Overcoming Rejection in Fundraising
Fundraising is a lot like baseball. Ty Cobb, a legend of the game, still holds the Major League Baseball batting average record with a career average of .366. This means that one of the best in the sport had a hit only 36.6 percent of the time he was up to bat.
In fundraising, we need enough qualified prospects—those who have a demonstrated connection to your organization and affinity for the project(s)—in a campaign. We like to have at least three qualified prospects for every gift needed.
Even though you work for an incredible organization and present worthy causes—some lifesaving and life-changing—for donors to invest in, rejection and stumbling blocks are a part of the life of a fundraising professional.
This week, we hosted an educational summit that included a panel discussion. On the panel was Jack Rooker, a successful major developer in the Atlanta region and frequent board member and philanthropist. He shared about his 3-year-old granddaughter who often says, “Don’t say me no.”
As fundraising professionals, we can and do think this, hope for this and work for this. Our success rate will not be improved if we tell the donor, “Don’t tell me no.” It might, however, if we can have his beautiful granddaughter join us on donor visits!
Also on the panel was Margo Wolanin, vice chancellor of development for the University System of Georgia. Margo shared that a great way to overcome the negativity of a donor declining a gift opportunity is to send them a thank you note. Thank them for considering the opportunity and their time.
Ideally, you are sending a thank you note and often some follow-up information after each donor visit.
Major gift and major campaign asks should follow a series of visits where the donor understands the project(s) that you will ask them to invest in. You will have prequalified the donor along the way. Some prospective donors will be diverted to projects of greater interest to them, for example.
Having a team approach to fundraising is essential. When you have several people involved in a donor relationship and someone joining you on the ask (ideally a donor peer where appropriate), this helps with your success and with the impact of rejection. Momentum is important. The more visits you make and the more asks you make, the easier you can quickly rebound from a setback.
Never fail to celebrate the privilege you have of meeting with a prospective donor and sharing about the opportunities they have to provide solutions to pressing issues. Here’s to celebrating an increasing success rate for your major donor asks!
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.