How to Bounce Back When You’re Told No

Here’s a hard truth: at some point, if it hasn’t happened already, a potential donor will tell you “no” when you ask for money. It stings, but it’s a normal part of life in the nonprofit sector. And while this may feel like the end of the world at first, with the right attitude, you can turn that rejection into a positive learning experience.

First thing’s first, it’s important to identify the different types of “no”—sometimes not all hope is lost. When you’re having a conversation with a potential donor, pay close attention to the context, tone and delivery of their response. For example, you may hear something like:

  • “No, not unless…” which means they may not like your original offer, but still could agree to another one. Maybe they want something in return, like a sponsorship, or maybe they have specifications on exactly where they want their money to be spent. You’ll have to negotiate and decide whether the contingencies are worth it for your organization. However, meeting somewhere in the middle is better than receiving no donation at all!

You might also hear:

  • “No, not now…” where someone is interested in donating to your organization, but simply isn’t able to at the time. Many people only give toward the end of the calendar year or are swamped with other expenses, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in donating in the future. Put this donor on the back burner for a bit, but don’t rule them out completely! Check back with them every few months to see if their situation has changed.

But what if you’re pretty sure the “no” is a straight up “no” and doesn’t fall into either category? You’ve tried absolutely everything, and the prospect still won’t budge. What now? You bounce back! Here’s how to end your conversation without feeling defeated.

Know when to quit

It’ll look a lot better for your organization if you can quickly catch on when a prospect is firm in their decision not to donate. If you continue to beg and plead for money after a sharp “no,” they’ll leave feeling over-pressured, annoyed and uncomfortable. If you handle the rejection with grace and understand the difference between persistence and pestering, the prospect will, at the very least, have respect for you and your organization. The reality is, you can’t force anyone to give. Respecting that decision and handling it with maturity will get you far.

Get feedback

Before you go, you may also want to politely ask the prospect if there’s anything you could have done differently that would have changed their mind. While it may be a lost cause with this specific person, their advice and constructive criticism could make a difference in your future asks. If they do give you some tips, don’t be offended and be sure to take their words to heart.

Stay positive

Finally, realize that this one person’s decision to not give isn’t going to make or break you. Don’t let occasional rejection make you any less bold in your future asks. Instead, make it your motivation to seek out more connections, raise more money and show the person who turned you down that your nonprofit was worth investing in, after all.