Cultivating Beyond the Donor


Fundraisers spend a large amount of time cultivating high-wealth donors with two goals in mind – large current gifts and a planned gift when that donor passes.  Those planned gifts when the donor finally passes can indeed be very large and beneficial to the non-profit.  But what happens to the ongoing current gifts the organization was receiving?  The majority of the time those gifts go away.  That’s not because there isn’t any more money to donate – in fact, there is plenty of money.  It’s gone to the donor’s children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc.  And if you haven’t spent time cultivating those family members, they are going to give to other organizations than yours.  That’s why it’s so important to see the big picture.  You need to make sure you are cultivating beyond the donor.

Of course, you should be cultivating these family members anyway.  Generally speaking, wealth isn’t relegated to one person in the family.  And a philanthropic donor probably has a family of philanthropic donors.  However, how you cultivate those donors may vary drastically by generation.

First, you need to make it a family affair.  While not always, usually if a charity is important to one family member it’s also important to other members.  Include and encourage all family members to become involved.  Spend time with all of them individually so you can learn what brings them satisfaction and how they want to participate.  Not every member will be the same.  Some will be happy with just giving money; much of the time the younger donors want more.

Older generation donors are usually happy with more traditional recognition, if they even want recognition.  Naming opportunities, awards, recognition at galas tend to satisfy these donors.  They may want seats on the board and to be involved in the overall operations of the organization.

Younger generations though tend to want something more.  They want to be more deeply involved.  They want to solve problems.  They don’t want to just write a check.  So you need to spend time with these donors.  Find out what they’re interested in, what motivates them.  What do you need to do to make them want to give you money?

Many of these younger donors want to be on committees, help develop plans and strategies and then actually work to implement them.  While older fundraisers might find their mixture of exuberance and lack of experience annoying, it is where the future is moving.  Instead of ignoring them, show them how their ideas can come to fruition or how they should be changed.  Just don’t say yes to whatever they are saying and then brush them aside.

Another way to cultivate the younger generation is by honoring their parents.  Donors like to know that they’re making an impact.  By acknowledging this it lets the donors know you are listening to them and are aware of what they have done for your organization.

What do you do though if you haven’t been working with the entire family and only the specific donor.  Before you think about approaching the rest of the family you need to have a conversation with your donor. Find out if they feel that the rest of the family would support the group and the best way to approach them.  This might be a hosted dinner or afternoon tea so the donor can talk to the family about your organization.  Once initial permission has been given and contact has been made, then it’s up to you to reach out to the individual family members and begin cultivating them as separate people.  They all will have different reasons for wanting to get involved.  Take the time to listen to each one of them and see what’s motivating them.

And, what happens when your donor passes away and you realize you never did any of this?  The rest of the family has no idea who you are and what your organization does?  That can be a hard transition to make – you don’t want the family to feel like you’re uncaring and just after their money.  Honoring the deceased donor is a great first step.  Invite the family to an event where the donor will be remembered for their generosity and call out all the wonderful ways you were able to help the organization because of that.  Reach out to the family personally to offer your condolences and share your stories.  You’re going to need to spend some time getting to know the family and seeing where they are at.  If they seem open and receptive to speaking with you and hearing about their loved one, then keep in touch until it seems like the window has opened and it’s the right time to start cultivating them.  Be patient; this could be months down the road or even a year.  You need to allow the family time to grieve before you start asking them for money.  Unfortunately if they don’t seem receptive, or if you find out they have other organizations they are closely working with already, you may need to move on and find new donors.

Taking the time to cultivate relationships with both the older and younger generations will ensure devoted, long-term donors for both the present and the future.

–Courtney Rheuban

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