A Beginner’s Guide to Donor Cultivation | NextAfter
Resources Home

A Beginner’s Guide to Donor Cultivation

Published by Riley Landenberger

Donor cultivation is at the heart of many successful nonprofit organizations. According to our research, 88% of donations come from only 12% of donors. And those 12% are your cultivated, major donors, who are loyal to your nonprofit.

With that in mind, donor cultivation is something you should be doing strategically, if you’re not already.

Let’s dive into what donor cultivation really is…

What is donor cultivation?

Donor cultivation is building a relationship with a prospective donor. It’s about getting to know them, and allowing them to get to know what you stand for. You wouldn’t ask for a large donation on your first interaction with a prospective donor; you’d build a relationship first. That’s exactly what donor cultivation is – relationship building. 

Why is donor cultivation important? 

Donor cultivation is a crucial part of gaining more recurring and major donors. Consider donor cultivation as a tool to remind your donors of your cause. It’s meant to keep them in the loop of everything going on with your organization and keep your name fresh in their brain. This helps build brand trust and improves your chances of one-time donors becoming recurring donors.

How to measure donor cultivation? 

How do you know if you are successfully cultivating and retaining donors? Do you measure it? Well, if you’re not, you should! 

Closely tracking and analyzing your Donor Retention Rate will help determine what strategies are working and what aren’t, while helping you better understand your donors.

5 Ways to Cultivate Donors

While there is no secret formula to cultivating donors, there are a few strategies to adopt in order to maximize your relationship with donors. 

1. Consistent communication

Communication is key. Not just once, but regularly and consistently. Keeping your donors updated with the latest news, exciting milestones and being transparent about what donations are going towards can help improve donor engagement and retention. 

To test this idea that more frequent communication has a positive impact on donor engagement, one organization sent more emails to half of their email file. By creating more consistent communication with these donors, they saw a 41.5% increase in revenue

Remember, you most likely aren’t the only organization in their inbox, so try sending some more emails to stand out from the rest.

2. Personalization

While sending individual emails to every donor would be an effective way of cultivating donors, nonprofits often don’t have the time or capacity to be personally contacting donors. However, communication with your donors and prospective donors can still be personalized. 

One way you can do this is by addressing your donors by name in your emails or your email subject lines. This can easily be done with the personalization features in your email marketing platform. 

In fact, just by adding the recipient’s first name to the subject line, one organization saw a 137% increase in traffic

When you clearly communicate the impact of a donation along with adding these personal touches, you’ll create deeper, longer lasting relationships with your donors.

3. Empathy driven content

Staying consistent with communication is key, but it’s also important to get the message right depending on your donor. Like our second recommendation above, we want to be connecting with the donors on a personal level. 

Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Why have they chosen this nonprofit? 
  • How did they find us? 
  • Why do they care? 

And once you have some answers to those questions, use those pain points to connect even deeper with your donors.

You can try doing so by making your email look something like your donor would receive from a friend – no design and a conversational tone.

Just by switching their email design to a plain-text style, this organization saw a 112.5% increase in donations and an 80.3% increase in clicks.

By stripping their email down to a plain-text format and writing copy with a personal, conversational tone, another organization saw a 75% increase in conversions.

4. Don’t ask too much of your donors

Cultivating your donors is a delicate process. If you ask them for too much all at once, they may become confused and you could lose their support. 

Avoid overwhelming them with too many decisions by ensuring each cultivation piece has only one, clear-cut call-to-action.

5. Timing is everything

Have you just received a donation from a new donor? Great! But now is the time to reach out to them, thank them and get personal. Leave this action too long and your donor’s focus will be onto the next. 

Wait no longer than 2 days to reach out to your donor following an interaction. The sooner, the better. 

Timing is also important for general communications. Many nonprofits schedule emails at similar times each day or week. 

Avoid being one of many emails in a crowded inbox What works for others, may not work for you. So test sending at different times or on different days to find the ideal timing to boost your email open rate and conversions.

Check out this heat map to get an idea of when your donors’ inboxes are most cluttered:

As you can see, the inbox is most crowded Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons from 7am to noon. The inbox is least crowded during the week in the early morning, late afternoon, evening and in the afternoon on the weekend.

Next: 3 Strategies to Improve Donor Cultivation

Now that you have a full understanding of donor cultivation and some simple tips to follow, let’s dive in a little deeper to uncover three donor cultivation strategies that have been proven to gain donors and increase revenue. 

Have a donor cultivation strategy that’s already working for you? We’d love to hear about it!

Published by Riley Landenberger

Riley Landenberger is Marketing Manager at NextAfter.