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How to Overcome Common Donor Resistance

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In Part 1 of this two-part series on handling donor resistance we covered some of the reasons hesitations and objections are normal, and nothing to be feared. Rather, they present an opportunity to get to know your donor prospect better and potentially forge an even stronger relationship.

There is one secret I’ve found to work like magic in overcoming donor resistance.

Overcome objections with empathy.

I understand is your greatest friend. Not all prospects immediately agree to commit. Don’t argue with them. Agree with them. Say I understand exactly how you feel, and… I’ve felt that way myself… and what I’ve often found is…”

  • Feel:    

When you use the word “feel” you show people you heard them. You feel for them. You feel their pain.

  • Felt:    

When you use the word “felt” you empathize with people by drawing on a similar experience in your life.

  • Found

When you use the word “found” you show people another path by returning the conversation to the need, to what’s in your heart, and to what’s in their heart. If they feel they can’t commit, find out why. Then, gently reframe the conversation to potentially show them ways they might be able to participate. Ways you’ve found to deal with a similar situation.

Here are a few examples to overcome donor resistance using empathy:

Money-Related Objections

Money is usually one of the first things to be brought up, as it’s a pain point for most people. No matter their budget, people have been raised not to spend more than they have to.  

You must understand money is usually an objection, not a condition. If there really is no money, then sure, the conversion is over – for the time being, at least. Generally, however, before you ask a major donor prospect for a gift you’ve done enough homework to know money is probably not the real issue. Your prospect is simply throwing up this objection as a means to assuage their lizard brain, and to gain additional information and time to think things over.

Here are some typical money-related objections:

  • “I have two kids in college…”
  • “I’m supporting aging parents…”
  • “I have some special medical expenses…”
  • “I was recently laid off from my job…”
  • “This is way over what I’d budgeted…”

Sure, these are important concerns for your prospective donor. And… they may not rule out a donation to you at this time. They are excuses for why they should not be expected to stretch their giving right now. They aren’t necessarily a “No way Jose.”

The first thing you must do is show you’re listening. Then endeavor to find out whether it’s really about the money, or if this is just hiding different concerns.

Here is how to handle money objections with empathy – Feel, Felt, and Found:

“Wow, I really feel for you. It looks like you do have a full plate. We appreciate what you’ve been doing. I understand if the amount I’ve requested for this special effort is not manageable right now. Honestly, I get it. I’ve felt similarly (explain some of your additional expenses right now, or in the past). Yet, even so, I’ve made an increased gift this year. Why? Because I believe our community really needs an institution like [your organization], especially to help folks with these very types of expenses. I’ve found I can do this (maybe at a bit lower level than I’d like), and that I feel good about it because our community needs a resource like this one. One we can all rely on, in good times and bad.” (You are inviting investment by example).

Competitor-Related Objections

Competitor-related objections are common in our digitally-revolutionized zeitgeist. As mentioned earlier, donors are more informed than ever and can easily find out who your competitors are. Plus they get a lot more messaging from related, and even unrelated, causes than used to be the case. 

Donors want to give where they believe they’ll have the greatest impact. If they offer up a competitor-related objection, they’re often simply looking for reassurance that giving to you is a smart investment.

Here are some typical competitor-related objections:

  • “I gave to the XYZ crisis appeal…”
  • “My giving priorities have changed…”
  • “You do a great job, but don’t focus as much as XYZ does on…”
  • “I recently joined the board of another charity…”

Just because a donor is giving elsewhere does not mean they won’t also give to you. Most philanthropists spread out their philanthropy over up to a dozen causes. So there’s no need to become defensive or succumb to the temptation to put down a competitor.

Your job is simply to congratulate the donor on their philanthropy elsewhere, and encourage them to also pick you as one of their charity favorites. 

Here is how to handle competitor-related objections with empathy – Feel, Felt and Found:

I understand XYZ is a really worthwhile cause, and it’s wonderful you lent your support. I can see how you feel the way you do. I felt that way too. I’ve found we actually have a number of programs that are also here for people during times of crisis (describe the program or programs). It may make sense to give a thoughtful gift to the crisis appeal, and to also give a passionate gift here, in our own backyard. People need help everywhere, of course. I know you’ve been a long-time supporter here and I hope we can continue to count on your caring and leadership support. It truly means a lot!

Personal Objections

Personal objections are related to reputation, people and experiences. Perhaps a donor hasn’t heard anything at all about you because your organization is new and has no reputation to speak of. Or maybe the donor heard something negative through word of mouth. Or they had a bad experience with you or someone representing your organization. 

Personal objections are an opportunity for you to learn more about how your organization is perceived. Rather than get defensive, consider how you might be able to listen, consider and reframe the conversation into something that will turn this donor’s negative perception around. You won’t always be able to do this, of course. Yet donors are generally forgiving and understand people make mistakes.

Here are some typical personal objections:

  •  “I’m not feeling positive about your organization’s leadership…”
  • “I wasn’t thanked properly, and didn’t feel you needed my gift…”
  • “I read a really bad review of your volunteer program on Yelp…”
  • “I saw some concerning chatter on social media…”
  • “You spend too much money on marketing/fundraising…”
  • “I’ve never heard of you…”

Just because a donor hasn’t heard much about you, or had one bad experience, does not mean they won’t give to you ever, or ever again. It may just be a matter of poor timing.

Your job is to keep the lines of communication open, so they’re not left with no taste, or a sour taste, in their mouth.  

Here is how to handle personal objections with empathy – Feel, Felt and Found:

When related to reputation, or lack thereof.

I completely understand how you feel, not having heard much about us. felt that way too when I was first approached to become involved here. What I’ve found is a very experienced team who are excited to prove themselves and really move the needle on this problem. Might I ask you if this is a problem that concerns you and, if so, allay your concerns by telling you a bit more and answering any questions you may have?

When related to people.

I can understand how you feel uncertainty while we go through a leadership transition. I’ve felt that way too in the past. We’ve learned a lot from recent experiences, and we’ve made some important adjustments I’d be happy to share with you. The bottom line for me, however, is I’ve found what I most care about is the role this organization plays, which goes well beyond any one person at any one point in time. I would hope you still support the mission and the important work being achieved. Leadership may come and go, but we all want to ensure our organization will always be here for those who rely on us.”

When related to experiences.

understand you feel the organization is spending too much on unnecessary expenses. I’ve felt that way too in the past. But I’ve found that every fundraising mailing brings in significantly more resources than it expends. And the marketing messages not only raise funds needed to move the mission forward, but also get the word out to those who need services and might otherwise not know how to access them.” 

Empathy is not a trick.

Empathy is an underestimated human characteristic, and a vastly underrated fundraising tool and skill. As with any other skill, empathy must be practiced to be effective. For some it comes more naturally than others. But everyone can do it.

For your nonprofit, empathy should be considered a survival skill. It turns out Charles Darwin thought this way when he posited his theory of survival of the most empathic. He found the most “fit” communities were the most empathic ones — the ones that cared for their members.

The psychologist John Marshall Roberts makes the case for empathy in his TED talk: “The Global Urgency of Everyday Empathy.” Take a listen. I think you’ll be inspired. You may be a bit saddened as well, as this talk occurred a decade ago — and empathy seems needed more today than ever.

Roberts talks about how lack of empathy causes all sorts of bad, and costly, outcomes. He states: “It will be an absolute survival skill for the 21st century.” So, whether you’re a major gift fundraiser or not, you may as well get started if you want to help move people, and the world, to a better place.

You’ll close more major gifts by employing empathy.

It’s the way to build authentic bridges of human understanding.

Here’s how to get it done.

  • You must be genuine.
  • You must truly listen and be open.
  • You must be willing to step into another’s shoes, and be receptive to looking at the world from their perspective.
  • You can’t downplay how your donor is feeling in any given moment.
  • You can’t tell them not to feel that way.

You can offer a listening ear, a supportive shoulder and an alternative perspective.

Take time to consider objections you’ve received in the past. Write them down. Then, spend the time to go through each one and write down different responses. Also consider what open-ended questions you can ask to get to the root of the problem.  

Now, practice. Do this with your staff as a team. Do this with your board at a board meeting or retreat. Provide participants with a persona, give them a list of objections and let them grill each other. You’ll learn a lot this way, gain confidence and wind up better prepared to handle future conversations with prospects.  

Don’t fret if you still don’t get the hoped-for response from your donor. Sometimes people are ready and willing to embrace a new point of view. Sometimes not.

Though you may not always get the answer you want today, tomorrow always comes.

When it does, your donor will remember you were there for them.

That’s how you build a sustainable relationship.

That’s how you avoid closing the door.

Want to delve deeper into how to be a more successful major gift fundraiser?

Enroll yourself and your team (up to six people per organization at no extra cost) in Claire’s dynamic 8-week Winning Major Gifts Strategies e-Course. The 2020 course begins January 21st. Grab your spot NOW — before registration ends January 18th. Contact [email protected] directly with any questions.

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  • Angie Thompson

    Claire-another reminder that major gift fundraising cannot be undercut with “transactions. Genuine interest in the donor keeps them interested in the mission that connects us with them.
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