When You Do Everything Right With A Donor & Get a “No”

Blow up of a 10,000 dollar bill

Last week at my presentation, “They Don’t Get It” to the Southwest FL Chapter of AFP (the Association of Fundraising Professionals,) the audience members asked excellent questions. Here is one and my answer to it. It will be extremely helpful to you and your staff in good times . . . and bad.

Question: What do I tell staff when we have done everything right, from building the relationships, from listening to what the donor wants and honor and respecting them, and we get close, but still don’t close the gift?

The questions and the experience behind it reflect a truth about individual gifts and business in general. Sometimes entities  do everything right…. and don’t get the gift or close the sale. Sometimes they do everything wrong and get it. Why? Because the donor and customer controls the decision, not the nonprofit or business.

Over time, we know that doing as many things right as possible will maximize your income. With no disrespect to customers, donors, and near donors, here’s a military metaphor: Your goal is to win the war, not the battle. Any interaction with a single individual represents a battle.  Maximizing income for your mission represents the war.

To help staff, allow for grief. It is sad and disappointing that this donor did not give or buy. Explore why you grieve.  Part of your grief is because you were close. You began to expect (not unreasonably) that you were going to receive a something.  This means you made an attractive offer. It means the donor or customer seriously engaged in exploring possibilities with you. You would not be grieving if you had not been so successful in so many aspects of your work. So along with your grief, enjoy a bittersweet celebration of your progress toward you goal to maximize revenue.

Secondly, ASAP, get up and do everything right again and again. Donors and customers need your help and the opportunities you offer.

Finally, and perhaps most important for “the war effort”, what did you learn? You’ve just been handled a short, intense course called, “When We Do Everything Perfect and It Didn’t Work.” Was everything really, really perfect? If it was, move on. Alternatively, you might find places to tweak. For instance, further qualifying your candidates. Or, involving family or others  members earlier. You might ask the would-be-donor or customer for insight. Figure out your tweaks. Use them for the rest of the war. Do so and you will receive a valuable gift for your organization.


Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis Consulting guides executive directors and CEOs to generate the resources, boards, and support they need to make remarkable progress on their missions. As the award-winning thought-leader, advisor, and founding principal of Karen Eber Davis Consulting, Karen helps nonprofit leaders get answers, generate revenue, and grow their mission. Davis is known for her innovation and practicality based on her work with or visits to over 1,000 nonprofit organizations and her experience leading board and team events. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.