I used to hate the word “no.” Everywhere I turned people were telling me no, and at the time it felt like failure.
I must confess that I was a rebellious kid. I had trouble with authority figures which explains why they probably had to use NO all the time with me. But why so many “no’s”? Didn’t anyone think of a “maybe” or a “possibly?”
Then it started to dawn on me that for most people, “no” is the easiest thing to say. In fact, it’s most often the easiest thing to do. You hardly have to think about things – just say no.
This used to really get me down. I had a “get it done” personality in a “no” world. And I took it personally. I was defeated.
I lived my life in this down state for quite some time until someone told me what the true nature of a “no” was. I’ll get to that in a moment. But, just for a second, I want to look at the other side of the “no” coin. It’s failure.
Failure feels like a nasty thing, doesn’t it? We all fear it. Even as I write this, I can remember some of my greatest failures and how gut wrenching it was to go through them – the hurt; the shame; the feeling of being lost, and just plain not meeting my own expectations or the expectations of others.
Then a wise friend told me that failure was a building block of success and that I needed to re-orient my thinking to this point of view.
He said: “Look at it this way, Richard. Hardly anyone is successful right out of the gate. Every great achievement is preceded by a host of failures.” That’s failures, with an “s” on it. Many failures.
Did you know that the ratio of ideas to a single successful product introduction is 1200 to 1? You could look at the pursuit of those 1199 ideas as things that failed. OR you could see that the truth is that each time you go out to try something you are learning more and more about (a) what not to do, and (b) what you should do. Success is always preceded by failure.
This really helped. When I started thinking about how my attempts to do something, which would often end in failure, were really steppingstones to success, I was able to try more things, brush off failure, and focus properly.
So, back to the “no” topic. What is a “no”? Nothing more than a doorway to a “yes.”
Another wise person once said that a “no” is a door closing so we can turn our attention to the open door. You know, the door that is hanging open right behind you – the door you can’t see because you are so focused on the closed door.
Once I embraced this concept, I realized that “no’s” are my friends. They provide learning. They give me wisdom. They shine a light on my path so I can figure out where to go.
And so it is with both of these things: “failure” and “no.” They can either be these huge monsters in our lives or the gifts that they truly are.
So, as you’re looking at your work in major gift fundraising, think about this. Are the no’s getting to you and stealing your spirit and drive? Is your fear of failure immobilizing you to where you just feel stuck? Why not reframe a “no” and “failure” in your thinking so that you can truly see them for the good friends they are.
A “no” from a donor can mean so many things:
- No, not now.
- No, not that.
- No, wrong amount.
- No, I have an issue.
- No, I have other priorities.
What a wonderful thing to find out which of these it is! No matter what the answer, there is a positive benefit to each “no.” Either you get the timing, project, or amount right, or you find out there is a problem you can repair. Or you may discover there is no longer interest. This is a good thing! Now you know can focus your efforts on the right work. Wonderful!
So, go out there and find as many no’s as you can. They are your friends.
PS — Check out our recent Question of the Month video on this topic: What does it really mean when your donor says “no” to your request for a gift?