I have been delayed on responding to someone in my life—business contacts, friends, even family members—for more reasons than I can count (and more often than I care to admit!). I’ve been too busy, or stressed, or traveling, or trying to resolve a family situation … the list is endless.

So why is it when a prospect disappears on us, we fundraisers so often construct narratives out of thin air? “They’re not interested after all.” “They changed their mind.” “Maybe I did something wrong or offended them somehow.”

When we’re “ghosted” in our personal lives — when a romantic interest or a friend suddenly goes cold and stops returning our messages with no explanation at all — we know the advice: cut ties immediately and write the relationship off.

However, when it comes to fundraising, the right answer is not to play it cool — it’s polite persistence.

Prospects’ reasons for being unresponsive are as numerous and varied as the reasons we’ve all delayed in getting back to others. When we assume that they’re avoiding us, that they’ve lost interest in our organization, we short-circuit the relationship that was being built and the opportunity at hand.

Our job is not to make up stories in our heads for our prospects. It is to keep the lines open for the moment they may be ready to reengage. Whether that’s when the home renovation is complete, a health issue has been resolved, or any other of countless options, we demonstrate that the conversation awaits them by staying in touch.

Polite persistence is about honoring that relationship and interest, demonstrating that we’re ready when they are to re-engage. It includes:

  • Mailing a personal note with event invitations.
  • Sharing articles and updates about the organization, the cause, or shared interests.
  • Sending a message for natural milestones, such as holidays or mileposts for your organization (start of a new school year, etc.).

Take a moment to consider your portfolio. Who have you given up on by creating a narrative that they’re no longer interested? Open up the lines by sending them a note today, and honor the many circumstances in their lives that may have delayed their own communication. They will often return the favor once the time is right!

If you or your team want to build skills on this fundraising essentials topic, please reach out! KDD Philanthropy has coaching, exercises and role plays on donor “ghosting.”

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