Steps to Success

As someone who does a lot of training, I appreciate the importance of making sure that my audience is hearing what I think I am saying.  One way to ensure that is to regularly define my terms.  Fundraising, like all other fields of endeavor, has its own peculiar jargon and expecting that everyone will understand what I mean when I say something is hubris as its worst.  I was reminded of this the other day when one of my clients’ noted that “major gifts are part of our annual fund.” Huh?

And then there are all those people who think their excel spreadsheets are their donor databases and look confused when I try to explain why a spreadsheet and a database are not the same.

The most egregious are those who conflate cultivating a donor with waving at them across the ballroom at an event, in the auditorium of a performance, or by sending them an invite to buy a ticket to something.  Or think that a newsletter is a cultivation step.

At best those might be touches—acts that remind the person that you exist.

Touches are important. As someone once noted, you can’t be hugged if the hugger doesn’t know who you are.  But don’t for a moment think that the person who has attended two of your galas, been getting your newsletter for 3 years, and said hi to you in the supermarket line is ready to be solicited for a major gift.

Cultivation should be a carefully planned series of steps that bring prospects closer to becoming donors. And since your best prospect is always an existing donor, these steps may take place over a long period of time that is punctuated by regular or occasional giving.

These steps need to be personal, and must be intentional.  If I do, indeed, see someone at the supermarket, that is a touch. When I then follow up with a call and arrange a meeting or a tour of my facility, those acts are moves.  And when we discuss at that meeting or on that tour the things that they hope to accomplish with their philanthropic giving, we are moving closer and closer to the point where a solicitation will be successful.

After all, it’s not just about holding out our hands for a gift.  It is creating a space where giving is done joyously because it fulfills the donor’s needs.

To do that, you must know what matters to your donors.  And you must consistently show them the impact that their giving has on the work your organization does.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to go from mired to inspired.  Learn how she can help inspire you and your board at  Do sign up for the newsletter and call Janet to arrange a free 30-minute consul