How to Attack All 5 Phases of Your Fundraising Cycle

May 2023

Fundraising is more than just asking for money--it's developing long-term relationships with supporters to carry out your mission. Rather than thinking of fundraising as a series of steps to be completed, view it as a cycle where there is no start and finish. PMA advises and supports our partners as they build increased fundraising capacity and attack all elements of the "Fundraising Cycle."



No matter how long your organization has existed or how many supporters you have, identifying your capacity to raise money, as well as from who, is crucial. Careful consideration of your organization's fundraising infrastructure alongside targeting those most likely to make gifts will help you focus your efforts, make appropriate changes when and where needed, and result in a greater return on investment.

Analyze your own fundraising infrastructure and existing processes to better understand you own capacity. Do you have the right staff, right software, and the right procedures to meet your goals? Addressing infrastructure and processes that need additional investment will set you on the right path.

It is also crucial to identify who is likely to give. This can range from utilizing prospect research tools to help target philanthropic individuals and foundations that have a history of supporting organizations like yours, to using data segmentation to find loyal donors who give year after year. 



Do you have the right collateral materials and outreach strategies to connect with supporters and prospects that you have identified? Developing clear, targeted messages and utilizing the right channels to connect with your target audiences will strengthen your overall strategy.

While all your messaging should clearly explain mission, vision, and action, how those are presented differs for each audience. Communications to prospective donors will look different than communications to donors who give multiple times a year. Likewise, materials for individuals and institutional supporters looking to make significant gifts will be different than what you would take to a community outreach event. 

Just as important is how you deliver those messages. An organization looking to grow its supporter base with younger donors may wish to invest more in digital outreach, but it's equally important to continue effective communication with existing donors who may prioritize writing checks. Beautiful photos make for great social media, while clear, descriptive narratives might be better for foundation funders. Fortunately, there is a large body of research on effective communication strategies that can help you find the best options for each of your donor segments.



Today's donors are looking to invest in causes they care about. No matter how large or small the gift, ensure supporters and prospective supporters "feel" your mission. Just as there are a myriad of ways to communicate, there are nearly endless possibilities when it comes to cultivation. Volunteer opportunities, weekly e-newsletters, targeted small group gatherings, and well-maintained social media channels are just a few ways to engage.

The work of cultivating support is one the whole organization can take part in. Connecting donors and prospects to the right organizational ambassadors will help people feel even more connected to your mission. For many, a member of the Development team may be the right contact, but this is also a wonderful opportunity to bring in other staff and board members. Programmatic staff can be extraordinary ambassadors without ever having to be in a position to make an ask. Their experiences and knowledge are valuable pieces of the cultivation toolbox. 


Invite Investment

When it comes to preparing to make an ask, do your homework. Evaluate the clues to determine the highest potential for support from a donor. It makes little sense to spend a lot of time preparing for a large ask when a prospective donor has demonstrated that there are other causes they are far more passionate about, no matter how large their capacity may be. Likewise, utilize the research tools available to you so you don't miss an opportunity; a small first-time gift doesn't mean a donor lacks the ability to make a larger gift in the future.

Reframe your thinking: don't ask for money, invite investment. Even in direct mail and digital outreach, using the language of investment has been shown to increase support. For prospects and existing supporters capable of making transformative gifts, inviting them to invest in your mission demonstrates you view them as far more than just a checkbook. Give consideration to who is the best person to make the ask: is it a member of the Development team? The Executive Director? A Board member with an existing relationship? A well-considered strategy of what to ask for, who will ask for it, and when to do so will pay dividends.

Finally, listen. No matter the response, listening to supporters and prospects will help you better understand them and their philanthropic goals. An answer of "no" today does not necessarily mean the door is closed forever. The art of listening is an invaluable skill for every fundraiser.



Securing a gift means a new phase of the Fundraising cycle. Stewarding donors strengthens their connection to your mission. These touches should express gratitude and be personalized. Stewardship should be an ongoing effort and customized to each donor. Multi-year donors, increased giving donors, and new donors are just some of the different donor segments that each require their own strategy.

Donor stewardship can take many forms, from personalized letters to exclusive updates to special event invitations to individualized reports, and more. These stewardship efforts can play multiple roles in the fundraising cycle, including communication and cultivation. Thoughtful stewardship plans will increase donor retention, strengthen your connection with supporters, and accelerate the fundraising cycle.