I recently heard author Andrea Waltz remind fundraisers to “go for no!” (That’s the name of her book too.) It’s a reminder that too often we give up before the donor has really made a decision.

Reframing Failure

She also shared the need for us to reframe the word “no.” When asking for money, too often, we hear a “no” as the end. I asked. They answered. The end.

But fundraising is about relationships. Relationships are built on conversations. When you ask a donor for a gift, say $25,000, and they say “no,” they may not ending the conversation. They may be open to giving. Just not open to giving $25,000.

This is sort of an “invitational no.” A no that’s an invitation to politely explore further. As a fundraiser, part of your job is to find out what the donor will say “yes” to.

3 Reasons for a “No” in Fundraising

Fundraising expert Alina Gerlovin Spaulding says there are only really 3 no’s:

  • No about the project
  • No about the gift total
  • No about the timing

As you’re in an asking conversation, you get to explore each of these with a donor. You might say, “I’m sorry to hear that. Is it the project that doesn’t fit? Or is it the amount?”

Your goal is to pleasantly find out if there’s a gift level, timing, and project they will support. If they have an issue with the project, then you adjust. If it’s an issue with the amount, than you can suggest paying over time. Or ask if they already have a donor advised fund. If timing or a DAF isn’t an option, you can suggest different gift levels.

Serving Your Donors, Your Program Staff, and Your Cause

This is not license to badger people. Or to become argumentative. If you’re following the “Ask Without Fear!” steps we teach here, you will already have a relationship with your donor. You’ll be making the ask based on the donor’s shared values. Something they genuinely care about.

So you’ll have the pleasant persistence to explore possibilities with them. Just walking away is an option. But your nonprofit’s work os worth getting a little uncomfortable for. As a fundraiser or nonprofit leader, part of your role is to raise funding. This helps your program staff do the excellent work that they do. And helps you be the change you want to see in the world.

So, rather than just tucking your tail and running when you hear a no, pause. With sincere curiosity, explore what might work for the donor and for your nonprofit. If it’s still a no, that’s ok. Most no’s are “no for now.” You’re in a relationship and might have something to suggest in the future.

But often you’ll find that you didn’t share enough about the impact of the gift. Or that payments could be made quarterly, or over a couple years. So share that with them. In so doing, you’re serving the donor, your program staff, and your mission.

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