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How to Step Up Your Donor Cultivation Strategy: 14 Useful Ideas

Author: Marlena Moore
March 19, 2024
🕑 9 min read

Finding donors is an endless endeavor. Most organizations expend significant amounts of effort and money in their attempts to reach new prospects. But, savvy fundraising officers know that the most reliable way to keep money coming in is to keep up relationships with people who have already donated in the past. In fact, Philanthropy News Digest reports that recurring donors are 440% more valuable to an organization than one-off donors. These donors do not become repeat donors by chance; to ensure your organization’s financial health and consistent funding, you need to engage in donor cultivation.

What Is Donor Cultivation?

Donor cultivation is the process of identifying potential donors, persuading them to give, and then taking deliberate steps to foster an ongoing relationship between them and your organization. Retention doesn’t happen by accident. It is the result of mindful and consistent actions. By setting up processes for handling your communication with donors, you can make them feel more involved and more willing to continue financially supporting you in the future.

Donor Cultivation vs. Stewardship

There are many actions that can boost your donor retention. Donor stewardship is a general attitude toward your donors that helps keep your organization top of mind. When people give, it’s important to reach out regularly. Begin by expressing your gratitude right away. Then, keep in touch to let them know the good you are doing with their generous donation.

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Why Is Cultivating Donors Important for Your Nonprofit?

Just like finding new customers for a business, finding new donors for your cause is time-consuming and expensive. To make your fundraising as efficient as possible, you should nurture relationships with those who have already shown a willingness to give.

When you establish a cultivation cycle, you can be sure every funding communication you send is having maximum impact. This means less time and money invested in chasing funding and more you can dedicate toward your organization’s work.

The Donor Cultivation Cycle

The Donor Cultivation Cycle can be divided into distinct stages with steps to take at each one. These stages and steps are not a one-and-done proposition. Instead, you will repeat steps when appropriate to keep up communication and spur future donations.


Start by identifying likely donors. Consider people in your personal network who are likely to support your organization’s mission. Encourage members of your team to do the same.

When considering future donors, consider the qualities of your past donors. This will help you create targeted ads that will be seen by people in the same region and demographic.


Once you have a list of likely donors, narrow it down to those you think are likely to become interested in your mission in an ongoing way. Your qualification process can include asking them to sign up for your mailing list or to follow you on social media.


Like in sales, it can often take many “touches” to get someone to perform a desired action—in this case, convincing someone to donate.

Start cultivation by educating potential donors about your organization, your mission, and how donations are used.


Once you’ve introduced your organization, it’s time to ask donors to open their wallets. Make your request specific and highlight the urgency of your nonprofit’s needs.

Your solicitation should end with an actionable CTA: tell them what you would like to donate, how to donate, and what their money can accomplish.


How you handle stewardship will be the defining factor in whether a donor gives to you again. Start immediately by sending a personalized thank you as soon as possible. Then, reach out periodically to let them know the good work their donations are doing.

The 4 Types of Donors to Include in Your Donor Cultivation Plan

Your donor cultivation plan should be adapted to fit different types of donors. While the overall strategy remains the same, addressing each type of donor individually can increase the sense of connection and make them more willing to continue to give.

Individual Donors

These are private individuals who choose to make donations to a cause they find meaningful. These fall into a few specific categories:

Mass Donor

Mass donors are those who regularly contribute to your cause. Some use automated debits to make small monthly donations, often as little as $5 at a time. Others donate more significant amounts whenever they are able. This donor type is usually reached through mass marketing strategies and ongoing communication channels like newsletters.

Annual Donor

Annual donors will typically make a single gift a year. Many choose to time their gift to occur on a holiday, like Christmas or Ramadan. Others make a donation on a birthday or anniversary. Keep notes of when and why they donate and remind them when the time draws near.

Event Donor

The third type of individual donor is the one who gives at events. These can include paying admission to a charity event or dropping money in the donation jar when they see someone from your organization tabling.

Major Donors

These big fish typically only make up around 20% of your donor base, but can provide 80% of a nonprofit’s funding. A major donor makes gifts that generally range from $5,000 to $25,000. Cultivate deep and personal relationships with these donors and reach out regularly on an individual level.

Legacy Donors

A subset of major donors are legacy donors, people who have specified a planned gift at a future date. Often, these are included in a will as a donation to be made after their passing.

Reach out to likely legacy donors to let them know how their gifts will make a lasting impact.


Foundations are donors who are typically nonprofits in their own right. Many have a mission of funding causes through grants. They typically focus on a single mission or issue and donate to charities and nonprofits that support that mission.


Corporate donors know that investing in their community and in causes that align with their brand is good business. They want marketing opportunities to result from their gifts. Communicate with them about press releases, building naming, and other ways you can publicize their gifts.

14 Donor Cultivation Ideas

These specific ideas can help you create a donor cultivation cycle that fits your organization, your mission and your donors. Adapt these to fit your group’s specific needs, and so your communications and actions speak to those who want to give.

1. Segment your lists to customize your cultivation strategies

Segmenting a list means creating smaller mailing lists for specific audiences and goals. You can break up your lists based on the types of donations and donor intent. A mass donor, for instance, can be cultivated into a legacy donor through communication.

2. Personalize all you can!

Research shows people are 26% more likely to open a personalized email. Don’t stop with the subject line and greeting. In your call to action, address donors by name.

3. Use donor management software

Donor management software allows you to keep track of whom to reach out to, when, and how. You can keep a record of past donations, segment messaging to address the specific parts of your mission that appeal to them, and send targeted messages at the right time.

WildApricot’s award-winning membership management software is here to help you turn first-time donors into lasting members. From nonprofit websites to member directories to rich databases, we’re here to support you every step of the way.

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4. Offer options for multiple kinds of donations

Cash is one of many ways to help an organization. Let potential donors know you are happy to accept donations of fine art, stocks, annuities, and their time. The more flexibility you can offer, the more likely people are to make a gift to your organization.

5. Call past donors to reconnect

Your past donors are your best prospects for future donations. Reach out again by phone, postal mail and email to encourage them to give again. Since they were willing to donate before, they are likely familiar with your organization and support the work you do.

6. Accept ALL forms of payment

The more ways people can donate, the less friction there is on the way to making a gift. Offer ways to make donations, including cash, mailed checks, and online money services like PayPal, Venmo, and CashApp. The time spent setting up accounts and learning how to use them will pay itself off in increased donations.

7. Celebrate each donation milestone

Fundraising milestones based on how much you’ve brought in can motivate people to give more.

You can also personalize milestones. Keep track of how much someone has given and reach out with a special thank you when key milestones are reached. These can be monetary milestones like $100 or $1,000 given, or they can be milestones like 24 months of consistent donations.

8. Hold kick-off and wrap up events for your fundraisers

Another way to show gratitude to your donors and get them excited about your organization? Throw them a party. Kick-off and wrap events give you a chance to meet people in person, so they can put faces to the cause.

These events are also ways to promote your organization to more people. They serve as reminders and opportunities to give.

9. Hold a private event for prospective major donors

Major donors are worth the extra effort and attention. Let them know how important they are to your organization’s work with exclusive events.

Publicize these events and make them a fun and engaging way for people to connect with your organization. This serves multiple purposes: first, people who attend will feel a sense of reciprocity that will make them likely to give back in return for the enjoyment of the event. Second, it will make an invitation desirable, encouraging others who can donate large amounts.

10. Offer peer-to-peer fundraising resources

Your current supporters can be a powerful force in finding new donors to fund your mission. Low-tech options include hosting events like races and having participants seek sponsors. You can also allow supporters to crowdfund online to get money for your organization.

11. Send thank yous within 24 hours

Express gratitude for a donation as soon as possible. This not only shows your appreciation. It also reminds people of your mission and gives you an opportunity to teach donors more about what you do.

12. Email donors about your campaign’s success

Your solicitation should not be the last time a donor hears from you. Send regular updates so they know how their donations are having an impact. Donors like to know what your organization is doing with their funds. Email each time you hit a fundraising milestone and when you complete an objective. These warm fuzzy emails will encourage people to continue to give.

13. Publicly honor your heavy-hitter donors

Big donors deserve big recognition. Consider including a kudos section in your organization’s newsletter that regularly name checks those who make sizable donations. If you want to do something bigger, consider larger honors, like naming a wing or a building after someone or hosting an event in their honor.

14. Offer volunteer opportunities to donors

Donors want to feel they are making a difference. Invite them to become volunteers so they can participate more personally in your organization’s work.

When they contribute their time and talents in addition to funding, they are more likely to stay deeply engaged with your organization.

Turning Donors into Members

What’s the most important thing you can give your donors to convince them to continue to give? A sense of ownership.

Memberships can be literal, in the sense that you offer a membership in your organization to people who donate. Create membership cards and assets like T-shirts and host member events.

Don’t discount unofficial membership efforts, either. A dedicated social media group can share information and allow your supporters to communicate with one another.

Summing Up

Donor cultivation is an ongoing process. Over time, tweak your approach and track your results. You will find what works best with different donors. Most importantly, you will continue your relationship past that first donation. This will lead to more consistent funding and more people in your community who are committed to your nonprofit’s mission.

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