I’m a huge, long-time fan of Bernard Ross, author and Director of The Management Centre. I first met him years ago when we were both speaking at the Institute of Fundraising Conference in the United Kingdom. His presentation was thoroughly entertaining and packed with valuable insights from his years as a nonprofit consultant with some of the world’s largest and most prestigious organizations. Later that evening, we shared adult beverages in the hotel bar, swapped stories, and discovered a great deal of common ground.
Since first meeting Bernard, I try to attend whenever he speaks at an Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference or when he presents a webinar. I’m also a big fan of his books, Breakthrough Thinking for Nonprofit Organizations: Creative Strategies for Extraordinary Results and The Influential Fundraiser: Using the Psychology of Persuasion to Achieve Outstanding Results.
I’m honored that Bernard has agreed to share some fresh insights here about how fundraisers can better handle rejection:
People won’t always agree with your fundraising proposition. The implication is that even when you use the most targeted approaches the reality is you are still likely to get a “No” more often than a “Yes.”
The difference between a successful and an unsuccessful fundraiser is that they don’t necessarily accept the first “No” as a definitive answer. The successful fundraiser responds by being curious about what exactly the donor means.
There’s Darwinian logic to this, at least in fundraising. Put simply, if you only asked people who you knew would definitely say “Yes,” or if you only asked for the size of gift that you were sure they would definitely give, you’d:
- be working off a very, very small sample of potential donors,
- probably tend to “under-ask” by framing your proposition very low.
And, the negative payoff is you’d possibly:
- be letting down your cause and the people you’re there to help.
So, to be successful as a fundraiser you need to learn to deal with the possibility of rejection. And, in particular, you need to deal with initial rejection and be able to analyze it more closely. That first “No” may not be as bleak as it appears.
To help you manage and interpret the possible rejections you might experience, we’ve created a “No” typology. In our experience, there are essentially nine fundraising “No”s that prospects use. With the first eight of these, if you follow up with a better question you may well get a better result. Only one of these responses – the last one – genuinely means “No, go away.” And if you hear this “No,” you should leave.
The 9 Fundraising “No”s are:
- No, not for this.
- No, not you.
- No, not me.
- No, not unless.
- No, not in this way.
- No, not now.
- No, too much.
- No, too little.
- No, go away.
Each of these “No”s has an underlying reason or explanation that a skilled influencer will seek to uncover. And, that’s why dealing with “No” properly requires that you ask a different or better question rather than simply giving up.