“Dating” Your Donors: Acquisition vs. CultivationBy Megan Hawkes
Whether you serve in a marketing capacity or as a development professional, chances are good you’re sharing a limited pool of financial resources in an effort to reach the same people. Your job in marketing is to get donors to connect with the organization. The development team’s job is to get them to give and stay around.
So here’s the question of the day: isn’t the goal of the marketing team and the development team the same? Each wants to identify people who are willing to raise their hands and say, “I want to be part of your mission,” whether that is through giving or sharing. The difference is the outcome of the relationship.
So, let me revise the question of the day: do we want people to like us and tell other people, or do we want them to give?
If your organization depends on donor funds, just liking you isn’t enough. And if a steady flow of donor funds depends on how much your donors like you, just asking for money isn’t enough. So here’s the obvious answer: both!
In donor speak, we call it acquisition vs. cultivation, but it’s a principle we understand in our personal relationships. We first have to “date” – get to know someone and let them get to know us, especially our most attractive qualities. We share our story and start to connect. Once we’re in a committed relationship, we cultivate that relationship through quality time, affection and letting someone know what they mean to us. We give, and we expect something in return. We treat it with care because we hope for long-term results.
In acquisition, marketing plays a significant role, helping us find people and make them like us. In this stage of the game, much like in a dating relationship, there are certain principles and practices that will help you start to build trust and interest:
- Share your story: help new audiences connect by letting them get to know who you are. Make sure your mission is clear, and regularly tell compelling stories of impact. Consistency, honesty and intrigue make for an organization (or person!) with which people want to build a deeper relationship.
- Don’t move too fast: you wouldn’t propose on the first date, and you shouldn’t come on too strong when first introducing your organization to someone new. Most people go through a cycle of discovery and interaction before they’re willing to get involved with an organization. Make the communication fit the newness of the relationship (if you do ask, don’t take the potential donor by surprise) and don’t get too serious until potential donors have had a chance to get to you know you.
- Make your intentions clear: at the same time, don’t simply talk about your organization without giving your audience something to do. Build the relationship by pointing them to opportunities to get involved, or to give when appropriate. In any relationship, trust is built through regular communication, and there is comfort in knowing someone’s expectations. Let your audience know what you want from them so they have a chance to respond.
Once someone has invested financially by donating, the development team jumps in to build a deeper relationship through cultivation. It’s like the old joke about eggs and bacon: the chicken is invested, but the pig is committed (please don’t share that with your donors—it’s just an illustration, really!). We have to treat our donors like people we’re in a committed relationship with:
- Invest time in them: your donors have chosen your organization as the avenue they use to invest in the Kingdom or give to a cause. They feel personally invested, and they want to hear from you. Relationships grow through communication and time, so be sure to regularly update and thank donors on the impact of their gifts and do this consistently over time (don’t just welcome them when they first give and then take them for granted!).
- Make them feel special: part of what makes relationships so meaningful is the fact that you share knowledge and understanding that not everyone in the world shares. Your donors want to be treated the same way. Use different language in communications with current donors than with potential donors. Let them know how important they are to you, give them “insider” knowledge of prayer requests, stories or opportunities and occasionally surprise them with an unexpected gift or thank you.
- Tell them what you need: in committed relationships, it’s understood that it’s a two-way street. We want to give as well as get, and there’s nothing more confusing than a relationship where you don’t know what you partner needs. Remember that your donors want to support you. They want you to communicate and ask them for help. Don’t over-ask but don’t hesitate to be honest with donors about what your needs are and how they can help meet them (always remember to make it about them as much as it’s about you!). More often than not, we find organizations are not asking their donors enough.
Building relationships with donors is about careful balance between marketing and development. If we ask people to get to know us without asking them to actually do anything, we can be like the boring person at the party who won’t stop talking about himself. And if we ask them to give without telling them the stories about the lives they helped change, we also chase people away. Finding new donors is all about the way we cultivate them before AND after they give.
Marketing and development can—and should—work together for your mission’s sake, and for your donor’s sake.