Preparing for the Ask: The Art of Cultivation

Amy Schiffman
January 11, 2018

Welcome to Part 9 in our capital campaign series. You’ll want to refer back to earlier posts in the series if you missed our discussions about campaign readiness, goal setting, feasibility, leadership and board development, the creation of supporting materials, the case for support, prospect list development, prospect research and donor recognition and stewardship! Now we are ready to discuss the cultivation of key prospects for the campaign.

What is Cultivation? Cultivation is the process of enhancing the prospect’s relationship with the organization and its programs via personalized involvement (or moves), thereby increasing his or her interest in making the organization a philanthropic priority.

Once you have identified your prospects and have a sense of giving ability, the cultivation process begins. Cultivation focuses on working with the prospect to match their funding interests and passions to the needs of the organization. This involves building a relationship between the prospect and a member of your campaign team AND between the prospect and the organization. The information you gather during this phase is key to knowing how much to ask for and where to focus the ask.

Establish Gift Objectives

A preliminary step in a cultivation strategy is to develop gift objectives for each prospect. These objectives can include:

  • Estimated ask/gift amount
  • Purpose (music program, library, etc.)
  • Cultivation/solicitation timetable (3 – 6 month series of moves or contacts)
  • Means of giving (outright gift of cash, planned gift, multi-year payout)

Gift objectives should be discussed for each prospect and are tentative and open to refinement as a deeper level of understanding develops.

There are two components to this step:

  1. Learn about the prospect
  2. Maintain contact (the more contact you have, the more you will learn)
  1. Learn about the prospect

The heart of cultivation is learning about prospects so their interests can be matched as efficiently as possible to the organization’s needs.  The more you know, the more easily you can develop a tailored solicitation strategy. The cultivation process should shed light on the prospect’s interests and financial capacity.

Your best source for gathering information will be the prospects themselves, and someone who knows them well (a fellow alumnus, another Board member, a business colleague, a family member, etc.).

Helpful Information to gather so you can learn about your prospect:

A. Biographical/personal information

  • Complete, correct, legal name
  • Addresses
  • Ages of prospect and spouse
  • Number, names and ages of all children
  • Number, names and ages of all grandchildren
  • Occupations
  • Recent changes in the prospect’s fiscal or family status
  • Charitable intent
  • Values, goals, hopes, dreams-what does the person stand for and what is the legacy they want to leave, what do they want to accomplish?

B. Organization-related

  • Ties with your organization, especially as the prospect sees them
  • Current attitudes towards the organization
  • Friends and other personal contacts in the organization
  • Level of commitment to the organization
  • Past giving to the organization

C. Financial information

  • Past giving to other institutions/foundations and other purposes
  • Real estate owned, its value and where it is located
  • Business interests
  • Stock holdings
  • Estimated total assets
  • Estimated current family income 
  1. Contact with the prospect-engage and involve

Every contact can be an opportunity to gain more information; you will also have the chance to learn more about the prospect by involving them in organizational activities. You can help change the prospect’s perspective about the need and value of his or her potential contribution.

A .Build the prospect’s commitment by educating and involving him/her in organizational activities.

B. As you get to know the prospect, you should begin scheduling subsequent meetings, mailings, and other contacts.

C. Cultivation ideas include:

  • Breakfasts, lunches, dinners or sporting events
  • Participation on organizational committees
  • Invitation to social or organizational events and activities
  • Personal visits or site tours
  • Congratulations on appropriate occasions
  • Requests for advice
  • Special presentations and awards

Develop a Cultivation Plan

Design an intentional “moves management” process. Develop a timetable for cultivation by developing a customized plan for each prospect. Organizational events can serve as backdrops for cultivation activities. You can map out a strategy for when and how you are going to maintain contact with the prospect and keep him/her involved over a period of time. Please see our freebie for this week for a better sense of how this may look or work.

You are developing a relationship between the organization and a prospect that you hope will last a lifetime. An ill-planned cold call can destroy any ability to convert a prospect into a major gift donor. A well designed strategy must be carefully implemented to bring a prospect to the point where a commitment is the next logical step.

Stay tuned next week for more on cultivation and preparing for your campaign’s quiet phase, and please do not hesitate to contact us if you have more questions about donor cultivation strategy.