“It’s not about you.” That’s the opening sentence of the uber-successful book, The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. It’s also a helpful attitude to embrace when toiling in the major gift vineyard.
Rejection is a component of development work. Sometimes major prospects tell us, “no.” When it happens (hopefully infrequently) we should take care not to internalize or personalize the rejection. It really isn’t about us.
Instead, our work calls us to put the rejection under a microscope, analyze it, and assess what could have been done differently.
I encourage my clients to debrief after both successful and less than successful major gift asks. And, over the years here is what I’ve learned about why major prospects say, “no.”
- No impelling vision for the future – You made the case, but it doesn’t have the characteristics to impel – or activate – a major gift. Having a well-crafted vision for the future inspires. An ask based on sympathy or distress may generate gifts in the short-term, but you’ll get long-term investment from prospects when you craft a vision for the future.
- Not personally connected – The prospect simply hasn’t invested themselves enough in your organization to have appropriate ownership. Asking a prospect for her time and her advice, prior to asking for a gift, not only shows a high level of decorum and decency, it also is the most effective at connecting prospects to your organization.
- Asking too early – Building a relationship, any relationship, takes time. Would you ask the girl you like to marry you on the third date? If you did, you probably wouldn’t get the answer you wanted. But if you allow the relationship to develop in a more time-appropriate manner and then ask, you have a better chance for success. Same with donors. There are few, if any, short-cut tactics in building fruitful relationships with prospects.
- They don’t see the benefit of giving to you – This isn’t about the strength of your case for support, it’s about the stature of your organization. Here is what I mean: Beyond the tax benefits and the good feeling of making a significant impact, what other benefits will a major donor receive by giving to your organization? Is your organization viewed as “successful?” Do other “leaders” and influential folk make major gifts to you? Major prospects invest in successful enterprises and they tend to herd.
- Not asked by the right person – People give to people. Being strategic regarding who to include in the cultivation and solicitation process with each prospect is key. The right person – she may be the CEO of your organization, a Board member, or another volunteer – can encourage a gift that may be out of reach for all others.
Of course, a “no” is never the end of the story – unless we allow it to be. Work to understand why a prospect did not say, “yes.” Listen between the words and be artful in your responses and the number of “no’s” will decline.