Dealing With Donor Objections

One of the most frustrating things an MGO can experience is an objection.  And the tendency, when the objection card is played, is to take it personally or get defensive.  But an objection is nothing more than a signal or marker for something else. And the minute you hear one, instead of going inward and getting defensive or anxious, the one huge thing you can do is:

GET CURIOUS!!

Curious about the reason for the objection.

  1. Is it the cause?
  2. Is it the organization?
  3. Is it the project?
  4. Is it the amount requested?
  5. Is it the timing?
  6. Is it you?

When the fundraiser learns from the donor where the hesitation or objection is really coming from, she/he can gently work through it with the donor.  So, as you hear an objection, try to figure out which of these reasons apply to your situation.

Then remember that objections can be transformed into an opportunities not only to secure funds but, more importantly, to increase your understanding of the donors’ circumstances and get closer to them, building a more trusting relationship.

So, when you hear an objection, do the following:

1.     Listen & Ask

Before you can act on the objection, it helps a great deal if you can properly understand the objection and the thought and emotion behind it.

So, your first objective is to find the meaning behind the objection.  And that requires that you listen more and ask more questions that elicit the background and detail of the objection. Listen not only to the objection, but to the emotion behind it.  Seek to ‘read between the lines’.

The first objection made usually isn’t the whole story. You will want to keep the conversation going to pull out the real objection(s) and clarify the details. This not only gives you the reasons for the objection, it also shows that you are interested in them personally and want to solve the problems they have.

This builds trust and enables you to elevate the conversation to a joint-problem-solving conversation vs. a sales situation that demands objections.

Here’s a process to help you do this:

    • When you hear the objection, repeat it, restating it as a question, and write down what it is in your notes. You shared that you don’t think this is the right time?
    • Ask them to share more about why it isn’t the right timing.
    • Then ask, Aside from that, what other questions or concerns do you have?
  • Repeat objections and concerns as they are voiced, restating each as a question and asking for clarification or additional concerns. It sounds like you have several concerns here. What else is on your mind?
    • After you have the complete list of questions, repeat them aloud, and then ask, “Which of these shall we talk about first?”

 

2.     Accept the Person & The Objection 

Once you have discovered the objection, the next stage is to acknowledge not only the objection, but the person as well.

Accept the person.  First and most importantly, accept the person. Accept that they have a right to object. Accept that you have not fully understood them.

You do not do this by saying ‘I accept you’ or anything like this. The simplest way is through your attitude. Objecting can be a scary act, and people can fear your reaction. By not reacting negatively, by accepting the objection, you also accept the person.

By accepting the person, you build both their trust and their sense of identity with you. You also set up an exchange dynamic where they feel a sense of obligation to repay your acceptance. But this is NOT the main reason you do this.  You sincerely accept the person.

Accept the objection.  Accepting the objection means understanding how it is reasonable, at least from their current viewpoint, for them to object to what you may believe is an excellent offer.

It also means accepting the work that addressing the objection will require of you. Objections can be frustrating and if you object to the objection, you will have a mutual stalemate.

Once you are clear on the reason(s) for the objection, what do you do then?  I now turn back to the six possible objections and how I would handle each of them:

1.     Donor objects to cause: I don’t mean to minimize the great work you are doing but I care about cancer issues and that is where I give my money.

It isn’t a lost cause when the donor does not immediately connect with what you are proposing.  If this happens, the first thing you must ask is whether you qualified the donor.  See our post on qualifying here.  If you didn’t qualify the donor, then it really is no wonder they are having trouble with the cause.  If you did qualify the donor, then this objection may either signal a change of priority or trouble they have with your organization.  If the donor is a qualified donor and they have given before and have expressed interest in staying connected, then this stated objection, most likely, is NOT the real one.  Look for others.

2.     Donor objects to organization: Well, the work you are doing is great, but I really don’t know much about your organization.

Again, if this is a qualified donor then I am assuming you know that they know about your organization.  If they do but they still say this, they may be saying:  “I don’t know much about that program or that area.”  If this is the case, then you have more work to do.  This also may signal that they may have some misconceptions about your organization – items that have been buried – things that you did not realize were there.  And now they are surfacing.

So go ahead and ask them what they would like to know.  Find out what their concerns are specific to your organization or to non-profits in general.  And try to find the real concern lurking beneath the question.

Sometimes, a donor who objects to the organization will have a generic “problem with all non-profits” – “they spend too much on overhead” or “they mail me too much stuff!” 

Remember, a fear a donor has is rooted in either a deeply held belief that needs to be aligned to your reality OR a worry that their money will be wasted and/or that they will be taken advantage of.  Find the deeper meaning to their objection and talk to that. 

3.     Donor objects to project: Yes, that is great work but I am not ready to give at this time.

This sounds like a timing issue but the more you listen and ask questions the more you realize they just are not really jazzed about the project you thought would really be their first love.  Sorry to say this, but this could mean you didn’t do your homework.  If this is the case, lesson learned.  If not, it’s time for more questions.  “I thought you were interested in X.  What DOES interest you?”  Or, it might sound like this: “Jim, I think I have made an assumption here…I was thinking that you would be the most interested in the sports program because of your background. Tell me what you would like to do with your money that would be meaningful to you?” Listen and ask questions to get the answer from their heart.

4.     Donor objects to amount requested: I love this project but that amount is just a bit too steep for me. 

If the donor has a passion for your organization and the project you are discussing, then talk about ways to make the gift work for them. Maybe they can make payments over two to three months or years instead of one. I caution you here to not make the gift agreement for more than three years because it limits your activity with that donor. Maybe they can start out giving a lower amount the first year with a desire to increase over time.  Again, be careful in this area as a longer term agreement, if the amounts are too low, will net out to less revenue from the donor.

If this is a request for a naming project then don’t lower your standards. Let the donor know that their gift can make a real impact in your organization, but that this naming opportunity will actually cost the amount you requested. Help them find another way to make an impact in their area of interest. They may come back and surprise you by making the larger gift.

5.     Donor objects to the timing: Wow, love your mission and this project, but I still have a kid in college and the economy has taken a chunk out of my savings. 

Find out more about the timing challenges by asking questions. Don’t just assume they won’t be able to do anything until their child is out of college.  Don’t make any assumptions about timing objections.  Ask questions. Keep them engaged.  Ask what timing would work.  Suggest other timing.  Ask them to start small and work up to a larger gift over time.  Keep telling them how their gift makes a difference and build the relationship.

6.     Donor objects to YOU:  Well, this is a sensitive one and I have never heard a situation where the donor comes right out and says “I don’t like you!”  But, the fact is that some people just do not mix and that could be the reason for the objection. 

If you get an inkling of this, i.e. there is a sense that something is wrong between you and the donor, then my counsel is to move the relationship to another MGO.  Again, do not take this personally.  Some people just do not mix.

Lastly, consider these facts in all of your dealings with donors.  Here are the findings from a survey of what donors believe were the reasons they thought the rep (MGO) was not effective in his or her contact with the donor:

  • He didn’t show that he was interested in getting my donation.
  • He failed to call or follow up with me in any way.
  • There wasn’t an intro paragraph to the email he sent.  It seemed like a generic communication.
  • There wasn’t a call to action.
  • He didn’t really know me or what I was interested in. (read: didn’t qualify)
  • He didn’t learn about my time line.
  • He never talked with me about money.
  • He never asked what I wanted.
  • He didn’t uncover any compelling reasons why I would give.
  • He didn’t appear to care.
  • He didn’t attempt to develop a relationship.

Objections are simply signals of something deeper.  Embrace them and look for the real meaning.  That meaning will lead you to the place you need to be in your relationship with the donor.

Richard

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About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Development Directors, Donor-Centered, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Non-Profits, Philanthopy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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