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The Meaning of ‘No’

June 22nd, 2015 Posted in Fundraising

One of the most difficult words to hear is “no.” It cuts to the core of our being. It is immediately personal. It often feels bad.

When I was younger, the word “no” caused me a great deal of anxiety. Whenever it came my way it brought with it a deep sense of failure and inadequacy. “No” meant I was a loser.

Then I became a student of the word. I sought to understand its true meaning in all of the situations of my life. It started to dawn on me that “no” could actually be a positive and clarifying experience. It didn’t have to mean failure and losing.

“No” simply brings you closer to a “yes.” It is actually a wonderful and helpful thing. But you can’t get yourself into this kind of mentality unless you understand the meaning of the word “no”—because it is in the understanding of the word, and its application, that you can find clarity, comfort and a new sense of direction.

That is why I wanted to write about this topic. The work of a major gifts officer (MGO) is filled with “no’s.” That’s the nature of the job. And I find that hundreds of good MGOs are debilitated by the word, and it renders them ineffective and deflated.

In major gifts there are many different meanings to the word “no.” The ones we encounter most often are:

  1. Pure lack of interest. You may have thought the donor was tracking with you and really wanted to engage, but he doesn’t. Period. So he says “no,” and that means you must move on.
  2. A mismatch of interests. You present a program to the donor that she isn’t interested in. You either didn’t do your homework or you presumed that your offer would be more interesting than what the facts say about the donor’s interests.
  3. Your ask is not personalized to the donor. The donor knows that all you’ve done is taken a boiler plate proposal or direct mail letter and tossed in some personalization. It is really not about the donor and his interests, his journey with you, his style, his preferences, your knowledge of him—it’s not about any of that. It is simply about the money. And it doesn’t feel very good.
  4. You asked for too much. The donor fell out of her chair when you mentioned the amount you would like her to give.
  5. You asked for too little. The donor gets the sense that you really do not value his participation in the cause you represent.
  6. You ask before its time to ask. The donor feels disrespected and devalued. As a result of your sudden reach into her pocket, she now understands that, for you, it’s just about the money.
  7. You don’t ask at all. I just heard an amazing story where a MGO took six high-capacity couples overseas to visit projects they were interested in but then did not ask them for their financial involvement because “I thought it would be a little too intrusive.” This kind of thing really confuses donors, and they start to drift in the relationship and use the word “no” more often.
  8. There is a lack of understanding. You are not clear in your presentation about the need so the donor cannot understand the benefit of his involvement. This happens a lot in our work. The MGO is not prepared, leaves out critical facts about what the organization is trying to do, does not frame the ask properly and, as a result, gets a “no.”
  9. The donor doesn’t relate well to the MGO. You knew it all along, but you ignored the fact that this donor just does not connect with you. But rather than pass the donor to someone else, you keep trying. It doesn’t work. A “no” is in your future forever with this donor. Her “no,” quite frankly, means, “Would you please go away?”
  10. You didn’t include the significant other. And since you didn’t, you missed the fact that that person is the real decision maker. The net result is that the person you are relating to can only say “no.” “Yes” is not an option.
  11. You didn’t tell the donor his giving made a difference. Jeff and I have said this over and over again. If you don’t regularly tell the donor that his giving made a difference, you will be the disgruntled recipient of “no’s.” Please listen on this point. A donor cannot be satisfied in his relationship with you unless he knows his giving actually made a difference. It just will not happen.

So, that is our list of the most common meanings of “no” in our major gift work. When you look at the list it is not surprising that a MGO is getting a “no.” It is so logical and straightforward-so easy to understand.

Well, if that is true, then why doesn’t MGO behavior change to eliminate the “no’s” in their relationships? I am studying that question now. It is truly a mystery to me. It could, fundamentally, just be laziness. Or it could be a lack of respect and valuing of the donor. I don’t know; I am still thinking about it.

But here is one thing I do know with certainty. When you get a “no,” the only thing you should do is look at the situation with curiosity and a researcher’s mind. Try to figure out which of the “no” meanings are operating in your situation. Then take steps to correct it.

Do not take a “no” personally. Instead, take it as a signpost for a new direction that you must take with the donor.


By Richard Perry
April 13, 2015
NonProfit Pro

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