DickersonBakker Blog

From a Cold Shoulder to a Warm Embrace … How to Break Through to a Non-Responsive Donor

October, November, and December are fundraising’s months to “make hay when the sun shines.”  It cannot be understated how important it is for major gift officers of all stripes to reach out to donors to present proposals and ask for gifts.  But what happens when your donor won’t call or email you back?

The Christian Aid Center, a Rescue Mission homeless shelter in Walla Walla, Washington, had just that problem.  They had a donor, let’s call him David, who started giving large gifts a few years ago.  The gifts would come in from this mysterious David from a post office box.  There was no discernable pattern to the gifts, they were just big.  $10,000 here.  $20,000 there.  The team at the Mission would send very nice thank you letters with requests for a meeting or appeals to show David in-person the impact he was making through a tour.  The only response they got: more checks.

Rescue Mission Dickerson BakkerNow, many would let that lie (what a great problem to have…right?), but the mystery of it all compelled the Mission to keep trying.  My colleague at DickersonBakker, Shawn Saunders, offered an interesting suggestion: send David a picture book.  Shawn was referring to the custom photo books sold for $14.95 by Shutterfly or Snapfish.  So that is just what we did.  The Mission had a staff member gifted in making scrapbooks.  She got online and applied her design skills to a photobook.  We printed an edition just for David and sent it out with a handwritten note in the cover of the book.

Christian Aid Center, Walla Walla Rescue Mission Dickerson, Bakker

A week later, David finally called!  After years of failed attempts, the picture book broke through. David came for a tour and loved what he saw.  After the tour, David sat down with the executive director and they talked about David’s giving.  Amazingly, it ended up that David was also responsible for directing gifts of a foundation that had been generous to the Mission.  The foundation was also difficult to connect with, but now they had a known contact and advocate.

When calls, letters, and emails do not work, sometimes sending a small, thoughtful gift will do the trick to getting your call returned.  Photobooks are great because they are inexpensive, easily customizable, and quick to produce, but other ideas work too.  When I was executive director of the Chippewa Valley Free Clinic, we worked with a local tea shop to create our own blend of tea.  The ingredients reflected values of the clinic, and donors loved it.   In another situation, a client sent a children’s book to a donor.  The book—signed by the author—simply and elegantly illustrated the impact of a good teacher and then communicated to the donor her gifts made that impact possible daily.  Regardless of what you send, chunky envelopes get opened, so they are a terrific way to capture attention and ensure higher response rates.

The story in Walla Walla takes one more interesting turn.  Because of the new connection with David, the Mission was able to share the details of a major capital campaign project.  David loved the project and said he would personally advocate for a leadership gift from the foundation board.  The gift discussed would be five-to-ten times larger than any previous gift from the foundation.  We are hoping and praying that he succeeds!  None-the-less, taking the effort to be creative and not take silence for an answer will pay significant dividends in the future.

Struggling to make real connections with your donors? Clients typically experience double digit increases after just one year of working with our major gift services team at DickersonBakker. Contact us today at 800.382.0094 to accelerate the growth of your major donor program.

Back to blog