Analyzing Refusal Reasons to Improve Future Solicitations

Posted on 03/23/2016

Despite its negative connotation, hearing the word “no” isn’t all bad. Even when it comes to raising money.

There’s an old adage that goes like this: The worst thing you can hear after asking someone for a gift is the word “yes.” Why? Because it lets you know that you might have been able to ask for more.

On the other hand, hearing “no” tells you something important. For one thing, it clarifies how much is too much for that particular person at that particular time.

Another benefit of hearing “no” is that it opens the door to ask another important question: why?

Gaining insight into prospect attitudes and perspectives is important at an individual and programmatic level. Take phonathons for example. Most educational institutions run a student or volunteer effort to call alumni and parents throughout the year in order to solicit donations for the annual fund. Inevitably, many of the prospects who are asked to make a donation will reply with a “no.” At that moment, the caller has an opportunity to ask why. Consider some of the common categories used when recording phonathon refusal reasons:

  • Paying off student loans
  • Out of work
  • Kids in college/paying tuition
  • Only contacted to ask for money
  • Already gave
  • Prefer to give online
  • Prefer to give through mail
  • Support other charities instead
  • Already left money in will/estate plans
  • On a fixed income
  • Not now, maybe in the future

Of course there are a number of other factors that could be contributing to an individual’s disinterest in giving. Perhaps something happened in the past that affected the way they feel about the organization, or maybe they don’t like the direction it appears to be headed now. It might be that the mission isn’t a priority for them or that the institution’s messages simply don’t resonate. Maybe you didn’t ask correctly. Keep in mind that it’s not always what you say, but how you say it.

Maintaining and analyzing refusal reasons is just one way phonathon programs can perform a “research” function in addition to being a solicitation channel. It allows them to gain a better sense of how prospects feel about the institution and what prevents them from supporting it. Being more informed empowers programs to adjust their approach (e.g., scripts, ask levels) and to be better prepared to respond to questions and concerns. This not only makes for more friendly and engaging conversations with prospects, but it increases the likelihood that they’ll say “yes” next time.

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