Never get rejected asking for money again

2 women coffee shop

One of the most prolific fundraisers in the country and Senior Research Fellow at the Hauser Institute For Civil Society at Harvard University, hated fundraising at first!

Jennifer McCrea’s insights about the uncomfortable power dynamic common between donors and nonprofits stopped me in my tracks.

You’ll love this.

Despite her success in her early career as a major gifts officer, she hated fundraising and was ready to quit. Then it came to her in an instant:

“They had the power and the money; I was the supplicate.” Ok, I needed to look that one up, and I’m glad I did. Supplicate = to ask or beg for something eshutterstock_245999353arnestly or humbly. Sound familiar?

Take this power dynamic quiz and see what you think:

  • When thinking about a donor that’s important to your organization, is money at the center of the relationship?
  • Is there a hint of one up/one/down?
  • Do you feel an awkward buyer/seller dynamic?
  • Do you feel guarded about what’s happening with the organization?

The truth is, donors and the leaders representing nonprofit organizations are equals. In the purest sense, the donors bring the cash or other resources, and you bring the expertise. One is nothing without the other.

McCrea emphasizes that if money is at the center of the relationship, there will always be a skewed power dynamic. Namely, the people with the money have the power and the people/organization needing the money are one down.

Just imagine how much more powerful your work would be if you could remove that buyer/seller dynamic?

True Partnership is when the nonprofit leader and the donor sit down and collectively look at how to move the organization forward. This is opposed to inviting the donor to “help us” fund a program, creating the “us” vs. “them” thing.

A statue in Eskisehir, Turkey holding a scaleYou know it’s working when the inspired donor says things like: “We have to make that happen,” or “It’s critical that we solve this problem,”

When anyone that asks these kinds of questions, the floodgates open.

Opening our minds and hearts to our donors, and engaging them as equals is a powerful force.

At the end of the day, there’s no choice. Millenniels and others with the resources to create sustainable change are accepting nothing less than full engagement and partnership.

Never get rejected asking for money.

Philanthropy is the trump card.

Fundamentally donors do care about making a difference with their money. You have the opportunity to be a conduit between them and how they go about achieving that end – that’s what philanthropy is all about. This timeless practice isn’t all about your nonprofit.

This holds true even if a prospect that you’d hoped would make a gift decides to prioritize a different cause. In this case, you’re able to support them in pursuing something that has meaning for them. A win! Not a rejection.

“I can see that you’re really passionate about making a difference in the lives of youth. Let me put you in touch with Jan, the Development Officer XXX organization. I think you’ll like her.

Your donor will be blown away with your maturity and integrity. And how much you care about them.authentic

If appropriate, you can go on to say “I hope you’ll consider making a gift with SSS symphony (us) at a level that has meaning for you.”

Supporting people in their philanthropic journey – whatever that may be – is the key to never again feeling like you have to go into a meeting and get rejected, or feel like you have to sell someone.

Hold the big picture dear and everyone wins.

Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling.

First, facilitate a conversation with your board chair or development committee. Send them this 15-minute video of Jennifer McCrea as a conversation prompt.

Invite one of your larger donors to coffee. Share this article. Ask them about their thoughts. Maybe they have feedback that will help you.

So how do you figure into this awkward power dynamic?


Tricia Dell is a fundraising coach, facilitator, and strategist for nonprofit organizations. Learn more at and follow her on twitter @triciadell.

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