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Downes Murray International News

Visualising your major donor efforts: A simple fix

The major donor gift cycle (the amount of time from first contact until you receive a cheque) is generally much longer than it is for smaller donors (for example, those who give online, through direct mail or to events), and thus the cultivation process must be carefully managed and maintained.

Because the major donor gift cycle is so long, your non-profit will generally have many contacts(or ‘touches’) with a prospective major donor before they give.
These touches, which constitute your cultivation funnel, will vary for every organisation, but generally include some mix of in-person meetings, donor communications (such as newsletters and mailings), non-ask events, and fundraising asks.

While the funnel will vary for each nonprofit, your organisation should have a ‘preferred’ cultivation strategy . . . a basic path you want to walk prospects down, beginning with that first meeting, and ending with a gift. At any one time, your non-profit may have 10, 20, or 100 major donor prospects at various points on that path, and some that, for whatever reason, are being cultivated, but in a way that diverges from the ‘standard strategy’. Which brings us to the point of this article . . .

Tracking the cultivation funnel
Far too many non-profits (of all sizes) don’t effectively track who is in their cultivation funnel, and where each prospect is in relation to the overall path.
Sure, many non-profits track activity, or ‘touches’, in a donor database system, and sophisticated non-profits use move management systems to show what steps are next for each donor.

But even at organisations using move management, the executive director, development staff, admin staff and board still spend far too much time discussing the funnel, asking where people are in the funnel, and trying to get a handle on where the overall major donor programme stands.

I have found that there is a simple, inexpensive way to remedy this situation... a solution that borrows from political fundraising ‘war rooms’ and smart sales organisations in the for-profit world. This quick fix is to erect a real-time, physical representation of your cultivation funnel, right in your non-profit office.
Such a representation could be as simple as a giant white board, with columns for each of your funnel steps.

For example, that may mean you have a column for ‘first contact’, another for ‘meeting’, another for ‘follow-up call’, one for ‘non-ask event’, and another for ‘ask’ . . . or whatever makes sense for your organisation. As prospects enter, and move through your funnel, your development staff would mark the prospect’s name down on the appropriate column, and move that person through the funnel, as various contacts or ‘touches’ are made.

More sophisticated organisations may go so far as to have an LCD screen in their development department, electronically tracking moves in the funnel.
No matter how you decide to visualise your funnel, you can still use your donor database or move management system to track your touches, contact information, pledges and gifts.

The visualisation system is not intended to replace those databases, but instead to offer an easy to understand graphical summary of your efforts. I have found that organisations that visualise their major donor efforts through the above methods spend less time talking about donor cultivation, and more time trying to move donors to the next level of the funnel. These nonprofits also have a better understanding of their cultivation path and the number of donors at each level, allowing them to work on problem areas and use resources wisely.

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