Years ago, I was working with a very skilled major gifts officer. She had a donor, Elizabeth, who was in her 90s and who was very loyal to the organization. However, this staff member had tried contacting Elizabeth over and over through e-mail or by phone and leaving voicemails. As much as she tried diligently to get in touch with Elizabeth, she was unsuccessful. She started telling herself a variety of stories. Maybe something is wrong or she’s sick? Maybe I upset her with all my emails. Maybe she heard something negative about our organization? Maybe I offended her by asking her for money? Maybe she died?

I feel like unresponsiveness is one of the greatest challenges fundraisers face in our work. It's our job to develop and maintain strong relationships with donors and volunteers of the organization. Staying in touch, knowing what they care about, knowing their passions, their families, their frustrations, and their dreams. But to do all this with grace, and not badger them too much.

Clients who work with DBD will often hear our axiom "activity equals results." That's great (and it's true) but what happens when all our activity doesn't seem to be working?

Maybe it's time to try something new.

First, stop the storytelling in our heads. I’ve concocted the same stories and let myself off the hook because a made-up reason that I fabricated without evidence or direct support.

Second, when we are in front of donors in the relationship building process, we should be asking them questions directly about their communication preferences. How would you like me to get in touch with you (email, text, phone, etc.)? Are there better times for me to try to reach you? How often would you like to have communications?

Third, you might have to try something different…

In the case of Elizabeth, it was a bundt cake that finally did it. The brilliant development staff went out and delivered a bundt cake to her door. She knocked on the door and waited. And she waited a little more. After lingering longer than she was comfortable, she was turning to head back to her car when the door finally opened, and Elizabeth was standing there curious as to who had been knocking.

In all those calls the staff had been making, it turns out that Elizabeth just wasn’t able to get to her phone before voicemail would pick it up. She was 90 years old after all, and she just needed a little more time to get to the phone.

The visit turned out to be a great one. They shared tea and a bite of the cake together. Elizabeth’s parting words were, “now you don’t have to come all the way out here to visit me. You should spend your time with other people.”

The bundt cake delivery became an annual visit for a couple more years. And, upon Elizabeth’s eventual passing she ended up leaving that organization a significant bequest.

If you’re relying on the same old tricks, you’re sure to get the same results. Shake it up a bit and see how sweet it could be.


As you start a new year, you might have a long list of work resolutions. We’re not here to add to your list, but to give you some ideas on how to make those resolutions a reality. Why not try something new?




Posted by Jason Fry
Jason Fry

Written by Jason Fry

Jason brings more than 20 years of working with nonprofits building impactful programs, establishing dynamic community partnerships, and creating capacity for greater impact. Jason understands the power of generosity, and how it can unlock a community's potential. Jason’s experience and understanding of the challenges facing nonprofit organizations makes him an ideal partner and catalyst for change.

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