Saying ‘No’ to a Major Donor
The relationship started like any other. The donor wanted to give to a specific program. The organization was very happy to help her do it. Things were going well for a while, but then came the suggestions. “Why don’t you do this?” “Why don’t you add that staff?” “Here is how I suggest you could improve that.” “You really shouldn’t have so many staff. Just use volunteers and save money.”
Now that is not bad — suggestions, interactions, involvement. That is the type of relationship every major gift officer (MGO) wants with a major donor… until it becomes too much.
In the case I am telling you about here, it became too much when the donor insisted that staff should be added, things should be done a certain way and that more activities should be added, changing the program direction. All this, while she adamantly refused to pay for any staff time or any overhead. The program manager did everything he could to please this good donor, but to no avail.
The MGO said the following about the donor: “She does have good intentions. I know. But we all feel she is a bully, albeit, a well-intentioned one.”
So, the program staff, CEO, the director of development and the MGO got together to talk about the situation. They all had to admit that it was difficult to potentially walk away from this generous source of revenue, a dilemma any nonprofit would have in a similar situation. But they agreed that it was time to say “no.” They agreed on the messaging and approach, and the MGO delivered a message that communicated the following points:
“We appreciate everything you have done for us and the programs we have. Your support has been so valued. In fact, the program has grown with your support. But we cannot manage the program as you have suggested and directed, so we will not be continuing the program.”
There was a lot more detail and nuance to the message than what I am writing here, but the essence of it was “no.” “No, we will not be continuing with you managing our programs. No, we will not be changing things to fit your view of things, so we can receive your funds. No, doing it this way is not in the interest of the people we serve and does not work for us.”
And that was it.
Sometimes you have to say “no.” There is a line you should not cross when the gift you will receive has so many strings attached that it changes who you are and what you are trying to do. Just say “no.” It is OK. But be sure you do it with grace, compassion and care.
In this case, the donor replied that she understood. We still don’t know if that understanding includes not giving any more or continuing to give. Either way, these good people did the right thing.
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.