Dealing With Objections
One of the most frustrating things a major-gifts officer can experience is an objection. The tendency, when the objection card is played, is to take it personally or get defensive. But an objection is nothing more than a signal or marker for something else. And the minute you hear one, instead of going inward and getting defensive or anxious, the one huge thing you can do is:
Curious about the reason for the objection.
- Is it the cause?
- Is it the organization?
- Is it the project?
- Is it the amount requested?
- Is it the timing?
- Is it you?
When the fundraiser learns from the donor where the hesitation or objection is really coming from, she/he can gently work through it with the donor. So, as you hear an objection, try to figure out which of these reasons apply to your situation.
Then remember that objections can be transformed into opportunities not only to secure funds, but more importantly, to increase your understanding of the donor's circumstance and get closer to her, building a more trusting relationship.
So, when you hear an objection, do the following:
1. Listen and ask
Before you can act on the objection, it helps a great deal if you can properly understand the objection and the thought and emotion behind it.
So, your first objective is to find the meaning behind the objection. That requires that you listen more and ask more questions that elicit the background and detail of the objection. Listen not only to the objection, but to the emotion behind it. Seek to read between the lines.
The first objection made usually isn't the whole story. You want to keep the conversation going to pull out the real objection(s) and clarify the details. This not only gives you the reasons for the objection, but it also shows that you are interested in the donor personally and want to solve the problems she has.
This builds trust and enables you to elevate the conversation to a joint problem-solving conversation vs. a sales situation that demands objections.
Here's a process to help you do this:
- When you hear the objection, repeat it, restating it as a question, and write down what it is in your notes. You shared that you don't think this is the right time?
- Ask him to share more about why it isn't the right timing.
- Then ask, "Aside from that, what other questions or concerns do you have?"
- Repeat objections and concerns as they are voiced, restating each as a question and asking for clarification or additional concerns. "It sounds like you have several concerns here. What else is on your mind?"
- After you have the complete list of questions, repeat them aloud, and then ask, "Which of these shall we talk about first?"
2. Accept the person and the objection
Once you have discovered the objection, the next stage is to acknowledge, not only the objection, but the person as well.
First and most important, accept the donor. Accept that he has a right to object. Accept that you have not fully understood him. You do not do this by saying, "I accept you," or anything like that. The simplest way is through your attitude. Objecting can be a scary act, and people can fear your reaction. By not reacting negatively, by accepting the objection, you also accept the donor.
By accepting the donor, you build both her trust and her sense of identity with you. You also set up an exchange dynamic where she feels a sense of obligation to repay your acceptance. But that is not the main reason you do this. You sincerely accept the donor.
Accept the objection. Accepting the objection means understanding how it is reasonable, at least from her current viewpoint, for her to object to what you may believe is an excellent offer.
It also means accepting the work that addressing the objection requires of you. Objections can be frustrating, and if you object to the objection, you will have a mutual stalemate.
Once you are clear on the reason(s) for the objection, what do you do then? I now turn back to the six possible objections and how I would handle each of them:
1. Donor objects to cause: "I don't mean to minimize the great work you are doing, but I care about cancer issues and that is where I give my money."
It isn't a lost cause when the donor does not immediately connect with what you are proposing. If this happens, the first thing you must ask is whether you qualified the donor. If you didn't qualify the donor, then it really is no wonder she is having trouble with the cause. If you did qualify the donor, then this objection may either signal a change of priority or trouble she has with your organization. If the donor is a qualified donor and she has given before and has expressed interest in staying connected, then this stated objection, most likely, is not the real one. Look for others.
2. Donor objects to organization: "Well, the work you are doing is great, but I really don't know much about your organization."
Again, if this is a qualified donor then I am assuming you know that he knows about your organization. If he does but still says this, he actually may be saying: "I don't know much about that program or that area." If this is the case, then you have more work to do. This also may signal that he may have some misconceptions about your organization — items that have been buried, things that you did not realize were there. And now they are surfacing.
So go ahead and ask him what he would like to know. Find out what his concerns are specific to your organization or to nonprofits in general. And try to find the real concern lurking beneath the question.
Sometimes, a donor who objects to the organization will have a generic problem with all nonprofits — "They spend too much on overhead" or "They mail me too much stuff!"
Remember, a fear a donor has is rooted in either a deeply held belief that needs to be aligned to your reality or a worry that her money will be wasted and/or she will be taken advantage of. Find the deeper meaning to the donor's objection, and talk to that.
3. Donor objects to project: "Yes, that is great work, but I am not ready to give at this time."
This sounds like a timing issue, but the more you listen and ask questions the more you realize he just is not really jazzed about the project you thought would be his first love. Sorry to say this, but this could mean you didn't do your homework. If this is the case, lesson learned. If not, it's time for more questions. "I thought you were interested in X. What does interest you?" Or, it might sound like this: "Jim, I think I have made an assumption here ... I was thinking that you would be the most interested in the sports program because of your background. Tell me what you would like to do with your money that would be meaningful to you." Listen and ask questions to get the answer from his heart.
4. Donor objects to amount requested: "I love this project, but that amount is just a bit too steep for me."
If the donor has a passion for your organization and the project you are discussing, then talk about ways to make the gift work for her. Maybe she can make payments over two to three months or years instead of one. I caution you here to not make the gift agreement for more than three years because it limits your activity with that donor. Maybe she can start out giving a lower amount the first year with a desire to increase over time. Again, be careful in this area as a longer-term agreement; if the amounts are too low, it will net out to less revenue from the donor.
If this is a request for a naming project, then don't lower your standards. Let the donor know that his gift can make a real impact in your organization but that this naming opportunity will actually cost the amount you requested. Help him find another way to make an impact in his area of interest. He may come back and surprise you by making the larger gift.
5. Donor objects to the timing: "Wow, love your mission and this project, but I still have a kid in college and the economy has taken a chunk out of my savings."
Find out more about the timing challenges by asking questions. Don't just assume she won't be able to do anything until her child is out of college. Don't make any assumptions about timing objections. Ask questions. Keep them engaged. Ask what timing would work. Suggest other timing. Ask her to start small and work up to a larger gift over time. Keep telling her how her gift makes a difference, and build the relationship.
6. Donor objects to you: Well, this is a sensitive one, and I have never heard a situation where the donor comes right out and says, "I don't like you!" But the fact is that some people just do not mix, and that could be the reason for the objection.
If you get an inkling of this — i.e., there is a sense that something is wrong between you and the donor — then my counsel is to move the relationship to another major-gifts officer. Again, do not take this personally. Some people just do not mix.
Lastly, consider these facts in all of your dealings with donors. Here are the findings from a survey of what donors believe were the reasons they thought the major-gifts officer was not effective in his or her contact with the donor:
- He didn't show that he was interested in getting my donation.
- He failed to call or follow up with me in any way.
- There wasn't an intro paragraph to the email he sent. It seemed like a generic communication.
- There wasn't a call to action.
- He didn't really know me or what I was interested in (read: didn't qualify).
- He didn't learn about my timeline.
- He never talked with me about money.
- He never asked what I wanted.
- He didn't uncover any compelling reasons why I would give.
- He didn't appear to care.
- He didn't attempt to develop a relationship.
Objections are simply signals of something deeper. Embrace them and look for the real meaning. That meaning will lead you to the place you need to be in your relationship with the donor.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.