Stop Cultivating Your Donors!

by Karen Osborne

Radical thinking?

“What’s happening with Mrs. Jones?”  “We’re having coffee; I’m cultivating her for a major gift for endowment.”

“What are you doing in New York next week?”  “I have five cultivation visits.”

“When do you plan to solicit George?” “He needs more cultivation.”

“Why didn’t that gift close?”  “I think I asked too soon.  She didn’t have enough cultivation.”


The word cultivation is a rubric that covers a long list of sins – but the biggest one is failure to be strategic. We need smart, intentional, measurable ways to advance relationships to joyful, generous, inspired yeses.

“I’m going to increase Mrs. Jones’ motivation to give an unrestricted endowment gift by sharing some of the big ideas we’ve brought to fruition with endowment gifts from the past.  Overcome her worry about how the money is handled by bringing the chair of our finance committee with me. Get her more deeply engaged, by asking her to review an endowment case for support.”

I know we need to code things, make it easy to track by using the software you use to manage donor relationships, but somewhere there needs to be an explicit strategy noodled on first, then written down, and regularly reviewed and adjusted after each strategic donor step.

When someone asks what’s going on with George, we need a thoughtful, strategic answer based on information you gleaned by visiting with the donor, asking great questions and listening.

“Our organization is number six on George’s list of charities.  In order to get the size gift we want and need, we have to move up to at least number three.  I think the tour will get him excited about our work.  Our CEO is going to ask him for advice at the end of the tour, testing his willingness to get more involved.  If that goes well, she intends to ask him to serve on a marketing task force.  Lois is chairing it, and she will be sure to keep him connected. Meanwhile, I need to find out more about his wife Carol and their oldest daughter.  Both seem quite involved with the decision making.”

Now you’re talking!

Welcome to The Osborne Group Blog!

Welcome to the official blog of The Osborne Group, Inc. consultancy!  It is our hope that this blog will serve as a resource for not-for-profits around the world to get advice and learn best practices in the areas of capacity building, philanthropy and management.  We also hope this can be a gathering space for not-for-profits to share ideas together.