Just Say No: The Art of the Turndown


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People sometimes compare the foundation/grantseeker courtship to the dating process: Funders and grantseekers are looking to find each other and build long-term relationships. Sometimes the chemistry is there; other times it isn’t. Rejection is an inevitable part of this process so learning to say no, politely and confidently, is an essential skill.

That said, let’s be frank, it’s hard to say no to a friend or a colleague who asks for donations to their favorite charitable cause. It’s uncomfortable. If you’re conflict-adverse, you might reluctantly make a gift out of guilt or even start avoiding the grantseeker rather than directly discuss the pending request—leading to feelings of more guilt and even greater discomfort.

If your foundation is known to have financial resources and you’ve given to nonprofits before, you’re likely to face requests for donations time and time again. In today’s information age, it is increasingly easier for grantseekers and fundraisers to see the foundation’s name attached to various charities and put you on their list of prospects. In other words, by making gifts to others, particularly sizeable donations, you invariably attract attention. Hiding is not a viable long-term solution.

Dealing with this situation has never been easy, but there are ways to be gracious and direct in turning down such requests. Funders who must say “no, thank you” on a regular basis tell us that mastering the turndown is something of an art. You want to be sensitive, but you also want to avoid misunderstandings. Here are some of their tips for delivering that message, whether by letter or in a one-on-one-conversation.

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