The Meaning Of “No”

One of the most difficult words to hear is “no”.  It cuts to the core of our being.  It is immediately personal.  It often feels bad.

When I was younger the word “no” caused me a great deal of anxiety. Whenever it came my way it brought with it a deep sense of failure and inadequacy. “No” meant I was a loser.

Then I became a student of the word “no”.  I sought to understand its true meaning in all of the situations of my life.  It started to dawn on me that “no” could actually be a positive and clarifying experience.  It didn’t have to mean failure and losing.

I wrote in an earlier post that a “no” simply brings you closer to a “yes”.  It is actually a wonderful and helpful thing.  But you can’t get yourself into this kind of mentality unless you understand the meaning of the word “no” – because it is in the understanding of the word, and its application, that you can find clarity, comfort and a new sense of direction.

That is why I wanted to write about this topic. The work of a MGO is filled with “no’s”.  That’s the nature of the job.  And I find that hundreds of good MGO’s are debilitated by the word and it renders them ineffective and deflated.

In major gifts there are many different meanings to the word “no”.  The ones we encounter most often are: 

  1. Pure lack of interest – You may have thought the donor was tracking with you and really wanted to engage, but they don’t.  Period.  So they say “no” and that means you must move on.
  2. A mismatch of interests – You present a program to the donor that she isn’t interested in.  You either didn’t do your homework or you presumed that your offer would be more interesting than what the facts say about the donor’s interests.
  3. Your ask is not personalized to the donor – So the donors know that all you’ve done is taken a boiler plate proposal or direct mail letter and tossed in some personalization.  It is really not about the donors and their interests, their journey with you, their style, their preferences, your knowledge of them – it’s not about any of those things.  It is simply about the money.  And it doesn’t feel very good.
  4. You asked for too much –The donor fell out of his chair when you mentioned the amount you      would like him to give.
  5. You asked for too little – The donor gets the sense that you really do not value her participation in the cause you represent.
  6. You ask before it’s time to ask – The donor feels disrespected and devalued.  As a result of your sudden reach into his pocket he now understands that, for you, it’s just about the money.
  7. You don’t ask at all – I just heard an amazing story in which a MGO took six high capacity couples overseas to visit projects they were interested in, and then did not ask them for their financial involvement because “I thought it would be a little too intrusive.”  This kind of thing really confuses the donors and they start to drift in the relationship and use the word “no” more often.
  8. There is a lack of understanding – You are not clear in your presentation about the need so the donor cannot understand the benefit of his or her involvement.  This happens a lot in our work. The MGO is not prepared, leaves out critical facts about what the organization is trying to do, does not frame the ask properly and, as a result, gets a “no”.
  9. The donor doesn’t relate well to the MGO – You knew it all along but you ignored the fact that this donor just does not connect with you.  But rather than pass the donor to someone else, you keep trying.  It doesn’t work.  A “no” is in your future forever with this donor.  Their “no”, quite frankly, means “would you please go away?”
  10. You didn’t include the significant other – And since you didn’t you missed the fact that he or she is the real decision maker.  The net result is that the person you are relating to can ONLY say “no”.  “Yes” is not an option.
  11. You didn’t tell the donor that her giving made a difference – Jeff and I have said this over and over again.  If you don’t regularly tell the donor that his or her giving made a difference, you will be the disgruntled recipient of “no’s”.  Please listen on this point.   Donors cannot be satisfied in their relationship with you unless they know their giving actually made a difference.  It just will not happen.

So, that is our list of the most common meanings of “no’s” in our major gift work. When you look at the list it is not surprising that a MGO is getting a “no”.  It is so logical and straightforward – so easy to understand.

Well, if that is true, then why doesn’t MGO behavior change to eliminate the “no’s” in their relationships?  I am studying that question now. It is truly a mystery to me.  It could, fundamentally, just be laziness.  Or it could be a lack of respect and valuing of the donor.  I don’t know, I am still thinking about it.

But here is one thing I do know with certainty.  When you get a “no”, the ONLY thing you should do is look at the situation with curiosity and a researcher’s mind.  Try to figure out which of the “no” meanings are operating in your situation.  Then take steps to correct it.

Do not take a “no” personally.  Instead, take it as a signpost for a new direction that you must take with the donor.



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 Major Gift Officers, Non-Profits, Philanthopy. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Meaning Of “No”

  1. M.S. O'Byrne says:

    MGO = major gift officer? Thank you for this review – it is a good reminder of the complexity of the donor/organization relationship, and of the nuances to this one short but powerful word.

  2. Richard Perry says:

    Yes, MGO means Major Gift Officer. I appreciate your kind words. Thanks.

  3. Pingback: MGO Assessment – A Six Part Series: #4 – Can You Shake Off Negativism? | Passionate Giving

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