Cultivation and the five stages of the fundraising cycle

One of the first concepts I was introduced to recently when moving into large scale fundraising was the fundraising cycle (sometimes also called “moves management”).

Whereas previously I had been talking to fund/grant seekers (who were mainly artists, musicians, dancers and theatre practitioners) about trying to think who was interested in their work, who was on their theatre mailing lists, and who had previously purchased their artwork, now I am considering how to take the time to grow and develop donors over an extended period of time (and usually for at least 18 months before a gift is received).

The fundraising cycle goes like this:

1) Identification
2) Qualification
3) Cultivation
4) Solicitation
5) Stewardship

I could see immediately how this was huge conceptual leap for individual artists (in all art forms) trying to raise money, and for smaller not for profit arts organisations with limited means and resources.

In my experience, fundraising at the smaller end of the arts has been about trying to quickly and expediently find a “benefactor” or a small pool of people who might contribute to a once off production, short film, dance work, concert or exhibition to plug a hole in a budget created by nonsuccess with an arts funding body. I haven’t had first hand experience of longer term planning in donations management, though I am sure that the larger and more established arts organisations do this.

The fundraising cycle implicitly assumes a longer term relationship building exercise as you can’t really move from identifcation to stewardship within the space of a week.

I’ll expand on the five stages here:

Identification: finding and identifying potential prospective donors. In the world of advancement – which is higher education speak for development and fundraising – prospective donors are usually referred to as “prospects”. So the first stage is to consider trusts and foundations which have a track record in supporting the type of work you do and then most people immediately jump to their idea of the wealthiest people they could possibly approach.

However, you could take a systematic approach to identification by examining the BRW Rich List, the Forbes 500 top companies or top billionaires (though their connection to Australia may be slim).

I would also suggest examining (for arts organisations and individual arts practitioners) the publicly available donor lists of arts organisations which work in your art form – for example, if you are a chamber music group, look at the donors to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, if you are a small theatre company, look at who is donating to the Sydney Theatre Company or the Malthouse Theatre Company.

This is not cheating – this is publicly available information – and this is only the first stage in the exercise. (tip of the day: these are the people who have made a commitment to support work which may be similar to yours – and they have not elected to be anonymous).

When you have looked at these supporters, or thought of others who you think might be able to help, first of all you do need to find them in order to approach them – this is of course, more difficult.

If you are able to find and obtain contact information (and I only advocate using publicly available sources of information such as the white pages and information which has been published so that you can feel confident that you are working ethically in your prospect research), you will not be approaching them to ask for anything. You will be approaching them to ascertain their interest in supporting you, your work and your organisation. This is what is called qualification – ie you are seeing if the potential has any linkage and interest in and ability to support you.

There are some quite formulaic methods to assess this. If you have the time to do this at the outset it can save a lot of hassle later on as it can help you exclude people and organisations who have no connection to your art or your organisation (and would thus be a much harder sales pitch audience).

You can at this stage then consider your list of potential supporters and prioritise them in terms of their ability to assist and what you know of their interest in you.

You now move to cultivation – which is really about letting them get to know you – and for you to learn more clearly what motivates them. I oversimplify this by thinking of it as nurturing a delicate flower or getting to know a kitten. You want to tread careful to develop trust. This is still not the time for “the ask”. That comes after a relationship has been developed, when there is definite interest on both sides (because sometimes you might feel a potential donor is not the right fit for you) and it has been made clear that a proposal would be welcome.

The proposal or “the ask” is solicitation. You are soliciting a gift. There is a skill to this – which is why there is so much training for fundraisers. This requires a great deal of care and tact. Professional fundraisers will also tell you that you need to be very considerate about the amount you are requesting – it is possible to underask – and sometimes insult a potential supporter. For artists and arts organisations, Artsupport which is part of the Australia Council for the Arts, can provide some mentoring and coaching. (They have a staff member in nearly every state and are happy to talk to both individual artists and organisations even if they are not funded by the Australia Council.)

The response to the ask and solicitation may take some time. This is not the time to worry but to wait. A non response is much better than an immediate rejection.

If and when the potential donor has said yes, you are then in stewardship stage. Donor stewardship has become a complicated art form. It is more than a thank you letter and a note of the donor’s name in your annual report. Some organisations now have stewardship plans which cover the levels of activity and acknowledgement for all of their donors. This can include invitations to events, presentation of small tokens, boardroom lunches, invitations to behind-the-scenes activities such as visiting a wardrobe department of a dance company, seeing the production of a set, sitting in on rehearsals or being given an exclusive talk about an exhibition by its curator. There are many many ways in which donors can be thanked and made to feel special. Don’t ever feel that you are doing too much in this area – it’s not possible to.

So – this the fundraising cycle. Note that stewardship is not the last stage, but the first stage in recultivating the donor for their next gift.

Many organisations are now suggesting that donors make gifts over a period of time as pledges such as a certain amount in 3 payments over three years. This is not to make the money last longer, but to provide more opportunity to engage with the donor, to keep the organisation at front of the donor’s consciousness, and to encourage the donor to reconsider the organisation again at the termination of the gift.

What do you think about this fundraising cycle? Is it something you think you could implement or is it a bit too intimidating/scary/overly professional and calculated?

I know that it is being used in larger not for profits and especially higher education – but the resources and time for smaller arts organisations may be stretched.

I would reiterate that this is something that can be scaled down – it is a way of thinking about working with your potential donors that adds value, can save time and effort (by not approaching prospects who would not be interested) and can work to your advantage if you are looking at longer term support. I would say that the principles are the same whether you apply it to three or thirty or three hundred potential donors.

Let me know your thoughts.


About ozphilanthropy

#Philanthropy. #arts Posts by Sharon Nathani, PhD candidate at the Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne focussing on philanthropic funders of the arts. Sharon's study is supported through an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.
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2 Responses to Cultivation and the five stages of the fundraising cycle

  1. Great post! Regarding “What do you think about this fundraising cycle? Is it something you think you could implement or is it a bit too intimidating/scary/overly professional and calculated?” — I think the cycle is definitely valuable when it comes to understanding the flow of iteraction and the lifecycle of fundrasing. One question I have is whether the rise of online giving has any impacts on this cycle.

  2. Pingback: Now Is the Time To Focus on Donor Retention - NonProfit PRO

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