Ouch! How to Take the Sting Out of Rejection.

Rejection stings. When a donor refuses our warm invitation to meet, it bothers us. When a prospect refuses to donate in response to our carefully crafted appeal, it frustrates us.

While no one enjoys rejection, we tend not to think about it too much. After all, every fundraising professional has to cope with it, some more than others. However, ignoring rejection or simply accepting it as a fact of life does nothing to address its corrosive effect on fundraising efforts.

We can do better. We need to do better.

If rejection diminishes your mood and energy, your chance of success during your next prospect or donor contact will likewise be diminished. Another rejection would further erode your spirit and begin a downward spiral as your confidence continues to erode.

If we can short-circuit the negative effect of rejection, we’ll have a more positive attitude and be able to raise more money. We’ll have more energy and more confidence. So, what can we do to develop a healthy mindset toward rejection?

Years ago, I learned a terrific technique from sales expert Tom Hopkins. Before I share Hopkins’ approach, I want to lay out five assumptions:


  1. I assume you will always prepare before contacting a prospect or donor so you can do the best possible job.
  2. I assume that your intention with every contact will be to get a “yes.”
  3. I assume you know that you will not get a “yes” all of the time.
  4. I assume you recognize that, sometimes, a prospect or donor will say “no” for reasons that have nothing to do with you or your organization.
  5. I assume you can recognize what prospects or donors really mean when they say “no.” To make sure you really understand what “no” means and how to deal with each different meaning, checkout the guest post from fundraising consultant and author Bernard Ross, “Overcoming the 9 Fundraising NOs.”

With those assumptions in mind, let’s look at what you can do to take the sting out of rejection. Simply put, you need to decide in advance how to react when you don’t get a “yes.” In other words, how will you react when you don’t get the appointment, don’t close the donation, don’t secure a new volunteer, etc.?

Here is what Hopkins suggests for sales professionals that we can borrow:

One formula for handling the word no is to relate it to a yes or a closed sale.”

As fundraising professionals, we can easily adapt Hopkins’ idea to the nonprofit world.

First, calculate your closing ratios. When trying to book a meeting with a new prospect, how many people do you need to talk with before someone agrees to see you? When meeting with a prospect to make a face-to-face appeal, how many prospects do you need to meet with before you close a gift? When sending out grant proposals, how many do you mail before closing a donation? You get the idea.

Second, when looking at appeals, look at the average dollar value of a closed gift.

Third, divide the average gift value by the total asks.

Let’s look at an example (using completely random numbers for the sake of discussion). For every 10 prospects Andy meets with, he will likely close six contributions. Last year, his average gift from face-to-face prospect meetings was $1,750. So, the effective dollar value of each meeting is about $1,050.

With those numbers in mind, Andy can think differently about every contact. When he encounters a no, Andy can say to himself, “Wow, I’m one step closer to getting a yes!” Or, he can say to himself, “Thank you for the $1,050 donation!”

Those messages are a lot better than, “Oh, man, I can’t believe I blew another one.” Right?

By playing this mental game, you’ll feed yourself the little messages that will re-energize you, build your confidence, keep you positive, and fuel your greater success. Knowing that you need to go through the NOs to get to the Yeses, tell yourself the things that will inspire you to get to the next ask.

If, for some reason, the Hopkins technique doesn’t give you a bit of a lift when confronted by rejection, try chocolate.

What are your favorite techniques for coping with rejection?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

6 Comments to “Ouch! How to Take the Sting Out of Rejection.”

  1. Michael, that’s why I stopped asking and donate/use my own money it’s much easier. But I do understand that not everyone is either willing or able to do the same. Just like I don’t take a salary from our nonprofit, because I feel it defeats the purpose of its existence.

  2. Was taught this perspective over 35 years ago. Have taught it to others many times since. So I totally get the idea and point. But I’m thinking your number scenario is maybe confusing (I get it’s hypothetical). I’m reading it as $1750 x 6 / 10 = 291.66, which mathematically isn’t correct. So, I’m misreading this somehow. Help?

    • Rick, thank you for your catch! I wish I could say I committed the math error on purpose just to see if anyone would flag it, but that’s, unfortunately, not the case. I goofed! I hate when that happens. I appreciate you for calling my attention to the error so I can fix it (which I have). The real figure is $1,050 instead of $291.66.

  3. I have a tertiary metric called disqualified. Incorporating Tom Hopkins five assumptions, I have a goal to get ten solid disqualification a week. So in the unfortunate circumstance when a donor reveals they have no interest, now or into the future in meeting or getting involved with the university, or decline a major gift ask. I record that in the system and it counts towards my disqualified goal. This motivates me to keep at it, while populating our database with valuable information that saves other development officers precious time.

    • Scott, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I like you’re way of thinking about “disqualified” prospects. No matter how we do it, it’s important to keep a positive mindset. It’s good for us. It’s good for our organizations.

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