4 Tips for Cultivating Your Garden (and your donors)

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably know that I have a little urban garden. This is my third year, and each year my garden is a little more successful. I’ve learned so much about the ground, fertilizer, water needed (and not needed), birds, bugs, letting things sit too long (or not long enough), weeding (and when not to weed). I really thought I could just read a book and have it all figured out, but there are just too many variables to take into account. I see a few parallels between my experience in the garden and preparing to ask people to invest in our great cause.

First, we need to prepare the ground by adding fertilizer (please don’t go down the road thinking about manure and relate that to the message, that’s not what I mean). I see this as related to raising general awareness about the organizations we work with. If people don’t know we exist, the chances of getting a gift from them are pretty much zero.

Next we need to plant seeds. My first year in the garden I only planted what I ultimately needed. I’ve learned that planting at least 3-5 times the number of seeds is required (2 for the rabbit, 2 for the birds and 1 plant that actually grows up. So we also need to talk about our organization to specific people who we think might have the propensity and ability to make a gift.

Watering and ongoing fertilization is also important. I equate this to sharing our story on an ongoing basis. It’s also about sharing the impact of our work (sometimes through stories, sometimes with statistics and numbers).

And the last thing I’ve learned – don’t mess with it too much. A few weeds are fine (especially early on when the root structure is forming). Pulling the weeds can do more damage than good (Matt 13: 29-30). In the same vein though, vegetables can go bad if they sit on the vine too long. I think major gift fundraising really is as much art as science. The tools alone – or the instinct alone – can only take you so far.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours? And – if you have gardening tips for Kentucky, please let me know!


4 Tips for Cultivating Your Garden (and your donors) — 5 Comments

  1. Love the garden analogy! Living in the country, we have a huge garden. This year we tried putting some horse manure on it (since we have this readily available). The mistake that we made was not realizing that our horse manure wasn’t composted enough and was full of seeds. Guess what we have in our garden? Lots of grass! The good part is that the plants are really healthy!

    Amazing how fundraising is so like this. Thanks for getting me thinking.

    Sandy Rees

  2. Kirsten, you are dead-on! It is as much of an art as it is science. And all of the little things you described that are needed? Each of those require dedication. That’s essentially what it boils down to – the dedication of us as fund raisers to learn what our donors need. Good luck with your plantings!

  3. Hear, hear to art and science, Kirsten. The good news is that anyone can acquire the skills and build the toolkit. And it seems the most passionate dedicated individuals land in the nonprofit world so instincts are covered.

    And good luck with the gardening. I stick to flowers, and love getting my hands dirty!