If you have been trained correctly as a development professional, you are donor-centered, providing outstanding customer service and essentially striving to say “yes” to donors.
I mean, just about every blog post that Richard and I write emphasizes in some way how to best serve your donors. We say it over and over again, because our industry still doesn’t have it engrained enough in our DNA to put donors first. We’re getting better, but we still have work to do.
That being said, sometimes we actually have to say “NO” to a donor. This is really tough if you’ve been trained properly… especially if there is a large amount of cash dangling in front of you.
So, when do you say NO?
You say no when a donor wants to give a gift that would completely alter your mission. You say no when a donor wants to micro-direct their gift and be involved in the implementation of that gift. You say no when a donor wants to give a gift and expects that it be used to further the interest of a business partner.
You also say no to a funder, whether it be an individual, foundation, corporation or government that for a small grant makes you and your team jump through so many hoops that the amount of time spent on obtaining the grant actually outweighs the value of the grant.
Recently, I heard a story of a donor who wanted to give $5 million dollars to a capital campaign. The CEO was really excited – until the donor put in a number of stipulations before he released the money. The donor wanted to give the gift only if the non-profit hired a specific company to work on the construction of new building. While the company did bid on the work, it was not originally the winning bid. There was a lot of pressure from the board to accept the gift and hire the company.
But the CEO took a stand and said “no” to the donor and to the board. Word leaked out about the situation, and donors and the public backed the CEO. Donors responded by surpassing the campaign goal by over $25 million.
That situation turned out well, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Conversely, I’ve known CEOs and Executive Directors who have been fired for standing up to donors who want to use their “gift” as a quid pro quo – and when the donors were rejected, they used their relationship with the board to remove the “problem” (the CEO).
While the vast majority of donors have altruistic motives, and they want to change the world, there will always be some donors that have other motives. As a non-profit leader, whether you are a CEO, Development Director or MGO, you have an obligation to discern those motivations… even while it’s tempting to just “get the money.”
Then there is the other problem with some potential donations. Recently, I heard from an Executive Director that he applied for a $15,000 grant from a foundation. It took his staff two full days to fill out all the paperwork to apply for the grant. That was just step one. Then, they were informed they made it to the next “round.” This meant a 2-hour phone interview with senior staff and the board chair. Two weeks later they were informed they made it to the next “round.” This meant that they required the CEO and the board chair of the organization to fly across the country for a four-hour meeting with the foundation. After the meeting they would then hear back from the foundation whether or not they “won” the grant.
Crazy. So the Executive Director said “no” after hearing they would have to fly two people across the country. It was not worth the money or time spent for a $15,000 grant. I’ve heard too many stories like this one from other Executive Directors. It’s as if some foundations and individual donors feel they are so self-important that they have to create enough hoops and barriers to ensure the organization is worthy of their donation.
So yes, sometimes you have to say “no” to a donor or a funder. Hopefully not very often, but as Richard always says, “a no can lead to a yes.” It may not happen with that particular donor, but Richard and I believe that if you have integrity and you are doing the right thing, some good will come of it – and in the long run, you will be the better for it.
How could you achieve the kind of results Veritus Group has attained for our clients? Stay tuned for the 2016 launch of Major Gift Academy.