I like to think of cultivation as the act of making a new friend. We learn from a very young age how to make friends. Beginning in preschool we learn to share, play nice and treat others the way we want to be treated. As we mature, so do our friendships. Eventually we ask our friends for favors or to help us out in times of need. The same is true with donors. Building a friend is parallel to cultivating a donor. Cultivation involves any and all activities that lead up to the point when we ask a donor to make a gift.
Cultivation is a very important first step. It is during the cultivation process that we learn about a donor and his/her interests, educate on the mission and activities of the organization and build a sustainable relationship. It is only after this relationship is in place that we can and should feel comfortable asking for a meaningful contribution to the organization.
Cultivation and stewardship are often used interchangeably. While some of the activities of cultivation and stewardship may be the same, the goals are actually quite different. Cultivation refers to all activities that lead to the first gift. Stewardship is the way in which we retain donors after they have made a gift.
All members of a development team are involved in the cultivation process. Your involvement may range from the customer service you provide to a potential donor, to helping put together a newsletter that is sent to all constituents, to providing board members with lists of their contacts and more. It’s important to remember that each person who interacts with your organization has the potential to become a donor if cultivated in the right way. Next time you interact with someone think of it as an opportunity to make a new friend. You may just cultivate a new donor along the way!