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Launch Your Program - Cultivation Strategies

As dating precedes marriage, so donor cultivation precedes requests for gifts. Before a donor will make a gift of significance, he or she must come to know the organization and recognize shared values. Cultivation is not an event — not even a series of events — but a process. It is a part of gift stewardship, which is a state of mind. (Read more about Stewardship in the Expand Your Program section.)

Topics of Interest
Topics of Interest

Cultivation Defined

Cultivation consists of all the relationship-building steps that lead to donorship —and cultivation continues as part of a stewardship program once gifts are made. Through cultivation, you learn more about donors, and they learn more about you. Each comes to view the other as a member of the family.

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The Conversation

We are always having a conversation with our donors. It is going on constantly, whether or not we realize it. Everything we do is seen and observed: programs, station breaks, pledge breaks, tune-in ads, newspaper articles, and more. Every time the donor is touched by the station — from fundraising letters to program guides to telephone calls — it forms an impression, for good or for ill. Only part of this conversation is managed by the station, and the development department controls only a very small proportion.

Clearly, nearly every member of the staff participates in the conversation, but how often does your management team discuss the conversation? For instance, is there communication between your engineering department about contacts they have in rural areas where you may serve constituents through translators? At one state network, a planned giving prospect emerged through just such an interaction.

How consistent is your messaging? Does the development department present one face to the public while other departments present their own?

Use your internal case to develop a series of message points — no more than five key themes that will be used consistently throughout your organization to consistently put forward its message. According to The Community Foundations of America (CF America), message points:

  • Define the most important things you want your donors to know about your mission.
  • Focus on key issues to create awareness among your donors.
  • Promote consistency among your staff and leadership volunteers as you talk about the station.
  • Provide a means of measuring the effectiveness of messages before they are distributed.

At Baylor Health Care System Foundation (Dallas, TX), fundraisers use an initial cultivation strategy worksheet to assist in soliciting twice-removed prospects — those persons they want to involve with the organization but with whom no obvious relationship or connection exists. The Cultivation Strategy Worksheet (MS Word file, 43KB) helps identify:

  • Reasons the prospect might be interested in the organization
  • Challenges that might preclude the gift
  • Names of individuals who can serve as natural partners
  • Prospect's interests, hobbies and affiliations

Once the worksheet is completed, a brainstorming session provides ideas for the initial action steps.

"This tool helps us take a prospect from a name on a list to a place where an introduction to our organization can be orchestrated," says Jana Sharpley, Campaign Director for the foundation.

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Cultivation Events

Here are some events that public broadcasting stations can and do use to touch their donors:

  • Fall program preview
  • Local program preview
  • Program tapings
  • Annual dinner or luncheon
  • Wine event
  • Station open house
  • Public broadcasting personality, producer, or executive
  • Invitations to board meeting or annual meeting
  • Call of thanks from board member or CEO
  • Small party at home of board member or volunteer
  • Small group meeting/luncheon with CEO
  • Opportunity to meet a national pledge host (e.g., Rick Steves)
  • Participation in a feasibility study

Even where these are large events, small private receptions for major gift prospects can often follow them. At large events, such as a dinner, station personnel should be seated at each table, briefed on those who will be seated with them, asked to note items of interest in the conversation (from program likes and dislikes to travel plans) and debriefed soon after the event. All this information should be entered in the call report record for the prospect.

The following are examples of cultivation activities some stations are currently using:

  • KLRU, Austin, excels at donor cultivation events. Building on their national program, Austin City Limits, and their Distinguished Speakers Series held at the LBJ Library, KLRU meets and mingles with major donors and prospects through receptions, screenings, wine events, a gala — even an annual family Hallowe'en party hosted by the chair of the KLRU Board. Austin is a social town, and KLRU constantly thinks of ways to tap into the whirl.
  • KQED holds a variety of events, ranging from 10 guests to hundreds. Events focus on a public broadcasting personality, such as Jacques Pepin or producer David Fanning. The station holds large events at the station and intimate dinners in board members' homes — which are real draws if the home is a "must-see." They have children's event with costume characters and events for adults prior to a performance, such as a restaurant dinner prior to a live taping of the NPR news quiz, "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" They also invite guests into master control to watch a taping of the weekly public affairs program.
  • KPBS invites donors who have contributed $240 or more to major donor events. The two major gift officers move these members into the Producer's Club through face to face meetings at a variety of station events.
  • Twin Cities Public Television has a Program Club that operates much like a book club. Members meet monthly to discuss a program they've individually viewed over the past month and vote on what upcoming program they will watch. When the program selected has been produced by TPT, the producer often joins the group. Over the past three years, 86% of the regular attendees have increased their annual giving, 68% by 50% or more, and 36% have joined the Studio Club, TPT's major donor organization, as a result of this cultivation activity. In addition, 23% have included TPT in their wills and 9% have made Charitable Gift annuities. Read more about the Program Club at the Twin Cities Public Television website.
  • WVIA in Pittston uses small, easily staged Producers Circle Prospect Events (PDF, 43KB). These events provide an intimate, exclusive environment for individuals who are current WVIA donors and major gift prospects. The event's program is the station's mission, providing an opportunity for the President/CEO, members of the Board of Directors, senior leadership staff and on-air personalities to interact with 30 to 60 prospective donors over a period of 2 to 3 hours. Donors and prospects leave with a clearer picture of the station's current operations and future goals.

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Personal Cultivation Opportunities

The best major gift officers know how to provide a personal touch through small gestures. The possibilities are endless, but a few techniques used are:

  • Scheduling a one-on-one lunch with major giving officer.
  • Sending personal, handwritten follow-up notes after a meeting or phone conversation.
  • Sending birthday cards.
  • Sending notes, calls, or emails about upcoming program of special interest.
  • Clipping and sending an article that is known to be of interest.
  • Sending a DVD or tape of a program of interest.
  • Passing along complimentary tickets to cultural events.

If you invite a prospect to take part in an event normally reserved for major donors, soon after the event is a perfect time to ask that individual to join the group — either in person, by phone, or by mail. (See the Solicitation Techniques page in this section for more information.)

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Cultivation Management System

The Donor Cultivation System (PDF, 79KB) allows you to manage the cultivation process by:

  • Identifying and ranking cultivation opportunities.
  • Listing and prioritizing major giving prospects.
  • Developing a master schedule of cultivation "touches" for an entire year and tracking actual results.
  • Giving each donor an annual cultivation "score" as a rough means of assessing his or her closeness to the institution — and readiness to be asked.

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Cultivation Strategy Worksheet (MS Word file, 43KB)
Donor Cultivation System (PDF, 79KB)

OPB: Thank a Member Day (PDF, 372KB)
WCVE Tour Overview and Handout (PDF, 2.9MB)
WNET Lending Library Catalogue (PDF, 384KB)

WYES Brennan Invitation (PDF, 118KB)
WGBH Colonial House Invitation (PDF, 529KB)
WGBH Kids Event Invitation (PDF, 1.7MB)
WGBH The Blues Invitation (PDF, 1.2MB)