Donor cultivation is a long game, best played with little consistent steps over time. But in the day-to-day grind of distractions and urgencies, it can be easy to lose track or backburner the crucial ongoing cultivation necessary to bring in supporters for your work.
So how can we make this easy? With a few small tweaks to your weekly routine.
Taken straight from a page in my own weekly planner, here’s how you can sneak donor cultivation into your calendar as a matter of routine.
Before we get into the tasks and tactics, let’s talk about how on earth you are going to fit all this into what is surely a packed calendar already. Here are a few things I swear by:
I am not a fan of multi-tasking. And neither is science. Studies have shown that constantly switching from one thing to another is not only inefficient, it damages performance. So in order to avoid the urge to juggle *all the things*, I use time blocking.
Time blocking is scheduling a set period of uninterrupted time on your calendar so that you have space to focus on your one task at hand. In practice, it also means shutting off your phone, quitting out of email and quieting the noise in your head that’s freaking you out about all the things not getting done at the moment.
Time blocking is not only great on a daily basis to corral your calendar, it can also be really helpful for much bigger projects. Imagine having an entire week blocked off to focus on one project? Heaven.
Couple time blocking with task batching and you’re on a roll. Task batching is simply grouping similar tasks with other like tasks. If you have several thank you letters to write, block off some time to write them all at once. Need to research several prospects? Create a time block for research and dive in.
We’ll get into all of the time blocks and tasks that I batch together in just a bit. But first… how to keep from distracting yourself?
This tip came from a project manager colleague of mine when our team was in the midst of an epic brainstorming session for a project. The project was an emotionally-charged one and the discussion understandably started to veer from the tangible goals that we needed to accomplish that day.
After about the fifth interruption, the project manager handed each of us a little stack of post-it notes, along with a warm smile and a noncommittal nod of his head. Then he told us to jot down whatever came to mind and stick it on the wall behind us out of sight.
You know how it is. You are focused intently on something in particular and suddenly you have a dozen brilliant ideas for something totally unrelated? Rather than get off track in the moment, take no more than two seconds to write your brilliant idea down so you can set your mind at ease that it’s not lost forever and get quickly back to the task at hand. Nowadays, I just keep a single text doc on my desktop to note any and all tangents for later review.
Let’s jump in!
Here are the top 10 time blocks that I line up on my weekly calendar for optimum donor cultivation. I do this in one of two ways: either in my Asana, where I schedule it all as a recurring weekly task, or by writing it out on a piece of paper I keep near my desk. It all depends upon if I’m feeling digital or analogue that week. Both work.
If you’re more of an analogue type, you’re in luck, because here is the exact weekly planner template I print out, all ready for you!
1 | Review your donor prospect list.
Have a quick look through your donor prospect list to keep them at the top of your mind and to see if any action items should be scheduled or if any fresh ideas bubble up for outreach or engagement.
2 | Send out thank you notes.
Gratitude is essential for any type of donor cultivation. Schedule a time block each week to send thank you letters to people who’ve donated, along with any emails of appreciation to people who’ve taken time to meet with you or helped you in small ways over the last week.
3 | Prep any outgoing donor communications.
Check your donor communications calendar for what needs to be prepared in order to hit send on any outward-facing communication to your donors.
4 | Browse the headlines.
Keep yourself up to date on news about your donor prospects and the broader philanthropic happenings in the field. To save time and minimize the risk of falling down rabbit holes, I like to keep a bookmark folder on my browser for blogs and new sites that I can skim through quickly. I also set up google alerts to track donor prospects in the news and read through those, and I have a folder on my email inbox devoted to newsletters and such to read once a week.
5 | Research new donor prospects and relationships.
Throughout the week, keep an ongoing list of any new foundations, prospects or relationships you learned about, then take an hour or so once a week to research their alignment with your work and the viability of reaching out to them.
6 | Schedule and connect with donor prospects in-person.
Fundraising and development, at the heart of it all, is about relationships and authentic relationships need face time. Make a point each week to reach out to and connect with your donor prospects in some personal way, be it getting together for coffee or lunch, calendaring a phone call, or extending an invitation to come see your work in action.
7 | Maintain the database.
Trust me, if this isn’t on your weekly list, it will never get done. That is until the crunch time right before you’re sending out a massive appeal campaign, and then it is guaranteed to be utterly overwhelming. To avoid that, take a short pause each week to enter in new contact names or update current information in your database.
8 | Touch base with your team.
A quick weekly check-in meeting with the people on your team can save time and emails down the road. The trick to this? Have a concise agenda circulated ahead of time and give everyone space to voice their priorities and challenges.
9 | Check-in on your bottom line.
You don’t want to have a full-on budget reconciliation on a weekly basis, but a quick review of donations that came in during the week, along with an updated calculation of the total you’ve raised so far this year, can be a good reality check (or simply motivating!)
10 | Layout your priorities and celebrate your wins.
I’m a big fan of clearly articulated goals and priorities and an even bigger fan of celebrating wins. Conduct a quick check-in at the end of the week to set up your top 3 goals and/or priorities for the upcoming week. Then finish it out with a reflection on what worked this week and reward yourself for what rocked!
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