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 that he or she does 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.

  1. “I don’t like YOU”.  It could be this basic. The person just doesn’t like you.  We see this in our MGO work fairly frequently.  The donor simply does not like the person she’s been assigned to.  It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the MGO – it could possibly mean that the chemistry is just not there.  Sometimes it’s a gender issue.  The female donor wants to relate to a female MGO. Whatever it is, what we do is move the donor to another MGO.  But this could be an explanation for why the donor does not want to talk to you.
  2. “Now is not a good time.”  This is pretty basic.  A donor has his own cadence and timing for things. Sometimes he communicates that very clearly.  Other times it up to you to discern what it is.  But, 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?”  And you will get the answer you need.
  3. “I don’t like WHAT you are saying”. Now, this is a completely 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 MGO’s 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 we are trying to serve here, 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?
  4. “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 her home or office – she does not 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 that give large amounts are caseload donors) the MGO needs to find out the communication preference of the donor.  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 and I will likely shut you down. This is true of all donors – they have a distinct and personal communication preference.  Ignore it 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, bad chemistry.  And simply asking is often the best way to uncover which of these it is.  Granted, the bad chemistry one 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 them.

It will be good for you and the donor and it will be the right way to avoid talking to the hand.


P.S.  Jeff and I want to wish you (for those in the U.S.) a Happy Thanksgiving.  There is much to be grateful for.  We are especially grateful to you, for reading Passionate Giving, but most importantly for doing great things to change the world.


About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Donor-Centered, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Philanthopy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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