Today’s question comes from a nonprofit employee who wants advice on how to handle donor rejection.
Dear Charity Clairity,
How do I get a donor? I have requested for funds several times but only get regrets!!
— Living in No-Man’s Land
Dear Living in No-Man’s Land,
You’ve asked a huge question, the answer to which is no doubt suitable for an entire book! So, I’m going to answer by fleshing out a number of actions you can take when someone says “No.”
“No” can mean multiple things. One thing it generally does not mean is “No, never.” “No” is more often than not a maybe. Maybe, if you:
Asked for another project
Asked for a different amount
Allowed me to pay over a period of years
Had someone else ask me
Turn a “No” into a follow-up question. A teaching moment.
“Claire, can you tell me more about why you’re saying ‘no’ today?”
“Is it something I didn’t explain well?”
“Can I ask if your answer relates to a concern you have about whether the program will come to fruition?”
“Is this just not a good time for you?”
Don’t take the first “no” for an answer. There’s a graceful way to do this, just by being genuinely interested. You really do want to know their reasoning, right? Is it your case for support? Your leadership? Their funding guidelines or areas of interest? The amount you asked for? Just the fact that they’re overcommitted right now? Let the funder know it will help you with other community fundraising if you can learn about what they didn’t find persuasive. Take it all in, but don’t argue. Handle their response with innocence and interest. “Hmmn… what an interesting perspective. That’s really useful to hear. I’m going to pass that on and get back to you, if that’s okay.”
Don’t push them to change their answer right now. Be gentle, both with yourself and your donor. It’s the best way to live another day!
“No” is not personal.Jim Shapiro, a fundraising colleague, says “You’re just the messenger.” Your offer is a message about the problem, solution, and how the donor can help. Your offer is a specific example of how the donor can seize an opportunity to make a difference. If they take a shot at you, let it roll off your back. You can’t be shot down – because… you’re just the messenger!
It’s not so bad to live in “No-Man’s Land” once you understand a large part of your job is warmly endeavoring to figure out why your particular donor prospect is sending their regrets at this point in time. Successful fundraising is built on relationships, and it takes appreciative inquiry to build them. The more you take the time to build these relationships, and are open to donor feedback, the more likely your next request will be greeted with a “Yes.”
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Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice. Clairification School has been called “the best bargain in fundraising!” Claire is also featured expert and Chief Fundraising Coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco California. If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire.