I am a farm girl. Well, that may not be completely accurate. I grew up on a family farm in rural Missouri, where my dad and grandpa raised livestock and grew row crops – corn, soybeans, and wheat. My family jokes that I really am a city girl who was raised in the country. Nevertheless, I learned a few things about farming in my 18 years watching my dad work. I remember the day he bought a new field cultivator. He would pull it behind the tractor to prepare the soil for planting and sometimes use it after planting to kill the weeds.
When I called my dad to ask him if I was on the right track about this analogy, he took it and ran with it. “I think what you’re really after, Kristin, is to create the right environment to foster growth. That’s the key.” Indeed, Dad.
My dad, who has farmed for over 50 years, went on to develop “my analogy” for me, explaining what an optimal environment includes: moisture, nutrients, proper depth, and seed-to-soil contact (exposure of seed to air, nutrients, and water).
Here is the point: there are many factors to a successful crop, some of which you can control and a few you cannot. For example, excessive spring rain caused lots of replanting this year. A lack of rain can stunt growth and hurt yield. Farmers have learned to focus on what they can control.
The same is true of major donor cultivation. The economic impact of COVID-19 is out of your control, so focus on what you can control in your major donor cultivation work. You must create the right environment for your relationship with major donors to thrive: communication, connection, investigation, and prayer.
Maintain regular contact with key donors. Keep your mission and impact in front of your donor. Remind them of the impact they have when they partner with your work. Connect them with the faces of the clients you work with. Show them how they are solving the problem.
Nurture your relationship by relating to their heart. Why do they support your work? What aspect is compelling to them? Where their treasure is, their hearts will be also. Steward their hearts by engaging them individually with requests that connect with them specifically. How do ministry needs align with their vision and resources?
Go deep with donors. Go beyond surface talk, or news, sports, weather. Ask about their family, their work, business, and giving. Seek to understand their challenges, struggles, and joys. Find out where you rank in their giving priorities. These are important – and perhaps uncomfortable – conversations. But they will take your relationship to a new level.
Ask God to work in their hearts and minds. Ask God to lead, guide, and direct them. Then, challenge them to pray about their partnership. Challenge them to prayerfully consider giving even more generously to the causes they care most about.
As you work to cultivate major donor relationships, focus on the things you can control, and leave the rest to God. As my dad recommends, “creating the right environment to foster growth” is true in farming and in fundraising.