What to Say When Your Donor Says “No”

Image: pakorn at Freedigitalphotos.net

Image: pakorn at Freedigitalphotos.net

Imagine this: You and your board chair are sitting across the table from a major donor to your nonprofit. You have just asked for $5,000 to support your new ABC program. 

Your donor is deep in thought and you are on pins and needles waiting for her to respond. Finally she takes a breath and says, “My answer is no.”

Say what? This is not the answer you had envisioned. You were all set to say “thank you” and pull out a pledge form. Now, you are disappointed and a little surprised. And, you are at a loss for words. How should you respond?

If you’ve been doing major gift fundraising for a while, chances are you’ve heard “no” somewhere along the way. In fact, if you haven’t heard no, I suggest that you ask more often and/or ask for larger gifts.

“No” May Not Mean “Never”

Back to the scenario: What should you say? First realize that “No” may not mean “Never.” It may mean:
“Not now”
“Not that much”
“Not that program/project.”

And there’s a huge difference! To find out what the “no” actually means, you need to dig a little. Be respectful—not defensive—as you gently inquire about where the donor is coming from.

Try saying:

I understand that you are not interested. Would you mind sharing why?

Then, based on her answer, here are some possible responses.

Donor says: I’m just not interested.
You say: Is there anything we might do differently or better in order to interest you in our cause (or our program/project)?

Donor says: Now is not the right time.
You say: When might be a good time to visit again about this program?

Donor says: That’s more than I can afford.
You say: We appreciate your gift at any level. What amount are you comfortable with?

Following your visit, be sure to write a thank you note, expressing your gratitude for the donor’s time and consideration.

I encourage you not to lose heart if you hear the occasional no. It happens to all fundraisers who ask for big gifts. Embrace this opportunity to learn something new. The best fundraisers are those who can turn a no into a yes!

On the other hand, if you hear no more often than yes, something might be wrong with your preparation, or your asking technique, or both. See Getting to Yes: Tips for Wildly Successful Asks for ideas on how to improve your response rate.

How do you respond when a donor says no? Please share your experiences, thoughts and ideas in the Comments box below!

Special gift for you: Conquer Your Fear of Asking for Money, a step-by-step guide, is available here (click)