Cultivate Your Funders & Donors (from HHT Session)

Two Helpful Hints

  1. In your reports, always tell a funder one new thing that relates to their grant. For example, “Five years ago, we planted apricot trees with donor money and this year they finally bloomed! This is how apricots relate to the Rufus King Mansion….”
  2. Offer individual contributors behind-the-scenes visits and other materials (DVDs, books, etc.), that you don’t offer to the general public.

Role of the Board in Fundraising

Board members need to:

  • Make a personally significant gift. Recommendation: Accept credit cards and have board members charge $X a month to their credit cards as their donation. It helps them and the organization manage cash flow.
  • Provide leadership & planning.
  • Act as ambassadors to the community.
  • Contribute contacts and open their networks to the organization.
  • Participate in site visits with funders and government officials.
  • Create a development committee.
  • Make peer-to-peer asks. This is where the board member’s own gift comes in: “I’ve invested and you should, too.”

The Solicitation Process

Plan and Set Priorities

Write Program Proposal

Compile a List of Potential Funding Sources (the 990s for funders show phone numbers at the upper right corner of the form)

Make an Initial Contact (clear the ask amount in the first phone call)

Submit Proposal

Make an Appointment to Discuss (if appropriate)

Cultivate (one contact a quarter)

Result (send a thank-you even if rejected)

Individual Donors

“People who are philanthropists don’t stop being philanthropists” even in an economic downturn, said the presenters, Susan Schear of Artisin and Elizabeth Wagner of JC Geever. “Almost all start as members, and your role is to train members to be major donors.”


  • Look at who’s been giving for 5 or 10 years. Then ask: “You’ve been giving to us for 10 years! Wow! Would you consider giving us more for the Xyz project?”
  • As soon as someone gives more than the membership dues, he or she’s a donor.
  • There are two types of members: benefits-driven (they want the member’s discount in your store) and philanthropist (they care about your organization’s mission). You need to appeal to both, but differently.
  • Events keep potential donors at your site. Make them part of whatever you’re doing.
  • Who do the donors know at your organization? The docents, the staff, the board, word of mouth from neighbors of the park?
  • Ask board members to sell five tickets to your wine-tasting event or whatever—ask them to open their networks to you, in other words.


  • Annual appeals—you MUST have an annual appeal at the end of the year. If you don’t ask, someone else will, and they’ll get your money.
  • Track what’s happening with the annual appeal. If the letter is about collections and you don’t get much money, then re-evaluate the appeal.
  • Always communicate: provide a minimum of three pieces of good news for every ask.
  • Make asks compelling—what’s the long-term impact of their gift? How does their gift fill the gaps in your museum’s story?

Major Donors

  • What’s a major donor? “There is no rule of thumb except that the check has to feel major to them.”
  • Define your major donors, no more than 20. It’s hard to manage more than 20.
  • Connect them to the key staff AND the board. The board needs to do this—it’s overwhelming for the staff.
  • Provide authentic experiences for the major donors—an attic tour, for example—at least once a year.
  • Involve them as volunteers—pick something short-term with defined goals. You can test them out as potential board members using the project (but don’t tell them that).

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: