Response Rate

Many years ago I was the Director of Corporate Relations at a large, research university.   My corporate contacts complained--sometimes bitterly--about the lack of timely follow up from the university. "Immediately," they would say to me, "seems to mean sometime after the semester ends....and we don't always know what semester they are referring to."

I feel their frustration.  One of the negatives about consulting is the lack of timeliness I find in my clients and prospective clients.  The proposal that I HAD to get to them before the end of the work day doesn't get considered for months.  That's not as bad as the fact that during that time I am subjected to radio silence.

Coming out of commission sales, I have a high need for closure. I’m okay with no, though I don’t love it, but I have to have an answer. So weekly I follow up, with emails and phone calls.

But, ok.  I'm the hired help.  What really surprises me--as it surprised and irritated my corporate contacts way back when--is how lax many nonprofits are about following up with those who could and probably would make a gift.

But it's not just nonprofits. It’s often those of us who should know better.  My colleagues often complain that this or that client or prospect hasn't followed up. And I wonder what planet they live on. In my world, the ball is always in my court.  If I want something, I have to make it happen

Good fundraisers know that.  They don't wait for someone to call them or for the prospect to offer a gift.  They proactively do things to engage the prospect and pull them closer to the organization.

In fundraising, we call that a "move."  That is, any action that moves a prospect closer to making a gift.  A move can be a lot of things:

  • A meeting to discuss what is happening at your organization or to find out new information about the prospect
  • A newsletter that provides insight into your outcomes
  • An event that shows the prospect what your organization accomplishes
  • A note--snail or email--thanking them for past generosity or helping more them toward future support
  • A telephone call to share good news
  • A telephone call to alert them about something troubling--and to explain what the organization has done in response

Any and all are moves--as are much more.

To be effective, moves must be timely.  They must occur around an event and not too long after the last move you made with this prospect.  Maybe not immediately (and certainly not "immediately!"), but certainly before the prospect has time to forget what happened, or to wonder why you haven't followed up.

Think about it. And then do it. And you may be pleasantly surprised and how your positive response rate rises.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity. Learn how she can help you and your organization get better results. Contact her at or check out her website at