PMA Consulting, LLC

Cultivation is a Contact Sport

My colleague Chris Delisio is an excellent fundraising professional at  Ohio University in Athens, OH, and he made an interesting observation last week about the increased use of technology in the development field.  “You can’t do it from behind your desk – cultivation is a contact sport.”

As you would expect from an athletic fundraiser, he used a sports analogy to make his point, but I think it is one that applies to all development professionals in this time of uncertain economic conditions. Technology has made the science of cultivation increasingly efficient.  Our computers, phones and PDA’s allow for round-the-clock communication with our donors (and even prospects) via constantly evolving technologies.  Good development officers are wise to utilize email, websites, and text messages – in addition to the telephone – as part of their good cultivation plans, but these mechanisms should not be the most important part of their strategy.  Good old-fashion face-to-face contact remains the best cultivation tool.  Here are seven reasons to remember.

It Helps You Get Reenergized

As Rosanne Badowski noted in Managing Up  about her time working with legendary GE CEO Jack Welch, “Jack fed off people, not papers, and was drawn irresistibly to that source of energy.”  This should be the feeling for all successful development professionals.  If spending quality time with the individuals who are inspired by the work of your organization does not excite you and keep you on point with your mission, then you may not be fulfilled or effective as a front-line development person.

The Value of Time

We’ve all worked with the donor who has everything in the world that they want or need.  No matter what gift you bring them or special invite you offer to them, they have seen or done it all.  The only item about which both of you are on equal footing is time.  With limitations of time facing all of us, the fact that you took time out of your busy schedule to travel and visit with them means more than any e-mail, phone message or gift you could have sent.

Relationship Building

The statement “people give to people” is a generally accepted truism within the development world.  The part that is left out is that people actually give to people with whom they have a relationship.  Therefore, you need to invest the time to meet with people to build that relationship to encourage their spirit of philanthropy.  As Peter Drucker states in  Managing The Non-Profit Organization, “fund development is people development.”

Fact Finding

What better way to find out about the donor’s hobbies, vacation home, family and other interests than by visiting with him/her in their office or their home?  The best donor research is done after gathering these facts from a face-to-face encounter.

The Only Time They Visit is When They Want Money

Don’t fall into this all-too-common trap that diminishes the work of many development professionals.  Make sure your visits occur before, during and after the actual gift commitment.  Long-term philanthropy – especially major gift investments – will be conversations that occur over the course of many visits.  Make sure your relationship includes a sufficient amount of quality time with your key donors, and your institution’s potential for success will increase dramatically.

It helps you energize your donors

As Jon Gordon states in  The Energy Bus, “the simple truth is that when you are excited, people get excited about where your bus is going and this makes them want to get on and stay on your bus.”  You need to energize and excite your donors to get them to believe in your vision for the organization.

Exchange Principle 

In John Maxwell’s  Winning with People  he discusses and defines the “Exchange Principle” as “instead of putting others in their place, we must put ourselves in their place.”  One of the ways to accomplish that is to “leave your place and visit their place.”  This provides you a direct opportunity to better understand a person.  Again, the better you can relate to your donors and their specific situation, the more effective you are going to be.