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How to Cultivate Your Best Donors for Lifetime Value

Balancing Today’s Goals With the Long-Term Health of Your Program

The best fundraisers think in terms of both short-term goals and long-term strategy. The actions fundraisers take now will affect their institution’s ability to raise money 5, 10 – even 20 years down the road. Without continuously developing new prospects, the money will eventually dry up. Fundraisers should be balancing the goals of today with the health and vigor of their donor pool for tomorrow.

Fundraisers are traditionally taught to focus on the top of the giving pyramid. These known heavy-hitters will help meet immediate fundraising goals. However, it’s possible to look at the giving pyramid through long-range glasses and develop a more nuanced view.

Using the Lifetime Value Approach to Engage the Donor For the Long Haul 

The lifetime value approach considers the donor’s value to the institution throughout his or her giving life. Ten years after graduation, engaged, enthusiastic donors are already making themselves known to you. These “generational leaders” give more than their peers and also give more frequently. Identifying these people, establishing a path for them and staying in touch keeps them giving throughout their lives. In time, some generational leaders will go on to become top 100 donors.

As part of this strategy of lifetime value, it’s important not to forget the donors who didn’t immediately identify themselves as generational leaders. Occasionally checking in with these people and offering them alternate paths allows them to engage if they are interested, which only furthers your ability to develop a giving pipeline.

Avoid Leaving Money on the Table

Using a lifetime value strategy allows you to invest where you will get the highest return and avoid leaving money on the table. However, focusing on lifetime value doesn’t mean neglecting the top tiers of the pyramid – these proven donors are the culmination of your existing lifetime strategy. Active prospect management and gift officer time management will ensure that you’re maximizing the value of your relationship with these donors while not over-investing.

Who are your generational leaders? Where do your prospects fall into this new gift pyramid? Contact us at for more information on the best practices and tools that can get your long-term strategy up and running.

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