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Avoid Zombie Fundraising

Zombies are a staple in the horror genre. The idea of an undead creature with a reanimated human body is pretty scary. Did you know fundraising can have zombie elements if you’re not careful?

Zombies can also be lurking in your database or portfolio. Zombie proposals to major donors and other pending asks are those that look alive and behave like living proposals, but they are not. A zombie proposal is one that was submitted maybe a year ago and you’re still waiting for an answer. Or you never asked and just keep it “pending” because you’re convinced that you just have to reach out one more time. The lack of follow up can create those Zombie situations.

The longer it takes to close a proposal, the less likely a major gift will be secured. Major gift fundraisers can see their list of pending proposals get longer if they’re not careful.

Here are some things to keep in mind to avoid zombies in your portfolio.

  • Know your donor. Customize your proposal to match their interests. One size does not fit all.

  • Work as a team. Sometimes two fundraisers are better than one.

  • In-person visits, phone calls and even zoom calls increase the probability of a gift.

  • Are you asking the right person? Have you included the spouse or partner? Including the family is important when asking for a legacy gift.

The key to success is persistence, but how do you prioritize your zombie proposals? Whether your team is several fundraisers or just you and your executive director, you should have regular meetings to discuss your fundraising strategies and establish priorities.

  • Does your team have a define structure for major gifts?

  • How long do you leave open proposals on your prospect list?

  • Do you have regular team meetings to share any Zombie proposals and invite feedback?

Together, take a realistic look at your outstanding proposals. Those that the team decides have less than 50% chance of success should be removed from the pipeline. They are truly dead. The ones that have at least a 70% chance of success should be moved to the land of the living proposals and pursued diligently. The ones in the middle will need some extra attention to be revived.

Once you go through this process and establish your parameters for keeping your major gift proposals alive, you will be able to set realistic goals and plan effective campaigns.


Michelle Crim, CFRE

Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching, grant writing, and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in small to mid-size organizations because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.

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