Major Gift Officers, What to Do When a Donor Won’t Talk to You
I think the phrase “talk to the hand” is so funny.
While it may be a little off-putting or rude, the fact is that if someone says “talk to the hand” to you, it could simply mean they do not want to hear what you have to say.
But is it that simple? I don’t think so.
In the major-gifts world, when a major donor does not want to talk to you and, in essence, says “talk to the hand” it can mean so many different things:
- “I don’t like you.” It could be this basic. The person just doesn’t like you. We see this in our major gift officers’ work fairly frequently. The donor simply does not like the person assigned to him or her. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the MGO—it just means that the chemistry is not there. Sometimes it’s a gender issue. The female donor wants to relate to a female MGO. Whatever it is, we move the donor to another MGO. But this could be an explanation for why the donor does not want to talk to you.
- “Now is not a good time.” This is pretty basic. Donors have their own cadence and timing for things. Sometimes they communicate that very clearly. Other times it is up to you to discern what it is. The point is this: You may be getting the “don’t talk to me” signal and all it means is that the timing is off. The thing to do is ask, “Is this a good time?” You will get the answer you need.
- “I don’t like what you are saying.” Now this is a whole different thing. It’s not about you, it’s about what you are presenting. The donor does not like it and doesn’t want to hear about it. Talk to the hand. So many times MGOs are so focused on what they want to say or what the organization wants to tell donors that they forget that it is the donor they are trying to serve, not the organization. So consider that this might be the reason the donor does not want to talk to you—and then find out what the donor does want to talk about. Did you remember that the donor’s passions and interests are the key drivers in this case?
- “I don’t want to meet in person.” We have seen this many times as well. The donor just does not want the MGO in his or her home or office—he or she doesn’t want to do the face-to-face thing. That is why Jeff and I recommend that during the donor-qualification process (don’t forget: not all donors who give large amounts are caseload donors), the MGO needs to find out the donor's communication preference. Is it face-to-face, email, phone, mail, text or some combination of these? This point is critical to pay attention to. Let me give you an example. I am not a face-to-face, personal-meeting kind of person. It doesn’t make me any less approachable. All it means is that I would rather talk via email. “Warm me up” via email and then I will meet you face-to-face. But come at me face-to-face first and I will likely shut you down. This is true of all donors—they have distinct and personal communication preferences. Ignore these preferences and you will find them saying, “talk to the hand.”
The lesson I have learned is that a “talk to the hand” signal is often not a flat out “no.” Instead it is about the content, the communication method, the timing and, sometimes, the chemistry. The best way to uncover which of these is the problem is to simply ask. Granted, the bad chemistry may be impossible to uncover, although you could discern it by eliminating the other three.
Relationships are very delicate, as you know. And it takes a great deal of listening and discerning to do and say the right thing—which brings us all back to the fact that each donor has his or her own preferences and journey. So keep working to uncover those preferences.
It will be good for you and the donor, and it will be the right away to avoid talking to the hand.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.