The Why and How of Direct Solicitation Part 2: Cultivation

The Why and How of Direct Solicitation Part 2: Cultivation

See Compass Magazine vol. 15 for Part 1: The Ask

By Rabbi Yisroel Brod Kfar Chabad, Eretz Yisroel

Part 1 in this series discussed the process of “the ask” in great detail, as well as its immediate follow-up (a thank you letter and recording of the next step). What’s next?


Cultivate: to grow or raise (something) under conditions that you can control (

Of course, when dealing with people (as opposed to soil) there is no way “that you can control.” However, although you cannot be sure of how another person will react to something, proper cultivation while fundraising is most likely to—at the very least—bring you closer to achieving your goal.

So, let’s begin by understanding what cultivation is all about and how we can implement cultivation in a genuine, systematic, and professional manner.

“אסתכל באורייתא וברא עלמא” – We learn everything from the Torah.

Who was the first to implement cultivation? It was Hashem Himself. The Talmud tells us that before Hashem gave us the Torah, כפה עליהם הר כגיגית. Chassidus explains that הר represents love. Hashem showed us such love that when He came to give us the Torah we couldn’t say “No.” This was cultivation par excellence! Hashem did exactly what we would like to do to all our donors: bring them to a position such that when we ask them for something, they will say “Yes” because they will be unable to say “No.” Or, even better than that, because they really would like to say “Yes.”

When we bring our baalei batim cheesecake before Shavuos, shemurah matzah before Pesach, mishloach manos on Purim, or an invitation to a Shabbos meal, whether or not we (or they) realize it, the relationship is being strengthened, one step at a time. These continuous gestures bring us closer, until we reach the point where the baalei batim are happy to honor our requests.

When we become conscious of this reality and begin to plan the process of cultivation, we will be able to accomplish much more and in a more meaningful manner—and the results will be most rewarding.

There are two types of cultivation:

  1. Wholesale (standardized)
  2. 2. Retail (individualized)

Wholesale cultivation includes most of the items mentioned above. These are the standard things we do with or for our baalei batim before yomim tovim or at other opportunities. This process is one of a wholesale nature because it is mass-produced, usually takes place during a specific period of time, and is a means through which we hope to reach most of our baalei batim.

Retail cultivation is a very different type of cultivation. It is personal, it is planned, it is implemented when you make an active decision to implement it, and it occurs in the form of one calculated step followed by another.

How are we to know what type of cultivation is suitable for each baal habos?

To answer this question, we must first ask ourselves another question: What goal are we trying to achieve through this cultivation? To receive a major gift (if yes, we must clearly define what that “major gift” includes)? To bring this family closer to Yiddishkeit? To bridge a connection with another person or institution?

Only once we have made this determination can we proceed.

One rule to remember: the more you want from your baal habos, the longer you will have to implement retail cultivation.

Key Points for Genuine, Systematic, Professional Retail Cultivation

  1. Have self-respect.

    Not because of your decision to actively implement retail cultivation do you give up on anything meaningful and valuable to you. The famous story of Rabbi Moshe Feller’s first meeting with Professor Velvel Green OBM serves as a classic example. Classified NASA lab notwithstanding, he pulled out his gartel and davened mincha—and the rest is history. Reb Moshe had self-respect for his values, for his principles, for his Yiddishkeit, and for his loyalty to his meshaleiach.

  2. Be genuine.

    Don’t try to be someone else, nor do something you heard “works” but is not really you. Be yourself, and be honest and comfortable with what you are doing.

  3. Be consistent.

    It is almost impossible to create a meaningful relationship if it is not going to be consistent. Consistency is a form of stability that leads to a higher level of respect and, as such, is the key to long-term retail cultivation.

  4. Be sensitive.

    The entire process of cultivation (as with fundraising in general) is not a science—it is an art. And you must try to master this art. Part of the art includes being sensitive to the other person’s needs and leaving room for his pace and willingness to get to where you would like him to go.
    Be careful not to jump onto an opportunity that has made itself available, such as a simcha or an unfortunate tragedy. Yes, you should be there for him, but be there in a genuine manner and not as a means to meet your goals.

  5. Always record your next step immediately.

    The most important fundraising rule, and specifically so when implementing any type of cultivation, is to immediately record your next step in your calendar.
    Retail cultivation is to be done one step at a time. Immediately recording your next step in your calendar ensures that you know what the next step will be, as well as that it is in sync with what has happened until then.

The Next Step

We usually try to move quickly from one item to the next, hoping to accomplish as much as possible as soon as possible. When cultivating, we need to change that mindset and pause to answer the following two questions before moving forward:

  1. Have I truly accomplished what I set out to do?
  2. What do I have to do next, after the meeting, phone call, or whatever I’ve just finished?

If you don’t record your next step, there is a good chance that what you hoped to accomplish will not actually happen, because you will have lost the consistency, stability, and flow between one item and the next. On the other hand, if you always record your next step immediately, you will be consistent, stable, and possess a flow of healthy continuation from where you began to where to want to go.

So, what is that next step supposed to be? You are the one who needs to supply the answer—but you will only be able to come up with it once you have changed your mindset and do not move forward before you actually record what it should be.

Here are some items shluchim use to implement active, personal, retail cultivation. A next step may include the preparatory steps (order the book, get his address, etc.) required in order to implement the items below:

  • Shabbos meal invitation
  • Meaningful book with his name engraved
  • Erev Shabbos phone call, just to wish him a good Shabbos (sharing a short vort adds an even deeper dimension)
  • Rosh Chodesh phone call, wishing him a good new month
  • Invitation to Kinus Hashluchim banquet
  • Delivery of wine and cake (or a meaningful gift) in honor of his birthday or anniversary
  • Personalized gift for his newborn baby (e.g., name on yarmulka, candlestick, tzedaka pushka, siddur, etc.)

Ultimately, taking retail cultivation seriously will mean that every donor will appear in your calendar at one time or another. I am not suggesting that you go through your entire list of donors and begin to think of what to do with each one and record all of that in your calendar—that will likely never happen. What I am suggesting is that from this moment forward—beginning with the next donor your encounter—before moving to the next item, determine what the next step with this donor should be and record it. For one donor, this may simply mean recording to call him in Elul to wish him a happy, healthy new year. For another donor, it may mean inviting him to join you on your next trip to the Ohel. If from this point forward you begin to record your next step with each donor immediately, eventually every donor will appear in your calendar.

Even if you do not foresee any great potential with a specific donor, it is still important to record your next step—even if it will take place several months later—so that the donor will not be forgotten until the next time you realize you would like to solicit him. You will have been in touch with him—not sporadically but with planned consistency.

The most difficult aspect of this entire system is the strong self-discipline required in order to make this happen, however, as with any stream of self-discipline, it is most rewarding. With Hashem’s help and the Rebbe’s brochos you will see good to great success.

A Change of Mindset

A chossid approached the Alter Rebbe and lamented his financial misfortune and the need to pay off his debts. The Alter Rebbe responded:

“דיך דארף מען – אז דו זאלסט מאכען ליכטיג דיין סביבה מיט תורה ועבודה שבלב. פרנסה און וואס דו דארפסט – דאס דארף דער אויבערשטער ב”ה דיר געבען. טו וואס דו דארפסט, וועט השי”ת טאן וואס ער דארף.”
—היום יום ה’ תמוז

In fundraising this can be translated as, “Ask not what your donor can do for you—ask what you can do for your donor.”

The more you do for your donor, the more your donor will do for you.

This requires a degree of change of mindset: stop thinking of what the donor can do for you and what you need to do in order to acquire that. Rather, consider what you can do for the donor—not so that he will do more for you as a result, but because you are genuinely sensitive to his needs. Of course, in return you will also see positive and maybe even extraordinarily positive results.

Tip: If you are a newcomer to this system of retail cultivation, I’d suggest you include only a select number of donors in your “pilot” group, and begin with very specific goals in mind.

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