At A Distance

Arms length. It’s the worst way to connect with a prospective donor. Direct mail–when sending to a list that is at least warm–only gets about a 4% positive response rate. Email solicitations tend to be even lower. And newsletters, lower still. The truth is, the further you are from your prospects, the less likely they are to say yes.

This is equally true when you want something other than money. A friend recently got an invitation to be on a nonprofit board via email. It wasn’t a “would love to talk with you about being on our board” email. Oh no. It was a 5 paragraph screed, telling my friend about the roles and responsibilities of a board member–including the need to serve on a committee and to make a pretty large gift.

My friend did not feel particularly close to this organization, but would certainly have welcomed a visit. And the visit may have convinced her to entertain the idea. And once she entertained the idea…well, who knows. As she told me, she might still have said no, but if she did, she probably would have made a compensatory gift.

Of course, the “still” in the last sentence gave her response away, but I doubt if anyone was surprised. The email, arms length and in ways impersonal, allowed her to say no in the same vein. No, she told me was so easy. And because it was arms length, it was almost impossible for the asker to respond with a “tell me more,” query.

That “tell me more,” often starts the transformation from no to yes. But in an email, you tell and ask, they respond and you accept their response.

I’m a big believer in always asking yourself two questions before taking substantive steps:

1. What do I want to accomplish and
2. To what end?

In the case of my friend, I assume that what the emailer accomplished what he wanted: To ask this person to serve on the board. But the end desired–to get a new board member–was not well served by the mode chosen.

But we’re too busy, clients complain when I chide them for doing all their fundraising from a distance. And I understand. You cannot physically touch every prospect. That’s why we segment.

Donors at different levels require different cultivation. A simple annual ask where your expectations are low is fine via mail–postal or electronic. But if your expectations are higher, your actions must reflect that.

A personal letter increases response rate, as a follow up phone call. A face to face meeting–either one on one or at a small group gathering increases both participation and the size of the gift you’ll receive.

Making the time to appropriately cultivate, solicit and steward your supporters will pay off handsomely, whether you are asking for time, talent, or treasure.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and develop stronger, more committed boards.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free newsletter and ask for your free, 30-minute consultation.



About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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