Back in college, Ramen Noodles were great because it was a cheap, two-minute meal. Boil water, add noodles, spice pack, and BAM: instant dinner. Many nonprofit leaders have the same idea about fundraising. Instant gratification is a natural desire and easy temptation. Give your a spiel, hand over the pledge sheet, and BAM, instant $5,000.
Unfortunately, major donor fundraising is far from Ramen Noodle fundraising. Instead, the best major donor fundraising is more like the slow, savory braise in a dutch oven you might use for short ribs, osso bucco, or coq a vin. Select the best fresh ingredients, carefully prep the vegetables, sear the meat, cover tightly, and let it sit in a slow oven for hours. Braising requires a fair bit of work, time, and patience but the results bring utter delight. Mm-Mmmm!
There is nothing instant about major donor fundraising. Well done, it is a process that follows the “donor cultivation cycle.”
- Acquisition. Through donor research or referral, that potential donor gets on your list. Then you make early introductions to the organization you support.
- Cultivation. How long is that process? It depends. Some donors take weeks, others months or years. Regardless, you meet with the donor over time, getting a feel for their passions, their capacity, and their connection to your organization. Cultivation is the key step to forming a relationship with your donor and creating donor loyalty.
- Solicitation.At this point, you know the donor and their interests well enough to ask them to make a difference with a meaningful gift. Notice that the invitation is the shortest step of the process. As a sector, we tend to put a lot of emphasis on the ask, when cultivation is really what’s important.
- Stewardship. You thank the donor and show them how their gift has made an impact. You bring them into the fold of the organization and keep in touch until it’s time to start cultivating again.
Si Seymour, one of the grandfathers of professional fundraising colorfully put it, “You can’t make a pickle by squirting a cucumber with vinegar —it has to soak awhile.” There’s no “instant” in good fundraising. If you want to reach your goal, you need to give donors time to think, process, learn to trust you, and dream. The results will be satisfying.