Putting Yourself Out There

The more I put myself out there, the more opportunity I find—for jobs, yes, but also for rejection.  And it is this that often thwarted me. Weeks where everyone says yes to everything I propose (and yes, occasionally that does happen) are magic.  I feel anointed.  Competent.  Valued.  But when I hear that dreaded no (or worse, hear nothing at all and can’t get a response to my follow up queries), all bets are off.  I get that sinking feeling in my stomach and I start to wonder why I think I can do this.

“This,” of course, isn’t limited to consulting.  “This” is whatever you do—from fundraising to raising kids and everything in between. And the sad truth is that no matter how many yeses you get, it’s that one no that screams out to you.

In my twenties, I was a freelance writer.  With 20/20 hindsight, I realize that I was phenomenally successful.  For every 5 articles and queries sent out, I regularly got 2 acceptances.  But it was those three rejections that I focused on, so much so that I eventually abandoned freelance writing (and opened a book bindery, which should shed some light on my level of craziness).

Over the years, I have learned to live with the facts of rejection.  I still do get that queasy feeling and if I don’t actively nip it in the bud, it can ruin an otherwise perfectly fine day (or several days, especially if it was something I really wanted).  But I also have come to terms with the fact that if I don’t put myself out there, I won’t hear that no, but I also won’t get many yesses.

Fundraising is so like that.  The less you ask for, the less you will get.  So you have to reach out.  Tell a whole lot of people about your organization.  Tell them why what you do matters and, especially, figure out why it could matter to them.

And then do that frightening thing:  Ask for that yes.

But if you do get a no, don’t just feel badly and walk away.

In my experience, only about a third of all no responses are just that:  No.  Not now.  Not ever.  And while it may be comforting to find that that it may just possibly have nothing whatsoever with you, truthfully, what matters is only finding out if this is the definitive no.  If it is, move on.  Feel lousy for a bit, but don’t let it cloud your actions and purpose.

If one-third of those pesky no responses mean no, then two-thirds mean something else entirely:

  • No, it’s too much money
  • No, the project isn’t quite right
  • No, timing is wrong
  • No, you haven’t yet convinced me that you are the right organization

Instead of hearing “no,” hear “not just yet.  There are still things to be clarified.”

In a more perfect world, you would be able to ask, “What, exactly, do you mean by ‘no’?” and get a definitive answer.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t live in that more perfect world.   Sometimes it takes a lot of time and reaching out to find out first what type of no I’ve gotten, and then, if it’s the better type of no, what is the barrier to yes.

Sometimes, it’s not even that clear to my prospective client or your prospective donor.  Our job is to move their inclination and urgency to the highest point.  That means showing them what working with us means for them and possibly negotiating the means by which that can happen.

Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, helping them to build their resource development capacity.  To learn more about her, her online grantwriting class and Get Ready, Get Set, Get Grants the only grantwriting book you really need, check out http://janetlevineconsulting.com.  You can buy the book directly at http://tinyurl.com/2996pqg