Fundraising Basics: Understanding the Donor Cultivation Cycle

Madison GonzalezJanuary 04, 2022

donor cultivation cycle

In this blog post, I’m going to focus on something I think all fundraisers should know about in order to be more effective at their jobs: the donor cultivation cycle.

First, what is the donor cultivation cycle? 

The donor cultivation cycle describes how you identify potential donors, encourage them to give, and then steward those who make a donation to your organization. 

This is referred to as a cycle because you’ll want to secure that second or “golden” donation and because you may want to reach out to supporters who didn’t donate after your first appeal. This means you’ll often find yourself repeating different steps in the cycle

What are the five steps in the donor cultivation cycle? 

There are five steps to the donor cultivation cycle, as explained in this BoardEffect post. The first step is Identification.   


The first part of the donor cultivation cycle is to identify potential prospects—or, more simply put, find the donors you want to cultivate. To do this, consider all of the people in your network who might support your mission and ask your team to do the same. After you have your list, move on to the next step.


Once you have your list of potential donors, it’s time to narrow it down by qualifying the donors. 

In order to qualify your donors, you need to look at the donors on your list and prioritize the ones you want to cultivate. Usually, you’ll know who to prioritize based on factors like how interested they are in your mission, if they have the ability to make a donation, and, if they do make a donation, how they would like your organization to use it. 

In the next step, you’ll reach out to the supporters who seem most likely to give based on those factors. 


In this step, you’re going to focus on cultivating your potential donors. This stage involves a lot of communication and intention. Before you make your first ask, you should educate them about your mission, how you carry it out, and any other questions you anticipate them having. The ultimate goal is to make them feel like they can have a real impact on the world by supporting the work you do

In order to find out what questions they have or what might compel them to donate, take the time to reach out and talk to them. Asking questions is a surefire way to find out what they’re really thinking and feeling. 


Once you’ve warmed the potential donors up to your organization and can see who—through the actions they take like clicking on links in your emails—seems to be interested in supporting your mission through a donation, it’s time to make your appeal and solicit a donation

The most effective appeals have a few things in common, like being specific and creating a sense of urgency. You can learn more in this blog post


One of the biggest factors that affects donor retention is how you handle stewardship. Namely, thanking your donors is key to keeping them interested in your mission. 

In addition to sending them an acknowledgement email as soon as they make their donation, you should follow up multiple times and in multiple ways to share how grateful you are to have their support and to show how you’re using their gift. 

Remember: Even after you steward your donors, don’t forget to put them back into the cycle so you can upgrade the ones who have already given. 

Keep in mind that because every nonprofit and every donor is different, your cycle may look different than another nonprofit’s in terms of how you move potential donors through the cycle.

Once you start approaching your fundraising efforts through this lens, you’ll have a better chance of finding new lifelong supporters and raising more funds to carry out your mission.

Schedule a live demo with our partner Bloomerang, and we’ll show you how easy it is to create and automate reports, utilize online and offline fundraising tools, quickly integrate and access all your data, and ultimately create more time to engage your donors.

Filed Under:   Fundraising