Advancing Nonprofit Capacity

Finding the Silver Lining in a “No”

Thanks to Ericka Kurtz, MBA, JWS Consultant, for today’s blog.

When we are hopeful for a “yes,” the word “no” can feel like a setback. As grant writers, we sometimes experience “no” in various ways—from polite declines, to brusque refusals, to no responses at all. But if we’re cultivating and stewarding our grant funders correctly, there can be a silver lining in the word no.

One of our clients was recently declined by a grant funder they have regularly enjoyed funding from for the past several years. Though it was of course disappointing, what followed the decline is a perfect case study in nonprofit and development success.

After the official decline, a program officer from the trust called our client to apologize. The officer indicated that the request was strong and did an excellent job of explaining how the program aligned with the trust’s priorities. The officer continued to say she recognized the relationship our client had built with the trust and this decline was in no way an end to that partnership, but simply a hiatus. The conversation ended with the trust encouraging our client to apply again later this year.

We were thrilled as was the client. If we had to hear “no,” this was the very best “no” we could receive. However, a lot of work and planning has happened throughout the years to establish this kind of relationship with a funder. This particular client has significant grant funding success because they follow fundamental rules of grantseeking and fundraising.

  • Cultivation is a critical step in the grantseeking process otherwise you are simply pushing papers out the door. Our client regularly cultivates potential funders before applying regardless if it’s a potential funder or a funder with which there is an existing partnership. Check out the JWS Cultivation Primer for more details and helpful tips. Other JWS blogs about cultivation include The Cultivation Arc in Proposal Development, Adventures in Cultivation, and The Human Touch.
  • Stewardship continues the relationship with the funder because the grant process does not end once the award is received. Our client’s grant success is largely due to the excellent way they steward their gifts through detailed, timely grant reports and personal follow-ups and recognition of funders. Read more about stewardship: Mission Moments, Make Donors Smile and Want to Give Again Part I, and Make Donors Smile and Want to Give Again Part II.
  • Details are another factor that set this client apart from the pack. No detail is overlooked whether it is a specific direction in a grant application or making sure the request provides all the details a funder wants to see. Our client is successful in this realm because the entire organization is on board with the importance of grants. From the executive director to the program staff to the facilities staff, everyone is willing to chip in to provide essential information.
  • Diverse funding is a major contributor to fundraising success. Though our client received a “no” from one foundation, the decline does not indicate a catastrophe for their programming because:
    • They apply to many funders throughout the year that represent a range of request amounts, new and existing funders, and local, regional, and national funders.
    • They do not rely on grant funding and augment grants with strong annual giving and major gifts programs as well as special events that raise money and recognize donors.
    • They enjoy strong board leadership. The board giving participation is typically at 100% and board members also use their personal and professional relationships to pass opportunities on to our client.

How does your organization find the silver lining in a no?

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