10 reasons donors say NO, and what they mean

“No” means “no.” Right?

In fundraising: kinda, sorta.

The very helpful book, The Influential Fundraiser: Using the Psychology of Persuasion to Achieve Outstanding Results by Bernard Ross and Clare Segal, takes a close look at what NO might mean in a face-to-face conversation with a donor where you specifically ask for a donation. There are at least nine specific colors of a donor’s “no”:

  1. No, not for this
  2. No, not you
  3. No, not me
  4. No, not unless
  5. No, not in this way
  6. No, not now
  7. No, too much
  8. No, too little
  9. No, go away

In direct mail, there’s a 10th type of no, and it’s probably the most common of all of them:

I’m not paying enough attention to say yes or no!

It’s neither a no nor a yes. But since there’s no donation, it seems like a no.

But among all those potential negative answers, only one is a complete and final NO — the kind of NO that means there’s no further point in asking.

All the others are something different.

Major donor fundraisers have a huge advantage over the rest of us: When they’re told “no,” they can ask questions or read nonverbal clues to discern which kind of no it is.

All we get is a lack of response. Which we tend to take as a “no.”

Even though it’s not really a true “no, go away, don’t ask” at all.

So don’t think of non-response to a direct mail or email appeal as as a final and total no — as your failure to make the case. In most cases, that’s not what it is.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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