Getting over NO: how fundraisers can bounce back from rejection

Once you’ve been fundraising long enough, you’ll eventually hear the magic word.


Rejection can feel very personal, and cut to the quick – especially if it’s a project you’ve invested long hours in, or the stakes of the ask were particularly high.

As painful as a no can be, it’s an important part of our work – and learning to bounce back after rejection is a crucial skill for everyone involved in fundraising.

Let’s look a little more closely at what it means when you hear a no – and how you can build resilience to recover more quickly, and move on to your next joyful YES!

See rejection as an opportunity

Hearing no is a great opportunity to probe further with the donor or funder, and respectfully seek to understand why they feel your request isn’t a good fit.

Is the time not right?

The timing of your request is crucial – individual donors can be dealing with all sorts of personal and financial challenges you’re not aware of, like divorce, elder care, children in university, and fluctuating markets.

Corporations and foundations can be subject to constantly changing influences as well – shifting mandates, pressure from their boards, and changes in the economy.

The stronger your relationship with the donor or funder, the more likely you are to get the timing right – are you spending enough time getting to know and understand the donor before you make your ask so you understand what barriers you need to overcome to get to a yes?

Is the offer not right?

Sometimes, to quote the awesome Simone Joyaux, the donor just ain’t buying what you’re selling.

Have you properly aligned your request with what’s important to your donor? Is your project a beautiful fit with the funder’s mandate, or the individual donor’s philanthropic priorities?

You may have projects or programs that are a better fit with the donor’s values, and what they are looking to achieve with their gift.

But don’t be that fundraiser wasting a lot of time trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Great fundraisers are persistent – but they also know when it’s time to say thank you, and move on.

Do you need to adjust your strategy?

If you are seeing a pattern of unusually frequent rejections of your requests, it may be time to review and adjust your strategy.

If you are hearing no a lot from past supporters, do you need to strengthen your stewardship efforts, and spend more time showing them the impact of their gift?

If you are hearing no more consistently from a certain group of donors (say, financial institutions) is this part of a larger sectoral trend you need to be aware of, so you can shift your focus and resources to an area of fundraising that is more successful and sustainable for you?

”No” is half the battle

I’m sure you’ve heard the old chestnut – “Every no gets you closer to a yes.”

If you are hearing no, it means you are asking – which is half the battle.

Often, when I’m working with organizations who feel stalled in their fundraising, it’s because they aren’t asking enough (or at all!).

When a request you’ve made gets rejected, you should give yourself a pat on the back. You are putting yourself out there doing what many people find the most difficult part of this work – making asks.

Take care of yourself in the face of disappointment

After you hear a no, it’s a good time to pause, and reconnect with your mission.

Take some time to remember why you do this work in the first place, and what makes you passionate about your cause.

If you’re lucky enough to work on-site where your non-profit’s programs take place, go spend some time there. Really be present with the important work you do, and the people that work impacts (a good practice even if you aren’t grappling with the disappointment of a no).

And above all, practice good self-care! At the very least, make sure you are working on taking care of your basics – getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. It’s much more difficult to cope with the emotions that come with rejection when you are teetering on the edge of burnout.

Take it from someone who’s heard her fair share of nos – practice all of the suggestions above, and you’ll build resilience, and find yourself bouncing back from that no more quickly every time!

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