2 min read

When it comes to fundraising, don’t take that first “no” for answer.

Learning to overcome your fear of rejection, and even embrace rejection, is one of the best things that you can do for your fundraising efforts.

It’s something that underneath the adult training is intrinsic to us all. This occurs to me as I see my two-year old son, who has asked for chocolate milk for the 100th time today. Despite hearing “No,” he will rebound instantly, optimistically, with “Choc?!”  

Every “no” means you are getting closer to “yes”—and for you, the funds you need to execute your mission to change the world. Which yes, for my son, is chocolate milk.

Somewhere along the way, who trains this out of us? Do our children actually hear us when we say that “no means no”? As a mom, I am pleased. As your fundraising consultant, not so much. That response has to go.

This may mean a hundred noes or voicemails until you get one yes. But you have to keep going. Embracing rejection—then overcoming it—will grow your revenue base more than any other fundraising strategy.

The mistake many nonprofits make is taking “no” for an answer far too soon. They run one direct mail package, a would-be $100 dollar prospect says not to mail them again . . . and the nonprofit scraps the whole program, passing up on the many $1,000+ prospects out there who would happily support their mission. They apply for one grant, don’t get it, and throw up their hands and decide it’s not worth the hassle again.

This sort of thinking is what kneecaps too many organizations:

“Mail doesn’t work for us.”

“Foundations aren’t interested in our work.”

“Cold calling isn’t effective.”

Too often, you are giving up too soon. You may think that “no” means “not ever,” when that “no” really means “too soon” or “not enough progress.”

A key part of fundraising is storytelling. Sometimes those telling you no aren’t hearing how what you’re doing is in line with their priorities, and sometimes they’re worried about timing. Even the most successful marketing campaigns only convert a sale about 20% of the time.

If you demonstrate how you are meeting their priorities over time, I assure you that prospects will support your mission.

Reach + Messaging = Funding

If you aren’t securing funding, consider your reach. Is it large enough? Is it targeted enough? Are you even talking to the right folks?

If your reach is there, consider your messaging. Are you telling your story? Is it clear, concise, and compelling? Or are you speaking in jargon and coded speech only understandable to an insider?

The takeaways:

  1. Pin down whether no is actually a future maybe.
  2. Keep prospects who turn you down updated on your major milestones and accomplishments.
  3. Don’t burn bridges—ask for feedback. Even if someone isn’t interested in funding your work, they very likely know of someone who is.
  4. If you’re hearing no too often, reexamine whom you are talking to and what you are saying.

In fundraising, you will hear "no." Embrace rejection and keep going.

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