2 Things Rejection Teaches You in Non-Profit Leadership

The most difficult thing I’ve dealt with in the fund development space is rejection. I’ve only raised funds for organizations that are connected to issues I am passionate about. If I ask you for money, you will know that I care about the organization’s mission. When I share a cause that is deeply important to me, and a prospective donor rejects my request for funding, it stings. But rejection is going to happen. The reality is you’re going to hear “NO” a lot more than “YES.”

There are two things rejection taught me in my development career.

I’ve learned to ask how I can improve what I’m doing. Is the marketing strategy effective? Is the solicitation for support done well? Is the story of the organization communicated strongly enough? I’ve had prospects not only reject me, but tell me exactly why. And while this stings even more, it’s a learning opportunity. Listen carefully.

Is there a way to win over the prospective donor? Can you make that person or organization a contributor somewhere down the line? If not, move on. But if there is an inkling of a chance, then work on it. One donor rejected me because he felt the organization’s program was not strong enough. I spent the next six months sending him letters and newsletters identifying exactly how we were improving our services. By the end of that year, the donor gave a five-figure contribution.

How can you improve what you’re doing? Can you win over the prospect that rejected you? Don’t wallow in rejection. Keep pushing through your NOs so you can get to your next YES.