Donor Cultivation: 8 Mistakes You Don't Want To Make

May 13, 2024

We’re going to cover a topic that not a lot of people talk about…common mistakes that can happen during donor cultivation. These mistakes can cost the organization the relationship and the gift, so really work hard to avoid these missteps. They are in no particular order as all 8 are dreadful. If you prefer the audio version of this blog, check out the Hey Fundraiser podcast! 


Donor Cultivation Mistakes

  • Not following through. If you say you’re going to do something for a prospect, make sure to do it. If you say, I’ll send you an article that I recently read, do it. If you say, I’ll give you a call next Friday, make the call next Friday. Even if you’re going to be late with your deliverable, let them know. You can’t find that article you promised by a certain date, send a text or give them a call to let them know you’re searching high and low for it. Following through is a critical part of relationship building. Don’t be that person who flakes out. The best way to end a relationship before it even starts is to not do what you say you’ll do.


  • Ghosting your prospects. When you begin cultivating, you can’t disappear or go dark. If you’re not in communication with your prospect at least monthly, it gets weird because you have all these false starts and stops. When the time is right and the prospect is qualified, make the commitment to cultivate through solicitation. Don’t stop unless the prospect becomes disqualified or it’s time to make your ask.


  • Doing all the talking when cultivating. I once went on a donor visit with a colleague and she spoke for 90% of the meeting. She felt like she was educating the donor on all the amazing things the organization was doing, but what she failed to realize is that she didn’t engage the donor in the discussion. The donor was bored, practically glazed over, and it didn’t feel like a relationship-building effort. It felt like a lecture. During the donor cultivation process, make sure to give time and space for the prospect to share. Cultivation is like a fact-finding mission, and you want to have a deep understanding of what the donor cares about. You also want to listen to what’s happening in the donor’s life. The goal is to uncover all the pieces you need to put forth the most perfect solicitation for that donor. Lecturing won’t get you there!


  • Serial cultivation. Many fundraisers will just cultivate forever and never actually ask for the gift. I like to call this serial cultivation. Some fundraisers believe that they don’t need to ask, and because they’ve built this amazing relationship with the donor, that the money will just come in. Nope. Absolutely not. It doesn’t work that way. You get what you ask for and if you don’t ask for anything, guess what you’ll get. Plus, if donor cultivation goes on too long, it can get bizarre for both parties. If you’re just hanging out with a prospect and not moving them toward a gift, you’re just a friend at that point, not a professional fundraiser. Every move should be strategic and move that donor toward a gift.


  • Not cultivating long enough. There’s a cultivation sweet spot that you want to strive for. You need to cultivate until you know 4 things:
    • what organizational effort or program the donor is most passionate about
    • how much you are going to ask for
    • why the prospect cares about your organization
    • you’ve gotten permission from the donor to solicit them. The prospect shouldn’t be moved into solicitation until those four things are solidified in your mind (and recorded in your database).


  • Not being proactive in cultivation efforts. When you’ve built out a strong moves management strategy, you have your next few moves planned out. You’re not making up tactics on the fly; you’re working a plan. Before you walk into any meeting or pick up the phone, you have a clear goal that you want to accomplish with that move. You want to be proactive, but you can’t be rigid about it either. Remember, you might have a timeframe that you’re hoping for, but at the end of the day, it’s the donor’s schedule that you’re working with. You must have an element of flexibility but also work the plan. It’s not easy to be both proactive and flexible, but I trust you’ll find your groove.


  • Not introducing the prospect to others at the organization. It could be board members, leadership, program experts or other donors, but the relationship cannot live with just you. Too often, fundraisers move on to the next job and the relationship with that prospect fizzles. The relationship is really with the organization, and the fundraiser is a facilitator. Broaden the relationships between the prospect and the organization, and it will not only deep the relationship, but preserve it for the future.


  • Not asking for permission to solicit a gift. This is an important step in moving from donor cultivation to solicitation. You don’t want to ask for a gift, and the prospect be completely caught off guard. It should be no secret that you’re there to build a relationship that ultimately gets to a gift, but you don’t want to put yourself in the awkward position of asking for a gift and the prospect saying “oh, I didn’t know that’s what this relationship is about.” Yikes. That will freeze up a warm relationship quicker than you can imagine.

These are 8 costly mistakes to make during donor cultivation. Having a strong moves management strategy in place will help you avoid these mistakes, curate an amazing experience for the prospect, and keep you on track.

Check out the Seven-Figure Fundraiser Success Formula! In this free masterclass I will help you prioritize the necessary steps that you will need to take in order to see significant change in your nonprofit fundraising department. >>> Watch Free Masterclass