What to Do When Donors Say ‘No’ or ‘I’m Not Sure’

This recent post caught our eye as an excellent reminder of how development professionals should be working.

At times, it seems the industry’s emphasis on major gift metrics and reaching  “production quotas” may be pushing professionals away from some long-standing rules of the trade.  I can clearly recall learning one of the key evaluation metrics for our firm’s campaign metrics . .  “how many refusals” have you received.  Too many clients and campaign directors would gleefully respond . . “none.”  Wrong answer.  If you haven’t received “no” you simply haven’t asked enough.  Couple this with another fund-raising truism, that if you ask someone for money (their philanthropic investment) they will first give your their opinion. . . so it is better to ask for their opinion first.

Perhaps you’ve seen the same principle at work with your constituents.  Upon engaging a vocal critic of your organization or it’s plans, and then identifying their perspective and opinions, listening to their concerns and honestly addressing them, that these same critics will often become your most vocal and most effective advocates.

Thanks for the post Ms. Weisman, this is good advice.


What to Do When Donors Say ‘No’ or ‘I’m Not Sure

May 28, 2013, 5:18 pm

By Carol Weisman

I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly love rejection. I am just about over my dating experiences of 38 years ago. In fact, rejection is such a huge issue that most of us are extremely wary of major-donor solicitations. I can’t say that I love it when a potential donor does not come across with an enthusiastic “Yes!” but I do have some tips on how to find out what the issue is and make reluctance work for you.

Here are a few questions to ask if your donor says, “I’m not sure.”

  1. What information do you need to make a decision?
  2. Is it our charity or is the timing not right for you? If your potential donor says it is timing, ask when a better time to contact him would be.
  3. I sense that you have some questions. Can you share them with me?

What to say when your potential donor has had a bad experience with your organization.

  1. That is totally unacceptable. May I have your permission to look into this and find out what happened?
  2. That is why I am here today. I’m afraid that at our current funding level this might happen again. What do you think we should do differently?
  3. Is there anything I can do to make this up to you?

What to say when you realize the person you are speaking with is not the ultimate decision maker.

  1. I sense that you are not sure. In addition to you, is there someone else we should include in our next conversation?
  2. Is there additional information I should share with anyone else? Should I contact that person?
  3. You know, I think I might have made a mistake. This is not my first. I sense that you make decisions with [your wife, husband, or financial adviser], and I probably should have invited him/her. (Then stop talking.)

How to deal with an emphatic “No!”

  1. I hear that you aren’t interested. Would you mind helping me out and sharing why?
  2. Boy, that is disappointing. I want to do a good job for our organization. Is there anything we could do better so that you might be interested in our cause?
  3. Is this a No now or forever?

Ultimately, reluctance is a marketing and fact-finding opportunity. If you hear the same thing over and over, it is time to make major changes in your organization. When you hear Yes, you leave richer. When you hear No, you leave smarter. Either way, you win.

This entry was posted in the Fund Raising Wisdom blog at the Chronicle of Philanthropy website.