Here’s what “No” really means from your donor:
- I’m too busy – You haven’t prepared me for this conversation, or I’m not ready to make this level of commitment
- I don’t trust you – You or your charity have not created a feeling of trust personally or organizationally
- This isn’t on my list – Your project does not align with my values
- My boss won’t let me – I don’t have enough of my interest invested in this project to convince my partner/ spouse/ members of the family that this is a project for us
- I’m afraid of moving this forward – If I say yes to this project, will you continually come back with additional solicitations, although I will not have seen the outcomes on this project
- I’m not the person you think I am – You overestimated my capacity, or this project does not align with my values
- I don’t have the resources you think I do – You overestimated my capacity, or I have commitments (philanthropic or otherwise) you haven’t taken into account
- I’m not the kind of person that does things like this – You overestimated the increase in giving you expect from me or the depth of my commitment to your organization or nonprofit, you asked me to do something extraordinary, but didn’t inspire me enough to follow
- I don’t want to open the door to a long-term engagement – Right now I have other commitments or am unsure about a financial situation and prefer to make a one-year gift
- Thinking about this will cause me to think about other things I just don’t want to deal with – Exactly that
What it doesn’t mean:
- I see the world the way you do, I’ve carefully considered every element of this proposal and understand it as well as you do and I hate it and I hate you. – All that and: Never approach me again. Ignore me or exclude me from your valued supporters. Drop me like a hot potato. Keep returning with proposals and projects without knowing what will speak to my head and my heart.
Working with donors moving into their philanthropy into impact, major or principal gifts means taking a long view of the relationship.
Most donors and prospective donors want to say yes; but the joy they feel in giving cannot be replicated except by simply doing more.
Pushing someone to make a commitment to your nonprofit or a project at a higher level means that they need to make careful considerations. Discovery – face to face meetings getting to know your donor, in their environment, or at an event, or during tour of the services your nonprofit provides – can help you avoid many of these “No” situations.
When the donor and fundraiser and nonprofit have a trusting relationship a donor can feel comfortable telling you the truth about their situation. I have heard each of these and others…
- “I’m paying for school for my autistic grandnephew in the US because his parents don’t have the resources.”
- “This is interesting, but our foundation has decided to keep our focus on X even though we supported Y in the past.”
- “During the downturn, we have had to absorb the financial collapse of many of our commercial tenants, so we are holding our giving.”
- “My husband has cancer – not many friends know, please don’t say anything – but I just can’t make that kind of decision now.”
- “We were actually thinking of something at the six-figure level. This surprises me.”
- “We have involved our (adult) children in the decision-making at the foundation and are disappointed in their choices, but have already agreed to abide by their decisions this year.”
Most donors and prospective donors want to say yes; but the joy they feel in giving cannot be replicated except by simply doing more. As fundraisers, it is our job to help them connect deeply with their values and desires, and when those are channeled through the work our charity is doing, how wonderful is that yes.
Be ready for “Yes” always, and “No” anytime, and be willing to keep learning more.
For more inspiration about “no,” check out this brilliant recent post by Seth Godin.
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Beth Ann Locke is a consultant, providing strategic planning and support to nonprofit clients. She specializes in helping organizations build relationships for donors or prospects, through board trainings and retreats, establishing or streamlining fundraising systems and consulting on donor strategies and moves management. Beth also enjoys building audiences and increasing donor participation through work with individual donors, events, and social media strategies. Learn more about Beth at her blog or follow her on Twitter @FundraiserBeth.