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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 7.1


The Cultivation Process

The backbone of any successful fundraising operation is an understanding of the cultivation process against which activities and goals can be mapped. This is often referred to as the development, fundraising or donor cultivation cycle. The process has four fundamental phases:

  • Identification and research. Who will you ask and what will you ask for?
  • Cultivation. Building relationships, engaging the prospect and preparing to make the ask.
  • Solicitation. Making the ask.
  • Stewardship. Recognition and continuing to engage donors.

The phases of the cultivation process are also commonly referred to as the '4Rs'. Development directors suggest that their time is divided among the phases in approximately this way:

  • Research, about 25 percent of time,
  • Romance, about 60 percent,
  • Request, 5 percent, and
  • Recognition, 10 percent.
Identification and research

This stage is all about gathering and analysing information. It is the underpinning of your fundraising activity. It can be viewed from two angles: projects and supporters.


You need to identify the projects for which you want to raise funds and to develop a thorough understanding of the importance of those projects both to your institution and to its stakeholders. You need to gather detailed information about the projects and assess how they might appeal to donors, as this will inform your cultivation, solicitation and stewardship phases.


You need to identify whom you want to ask for support. Look at the prospects you already know (database analysis, lists of previous donors, etc.) as well as the external donating landscape (e.g., are there any major trusts with interests that match your fundraising projects).

Prospect research and identification is an essential component of the cultivation cycle. It provides fundraisers with the information and tools they need to build relationships with donors. The more you know about a prospect, the easier it is to match the potential donor to the right project, ask her in the appropriate way, increase your chances of a donation and build a longstanding relationship.


Cultivation strategies are based on the information that is gathered in the identification phase. Cultivation refers to the methods you will use to build a relationship with a donor:

  • How will you make contact?
  • How will you inform prospects about your projects and build a propensity to give?
  • Who will do the cultivating?
  • How will it be achieved and sustained?

Cultivation covers a range of activities from direct mail, telephone and email contact through to events, personal visits and peer-to-peer networking.


In this phase you will make the ‘ask’. There are a number of ways to achieve this – direct mail, telephone fundraising, face-to-face solicitations, peer asking, as part of a legacies campaign or through online communication. This resource provides detailed information on methods of solicitation in the following sections (by type of donor).

As important as asking is your response when the donor says ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You must be prepared to act quickly to accept a gift and thank a donor.

For major gifts, this can be an involved process with a requirement for due diligence and gift agreements, so it is important to have the appropriate mechanisms already in place.

For smaller and regular gifts, it is important to have robust financial systems that can cope with peaks in giving and provide donors with reassurance that their donations are being handled in a professional manner.

If the response is ‘no’, you should a contingency plan where you might be able to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘maybe’ or ‘not now’. Maintaining a channel of communication with a prospect, for example, would allow you to approach him again in the future with other opportunities.


Stewardship is all about maintaining and evolving long-term relationships with donors. Effective stewardship will ensure that the donor knows his or her gift is being valued and put to good use, will appropriately recognize the gift and will ideally engage the donor so that he or she feels even more positive about the institution.

By investing wisely in stewardship activities (see section 7j), you can keep donors engaged in a donating cycle and encourage them toward regular repeat giving and giving in increasing amount, ultimately increasing your overall pool of donors and prospects and boosting your fundraising income.

The stewardship phase should feed back into cultivating the donor for a future ask, although fundraisers should be extremely cautious that stewardship and cultivation phases are not just about preparing to make the ask. These phases are about engaging the prospect/donor in the institution. Donors who only hear from the institution with financial requests disengage quickly.

You can find more on the individual features of the cultivation process and specific types of prospects throughout section 7.

Action Items
  • Invest time and resources in research, cultivation and stewardship activities to have the best solicitation response rate.
  • Remember to record information during every phase using contact reports, the database and prospect management tools.

      You Might Also Want to Read:

      The role of leaders and academics in the cultivation process (section 4d)
      Developing a fundraising strategy (section 6d)
      Stewardship activities (section 7j)
      The database (section 10a)
      Contact reports (section 10b)
      Prospect management (section 10c)


CASE provides in-depth information on all aspects of the cultivation process, including philanthropy trends, prospect research and management, fundraising strategies (by type of donor or campaign/approach), relationship cultivation, solicitation and donor relations and stewardship.

Penne talks about development as storytelling and adapting lessons learned at CASE to her culture.
Salmon talks about data segmentation of donors at Leeds using campaign examples and databases.  
Sani Silvennoinen talks adapting cultivation and stewardship ideas to your institution.