If you have been in fundraising you know those those three words all to well. But I’ve found that often we talk a lot about them and never actually use them. How often do we talk about creating a great process to cultivate or steward donors and then never actually take the time to spend with the donor? Before I go any further I think I should briefly define what each of these words mean. Feel free to add your own thoughts and definitions below.
Discovery: This is taking the time to talk with a donor about their interests. This process is about finding donors that are interested in the kind of charitable work of your nonprofit.
Cultivation: The process by which you improve and grow the relationship with a donor. This could look like donor tours, birthday cards, and little updates about the organization. This does not include asking for money.
Solicitation: The practice of making the final visit/proposal to ask for something from money to in-kind services/product. This usually follows cultivation when it is done properly. Typically a donor will know that solicitation is coming if you have sufficiently cultivated them.
Stewardship: I think of stewardship as the “thank you.” This could also be described as the follow-up after a gift has been made. Is the donor receiving thank you calls, sponsors receiving all promised benefits? Stewardship should not be a one time thing but should happen multiple times and in many ways can be included in the cultivation process.
So what does all this mean? All of these words, ideas, and plans are intended to allow us to get to know the donor better. Too often I have found that us in development talk more about our planning than actually talk to the donor. I think that we could narrow all three of these categories down to one word: relationship. If you have a good relationship with a donor all bets are off on your traditional process. They know the heart of the organization and because of their connection to you want to be a part of supporting it.