When Someone Says No

No matter how many times I get told YES, too much of my time is spent thinking about the no’s. Intellectually, I know from years and years of experience—it is a numbers game, and (except for dating) no doesn’t always mean no. Certainly, it doesn’t mean no forever. And yet, A call or email saying “we’ve decided to go with someone else” still makes me feel rotten. Heck, a “we’re putting this project on hold,” feels equally miserable. That said, I’ve reached the point in my life where I allow myself to wallow for 10 or 15 minutes max, and then I move on. I no longer even have to make up justifications. It doesn’t matter if the other consultant was cheaper, a friend of the board president, promised miracles I refuse to guarantee, the truth is that they went with someone they feel more comfortable with for this project or at this time—and whatever the reason, it doesn’t make me a failure or a bad person any more than a yes means I am somehow superior.

What it does mean is that I must move forward—and find another organization to approach while figuring out how to keep my name and my skills in front of that first place.   As a fundraiser, you must do the same.

In fundraising, as in life, there are so many places where a person can say no—when you first approach to ask for a meeting, at any time during that meeting (or those meetings) when you are asking for a variety of things, and finally, when you do ask for that gift.

First and foremost, your job is to make sure that no mean no and not just “not now,” “not for this,” “not for that amount of money.” This is thing that is more fun about fundraising than about going after clients. When I get a no, I usually don’t have too much maneuverability. But when I was fundraising—I had all the room in the world.

You can ask questions like:

Would another date/time/place work better for you?

If you could easily make this size gift, would you?

What would be of more interest?

Tell me why you feel you can’t?

May we try again in six months?

So many ways to turn a no into at least a maybe.

But even when no means no, it doesn’t necessary follow that you have to despair. It only means that you have to walk through another door and find another possibility.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build stronger, more committed boards. Learn how she can help you at www.janetlevineconsulting.com or email her directly at janet@janetlevineconsutling.com