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The Waiting Game: When the ball is in your donor’s court

Updated: Nov 14, 2022


A scenario familiar to all fundraisers: you’ve had a series of robust, energetic conversations with a donor who is passionate about your organization or school. They have verbally articulated their readiness to commit a major gift. The specifics of their gift have been discussed and you’ve put those details into writing for that final step – making the gift. And then… nothing.

The weeks go by, you endlessly debate with yourself about emailing or calling to see what’s up. You’ve told your board or your team that this is a sure thing. You are trying not to panic. What do you do?


Don’t panic! Here are three tips for how to handle this situation:


  1. Put yourself in their shoes. While this donor may be the top item on your to-do list, chances are good that this person’s philanthropy is a bit lower on their to-do list. Most donors in the major gift category are leaders in their industry and they may serve many organizations. Perhaps an unexpected professional or family matter has taken over their spare minutes and their inboxes, and that’s ok! We’ve all been there! There are endless scenarios that could be in play that do not involve a change of heart on the gift.

  2. Communicate. It is ok to check in, within reason. If you did not specify an exact time to be back in touch (which can be helpful to do, by the way!) give it a few weeks, and reach out with a message that is more than a prompt to wrap up the gift conversation. Draw on the relationship you’ve built. Is there an article that you read recently that reminds you of a past conversation? Can you snap a photo of the donor’s favorite campus building or share a mission impact story that will be meaningful to them as you touch base? Continue to be direct about the gift conversation, but do not pester. Consider picking up the phone to echo that you are thinking of them and are ready to be of service. Be patient!

  3. Leverage additional resources. Let’s say it’s been a few too many months and you are looking to try something more. Does your donor enjoy attention from leadership? Do they crave tangible connection to the work they are supporting? Do they see themselves as an advisor? What do you have in your back pocket that can help get them back on track to finish your conversation? A meeting with your board chair or president, an invitation for a site visit, a volunteer opportunity, a sneak peek at a website or materials for their feedback? Remember that their relationship to your organization is deeper than this one gift and aim to continue strengthening that connection as you go.

While you wait, engage in reflection. What can you learn from this experience that can inform future efforts in building relationships and soliciting gifts? Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Did you miss or neglect any decision-makers? Was there a spouse, child, financial advisor, or other stakeholder that should have been involved in the conversation earlier on?

  • Did you confirm a timeline with your donor and directly discuss their giving logistics before getting to this point? Could you have rushed past an important point such as whether they need to leverage complicated giving vehicles?

  • Are there obvious environmental factors in play? Is the market tanking? Has a crisis occurred in their professional field? Do you want to offer to revisit the timing or logistics given this relevant external influence?

  • Did you communicate with an appropriate frequency and tone? Look back at your emails, run them by a colleague, see if you might want to try something different next time!


Was this just an unfortunate miss? Sometimes you’ve done everything right, and you should not let a stalled conversation shake your overall confidence and belief in your ability to help your organization thrive.


You’ve got this!


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