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One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Tips for Cultivating Each Type of Major Gift Donor

Photo of author, Kathleen McDermott.
Kathleen McDermott
Business Development Manager and Director of Nonprofit Advisory Services

Historically, the definition of “cultivation” (first recorded in 1690-1700) was “to prepare and work on land to raise crops.” Generally, once the crops were raised, the subsequent harvest was meant to provide food for the nourishment and sustenance of living things.

Similarly, cultivation, as used in the nonprofit sector, is a term related to how we get to know and nurture our donors to build better relationships that will ultimately grow or sustain our organizations. I believe nonprofits should cultivate all constituents – from staff to volunteers to board members.

However, knowing and appropriately cultivating your major donor prospects should be an ongoing practice and one that is well thought out with an actionable plan. After all, these potential donors can make a significant impact on the growth and sustainability of your organization.

Custom Cultivation Plans

An actionable plan will include a prospect list, research, a cultivation plan for each, identification of the most appropriate solicitor, a targeted ask amount, a recognition plan and more. Organizations that are most successful in converting major gifts prospects to donors, truly have a very specific cultivation plan for each type of donor rather than employing a “one size fits all” approach.

While a specific cultivation plan will require some additional planning and implementation for your organization, these donor archetypes, values, and tips will provide you with some valuable insight.

Mission Magnet. This person values the purpose for which the organization was established and would appreciate seeing your programs in action. They might also appreciate customer/client testimonials or interesting articles and news about your program specialty.

Inclined Investor. This donor values your good stewardship and sound financial management. He or she may be looking for tax-efficient giving solutions or estate benefits. Sometimes they may be referred by a trusted advisor and may also tend to support community foundations or other umbrella nonprofits. The inclined investor should definitely be added to your annual report mailing list. They might even be looking at your 990 on Guidestar!

Give Back Guardian. This person wants to help an organization that helped him or her. This individual may be motivated by obligation and loyalty. As such, organizations favored may include higher education, health care, or national disease prevention/research organizations. Like the Mission Magnet, the Give Back Guardian will crave your program information and success stories and may also be a source for the testimonials you need.

Legacy Leader. Oftentimes, philanthropy is something instilled in donors at a young age. Cultivating the next generation of your existing major donors is important to consider sooner rather than later. These donors value tradition, legacy and sometimes, a family name. These donors might respond well to legacy societies and naming opportunities.

Social Sophisticate. This person wants to have fun while doing good things for your organization. He or she will be motivated by leisure and entertainment activities as well as expanding their social networks. This person will most likely support the arts, collegiate athletics, and organizations that host community events. These donors might respond well to recognition during an event or being asked to serve on an event planning committee.

While it may seem burdensome to develop specific cultivation strategies for these five archetypes, even small steps to customize your donor interactions will go a long way in nourishing and sustaining your organization for generations to come.

McKinley Carter’s Nonprofit Advisory Services division provides a variety of investment and consulting services customized to the unique needs of charitable organizations. Whether you are a board member, executive director, or community-minded volunteer, we can provide the tools and help you plan for a successful future for your organization.

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