Lesson 12

How to get prospective donors ready to make a gift to your archives ("Dating the Decision Makers")

Fundraising folklore suggests that people are not ready to make a charitable gift until they have had nine contacts with the organization that is asking for support.

Normal practice is to have the first contact be “The Ask” and then have info and negotiation meetings take place on an ad hoc basis until the person agrees to make a gift or decides that they will not make a gift at this time.

Best practice is for the archive to develop a relationship with the prospect by educating them about what the archive does and illustrating what the impact of their charitable gift will be. After nine contacts with the prospect you will know when they are ready to be asked for a gift and you will know what project they are interested in. Folklore has it that a donor will give a larger gift if they have the nine contacts before the ask instead of after the ask.

Cultivation activities are intended to help a prospective donor develop a relationship with your archive. Cultivation is planning steps to take to educate and involve your prospects so that they will make an investment in a particular program, project or service that they care about deeply.

It is important to make the best use of your limited time so: 

  • Gear your activities toward major gift donors
  • Make them feel important, valued, considered
  • You will maximize funds per donor in the long term

Tip: Activity is not cultivation. Avoid the potential trap of mistaking the process of cultivation for simple entertainment. Use cultivation activities to further a relationship and ensure:

  • Activities are strategies to move our prospect from prospect to donor
  • Activity is a meaningful engagement of, or interaction with a prospect
  • Activity must penetrate the consciousness of the prospect regarding the archive or a giving opportunity
  • The fundraiser learns something about the prospect and the possible giving opportunity

Cultivation of donors is a total philosophy and not a series of isolated events. It requires a systematic method for cultivating the relationships

Download Word Doc 7: How Much Can Individuals Give?

Frequency of Contact

  • 60-80% of time on cultivation of major gift prospects
  • 10 prospects
  • Top 1 prospects = 1 move/month
  • Next 2 – 1 move every 6-8 weeks
  • Next 3 – cultivate 4-5 times/year
  • Last 4 – 3 contacts/year

To help you set up a simple system we have designed two forms:

  1. Examples & Ideas for your nine cultivation contacts with a prospective donor
  2. Sample Cultivation Plan for a Top Prospective Donor. Please feel free to adapt this for your own activities.

The three forms appear below and are also downloadable Word docs.

Examples & Ideas for Nine Cultivation Contacts

Activity 1-1(in person) Group (in person) Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Phone thanks                        
Publications Donor news New publications New training materials With personal note                          
Send news clipping                          
Send Annual Rep.                            
Speak at AGM                          
Give out awards at Vol Reception                          
Host table at AGM                            
24 hour visit                            
½ day visit                            
Attend Graduations                            
Take someone on a tour and lunch with ED                            
New equipment demonstration                            

Download Word Doc 8: Examples & Ideas for Nine Cultivation Contacts

Sample Cultivation Plan for a Prospective Donor
Business – Foundation- Individual
Association- Club- Organization
Name: Ms. Top Prospective Donor
Contact Info:
# 15 Friendly Street
Your Town, Canada
Board member connection: Board Chair is friend at same Rotary Club
Staff Connection: Daughter did research at our archive
Volunteer Connection:

Second board member is friend of Mr.Top

Prospective Donor and dines with the couple.

Archivist’s sister went to school with her.

Centres of Influence: (friends, lawyer, accountant, family members)
  1. Top Business Gal in town is a friend
  2. our accountant also does her books
  3. her lawyer is on our board
  4. ____________________________

Planned Activity with us
Who is involved
AGM: Board member phones to ask person to join the board for lunch before the meeting.
Board member or Archivist
6 weeks before AGM
Personal note to confirm & give parking details
Board member or Archivist 2 weeks before AGM
Personal greeting at front sidewalk
Greeter/staff 30 minutes before start time
Introductions to others in attendance Board member or Archivist from when they arrive to formalities
Coffee and chat Ask strategic questions to find out their interests and experiences and what they like about the archive
Board member Staff/Volunteer  after formalities until they leave and they are walked to the door or the parking lot.
Phone to see what they thought
Board member Archivists within 3 days
Invite to see something of interest in the storage room.
Archivist 3 weeks later
Mail archive newsletter with a personal handwritten note
Archivist next month
Invite to a talk/lecture and attend with them
Board member Archivist Staff/Volunteer 30 – 45 days later
Phone to ask to get together so you can ask their advice about a particular thing
Board Member  20 – 30 days later
Invite them to a workshop to about preservation techniques
Archivist 30 days later or what find out feels right
Invite stakeholders and prospects to a one hour session about the future of the archives. Show them you are creative and forward thinking and progressive.
Board next month
Ask the person to help with identifying and rating prospective donors Board member or Archivist next month
Ask the person to critique the Case for Support
Archivist Soon
Have the right person ask the right way for the right gift for the right project.
Right Person Right Time
Thank the person for their Gift by phone and written thank you note and personalized letter with charitable receipt
Board/Staff Board & Staff Staff within 2 days
within 5 days
within 7 days
Continue to involve the donor and let them see the impact of their gift.    

Tip: Celebrate when a prospective donor says they won’t give you a gift now. This could mean they will give at a different time or for a different reason. Just because someone says they do not wish to give a gift to your archives at this time doesn’t mean they won’t next time you ask. Use the prospects reaction to fine-tune your Case for Giving.

Download Word Doc 9: Cultivation Plan for Prospective Donor

Download Word Doc 10: Cultivation Idea