Learning To Appreciate “No”

By: Jarrad Howard

In the fundraising world, our favorite word to hear is “YES”. YES I will give. YES I will take part in the campaign. YES I will take part. But what happens when that “yes” doesn’t come? What happens when the answer given is some form of the word maybe? Or just “no”?

For those of us in fundraising, the word “no” is not our favorite word to hear. Our jobs are much simpler, for sure, when we receive an affirmative confirmation of contribution or support. But learning how to hear and process the word “no” is one of the hardest and most important lessons that we, as fundraisers, must learn. Not only should we learn to accept “no”…we should learn to appreciate it, because “no”, at its core, is an opportunity. And, in the realm of fundraising, no doesn’t always mean no, hard and fast. “No” is only the beginning of the conversation.

Just as there are reasons behind every “yes”, there are just as many reasons behind every “no”. And as I’m sure we have all experienced, donors are usually VERY willing to share the reasons behind their “no”. These reasons behind their response can vary greatly. A donor may be upset because of something that happened YEARS ago, when the organization was under different leadership. They may be saying no because of how something is being handled within the organization; something of which you may not even be aware. They could simply be saying no because their input is not being valued as much as they feel it should. Or, maybe they are saying no because of something going on with them personally that has nothing to do with you or your request. If the no is about you, it is an opportunity to evaluate your organization and processes therein. And, if they are experiencing this, it is very possible that other donors have noticed the exact same thing.

I’m sure you are all familiar with the phrase, “The customer is always right”, used widely as business policy. This phrase has proven to cause more problems than it solves and has caused conflicts between organizations/companies and their employees. However, the quotation becoming more widely used is, “The customer is never wrong.” Saying that the customer is never wrong provides acknowledgement that there is an issue that needs to be addressed, even if the solution that the customer deems as appropriate is far-fetched and unfeasible. The same goes for fundraising. If your donors perceive an issue, then somewhere along the way there is, or has been, an issue, and they usually will express their concerns in the form of their donation or lack thereof.

So you’ve gotten a “no” from a donor…along with a veritable list of reasons for their response…what now? It’s simple…do something about it! The ability to grow your organization lies in the organization’s ability to identify and address faults and shortcomings. Address the issue, learn from it, and make sure that steps are taken to avoid having the same problem arise in the future. Then, when returning to your donor either for a visit or solicitation, you are able to provide tangible evidence that the problem has been addressed and that their input has been heard, evaluated and appreciated.

A “no” can mean many things, but until we can learn to be open to the reasoning behind it, and to decipher this reasoning, it can simply be a roadblock. But a defined and addressed “no” offers an opportunity to improve your organization. More yes’s will come once we learn to appreciate “no”.