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How to Identify and Respond to Fundraising “No”s

By Allison Gauss

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

The 9 Types of No

One of the greatest challenges of being a development professional is dealing with rejection. The fact is, you are going to hear the word “No” a lot. But the best fundraisers know not to take it personally and get right back on that fundraising horse. They also learn that sometimes a No can help you find your way to a Yes. While many of your fundraising NOs will be passive (e.g., an unopened email or tipan ignored CTA), having a personal conversation with a donor or corporate representative allows you to listen to them in real time and possibly learn what is holding them back from committing to your cause.

A Very Specific No

In The Influential Fundraiser, by Bernard Ross and Clare Segal, there is a chapter called “dealing with Objections.” Here, the authors emphasize the importance of persistence when pursuing a donation and how to respond when your request is denied. They identify nine different ways of saying “no” and how to continue the conversation after them.

Each of these No’s has an underlying reason or explanation, which a skilled influencer will seek to uncover. And that’s why dealing with ‘No’ properly requires that you ask a different or better question rather than simply giving up.

The point is that when a donor says “no” they are often rejecting one circumstance out of many. Just because they don’t want to give this amount in this form at this time for this program, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to contribute to your organization at all. If you can figure out what their concern is, you can arrive at a request to which they want to say “yes.”

The 9 Fundraising NOs and What to Do with Them

1. No, not for this

This type of fundraising No means that they are not interested in giving to this particular program or project. Donors are increasingly concerned with what their money will be used for, so if they aren’t drawn to the program or specific area you first bring up, ask if they would be interested in giving to another part of your organization. What about your organization interests them? If you are an after school program and they don’t want to contribute to funding a new sports field, maybe they would rather donate to your on-site library.

2. No, not you

Sometimes, the answer to a question depends on who is asking. The Influential Fundraiser gives great advice on how to connect with donors and build rapport, but sometimes you can’t bridge the gap between yourself and the donor. This means it is time to tag out and send in someone else from the organization. Some large donors may want the flattery of being personally asked by your Executive Director or CEO and some people may not trust you simply because of your age or appearance. This is disappointing, but sometimes the way to get someone to say “yes” is to have someone else ask.

3. No, not me

With this type of fundraising no, the problem is simply that you are asking the wrong person. I don’t mean you should leave and find some other donor, I mean the person you are speaking to may not be the family member or corporate representative who can make this decision. Your next step is to find out who can say “yes.” Ask who you should speak to or when you can expect a decision from their superior.

4. No, not unless

This means the donor has some conditions. They may want something in return (special recognition or sponsor benefits) or they may want assurance of how the money will be used. Maybe this donor is willing to give, but not unless you put it in a restricted fund to be used only for work in their city. Your next question should ask what conditions would make them comfortable making a gift. Then you must consider whether this is a stipulation your nonprofit is willing to adhere to. Don’t be afraid to propose a compromise if you can’t meet all their conditions.

5. No, not in this way

This person is interested in helping your organization, but they either can’t or don’t want to contribute in the form you have proposed. When we think of donations, the first thing that comes to mind is cash, but that may not be something they can offer. Find out if there is some other way they would like to give to your organization, such as an in-kind donation, pro bono services, or use of a venue.

6. No, not now

Rather than the amount or form of the gift, this fundraising No is telling you that they can’t give what you’re asking for right now. You actually have two choices with this No. You can ask when would be a better time to return to the request (two weeks, six months, a year?) or you can try to find out what they would be comfortable giving now. Depending on the size of the donation and the financial state of your nonprofit, you will need to decide whether to pursue whatever gift they can make now or wait until they are in a position to give what you are asking for.

7. No, too much

In this case you are asking for more than they are willing to give. They may not have enough expendable income as you thought or you might not be their top philanthropic priority. If you ask for $10,000 and they say, “I can’t give that much,” don’t walk away! Ask for $7,500 or another smaller amount. One dollar is one dollar more than you had before, so don’t abandon a donor because they say “no” to your initial request.

8. No, too little

If only this was the issue with every No! This donor or sponsor is saying “no” because they want to do more than what you are asking. Maybe they want to be the namesake of the building you are fundraising for, or maybe they want to be the principal sponsor for an event, rather than one of many. If you think a donor is declining because they want to play a bigger role, ask what their philanthropic goals are. What do they want to accomplish and how can you partner with them?


This is the BIG NO. This means they are not interested in giving to your organization and you need to understand and respect that. Determining which fundraising No you have received is a judgment call and you should use common sense as well as nonverbal clues to know when it’s time to walk away. You don’t want to create a reputation for badgering donors and damage your chances with other sources.

Persistence, Not Pressure

Fundraisers for nonprofit organizations need to be willing to listen to donors, even when it is not what they want to hear. By listening closely, you can often identify the reason why the donor is saying “no” and then adapt to find an arrangement that leaves both parties happy. This does not, however, mean don’t take no for an answer. You will have to make the call of whether the donor is turning down the specific circumstances of your proposal or is truly not interested in giving to your organization. If it’s the latter, your best move is to thank them for their time and part on good terms. Understanding the nine fundraising Nos isn’t so much about changing someone’s mind as it is understanding how they can and want to help.

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Image Credit: Thomas Hawk

The Pocket Guide to Fundraising Psychology

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