How to Respond to Donors’ Resistance to Your Ask
Preparing for a solicitation means being ready for a variety of questions, concerns and other forms of pushback. In fact, it is seldom completely smooth sailing, and more times than not the donor prospect will raise issues.
Here’s some good news: Most types of pushback can and should be anticipated. In my experience, donor resistance usually falls into one of several categories. Here’s the general response to each concern.
1. ‘We Already Support So Many Different Nonprofits and Causes.’
If your donor doesn’t think they can take another one on supporting another nonprofit, you must always keep in mind that donors — no matter how wealthy — have to make difficult choices about their finite resources. That means choosing not between the good and the bad, but between the good and the good. You must be able to articulate in easy-to-understand terms what makes your nonprofit distinctive and meets needs not served by other good organizations.
2. ‘This Isn’t a Good Time for Us.’
There are rarely perfect times. You can begin by asking donor prospects when a better time might be. Then follow up with a pledge form in which they commit to paying their gifts later in the year.
3. ‘We’ve Heard Some Disturbing Things About Your Organization, Especially Its Leadership.’
Let’s face it. In today’s complex world where people are bombarded with information, there are more opportunities for misunderstanding and there is false information being spread around.
Ask the donor prospect to be as specific as possible in describing the bad information they have heard. Many times, it just will be untrue. In instances in which there might be grains of truth to their claims, be as honest as possible in admitting organizational weaknesses. Then return to the mission your nonprofit serves by providing specific examples of how your organization has improved the quality of life of those served.
4. ‘That Sounds Like a Lot of Money.’
Create common ground with the donor and stress that the nonprofit is grateful for every gift it receives whether the amount is $100 or $1 million. Recognize that donors have choices and that when they trust you with their hard-earned money, you owe them your very best efforts to be good stewards of their gift dollars. Let the prospect know what the impact of increased funding will mean to advancing the mission.
5. ‘How Do You Measure the Effectiveness of the Donor Dollars You Receive?’
In addition to personal stories that put faces on the impact of the mission, donors also deserve quantitative and qualitative perspectives on the difference the nonprofit makes in touching, improving and saving more lives. Scoreboards are valuable in showing tangible progress being achieved.
6. ‘Isn’t Our Current Gift Good Enough?’
If you are asking a current donor to consider increasing the amount of their gift, start by thanking them for their loyal support and talk about mounting needs facing the nonprofit. Quite simply: More money equals more impact.
7. ‘Why Don’t You Ask the Really Rich People in Our Community?’
Explain how you are actively cultivating and soliciting community and business leaders, but it is essential to build a deep and broad donor base composed of people of all different socio-economic backgrounds. Over time, modest donors can grow into major gift donors.
8. ‘We Need More Time to Think About This Request.’
That is perfectly normal. Donors often need time to discuss the budgeting of a financial commitment with family members and/or financial advisers, but be absolutely insistent on setting a specific date to get back together and resume discussion of the gift.
9. ‘We Gave You a Gift Several Years Ago and Didn’t Even Receive a Thank-You Acknowledgment.’
This can be a tricky issue and must be addressed head on. Right or wrong, professional and volunteer nonprofit leaders bear responsibility for those who led the organization before them. If mistakes were made in the past, admit to them and be very specific in how that will not happen again. For example, talk about the commitment to acknowledge gifts within a specific timeframe, such as three working days or even sooner.
10. ‘How Come You Don’t Have More People of Stature on Your Board?’
Talk about the commitment of time, talent and treasure of those serving on the board, as well as your members’ unstinting devotion to the mission. Also, make it clear that a high priority continues to be recruitment of the strongest possible leadership for the nonprofit.
11. ‘How Do We Know Our Funds Will Be Put to Good Use?’
When you’re requesting an unrestricted gift, highlight the significance of these gifts, which provides the organization flexibility to use the funds when and where most needed. Point out that when people purchase stock and invest in corporations, they don’t restrict gifts to specific areas, such as research and development, marketing or others. They invest broadly in the company and expect to see positive bottom-line performance. For a nonprofit, that bottom line is how robustly the mission is advanced for the given benchmarks.
12. ‘Isn’t My Gift of Time and Expertise Good Enough?’
This is commonly associated with those serving on the board, as well as other volunteers. Stress how much their gifts of time and talent are appreciated, but the bottom line is that gifts of time and talent can’t pay bills, hire staff or adopt new services essential to achieving the mission.
13. ‘Who Are Some of Your Other Donors?’
Be sure you have permission from donors to make their gifts public. Many times “honor rolls” cite donors but not the amount of their gift or show gifts made in various ranges.
14. ‘I Just Don’t Have Time to Get Involved With Another Nonprofit.’
Highlight the fact that you need their leadership for the same reason other organizations need it. Busy people are experts at budgeting their time. Most donors support more than a single cause and usually several organizations, though likely at different levels.
15. ‘How Come You Don’t Go to Big Corporations and Foundations for Support?’
Emphasize that your nonprofit does enthusiastically approach corporations and foundations for support, but consistently over the last 60 years, the overwhelming majority of philanthropic dollars, about 70%, comes from individual donors.
This list isn’t exhaustive. No doubt, during your solicitations, you have heard other issues that have delayed donor prospects from making commitments. And, as we’ve learned over the past few years, the environment for fundraising can and does change vividly. Your job is to be well prepared. Nonprofit teams, bringing together staff, board members and other volunteers who will be making asks, should discuss these and other pushback that might be encountered during solicitations.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Jim Eskin runs his consulting practice, Eskin Fundraising Training, which builds on the success of his more than 150 fundraising workshops and webinars, and provides training, coaching and support services that nonprofits need to compete for and secure major gifts. He has authored more than 100 guest columns that have appeared in daily newspapers, business journals and blogs across the country. He is the author of “10 Simple Fundraising Lessons.”