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A Beginner’s Guide to Donor Cultivation

Published by Riley Young

Donor cultivation is critical to your nonprofit fundraising success. However, a lack of cultivation may be contributing to the industry-wide problem of low donor retention rates.

In fact, according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, the average donor retention rate is around 45%. Which means that 55% of donors every year have to be re-acquired.

Clearly there’s an issue that needs to be solved. And from what we’ve discovered in our own research, there’s plenty of opportunity to improve donor cultivation – and lead to more donations and revenue.

With that in mind, donor cultivation is something you should be focused on, 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 trust and has been proven to the likelihood of one-time donors giving again and more generously.

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.

4 Ways to Cultivate Donors

While there is no secret, 5-step formula to perfectly cultivate your donors, there are a few strategies you might adopt (based on research and proven with data) 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. Sending more emails can help ensure yours get seen, and also create more touch-points with your engaged donors.

2. Personalization

While sending individual emails to every donor would be an effective way of cultivating donors, you don’t have the time or capacity to personally contact every single donor individually.

However, even mass 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, here are 3 different experiments where creating a more personal sounding and feeling email led to better performance.

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 fundraising

Staying consistent with communication is key, but research continues to show that empathy is one of the most important tools you have as a fundraisers.

If we can’t put ourselves in the shoes of our donors and communicate in a way that is relevant, it can undermine all of your donor cultivation efforts.

And empathetic donor cultivations starts first with communicating like a real human being,

One way to start communicating more like an empathetic human being is to make your emails 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 28% increase in response.

4. Timing is everything

Have you just received a donation from a new donor? Great!

The common fundraising response is that you should quarantine their email address and not ask them for a donation for next 2 to 6 months.

However…some of the common “best practices” around asking for a second donation don’t align with what the data actually says.

In fact, according to The State of Modern Philanthropy report from Classy, your new donors are most likely to give a second donation (or become a recurring donor) within the first 45 days of their first donation.

You should certainly start saying thank you can cultivating your new donors right away. However, you should also be sure to include opportunities for donors to make a second gift in your follow-up communication.

Next: 3 Strategies to Improve Donor Cultivation

How do you actually implement some of these donor cultivation ideas in a practical way?

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 Young

Riley Landenberger is Audience Engagement Manager at NextAfter.