'No' doesn't have to be the final answer

Bernard Ross on why fundraisers give in too easily

Bernard Ross
Bernard Ross

Fundraisers give in too easilytoo often. Let's face it - you probably get a ‘no' from people you ask for donations more often than you get a ‘yes'.


If not, the chances are that you are either using a very small sample or are asking for a very small donation and could be raising more. But a ‘no' doesn't have to be the final word.

Many times, I've heard fundraisers say they've asked a company or person to support them and the person has said no. But when asked what the person actually said no to, the fundraiser often doesn't really know.

A successful fundraiser shouldn't just meekly accept refusal - instead they should try to find out what the person's objection really is.

To be a successful fundraiser, you need persistence, resilience and flexibility. In dealing with rejections, you have to realise that no doesn't always mean no. You must learn and recover from each rejection, adjust your approach and come back with a new and better question.

In my view, there are nine common rejections to a fundraising proposition. Only one of them is final. This is good news, because it means the initial negative response from a person can reveal what he or she really wants, which in turn can help the fundraiser develop a different approach that could yield a more positive outcome.


The nine rejections are:


1) No, not this. I'm not so interested in this particular project, but I'd like to support your work with something different.

2) No, not you - I want to talk to someone I can relate better to.

3) No, not me - I don't make those decisions; ask my boss or my partner.

4) No, not unless you can guarantee, for example, my deceased partner's name on the building I'm helping to fund.

5) No, not in this way - I can't give money, but I can give support in kind.

6) No, not now - I've tied up my current budget; ask me next year.

7) No, too much - I don't have that sum available.

8) No, too little - I want to do something bigger and more significant.

9) No, go away - I've decided your proposal isn't what I want to support.

Remember, persistence is not about being stubborn. If you hear rejection number nine, then you should back off and thank the person for their time.

However, if it's not a final no, with a little bit of creativity and flexibility you can work out what to do to change the outcome.

If this particular project is not what the person or company is interested in, what other aspects of your work could they support? Or if you realise that you've misjudged how much your donor wants to give, can you think of another more suitable programme that you can pitch to them instead? Some quick thinking could be all that stands between you and the donation you're after.

Don't give in. Be brave - don't just take no for an answer. Think again and turn your next ‘no' into a ‘yes'.

- Bernard Ross is director of fundraising consultancy the Management Centre and co-author of The Influential Fundraiser

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