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No Is An Acceptable Answer in Fundraising

People don’t like to be rejected and no one wants to be told “no.” This is certainly true with fundraising.

Experienced fundraisers understand that “no” isn’t necessarily an outright rejection and could be a perfectly acceptable answer. The prospective donor could mean “not right now” or “I need to think about it” or “not this amount” or “not this project.” The key is to listen to the donor: their tone, demeanor, and body language.

For some fundraisers, there is difficulty to get past the initial shock of hearing “no,” but this is the time to continue the conversation and find out why. If it’s any of the points I mentioned earlier, then ask nicely, “If not now, when?” Maybe they are waiting for stock to reach a certain price point or they are selling a business, or they have commitments to other nonprofits. Use this opportunity to continue the conversation.

Let’s assume you did your homework and the project and/or amount is still not a good fit for the donor, then you need to go back and restructure your approach. Use the newly gained information you learned from your conversation and see if you can find another project or program that interests the donor. A “no” can lead to further exploration of the donor’s interests.

On the other hand, sometimes “no” really means “no.” This is a time to be gracious and polite and not take the decision personally against yourself or your organization. If a prospective donor declines your opportunity to support your cause, thank them for their time and let them know you will not call on them again. There have been times when I’ve recommended other charities that better align with a donor’s interest. They are always appreciative, and some are even surprised. This is an example of always being donor centric.

If you are a major gift officer, don’t prolong the cultivation process just because they are nice people, and you enjoy their company. Make sure you record in your donor management system why they said “no” and note whether or not they need continued cultivation. “No” is a way to disqualify an uninterested donor and focus on other prospects. This approach allows you to better track your fundraising efforts.


Michelle Crim, CFRE

Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in startup and smaller nonprofits because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.

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