Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Today’s question comes from a fundraiser who isn’t sure how hard to press a donor after they say “no” to an ask.

Dear Charity Clairity,

Is it meddling to suggest how a prospective donor might find the funds? Some folks don’t seem to see resources I see within their reach (e.g., a marketing person who doesn’t realize she can walk down the hall to the company’s charitable foundation folks).

— Fearful of Meddling

Dear Fearful of Meddling,

I’m guessing you’re asking what you can do when a prospective donor says “No, I don’t have the funds to make this gift at this time.” You’re wondering if there’s a way to suggest how they might find another way to find funds to make the gift without seeming intrusive.

Your question reminds me of another question: What does a donor’s ‘No’ mean? As a fundraiser, you’re going to be faced with objections. It’s human nature to push back a bit, especially when the donor is a bit unclear on the concept. Sometimes they think you’ve asked for too much. Sometimes they just aren’t excited about the project. Sometimes you may not be the right person to make the ask. This is not a crisis. Rather, it’s an opportunity.

Part of your job as a philanthropy facilitator is to tease out the underlying reasons for resistance. As long as you’re coming from a place of empathy and caring you’re being helpful, not intrusive.

We do this as a matter of course in our everyday lives. A friend tells you she can’t come to your dinner party because she doesn’t have a baby sitter. You ask her if she knows about the XYZ babysitting agency; she didn’t, and she’s super stoked to learn of this new resource. Your suggestion wasn’t ‘meddling;’ it was helpful.

The same may hold true for donors, whether they be foundations, businesses or individuals. Of course, much depends on how you frame your conversation. In the example you posed in your question, I’m sure you see the difference between:

Surely you’re not the only pot of money within your business from whom we might draw; can’t you just walk down the hall to your foundation?!


I understand you may not have any marketing funds at this point, yet believe our values and goals are in perfect alignment. We’d love to partner with you in some way. Might you know if your charitable foundation would entertain a proposal from us? Or might there be another department such as community relations with whom we should speak? We’d love to work with you to make this relationship a win/win.

Here’s a list of opportunities for guiding your donor towards ways they might effectively make larger gifts than they thought possible:

  1. Have you considered a gift of appreciated assets? Sometimes donors don’t think beyond their paycheck or checking account, when making a similar sized gift from stocks or rolling them over from an IRA might actually cost them less due to the tax benefits they’ll reap. Remind donors you’re set up to accept these types of gifts.
  2. Did you know this year’s CARES Act offers new deduction opportunities that may reduce the actual cost of your gift?  For 2020 there’s a $300 above-the-line deduction available to any donor. Also, the 60% of AGI deduction limit has been lifted so itemizing donors making cash gifts can deduct up to 100% of AGI this year.
  3. Did you know you can give as much as you want to charity this year from your IRA? Many donors are required to take minimum IRA distributions (RMDs) each year. In previous years they could roll over up to $100,000 to a qualified charity and not include this amount in their taxable income. This year RMDs are waived, but donors can ask IRA holders to sell assets (even above the amount of what the RMD would have been) and distribute the proceeds to them in cash. They can then turn around and donate the cash, realizing an offsetting income tax deduction for the full amount. This may be the only year they can do this. Up until now, donors had to wait to transfer IRA assets in excess of the $100,000 allowable annually until their death. And those assets could be assessed both income and estate taxes. It’s a great opportunity to ask folks to consider a multiple-year pledge. They give you everything now (while the new, tax-favorable legislation is in place); you allocate the gift to this and subsequent years.
  4. Do you perhaps have a Donor Advised Fund from which you might want to make a gift? Sometimes donors forget they’ve already allocated money for charitable giving and have it parked in a DAF awaiting their recommendation for its distribution. If they’re feeling uneasy about their current financial situation, they can still give from this charitable pot that can’t be used for any other purpose than philanthropy.
  5. Did you know you can name our charity as the beneficiary of your insurance policy or retirement plan? Sometimes the largest gift a donor will ever make is via a bequest. Yet getting folks to go to an attorney to add you to their will or trust is challenging because it means effort and expense on their part. Adding you as a plan beneficiary, however, is much easier. Generally donors need only notify the plan owner of their desires; then fill out some simple paperwork. Let them know this is possible. If nothing else, do this on your website.

I hope you find these tips helpful and they move you from ‘meddling’ to ‘facilitating.’

Charity Clairity

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Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.
Claire Axelrad