Donor Cultivation vs. Stewardship

Donor Cultivation vs. Stewardship

Quite simply, donor cultivation focuses on prospects (think lapsed donors) and stewardship focuses on existing donors. But, we’re going to give you more than that!

Let’s try an experiment.

200w (2)

Think of cultivation like dating. You’re getting to know a donor. You discover what communication channels they respond best to and where they engage the most.

You continue this dance for a while.

You finally get a donation.

You’re going steady.

This is the stewardship phase. You continue to build the relationship. You inform them with how things are going. You invite them to events (dates). You express your gratitude.

But if you’re dealing with the 1x donation pipeline this is where things get hairy.

You’re going to need another donation. You’ve wined and dined the donor. You’ve thanked them. You’ve expressed gratitude. But now you need to ask again.

Could feel a little bit like this:

giphy (1)-1

But what if they don’t give again?

What if you “break up”?

Imagine if you had to worry about this every year.

If you deal primarily with 1x donations, you probably don’t have to. You’re likely all too familiar with the end of year push for donations. It’s tough work. The 2019 annual report from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project found that for every $100 fundraised in 2018 was offset by $93 in losses through gift attrition.

But things can be different.

giphy (2)

With recurring monthly revenue, you don’t have to worry about the end of year push. Once you successfully cultivate a recurring donation, you can stay in the stewardship phase. You are able to focus more on building a genuine relationship with your donor, one where you can focus on delighting them instead of preparing them for the next ask. As you’ll come to learn, there are big consequences to small giving.

Donor cultivation

With donor cultivation you are building a relationship with the intention of getting a donation. This could be through rounds-ups, monthly donations, or text-to-give campaigns.

Donor cultivation has a cycle of its own. You identify new prospects. You research and qualify those leads. You cultivate a relationship with them. Then, you ask for a donation. Once they give, they’re onto the stewardship process.

So, how do you ask your donors for donations?

Thankfully, we’ve got a quick guide for that!


However, regardless of the method of communication with your potential donors, we suggest you take full advantage of emotional success stories. Share them with impactful pictures and videos. Give your prospective donors a look behind the scene of how their donation will be put to work. When putting together a campaign, it’s also important to be aware that different types of donors will respond, well, differently to your messaging. What motivates someone to give $100 is likely going to be very different than what motivates someone to give $100,000.

Donor stewardship

Stewardship is the process of building a deeper relationship with your existing donors. With subscription philanthropy, once someone starts giving, this becomes your focus. Your main goal here is to keep your donors delighted and giving.

Stewardship comes down to successful communication. Create a post-donation strategy and stick to it. With monthly giving or round-ups, because you don't need to explicitly ask for donations, you’re able to focus more on the impact of donation and the work that you are doing. And, if there are asks, they can be less direct. It might be as simple as letting someone know round-ups exist as opposed to a larger, more transactional gift request. Plus,  if they don’t bite it’s not as big of a deal, since they’re still giving monthly.

Donor cultivation vs. stewardship: Who’s the winner?

They both are, in their own ways.

If you’re wondering whether you should prioritize new or existing donors, we’ve got you covered.

But for your nonprofit to succeed, you need strong and specific plans for both. There is no one size fits all approach. The best way to figure out what works is to try it. Ask your donors what they love. Ask them what got them to give. Examine their giving patterns and behavior. And, thankfully, subscription philanthropy gives you a whole range of tools you can use to optimize you’re giving process.

Harness Giving lives and breathes the subscription economy, making the entire donation process easier for donors and nonprofits. Whether you are a major player in your local philanthropy scene or just starting out, we can help make your organization a recurring donation powerhouse.

Ready to launch your Subscription program? If yes, consider speaking with the Harness Giving team to see how we can help you get results. Click on the bottom on the bottom right of your screen to speak to a Harness team member!

Want to learn more? Check out these Pro Tips.