Who is a Prospect and When Should I Stop Bugging Them?

Dear Kim,

How many times do you ask someone for a meeting to discuss a major gift? We are in a small, quiet major gifts campaign. Solicitors have gotten an initial interest when talking with prospects when they have invited them to an event which they cannot attend but say they are interested in our mission. Then the solicitors get into a lot of voice mail and phone tag when trying to set up a meeting or extend an invitation to another event. Do you get to a point where you just give up–and if so, when is that? Or do you come right out and ask them if they want you to stop bugging them? Or do you try to connect with them indefinitely? This has been going on for 4-5 months in some cases.
—Don’t know when to quit

Dear Quit,

Before I answer your questions, I want to ask another question which may get at the root of your problem: are the people you are calling “prospects?” They don’t sound like it. A prospect is someone we know personally or we know someone who knows them (i.e. your friend, Jane Smith, gave me your name). A prospect is someone we know believes in our cause and we know gives away money. In fact, we have good reason to believe they could give what we are asking them. It sounds like you are calling people who believe in your cause and give away money, but you don’t know them personally and you don’t have a personal contact with them. A person who is invited to an event, but can’t (or doesn’t choose to) come, but expresses support for your mission is not really a prospect. So, I would go back to the drawing board and make sure you are really working with properly qualified prospects.

Having said that, let’s look at your questions. Playing phone tag tells me you have someone who is interested and I would keep playing phone tag until you are able to make contact. Leaving voicemail messages is another story. I would try 4-5 times and then stop. At the 4th or 5th call, your message says you will send them more information and you hope they will be able to help. Then do that and move on. If you are a really close friend of the person you are calling, you can ask if you are bugging them, but in general I would not personalize it that way.

Remember, even in a really well run major gifts campaign, only about half of the people you have on your list will wind up giving you anything.