The Deafening Noise of Silence

Years ago, when I was making a living (kind of) as a freelance writer, I would send out manuscripts with visions of how it would feel when my pieces were published.  That happened sometimes, but mainly it did not. Not, mind you, because my work was rejected.  Oh, that also happened, sometimes.  Mainly what happened was…..nothing.  A great big silence that did not crack no matter how hard I followed up.

That silence eventually defeated me, but then, for reasons still unclear to me, I decided to go into sales.  Mostly there I heard a resounding “no!”  But even that was preferable to being left hanging on the cliff.

And then I fell (as most of us do) into fundraising.  And that great silence returned.

I would call to make an appointment and never get a real response:

  • Not right now, dear. Call me in a few weeks.  But when I called back, either the call was never picked up or the response was exactly the same
  • Let me talk to my spouse, partner, boss and I’ll get back to you. No, you will not.  Though I admit to ridiculous bouts of optimism.
  • Let me check my calendar. I’ll email some dates.  No, you won’t.  See above!
  • Voicemail, which would never be responded to. Emails that seemed never to have been read.  Ditto with texts.

I could handle the rejection.  The silence, not so much.

Consulting turned out to be eerily familiar, except often, instead of me calling for an appointment, it would be a someone at a nonprofit reaching out to ask me for a proposal. Which I would send.  And follow up on.  And follow up on again and again and again.  Arbitrarily, I set 4 months as a OK, they are clearly not going to do this now (or, perhaps, ever), and take them off my active list.

About half the time, I was absolutely correct.  But in at least 50% of the cases, many months, and sometimes years would pass and suddenly I’ll get a call: We are now ready to move forward.

What I discovered was that mainly silence meant “I don’t know,” and the inability to make any kind of commitment, even one that is merely to respond to a call or an email or a text.  I move those people to quarterly or bi-annual check ins, just so we don’t forget about each other.  If I were still fundraising, I’d use those check-ins to tell my prospect about a recent success or a new initiative.  I’d invite them to respond to learn more about that.

Yes, yes, I know. That’s what newsletters are for.  But let’s be honest here; most people don’t actually read your newsletter.  Or do but promptly forget what they have read.  And besides, if they did read it and found it interesting, they will be even more responsive to your outreach.

Silence can be deafening. Don’t respond by loudly being silent yourself.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, moving them from mired to inspired.  See how she can help you get the responses you want at  While there, sign up for the newletter and do contact Janet for a free, 30-minute phone or zoom 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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1 Response to The Deafening Noise of Silence

  1. Tosan A. says:

    Very helpful post. Understanding silence.

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