This blog post originally appeared on the Greenlights blog on August 5, 2013. Fundraising has only gotten harder.  We have more channels than ever before to communicate with our donors.  We’re still slowly climbing out the recession.  Finally, we are inundated with a huge array of strategies, tools and options for fundraising – galas, grants, direct mail, major gifts,  peer to peer, online fundraising, crowdsourcing, social enterprise, text to give, and planned giving just to name a few!

In all this noise it’s easy to get distracted by bright and shiny new toys.  Far too many times that bright shiny toy could be a prospect who may never give.  In fundraising, there is no silver bullet or magic formula. It comes down to knowing and nurturing the donors you have. The secret is to love the one you’re with. In reality we can spend far too much time chasing the bright shiny new prospects and not cultivating the donors we should be.


When I was running Girlstart people encouraged me endlessly to pursue a certain local billionaire.  Luckily both his corporate foundation and his private foundation were aligned with our mission and they supported us.  But pursuit of that funder might not have made sense for an organization serving multicultural refugees or providing vaccines in Africa since those causes were not part of their mission.  Organizations need to invest their time where it can yield the greatest fruit and not spin their wheels pursuing people with the capacity to give, but not the inclination.

How do I know who the right donors are?

There is a real economic cost associated with cultivating each donor on your caseload.  Many fundraisers can invest time and energy cultivating the wrong donors.  They might be individuals who are extremely well connected and influential but do not donate to you or they may be people with infinite capacity and no affinity for your cause.  To determine who should be on our portfolio you need to look at their passion for your cause and their capacity to give.

Take a moment to think about the donors in your portfolio. When I say portfolio, I’m talking about the numbers of donors (individuals, foundations and corporations) you are actively cultivating.  How well do you know them?  Do you know what your donors are passionate about?  What makes them give?  How they prefer you communicate with them?

If you don’t know these facts about your donors you must find out.  You have to reach out to your donors to find out more about their interests and determine how to best cultivate them.  Not every donor wants to have a more intimate relationship with your organization.  Some simply want to make a year-end gift and aren't interested in being treated as a VIP or insider.  Your challenge is to know your donors well enough to know their preferences and then execute on them with a revenue goal and cultivation strategy for each donor who makes it into your portfolio.  Knowing what your donors care about, why they give to you and what their larger interests are helps you determine your strategy for cultivating them.