The Development Cycle

Creating A Culture of Asking Series

David A. Mersky imageWhile Shakespeare wrote, in As You Like It, that there are seven ages of man, some mistakenly believe that he saw life in a linear way. But, if you read the seven ages carefully you will see in fact that they are more like a circle—a mandala.

The word “mandala” is from the classical Indian language of Sanskrit. Loosely translated to mean “circle,” a mandala is far more than a simple shape. It represents wholeness, and can be seen as a model for the organizational structure of life itself–a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.

Describing both material and non-material realities, the mandala appears in all aspects of life: the celestial circles we call earth, sun, and moon, as well as conceptual circles of friends, family, and community. A mandala is an integrated structure organized around a unifying center—and in the development cycle the donor is at the center.

There are also seven stages in the development cycle, also not linear but very much circular.

  1. Identification
    You cannot do anything without first identifying who is a prospect. Who has the capacity—and possible interest—to support your organization. Create a process by which you regularly meet with and interview board members and other donors, sharing with them the names of your prospects and soliciting help in making a connection with the nonprofit.
  2. Research
    The second step is to do as much research about your newly identified prospect as you possibly can. There are two ways to do this:

    The fruits of your labor in this regard may yield you valuable clues as to how to engage with your prospect. However, you may also learn that this person is not a good prospect…and that could be equally as valuable because of the time you will save in not pursuing an unworthy prospect.

  3. Planning
    As a result of the research that you have completed, you should now be in a position to create a plan for engagement. While I will develop this notion more extensively in the coming months, it is important to note that there are four components to such a plan:

    • Opening the Gateway is when we introduce the prospect to our organization
    • Cultivating the relationship is all about the value of the follow-up
    • Making the ask details everything from preparation to face-to-face solicitation
    • Leveraging the donor explores the benefits of stewardship

    And, like any good plan, you have to allocate resources – both financial and human – necessary to achieve the desire results. Who is to be involved in the process at each and every stage? What will be required in terms of special events, communications and marketing materials? What are the anticipated outcomes?

  4. Cultivation
    A prospective donor is not unlike a seed that is planted and requires thoughtful nurturing. To elicit interest on the part of the prospect, create opportunities for involvement in the work of the organization and provide the time and place to deepen a relationship. The most critical element of the cultivation phase of the development cycle is in the careful follow-up so that each and every time there is a point of contact between you your organization and the prospective donor there is a specific plan to reengage within 48 hours and get feedback as to how the relationship is maturing.
  5. Solicitation
    Presuming that your prospect is a candidate for a personal solicitation, then who is involved in that conversation, where it is to take place, “scripting” the drama of the face-to-face encounter, are all steps that have to take place before you meet the prospect to ask him or her for a philanthropic investment. An essential part of the planning for the solicitation itself is obtaining the appointment. You cannot ask someone personally unless you are knee-to-knee and heart-to-heart with your prospect.
  6. Stewardship
    Stewardship has many values. Chief amongst them is to assure that the donor feels great about the interaction that she or he had with you and is thrilled with the opportunity to have made a philanthropic investment in your organization. But equal to that is to find ways to engage the donor even more deeply by helping them identify other prospects and possibly engage in the development cycle by being part of cultivation teams and even undertaking to do face-to-face solicitations.
  7. Renewal
    The seventh and final stage of the development cycle is the process that was begun in the stewardship phase. The plan to renew support next year for an annual gift and in perhaps several years for a special gift begins almost immediately after the initial gift was realized.

And thus we come full circle.

Next Month: A Four Stage Plan for the Annual Fund