Tag Archives: Overcoming Objections

How to Ask Someone to Donate $1,000,000

Rejection Proof

A few years ago I have become aware of a theory called rejection therapy. The idea is that to overcome the fear of rejection you ask for seemingly preposterous things and eventually, you will be immune to the rejection and focused on how to turn the “no” into a “yes.” But can you use this theory if the idea is not preposterous but just scary? What if you want to ask someone to go on date or, since this is a fundraising and development blog, want to ask someone to donate $1,000,000 to your capital campaign? Can you make these asks feel less like you are asking for them to climb a ladder and get you the moon?

A Bit of Backstory

It all started with a TEDx talk given by Jia Jiang. I became a bit obsessed with his idea of rejection therapy that was only fueled when I saw him speak at a conference. He turned around his fear of rejection by spending 100 days asking for things that seemed just beyond his reach. Not surprisingly, he was rejected when he asked for a burger-refill to go with his drink refill and when he asked a stranger to borrow $100. But he was shocked when the flight attendant let him make the welcome announcement (it was illegal for him to give the safety announcement as all passengers need to be in their seats), Krispy Kreme made a complicated, customized donut for him, and a police officer let him drive his car – lights and all.

When I heard his story I realized this is exactly what we talk to our clients about.

Rejection Therapy in Fundraising

If you go out and ask each and every one of your nonprofit’s prospects to donate $1,000,000 and you would probably not get a single positive response. If there is no way for them to say yes (finances won’t allow it), you will not be learning about rejection therapy, you will simply get used to being rejected. By the time you reach the person(s) who could give $1,000,000, you would be asking with the assumption that you will get rejected. The “therapy” implies that you will grow from the experience not just ask for the same thing from different people in the same way.

What you can learn from Mr. Jiang, and other experienced solicitors, is that the right ask, to the right person, in the right way, with the ability to see the possibilities will help you find success.

Consider a campaign in which you have 350 rated individuals/couples. There are a few $1,000,000 and $500,000 prospects included, but the majority range from $5,000 to $250,000. You work with a committee to consider the ratings and determine appropriate asks for each. Then, you know that you have the right ask to the right person. You are not asking a $5,000 donor for $500,000 or asking a Krispy Kreme employee to let you give a flight announcement.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Practice getting rejected within the safe confines of your development committee. Everyone gets a little nervous when asking for a meaningful donation and that is what keeps it exciting for some and terrifying for others. Practicing within your committee will help you overcome some of the fear and help you frame what is the right way to ask for the donation. It will help you consider how you would ask someone differently if he or she is close to retirement or has children who are about to start college. And how you would answer the inevitable questions that will arise. Getting rejected by your fellow committee members –and learning what worked or didn’t work–will help you ask differently the next time.

The list of possible reasons someone may say “no” when you ask them to donate may be long, but the ability to see the possibilities will help you realize that many times a “no” is a, “not now,” “I have to think about it,” or “wow, I couldn’t do that, could I?” Maybe the ask is too high or your information about their ability to give was wrong, but that is not a rejection of you. That is a rejection of the information and you can move past that to find the amount that will help the donor feel good about their gift. Consider how you can make this a “yes,” now or in a future meeting. Is it a lower amount? Is it a family gift? Is it a gift pledged over 5 years? A portion as a legacy gift? If you can see the possibilities, you can help the donor see the path forward.

By the time you ask that next prospect to donate $1,000,000, you will start the same way you would for $5,000. Without the fear of rejection.

Want to learn more about this theory? Watch the webinar by clicking here

Want to read more about how you can improve your capital campaign success?

Capital Campaign Success – Should You Measure Dollars or Donors?

Keeping Optimistic During a Capital Campaign

The Timing of a Capital Campaign

Nonprofit Solicitation: It’s Harder To Get The Appointment Than To Get The Gift

Nonprofit Solicitation strategy

A successful campaign requires that your solicitors understand the nuances of a nonprofit solicitation, also known as, “the ask.”

Among other things, a successful solicitor will:

  • look to develop a long-term relationship with the donor(s)
  • offer a strong case for giving
  • practice what they are going to say and how they are going to say it
  • understand how to overcome objections
  • establish follow-through mechanisms
  • believe that they will be successful

Mersky, Jaffe & Associates has taught many, many people how to achieve their financial goals.   But we are always happily surprised when someone asks the seemingly simple yet ultimately essential follow-up question.  It can come in many forms, but a classic version is – ‘so do I just pick up the phone and start calling these people?’

As long as you have a plan.  Successful solicitation is in large part, a matter of preparation – including how a solicitor can get the face-to-face meeting with the donor, in the first place. Some long term donors will make it very easy for you and will respond to your first call with potential meeting times.  But others will give you such a hard time that you will wonder if this donor is worth the effort.

Their resistance to the meeting will in no way correlate to their ability or willingness to become a major donor.

The following are some tips that will help you get the meeting:

  • Prepare a script and practice, practice, practice
  • State upfront that you would be happy to come to their home whenever it would be convenient for them (an office is a second but less ideal option)
  • Ask whether his/her spouse should be present.
  • Offer two specific times on two different days of the week, as in “Would you like to meet on Tuesday at 3:00 or would Thursday at 10:00 be better for you?”
  • If neither of those days work, offer another pair.   And, if that does not work then ask whether a morning, afternoon or evening time would be best
  • Ask whether a work day or weekend would be preferential and then offer up additional options
  • If a spouse will be present, ask when you should call back to check if the suggested times work (give options).

In general, be prepared to ask questions in which you offer a choice of answers – not just a yes or no.  Do not accept, “can I think about it and get back to you.”  You know how busy this person is and how hard it is to get back to someone.  Make the appointment-making as easy as possible by asking when you can get back to them.  If the person asks if this about giving money – always be honest.  But, remember that a good solicitor is not only going to ask about a donation.  “Sure, I would like to speak with you about your contribution to organization ABC, but not only your monetary contribution.  We want to talk to you about how you feel about the organization and what aspects of it interest you.  We want to hear your opinions about how we are doing and where we should be heading.”

It may not be a conscious thought, but few people want to give substantially to an organization without having their voice heard.  Letting someone know that you want to hear their thoughts may make him or her more receptive.

Above all, remember that you are representing an organization you value.  Determine how you would like to be treated and keep that in mind at all times.  And don’t forget your patience.  It is one of the successful solicitor’s strongest tools.

Want to read other of MJA’s essential articles? How about:
Top Ten Reasons Why Nonprofit Fundraising is Successful
Overcoming the Anxieties of Asking
The Habits of Highly Successful Fundraisers

Note: this post was originally published in 2006 and updated in 2017