?

For people in the fundraising realm, this seems like a no brainer.  Cultivation is the process of bringing donor prospects closer to your organization.  Stewardship is the process of helping them feel so good about their donations that they’re inclined to give again.  These are very simplistic definitions and they omit a lot.  However, they’ll do for the purposes of this essay.

I’m asking this question because I’ve seen non-profits miss the boat on either end.  Following are true cases.

Organization 1:  This is an excellent organization whose good work is well-known.  They fundraise aggressively.  They are constantly on the lookout for new prospects, and they burn through them quickly.  They spend a lot of time and attention strategizing on the best approach for each prospect.  They bend over backwards to do whatever a prospect requires to help him or her come to a gift decision.  Some gifts have been years in the making.

However, such a high percentage of their fundraising resources is dedicated to prospecting, cultivation, and making the ask that the fundraisers complain that they can’t steward their donors properly.  Indeed, quite often a fundraiser will encounter a past donor who is very angry at the organization for “taking the money and running.”

Sometimes donors will make requests or even demands that the fundraiser has no time to fulfill.  Or, the fundraiser tries to fulfill a request, but is stalled by fellow staff members who don’t put the donor’s request high enough on their own priority lists.

Organization 2:  They are relatively new to fundraising, but because they are also a very good organization well known for its work in the community, they should be a good “sell.”  They have hired fundraisers in the past, with the simple directive of “Go out and bring back money,” without providing the fundraiser the internal support and endorsement required.  Being a small nonprofit, they have very little cash flow now, and the fundraiser’s salary maxes them out.  They have no time to assist the fundraiser, nor do they want to “trouble the Board” with what they perceive as administratia.  There is no time or patience with the cultivation process.  Gifts should start coming in within weeks of a fundraiser’s coming on board.  And the executive director is reluctant to divert resources on a group of people who “haven’t given us anything yet.”  In other words, when the prospects ante up, then they’ll feel the love.

What is the difference between cultivation and stewardship?  It’s all a matter of which side of the gift the organization is willing to show that love on.

But to a donor, it makes no difference.  They see the pre-gift love and attention as an implied promise of how they’ll be treated after they’ve made a gift.  If the love is lavished during the courting process, they will expect great joy and an enhanced relationship after the gift.  If there is no pre-gift love and attention, a donor will assume that they will be treated with the same disinterest after a gift is made.  Therefore, there’s not much motivation to make a gift.

Cultivation and stewardship are just about the same.  Love your prospects, love your donors.  Give them everything they need to know about your organization before and after their gift.  Invite them to events.  Make them feel important.  And more importantly, make them feel heard.  Let them know that their opinions count.




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