Saying no to a good cause

photo credit: Flickr CC: Alberto VO5

In the past week or so, I’ve heard a number of people asking about how to say no. People are being asked too often, or for too much. People are overwhelmed with asks from too many people or groups, and they don’t know how to respond. Or sometimes, they’ve just had a change of heart, or a shift in their philanthropic priorities.

How do I say no, I am not going to give or give again to a cause?

From the donor’s perspective, this can be one of the most anxiety-inducing questions.

So what do we do about it? We avoid answering the person’s calls. We shut down any way for people to ask things of us, so we don’t have to be put into that awkward place of having to say no, not wanting to offend the person or organization. We feel guilt, shame, or fear.

Remember, donating should make you feel good, not guilty or pressured.

Relationships of any kind — friends, partners, business associates, etc — are based on authenticity and honesty. You should never be judged on whether you give or how much you give. If that’s the case, I’d ask you to reconsider that relationship in the first place!

With professional fundraisers (of which I used to be one, and still am sometimes), they get used to hearing “No”. Of course, they are paid to make the most thoughtful, compelling ask possible, but understand that there are factors out of their control, and sometimes people are going to say no. They will not be offended if you turn them down.

When the ask comes from a more personal connection — a friend or family member doing a charity run or walk, or fundraising for a cause close to their heart — it can be more difficult for us to say no. We understand their own passion and support of the cause, and we don’t want to offend them. Here, again, honesty is always best. A simple, “no I’m not going to be able to give at this time” is sufficient. You are welcome to give more details, but are not required to share all the details of your personal giving decisions.

There are a million organizations deserving of our funds, but obviously we can’t give to everything, or give all the time.

And that’s okay.

Fundraising is a business of asking for what is needed. But it is not mandatory for everyone to say yes, or yes to exactly the number that was asked for.

The truth is, as any fundraiser will tell you, that the people who avoid calls, stop responding or allowing an ask or follow up to be made are actually putting an unnecessary strain on the organization. By not knowing if/when a donor is going to make a gift, a fundraiser puts in more time and stress in following up with them. It eats into the time they could be cultivating a new relationship, or responding to someone who really does want to support their work. Be honest, be direct.

If you’ve given once before to a person or group, they may be counting on you to do it a second time. This is especially true with “major” gifts, or anything over $1,000.

Someone asked me, I’ve been giving to this organization for 10+ years, volunteered with them, but as I’ve learned more about myself and the type of groups I want to support, this organization no longer meets that criteria.

How do I “break up” with an organization?

  1. Give them plenty of notice. Many organizations are making plans based on a continuation of funds, so if possible, let the know if they can expect a change or an end to your support.
Are we still talking about non-profits?

For more best donor practices, see this great compilation by Resource Generation.

Have other ideas or questions about philanthropy, wealth, or non-profits? Follow me on Medium, connect on Facebook, or send me an old-fashioned email!



Money and philanthropy coach. Organizer. Rabble rouser. Learn more here:

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