PUBLISHED IN F&P MAGAZINE - AUGUST 07 2019
We have all been there. Months of research and planning. Strategising down to the finest detail. Where the meeting will take place. Who will be there to ask. How much we will ask for and how it will be used.
We have used every resource available to us. Databases, networks, consultants and so much more. We have played it through in our heads and role-played. It is going to work. It is going to be big.
Then the day arrives. Everyone and everything is where it needs to be. The conversation is flowing and the passion is palpable. The moment arrives. The ask. It is made with perfection. You sit, and wait, as you have done many times before. The answer arrives. A clear and resounding ‘no’.
Wait, WHAT?!? But… but… but…
Reasons are given. Thanks are offered and the meeting is over. You all walk away. So where do you go from here?
No matter the planning and preparation, we can never know the full reason why someone decides to give or not to give. It is human nature that we change our minds very quickly, just as quickly as our circumstances change. Therefore
“Understanding ‘no’ is important. By understanding ‘no’ we can make a plan to get a ‘yes’.
There are many types of no, and more often than not you will not hear the worst kind – the ‘No, I will never give to you’ no. Basically, there are (at least) five versions of no to be aware of.
1. NO! THE ‘NO, NOT TO YOU’ NO.It is so important for a donor to trust that you are the right people to achieve the outcome you say you will achieve. To combat this no from ever happening, you need to demonstrate that you have the brightest people working on the need you will be addressing.
Are your CEO and board trustworthy, passionate and informed? Are they influencers in the field? How can you best position them in the future to be the people philanthropists want to support?
Consider if you had the right person asking. Too often fundraisers are tasked with making an ask, mostly to make someone else feel more comfortable. But this is often not the best option. In saying this, sometimes the CEO or chair of the board is also not the right person.
Rather than using the job role or title to decide who should ask, consider who has the most influence with the prospect. It may be someone who does not work for your organisation, but who loves what you do – an advocate who will ask on your behalf. Whatever the case, the person tasked with the ask must be someone who the prospect would not want to say no to.
If this is your no, take some time to find the right person to ask, double check everything else is in line, and make preparations to ask again when the time is right.
2 NO! THE ‘NO, THE TIME IS NOT RIGHT’ NO.
But what if the time is not right? “I have just given a major gift to…”; “The market is not in a good position right now…”; “Ask me again later in the year…”
These are all common reasons for saying no to an ask. All are legitimate, but must be recognised as a timing issue rather than a direct no. If this is the response, follow up immediately regarding a better time to come back to them. At the end of the meeting, it should be reiterated that you will be in contact again at that time. Make sure you understand why it was bad timing and ensure that the situation has improved, so that at the next meeting the answer is yes!
3 NO! THE ‘NO, NOT THAT MUCH’ NO.
Sometimes our vision for that big gift is more ambitious than realistic. Sometimes, even with all of our research, we will ask for too much. This can be flattering or it can be seen as a sign that you do not know or understand your prospective donor.
Either way, this no should be dealt with immediately if possible. Ask the donor what is appropriate, ensuring that you have made it clear that you want this to be a significant gift for them – one that they can be proud of. If it’s not possible or does not seem appropriate to ask during the meeting, go back and do more research. Take a look again at their giving to other organisations and try to better understand their financial position, including their liquid wealth. Once you have a better understanding of their giving capacity, make contact and arrange to discuss an alternative where the level of support they are capable of giving can have the greatest impact.
4 NO! THE ‘NO, NOT FOR THAT THING’ NO.
Our need is not always what a prospective donor wants to support. Positioning your need through the donor’s eye is so important to the success of an ask.
Telling your story in a way that has impact on the life of the donor makes for a successful ask strategy. How will the world be better for them (and all) if you do what you say you will do? Sometimes, your storytelling will hit the mark but other factors (such as ‘no’ number 1 and ‘no’ number 2) will result in a ‘No, not for that thing’. It may be a very simple timing issue – perhaps the donor has recently supported another organisation in the same space as yours.
So, if you get the ‘thing’ wrong, what do you do? Ideally, be flexible in the meeting. Listen to what the donor is saying and change your direction (strategically!). If you are asking for a salary for a key position and you hear them mention how much they love a particular program you run, perhaps it is worthwhile speaking about opportunities within that program. But be careful not to jump around as this could give the impression that you are guessing what your donor wants to support, which will diminish your need. Instead, be sure to have two or three options in mind which you have positioned as the key priorities of your organisation prior to and at the beginning of the meeting.
If you still get a no, go away, do more research into their past giving and engagement with your organisation, and then develop your next ask, noting what they demonstrated interest in.
5 NO! THE ‘NO, NOT TO YOU, NOT FOR THAT, NOT THAT MUCH, NOT EVER’ NO.
This is no. Walk away. If a person becomes upset, walk away. If a person says no in all of the above ways in one meeting, walk away.
You don’t have to walk away forever (unless they explicitly tell you to!). But you need to take some significant time to consider your position, respect their wishes and rebuild the relationship.
So, they said no. It is not the end of the world. No does not always mean no to everything forever. Recoup, refresh, rebuild. So much of fundraising is relationship-based, and with a good close prospective donor, great communication, mutual respect and time, you will see many a no become a yes.
Teisha Archer is a fundraising coach and consultant specialising in major gifts and campaigns and Director of Teisha Archer Consulting. Teisha is also a Specialist Consultant Member of The Xfactor Collective – Australia’s first network of consultants and agencies across 300-plus areas of specialisation that exists to support organisations in times of change and challenge. xfactorcollective.com