Bracing for the Word "No"

This week I got adult braces.


No, not the comically large metal ones that my kids have, but the invisible-should-be-a-lot-easier-to-deal-with-as-a-42-year-old kind. Now, I have a comically audible lisp when it comes to saying “s's.”


Normally this wouldn't be a problem in a normal professional setting. However, when your business is talking to people - either walking them off the ledge of fundraising insanity, or rallying the troops and being overly enthusiastic in the room to motivate and inspire – it’s a tad challenging. I really wasn't prepared for two chunks of plastic in my mouth and how much they are digging into my tongue would be a pain in my rear end.


Sure, I could have listened more carefully to the orthodontist. Sure, I could have read up on the literature about what I was getting myself into for the next 9 months.


But let's be honest that was never going to happen.


So here I sit. Feeling sorry for myself because I didn't prepare as well as I should have.


The most harrowing part of this adventure? My inability to drink coffee for nine straight hours during the day. In order to do that, I'd have to take these things out, chug a cup of coffee, brush my teeth, and pop them back in. When I asked my dentist if I could just chug cold coffee he told me, “No. That’s not how this works.”


And like my children when they ask to play Minecraft instead of doing homework, my reaction was very similar in that I didn't like that word “no.”


And like most folks in the fundraising world, we don't spend enough time BRACING for the word no.


(You see what I did there? A brace's dad joke this early in the morning? You damn straight there is.)


Whether it is a company that we are soliciting for a sponsorship for an event we're putting on, or an individual that we have been building a relationship with for a long time, getting rejected and not getting the things that we have been trying to manifest for our organizations is hard to hear.


But I'm here to give you a bit of hope and strategies with a few responses to help you navigate the world of being told “no” by a donor.


Typically there are two reasons why donors don't give to you or your organization. They either don't have the affluence or they don’t have the affinity.


But whatever their reasons, you can still make a “no” turn into a positive experience for both the donor and your non-profit. Here are a couple of scenarios and responses you can give, to help you navigate through the perceived negativity.


Scenario #1: You make an ask and the donor says “Woah, I don’t have that kind of money!”


You: “No worries – can’t blame a guy for trying! Is there a donation level that you’re more comfortable with?”


This route gets the donor out of committing to a larger number – and puts the ball back in their court to actually TELL you what they would like to give. You help them save face. You become the flexible do-gooder. Your nonprofits gets a donation. The donor feels great about it.

Boom. Awesome.


Additionally, you’re testing the waters on how large of an ask to your own supporers and community are willing to make. Perhaps you have a string of “that’s a lot of money for an ask” responses. Look at the what you are asking for, test some lower amounts, and perhaps your sweet spot is somewhere other than where you started at!


Scenario #2: You make an ask and the donor says “I have other commitments, and I can’t give right now.”


You: “Not a problem at all! If you’re more comfortable with pledging a gift, we’re totally ok with that as well!”


This path allows the donor to be a part of the campaign, appeal, or project without being out-of-pocket immediately, and can put them on a schedule that best fits them. Does it help your bottom line immediately? Nope. But does it show that you are empathetic to cash flow, or their previously committed interests and projects an air of comradery rather than combativeness over the “no?” Heck yea it does.


Scenario #3: You make an ask and the donor says “Oh. I’m not interested in supporting your org.”


You: “Whoops. I misread the room.”


Seriously. You’re a fundraiser and they know it. (Unless you’re moonlighting as a someone else to sneak into the good gracious of a high-capacity donor – and that, my friend, would make a great movie, but a terrible solicitation strategy!) So if they are a total rejection of your nonprofit straight out – we’ve read the signs wrong or didn’t do enough to build a relationship with them.


That’s ok – We all make that mistake. Sometimes we take kindness or interest in what we do for AN INTEREST in what we do. That’s why it’s SO important to make sure we are asking great questions and taking our time in developing deep relationships with our supporters. We want to guide them to a gift as if it was their own idea.


Be prepared for donor conversations. Expect the best outcome, but be prepared for the opposite.


Bracing yourself for the potential of a rejection won’t be bad at all if you can direct that potential negativity into an alternative opportunity for the supporter, or allowing yourself grace to build better and stronger relationships in the future before you make an ask.


Don’t let rejection in this fundraising industry leave a bad taste in your mouth the way adult braces leave canker sores.


You got this!


-Patrick