Dealing With An Unresponsive Major Donor

Hand signal to stop — unresponsive donor

This article is critical in enhancing your career. Read it and absorb it well.

Sometimes, no matter how much care you take with improving relations, a potential major donor gives you radio silence. Perhaps you have met with them several times; they seemed interested in donating, they attended events, and all of a sudden, they are unresponsive. You have tried calling, emailing, and sending letters, but they just aren’t answering.

When this happens, it can be disheartening, especially for those who are new to fundraising. It is essential to realize that this happens more often than major gift officers like to admit. A disconnect between a fundraiser and a major donor is something you will inevitably have to face, and usually when you least expect it.

When you are being pressured to meet fundraising goals and have an unresponsive major donor, it can feel as if it is time to move on. However, even though things seem tough, there are still a few things you can try to re-engage and encourage potential major donors to donate.

Don’t Jump To Conclusions

When you lose contact with a promising potential major donor, it is easy to think that you have done something wrong. You start running all of the scenarios in your head, trying to search for clues as to why they have stopped communicating. When you do this, you will most likely waste time and still only develop hypothetical answers.

The truth is, major donors are ordinary people who have jobs and families demanding their time. They have a list of priorities, and it is possible that donating to your organization simply isn’t at the top. Just because your job places fundraising as a primary focus doesn’t mean that your major donor also feels that way.

They have probably received your emails and didn’t have time to read them. Maybe they went to junk mail. Maybe your letter is sitting unopened on a shelf, tossed aside as they were trying to get their kids out the door to soccer practice. People are busy, but that doesn’t mean they are unwilling to donate. They may not have gotten to it yet.

If you know someone who is an acquaintance of the unresponsive major donor, you could try working an inquiry into casual conversation. Ask how they are and see if you can gauge their current circumstances. Be tactful when you do this — it must seem genuine and natural. You may find out that they are traveling, had a new baby, or are starting a new business, all valid reasons for being out of touch.

Try A New Method of Engagement

If you have worn out all the tried and true methods of communication, it may be time to shake things up. Be creative in your processes. It is possible that this major donor may not respond to you, but they may respond to a board member or the executive director for a reason other than fundraising. Once they have been re-engaged, it is possible to discuss monetary contributions again.

Launching a new social media campaign may spark an unresponsive major donor to engage with you on social media. If they have volunteer experience, asking them to volunteer service instead of money may be a better option. The goal at this point is to re-establish communication with them in any way at all. You may have to backtrack on your previous relationship and take steps towards rebuilding the donor-centric aspect.

While any communication is better than no communication, remember that it is okay to take it slow once you have a line of communication with them again. It is possible that they genuinely don’t want to donate at this time, they currently can’t afford it, or they aren’t entirely sold on the organization’s mission. If you jump back in immediately, they may retreat even further because they feel like they are being used only as a funding source.

Allow Breathing Room

If you have tried everything you can think of to re-engage the potential major donor, it may be time to give them some space. This doesn’t mean you need to give up on the idea of ever receiving a donation from them, but it will prevent them from feeling overwhelmed.

Whatever reason the major donor has for backing away from fundraising communication, treat it as valid. People are allowed to change their minds. Refocus on other major donor opportunities that may be lucrative. You may have to look at your donor data again, update it, and see if there are any changes. Maybe someone who didn’t seem likely to donate at the beginning of the year is now a good candidate.

You may find that the unresponsive major donor reaches out to you in a few months when they are ready. Maybe something sparks their interest, and they feel better aligned with your mission. They could even be in the midst of estate planning and let you know that they are interested in a planned giving arrangement. You just never know!

An Unresponsive Major Donor – The Bottom Line

As with all aspects of our lives, sometimes things don’t work out in our favor. It is unfortunate when you have put time and energy into cultivating a relationship that seems to have run its course. In a best-case scenario, you conduct all best practices, and the potential major donor gets in touch. However, if this does not happen, try not to be hard on yourself. Losing communication with a potential major donor is rarely your fault, so don’t let it be career-defining. You can always move on and work with fully engaged contributors who fully welcome the relationship.

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