Charity fundraising professionals: How do I compile a "cultivation plan" for a "seven figure prospect" for an academic institution?
December 3, 2012 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Charity fundraising professionals: How do I compile a "cultivation plan" for a "seven figure prospect" for an academic institution?

Hello all. I have a job interview coming up in the academic fundraising world. They have asked that I be prepared to discuss a cultivation plan for a seven figure prospect to donate to this academic institution. (No further details given -- I can assume whatever I like about the prospect, I guess.) My background is in private sector fundraising rather than charity fundraising, and I'm sure that there are lots of differences in approaches.

Can anyone give me any tips? And any links to models that can be used as the elements of a cultivation plan?
posted by laumry to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The buzzword you are looking for to use in Google searches is "major gifts" or "endowment" giving.
posted by amaire at 12:06 PM on December 3, 2012

I would also search for "principal gifts" (adding the term "fundraising" or "cultivation" so you don't get gifts for a school principal). Depending on the size of the school, a principal gift would be for a building or a major naming opportunity and strategies would be a bit different.
posted by mogget at 12:55 PM on December 3, 2012

Educational fundraiser here.

It's important to understand what is meant by "cultivation." There's a pretty standard Major Gift lifecycle which works through four distinct steps:

1) Qualification

Determining the capacity of the prospect (i.e. how much could they could feasibly give to ANY organization) and affinity for your organization. So essentially, do they like us enough (or can they learn to like us enough) to make a major gift and what size gift can they likely give.

Usually this process involved getting your research office involved as well as a possible first meeting with a prospect (i.e. it can count as a first "cultivation" opportunity).

You will want to mention doing qualification in your job interview.

2) Cultivation

This is all about getting a prospect involved in your organization, thinking about the school's long term vision (I'm assuming you'll be in the middle of the campaign) and engaged enough to be willing to consider make a gift. So when I hear cultivation plan, I think - "how do you get this prospect to like us and be willing to consider a proposal."

Cultivation of a 7-figure donor will usually (but not always) involve what fundraisers call multiple "moves" - or opportunities to engage the prospect with your organization. It can last months or years. Sometimes you only need to make one move - it really depends. Some examples of cultivation opportunities include:

You can send the prospect a note asking to meet with them to talk about their experience when they were students at the school (assumption is the prospect is an alumnus, otherwise it would be to talk about their kid's or grandkid's experience). This often is the best approach for the qualification meeting as it really judges affinity.

You can send the prospect a copy of your school's strategic plan or campaign case statement and ask for a meeting to get their feedback on its content. People love to give advice and feel like they are being heard (and often what they say is really useful!)

You can invite the prospect in for a tour of your school, or to meet students or teachers.

You can invite them to meet a Dean or Principal.

You can send them news clips as a VIP about the school in advance of what the general public would see.

You can get them invited to special school events or receptions. Athletic and arts events are great opportunities. Especially if there is a VIP element (i.e. special seating or an invitation to a reception)

You can ask them to volunteeer with the school.

Basically, cultivation is making a prospect feel involved and important so that by the time you get to the solicitation stage of things, the prospect feels like an insider.

Cultivation is also critical for figuring out - ESPECIALLY with a potentially large 7-figrue gift on the horizon - what kind of project appeals to them. Are they into scholarships? Buildings? Research? What subjects? What gets them really talking? What problems do they want to solve?

It's important to be clear about why you interacting with them, but in a subtle way. So it's not "Hi, I'm X, I'm a fundraiser and I'm buttering you up to make a gift." Instead it's "Hi, I'm X and I'm responsible for advancing the mission of our school. We'd love for you to get involved in the exciting things happening at Y University." Be clear that making a gift is one of the ways to get involved (but make it obvious it isn't the only way).

3) Solicitation

It is what it sounds like. Making the ask. At some point in the late stages of cultivation, when you think the time is right, you will ask your prospect if they would be willing to consider making a gift (for a 7 figure donor, you'll want to ask them if they would be willing to look at a proposal).

I always believe that Deans, Principals or senior fundraising volunteers can make a real difference in this regard. Get THEM to make a pitch - it's harder for someone to say no.

4) Stewardship

This is all about thanking a prospect who has made a gift. What recognition do they get? Do they get a fancy dinner hosted in their honour? What kind of reporting are you going to do?

In short, when I hear "develop a cultivation strategy" I think you want to cover off the qualification stage, talk about ways you might engage during cultivation (but just give examples - especially because you were given no other details about the imaginary prospect) and how they can lead to a successful solicitation. You will want to mention the importance of good stewardship, but also acknowledge that stewardship usually follows a separate planning process from a so-called "cultivation strategy."
posted by elkerette at 1:20 PM on December 3, 2012 [10 favorites]

Elkerette gave you basically all of the details you'll need, I just wanted to chime in that at most organizations, a 7-figure gift would take about 18-36 months, from cultivation to a solicitation. And while having a cultivation plan is great, I would make sure to emphasize that things would likely change as you built a relationship with the prospect. Sticking rigidly to a plan won't work - you have to be willing to go with the flow, adapt to donor interests, etc. "Donor intent" is a popular buzz phrase for this.

This is a decent description of a cultivation plan (although it starts at the first meeting - half the struggle is getting the first meeting).

Good luck in the interview!
posted by JannaK at 4:18 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

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