Are You Begging and Bargaining with Donors?

I had a proposal rejected by a potential client this week. And even though that’s not an out-of-the-ordinary experience in the day in the life of a consultant, it still sucks.


The fact that I spent a handful of meetings getting the lay of the land for this organization I knew I could help, taking a few calls off the record from the leadership team who wanted to give me additional perspective on what they needed when it came to fundraising help, and taking a bit of extra time to customize a pretty unique plan for a pretty unique nonprofit resulted in, what I thought, was a slam dunk partnership.


Turns out, I threw up a brick.


Or, more accurately, I ran into a brick wall: price.


As much as we would all love to work for free, we still have to make the business run, and that requires us to charge for services. And occasionally, those charges are a bit too much for boards or organizations to wrap their heads around as an investment into building a killer fundraising program.


And as a fundraiser for nearly two decades, getting told “no” to a proposal should be old hat. And yet, when you put effort, energy and enthusiasm into a pitch, and you know deep in your gut that both parties are going to get a LOT out of the relationship, sometimes, that’s not where the fates are destined to align.


And that’s ok.


What’s NOT ok, is chasing money.


I’ve seen nonprofits do this lately, and I’m here to tell you - as tempting as it might be - to turn back to a potential sponsor and give more than you’ll get in order to close the deal? No good.


The act of a counteroffer should be reasonable, measured and proportional. But, you shouldn’t give away the farm and beg them to stick around at a level that is, dare I say, offensive to the type of important work you do.


Let me give you an example.


If you ask a business for a $1,000 sponsorship, and they say no. You can offer them a lower level that comes with a lower amount of marketing, promotion and trinkets associated with it.


What you shouldn’t do is say, “Ok, but what about if you give us $250, and you can still have all the bells and whistles the $1,000 gift has?” Or even worse, you saying “yes” to them requesting the lower level with all the accoutrement that goes along with the higher amount.


Want to know why? Let me count the ways…



1. You Are a Valuable Asset to the Community


What you do matters. The impact you make is real and tangible and is filling a gap the government can’t, won’t and shouldn’t do. And therefore your commitment to making the communities a better place to live for everyone is an amazing asset.


So don’t sell yourself short! You are worth that major gift, not just a worth a gift card. You are worth that bequest gift, not just being sent to another department within the company you are soliciting make a request for a gift. You are worth that sponsorship, and not just to give a few business leaders the day off to mingle and pass contact information with others on the golf course.


You’re worth more than negotiating down because your impact is meaningful.


2. There are plenty of fish in the sea


Sometimes we get match-making wrong. As someone who has attempted and failed miserably at getting friends from different circles to date and then seeing the train wreck happen, I get it.


And it’s the same with donors and nonprofits.


Sometimes what we envision as being a perfect match, turns out to be a horrible, God-awful connection. And that’s ok!


Fundraising takes two to tango, and if the heart for the mission or being moved by the impact of what your organization does isn’t enough to sell someone on giving to your organization – even though on paper it seems perfect – is might not be a great fit.


But there are plenty of other folks who will think what you do is mind-blowingly awesome. And there are more of them, than there are of solicitation hiccups that don’t seem to work out.


3. One No Doesn’t Mean All No’s


One of the mental traps we can get ourselves into is that one single “no” can somehow cloud your brain into thinking everything you say, pitch or have to offer is horrible.


That somehow that one single rejection speaks for the entire universe and that you should re-think and change everything about your process, mission statement and programs because of that pretty typical rejection.


Remember it’s just one person. It’s just one business. They don’t represent everyone. But for some reason we immediately forget the countless folks who have celebrated, donated or have been a cheerleader for our nonprofit since the beginning.


It’s just one “no.”


An easy fix out of that glum feeling? Pick up the phone and chat with one of your biggest supporters. They’ll tell you how much they love you, love what you do, and love your stories of success.


And that brain rest will help you get back on the horse for another round of fundraising.


Permission granted to feel bad for a hot second on getting soundly rejected – especially if you thought you just crushed the presentation, pitch or proposal.


But shake it off.


You’ve got a lot more work to do, people to meet, relationships to build and money to raise. A little no, ain’t gonna get you down, now is it?


Because that high you’ll get with the next “yes” is going be that much sweeter.


You got this!


-Patrick