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Fundraising Basics: What To Do When They Don’t Respond

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Typically, when you make a solicitation, you hear one of three responses: “Yes,” “No,” or “We need more time.”

There are generally accepted strategies to deal with each of them. But a genuine quagmire can be when you don’t hear back from the donor prospect at all.

This is like a fundraiser’s Bermuda Triangle.

No doubt, you’ve encountered this dilemma on numerous occasions. I sure have in my 30 years as a practitioner and several years as a fundraising trainer/consultant to a wide range of nonprofits.

10 tips for engaging donors who haven’t responded to your request

  1. Accept that everyone is different from you. This applies to a multitude of characteristics including personality, work habits, reporting structure and much else. It’s not a matter of one person or style being better than another — but the bottom line is that we are very different, and whether we like it or not, we must respect those differences. This has taken me time to appreciate. To put it kindly, I have a hyper personality and work ethic. This might fit well with some donor prospects, but it might be prickly with many others.
  2. Donors are like customers — they might not always be right — but they are always the customers. It’s impossible to move ahead without them knowing, liking, and trusting you. This means you must meet them where they are.
  3. There have never been so many different communication methods available. Some people prefer email; others texting, cell phone calls, landline calls, video conferencing, social media. And then there are some who only like to meet in person. I always like to start a relationship by asking the donor prospect what their communication preferences are. This is also an opportunity to discover their favorite times of the day. Again, there are no rights and wrongs.
  4. I prefer email for several reasons, but perhaps I have grown old fashioned. I like composing from a laptop keyboard, ease of cutting and pasting content, adding attachments, and etc. I use email primarily for business purposes, and the contents are more serious and typically require more character spaces to address adequately. Not to mention, that email is still one of the most popular communication channels.
  5. When communicating in any format, seek an indication of when other party is expected to respond, if possible. There is a lot behind “if possible.” You never know what is happening in their lives — be it professional, personal, or other concerns. More and more we live in a world in which the unexpected can interrupt our schedules.
  6. You don’t know how much research or clearance is required by the other party to respond. It’s probably not as simple as can you join us at event X on so-and-so day. Larger organizations require more time to go through channels, check with supervisors, and receive permission to proceed on a myriad of issues.
  7. Despite following best practices, you very much might be stymied. First word of advice — don’t panic. Following up with a barrage of messages from different media might alienate the recipient. Take a breath and wait a few days before reaching out again. A long-term attitude will pay off handsomely.
  8. Be gentle in follow-up attempts. For example, you might want to use opening text in an email, voicemail or other message, such as “Just following up to see if there’s any other information we can provide you?” Note that you are placing the onus of responsibility on yourself.
  9. You can learn from the perspective of someone else in your nonprofit who knows the individual you are trying to contact. They might have timely insights on personal, professional, or other pressures at play that you are not aware of.
  10. As a last resort, ask the other person in your organization to reach out for you. After failing to respond to you, the other party might feel embarrassed, and feel more comfortable speaking about “why” to someone they know personally.

In the world of fundraising there is a fine line between persist and pester. And where that line lies is different for everybody you will be working with. Treat them with respect, because, again, you don’t know what’s happening in their worlds.

I remember working with a corporate decision maker on a $250,000 request. After several failed attempts at following up by email and phone, my campaign committee members got nervous, and told me to submit a revised proposal of $125,000. Guess what happened? The next week I finally heard back from the corporate decision maker who apologized for getting caught up in other matters and failing to respond, and joyfully reported that we were approved for the full $250,000.

In the world of fundraising when you take the high road and embrace best practices, there are happy endings every day of the year.

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