Prospective donor’s ‘no’ is an opportunity to engage

Communication starts with listening. And for people who work with donors to raise money for charities, listening carefully is critical.

Gordon Soenksen, chief development officer at the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C., has a positive take on what many fundraising professionals might take to be a donor’s negativity.

“Don’t be afraid to hear ‘no,'” he says. “‘No’ does not mean never; it just means not now. It gives you a chance to come back to the conversation later on.”

His favorite coffee cup bears the saying, “Salesmanship begins when the customer says no,” Soenksen says.

Fundraising success, he says, “comes from relationships that have been carefully developed over time.”

To pursue that success, he uses a simple, circular model that begins with “communication” with the prospective donor, followed by working to “relate” to the prospect, then to “engage” the prospect in the mission of your organization, and then to secure “support,” he says.

“And when they support you, go back to communication,” he says. “You thank them, and run the circle several times. And that’s where the gifts come from.”

Too often, Soenksen says, people begin with communication but jump immediately to asking for money.

“And we wonder why they don’t support us,” he says. “Because we have forgotten about relationships and engagement.”

Fundraising, in short, is an ongoing process or circle.  When you get to the end, you start all over again. It begins — and continues — with communication.

Want help?

Philanthropy North Carolina is a consulting practice that provides writing and strategic communications support for nonprofits, foundations, colleges and universities, and others working for social good.

To find out more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina to work with your organization to improve your communications, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or

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