Common Donor Objections and How to Deal With Them

A presidential debate, a fight with a spouse, a meeting with a donor—in the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to keep your wits about you and steer a conversation down the right path.

No matter the circumstances, though, you need to be prepared for objections before the conversation begins. This is especially true for gift officers.

While everybody in your donor base is unique, based on my experience, there are a few topics or areas of concern that are fairly common.

Here are some objections that gift officers often face and my advice on how to overcome them.


“I’m too busy to meet”

While this concept is common, we rarely receive this sort of direct feedback on a visit request. More often, a busy donor will ignore the visit request.

But if you’re lucky enough to get this reply, use it as an opportunity to surprise your donor.

How? Request a seven-minute meeting. The brevity of the meeting request will catch them off guard and make them curious as to whether or not it’s possible.

I tried this out two months ago with a lawyer who works in New York City. Not only did we meet, but we kept it to seven minutes. Best of all, it was a productive encounter because we dispensed with the small talk and discussed only the important matters at hand.

“I’m not a major gift prospect”

Given my title, this is common response I get from people whom I contact or meet informally at events. Usually—at least at my school—this assertion is simply not true.

Our definition of a major gift prospect is more long term than short term. It’s just like scouting in college sports. If you can see that someone is likely to be successful in his or her field, it’s important to cultivate that relationship early.

With that in mind, it may be a good idea to include young alumni in your major gift portfolio so that when their time comes, you’re there to help them with their redefined philanthropic priorities.

It’s best to focus on the potential impact of their gift(s) if a donor says that they’re “not a major gift prospect.” For example, you might respond: “Well, Donna, if you continue to give $1,000 to the PC Fund, you will indeed have a major impact on our students. In fact, a $1,000 annual fund gift is equal to nearly $20,000 in endowed funds! And, as your giving increases, your impact will also increase. That’s why I am excited to discuss your philanthropic interests and your vision for Providence College.”

“We need to start doing ________!” or “Why did we _______?”

From time to time, we meet with a donor who can’t wait to tell us what our organization is doing wrong. These conversations can be unpleasant and quite uncomfortable.

As much as we’d like to avoid this type of situation, it’s actually better for a donor to be passionate than indifferent. A passionate alumnus/a, even if the passion manifests in negative ways, is critical to your success. These folks have the potential to be your biggest supporters—but in order to get them to that point, you need to let them air their grievances.

Put yourself in their shoes and be as empathetic as possible when this happens. After hearing them out, you can research the issue and provide them with the reason a certain decision was made (or not made).

Once that hurdle is crossed, make a point of connecting their passion to a current initiative. This is easier said than done, but remember that a donor’s negative passion is rooted in affection for your school or organization. If they didn’t care, then they wouldn’t say anything.

Learn more about overcoming a situation with an angry donor in this article.

“I’m getting ready to take a step back”

When a younger donor divulges that they’re exploring the idea of retiring or shifting to a new field, many fundraisers start to panic. They jump to the conclusion that the donor may be about to decrease, or eliminate, their giving.

There may be more to this statement than meets the eye (or ear). When a donor is considering this type of change, it could signify that they’re more interested in career meaning than career ambition—which could be great for your organization.

This is an opportunity to help the donor align their philanthropy with their lifestyle shift. Instead of looking at the career change (and the likely drop in income) as a buffer from further giving, start exploring other ways to bring the donor closer to your organization.

How can they support your organization in a way that mirrors their new life priorities? If it means giving to a specific department or initiative instead of to the annual fund, so be it. It’s more important to position yourself as an ally in their life plan than as a potential hurdle.

Overcoming objections is never easy, but your skills in doing so will improve over time. Remember that indifference is almost always worse than an objection. If they truly didn’t care about your school or organization, they’d just ignore your communications. So, handle your tough questions with positivity and empathy. Once you put them in your rearview mirror, you can focus on the good your donors are doing for your institution and its students.


Matt Chittim is a major gifts officer at Providence College, where he works with alumni and parents in Metro New York and southern New England. Matt is also the host of the Providence College Podcast. In his non-working hours, he is chasing after his two young kids, running, and following New England sports. You can follow Matt on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn. You can also subscribe to the Providence College Podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, StitcherGoogle Play, and Tune In.

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