I hear this all the time: “I’m out of ideas on how to cultivate and steward my caseload donors – what can I do?” Or, “I’ve done everything I can think of to reach my donors; there is nothing else I can do.”
I understand. In the midst of goal-setting, creating a plan and visiting donors, there are times where the creativity is just not flowing.
Today, I’m NOT going to give you tips on how to cultivate or steward your donors. Instead, I’m going to show you a process to continually generate great ideas that will help you deepen your relationships with your donors. Because that is what it’s all about.
I love brainstorming sessions, but sometimes they frustrate me because the rule usually is, “anything goes, and every idea is a good one.”
I don’t like that. I like having parameters and a structure. So when you brainstorm cultivation and stewardship ideas for caseload donors, below are the big areas I want you to focus on. Then I’ll give you my thoughts on the best brainstorming techniques to unearth creative cultivation and stewardship pieces.
Here are the big areas or “buckets” I’d like you to focus on when you do your brainstorming:

  1. Program and mission — What you can do to tell a donor more about your programs and how they relate to your mission.
  2. Technical information about the donor’s giving — How you can relay to the donor how much they give; when and how to do that creatively.
  3. Showing a donor how she is making a difference — You know we always talk about this, but this is a special area to brainstorm.
  4. Showing thanks and gratitude — This speaks for itself: what are all the ways you can show a donor he is appreciated?
  5. Insider VIP information — How to let the donor know she is among a small group of committed donors; how you can make her feel special as a major donor.
  6. Personal information and interests – Focus on anniversaries, birthdays, hobbies and interests, connections, work and how the donor gives.

After you’ve done your brainstorming, if you can have multiple cultivation and stewardship strategies around these six important areas you will have done your job.
Using these six “buckets” as your guide, here are some of my thoughts on how best to brainstorm the strategies and tactics you need:

  1. Get your major gift team together and hold a brainstorming session once per month for 1 hour. Within these six areas, let your team go to town. You’ll come up with a hundred different ideas and you’ll use maybe 5-10 of them. That’s excellent.
  2. Read industry white papers and blogs. Use the above six areas as your guide, but there are some amazing blogs out there that will spur even more ideas.
  3. Once a year, invite 2-3 donors to your office and ask some questions, and then listen. Listen for a long time. For-profit companies do this all the time with focus groups. Your donors will love this, and if you get one or two great ideas, so much the better.
  4. Every day, set aside 15 minutes to think about creative ideas to reach out to your donors. Paste these six areas up on your wall so you can always have a way to focus your thinking.
  5. Be aware. I get some of my best ideas when I’m not thinking about ideas. In the shower, making a meal, dreaming or driving sometimes things just “hit me.” That’s why I always have paper and a writing utensil wherever I go. Ideas come when you least expect them, and you have to be aware enough to get them down right away.
  6. Listen. Some of your best ideas will come when you really take the time to listen to your own donors. They will tell you what they want. YOU have to listen carefully. Donors give you clues all the time as to their preferences, passions and how they view your organization.

I know that if you take the six big “buckets” and use these six brainstorming ideas, you will come up with an amazing number of creative ideas to cultivate and steward your donors. These strategies will help you deepen your relationship with them, and ultimately it will mean more investments in your organization.
Put this into practice today, and tomorrow you’ll start seeing results.