A turn-down isn’t personal. Seriously.

Ah that Seth Godin and his ability to say a lot in a few words. He did it again recently with a bit of sage advice that every fundraiser needs to hear and heed.

Professionals take their work seriously. The work matters, the impacts and externalities are real.

On the other hand, we can’t take it personally. When someone rejects an idea, or if a project doesn’t succeed, [or a prospect says ‘no’ to your well-crafted request for a gift] we’ve learned a valuable lesson about strategy and about tactics, but it’s not a reflection on our worth as a human.

Godin’s is a comforting message, regardless how long you’ve been involved in development work. As the most seasoned of fundraisers will attest, it’s tough putting yourself out there day in and day out — all the more so during the occasional dry spell when the nays out-number the yeas.

In the midst of such times, it’s important to step back, review your strategies and tactics, make adjustments as needed, and then get back to work. The longer you set in the office, nursing a bruised ego or stewing over the indignity of repeated turn-downs, the more personal you make it.


I wish I could say that fundraisers of faith have an easier time rolling with the punches, but human nature is what it is. Disappointment stings, including among the sanctified. And Christian fundraisers are as likely as any others to peg their self-worth to the outcome of the last donor call.

However, as the Apostle Paul, that fundraiser par excellence of the early church, described in his letter to the converts in Philippi, the invitation to give isn’t about us or the organization we represent. Rather, the invitation – the ask – should be about that which can be credited to the giver’s account.

Writing in Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry, Thom Jeavons and I encourage fundraisers

to look beyond the organization’s needs and goals to the blessings donors will experience from their generosity. They are to look at the life-enriching relationship with God that can be deepened through the practice of giving, especially when that giving takes root in and expresses a person’s faith. Paul’s example shows us that when fundraisers can evoke that kind of giving, then donors’ hearts grow bigger and, Philippians 4:18 goes on to explain, the specific need toward which the gifts are directed will be ‘amply supplied.’

In other words, it’s not personal. We have our role, but when we’ve done our best, the outcome is in God’s hands.

To be sure, those called to fundraising within a faith-based setting should expect to work. That’s what it means to be a professional. But we are professionals with a difference.

We pursue the dual goals of raising the funds necessary to support the mission and the precious ministry of growing givers’ hearts. Ours is a two-fold objective.

When we understand fundraising as our ministry and not as a reflection of our self-worth, a donor’s response – yea or nay – isn’t personal. Seriously.

I can’t think of better news or wiser advice than that. Do I hear an amen?


  1. Dale Melton says:

    Amen, Rebekah! I would also add that one of the best ways to respond (internally) to a “No” or series of them is to have the mindset that what the donor is really saying is “Not yet!” No, that particular campaign or project does not feed my soul. No, I have something else in mind for now, but come back to me another time. No, we need to work through some things and mull over this opportunity a bit. ALL legitimate and understandable responses–and all an opportunity to move the relationship forward!

    We, as faith-filled fundraisers, can also see the “No” as a key element in what is a wonderful and extended process of growing the givers’ hearts. I agree it is the penultimate experience of our privilege and grace to serve in the vital way we all serve.

    Thanks for another inspiring and thought-provoking blog. Let’s go transform lives!

    • Your “amen” is appreciated, Dale, along with the reminder that “no” isn’t always the end of the conversation with a prospective donor.

      If we’re quick to take the “no” personally and slip into a sulk, we can miss possibilities of future gifts that we didn’t hear embedded in the initial response. As you note, in some instances “no” is a proxy for “not yet” or “not this purpose” or “not at this time, but perhaps down the road.” May God give us the courage to listen deeply and ears to hear and understand.

      Blessings in your commitment to fundraising as ministry.

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