You have one or two of them, right now, in your portfolio. It’s a major donor who just doesn’t want to communicate in person or on the phone with you.
It’s frustrating for you, because they’re giving significantly to your organization, and you feel you could do so much more to cultivate and steward that relationship. Yet they told you, unequivocally, not to reach out to them that way.
Now you might be thinking, “Hey, isn’t Veritus always saying that if a donor doesn’t want to talk to you, they aren’t qualified and shouldn’t be in a portfolio?
Not necessarily. There are some donors who may not want to communicate with you by phone or face-to-face visits. And yet they should be in your portfolio because they will engage with you in other ways.
So in your qualification process, a donor can be QUALIFIED even if they don’t want to see you in person or talk with you. BUT if they do show an interest in communicating in other ways, that shows you they want a deeper relationship with the organization.
So what do you do about these donors?
Be patient.
There are many reasons why a major donor doesn’t want to be personally contacted. But the biggest one is that there’s a lack of trust. Or as Richard has written about quite a bit, they feel that you have nothing of value to offer. This is understandable. Donors of wealth are wary of the multitude of people asking them for something, even if it’s something they’re passionate about.
We’ve heard many “experts” advise major gift fundraisers to take them out of your portfolio if they don’t want to personally relate to you. But if this donor is giving at a high level and has solid capacity, we believe you can gain that donor’s trust even if they indicate they don’t want to talk with you. Yes, you can still have a meaningful connection with a donor – even if they don’t want to talk with you or see you face-to-face. (Tweet it!)
Here are some ideas:

  1. Research their passions and interests. You’re not going to get this by talking with the donor, but you can do your research. Review their giving history to your organization, find out what other non-profits they support, and do a deep dive into their business and community involvement. In your research, find out who in your organization they may be connected to (like a board member) and interview that person. If a donor feels you’re connecting with them even though you aren’t talking with them, they’ll start feeling they can trust you.
  2. Review all communication that is currently being sent to this donor from your organization. How can you personalize it to let the donor know you understand their passions and interests and who they are? In your personal communication plan with this donor, what are personal ways you can connect the donor to what they’re passionate about? One example of this was when an MGO we were working with sent an e-mail with a link to a news story that she knew her major donor would care about. That donor got back to her and it started a relationship. Very simple, but effective.
  3. Report back on impact. We say this all the time about every donor in your portfolio. But it’s even more important for a donor that says they don’t want to talk with you. This can be your best tool to start gaining the trust of your donor. If you spend the time and energy on crafting a great Impact Report for your donor, they will appreciate your effort because you’ll make the donor feel good about their gift. This is probably the single best strategy for you to gain that donor’s trust. Why? Because no one is doing this well. But you can.
  4. Thank appropriately. You know your donor wouldn’t want a call or visit, but you can think of creative ways to thank a donor that surprises them. One of the most effective ways that major donors have said makes a huge impact on them is very simple: A well-crafted handwritten note. That’s all. But the donor feels honored because you took time with it.
  5. Be patient and consistent in your approach. Because you genuinely care about your donor, you’ll be patient and allow the donor to set the pace of the relationship. Honor their wishes and communicate to your manager what your strategy is with the donor. This will ward off conversations and pressure about getting a meeting with the donor, if the manager understands what your strategy is.

Yes it can be frustrating when donors tell you they don’t want to talk or meet with you but have signaled through the qualification process that they do want a meaningful connection. Don’t take it personally.
Walk with them, honor them, and over time you will gain their trust with the consistent work you’re doing to build the relationship.