When the donor doesn’t say “yes” — or “no” 

I used to focus on the non-response rate of direct mail.

It was depressing.

Because a 10% response rate — which is good in most contexts — is also a 90% non-response rate!

I was kind of a pain about it to my colleagues. “Sure 10% said ‘yes.’ But darn it, 90% said ’NO’! We failed!”

What I didn’t realize was that I was missing something very important: Non-response isn’t the same thing as NO.

Here’s a great way to think about that, from the Fundraising Coach: Non-response to your mail or email … silence to your direct, in-person request … they can mean a lot of thing, not only rejection of what you’re asking:

Resist the urge to take their silence as a decision. The donor hasn’t said “no” until the donor has said “no.” As hard as it can be to do, keep consistent and kind with your follow up. If the donor didn’t say yes or no to the ask, they must be thinking about the donation. Honor them enough to let them tell you their decision.

It can take time for a donor to transition from “thinking about it” to making an actual donation. Be patient. Don’t decide for the donor that they will never give.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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