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The value of “no”

publication date: Nov 8, 2011
author/source: Jonathon Grapsas
A few weeks back I helped a client set up a teleconference to thank donors who had supported a capital campaign. It was pretty basic stuff - send some simple, but personal invitations to an exclusive briefing, use email and mail, offer supporters an inside look at how things were progressing. Jonathon Grapsas photo

We invited around 5,000 donors to join us for 20 minutes to hear the CEO deliver an update on the campaign's progress and say thank you. Then the parent of a child who was a benefactor of their services would talk about how the new facilities would change their child's life.

353 donors responded.

That's around 7% who RSVPd with their intention to attend. Not bad at all.

328 telephoned to say they couldn't make it. Yes, you read that correctly. 328 nos.

What "no" really  meant

On face value it would be easy to feel a little despondent about the number of of responders saying they couldn't make it.

But think about it for a moment.

More than 300 people took the time to pick up the phone and talk to someone. They had the courtesy to reply personally to let the team know they had other engagements on the day.

How deep does that suggest the level of engagement is between these wonderful people and the organization? Of course we'll monitor their subsequent behavior over time and assess the true value of saying no.

Not surprisingly we've already received some further gifts from those who were invited.

The secret

The secret is - there wasn't any. We sent a warm, personal invitation to join an exclusive update. We made it easy (to respond and to join), and we promised to share some examples of how their support was truly changing peoples' lives, which we duly delivered on.

What's next?

The teleconference has been turned into a podcast for all and sundry to listen to (and being sent to all invitees). There will be subsequent appeals for support to finish the capital campaign off over the coming months, and invitations for donors to visit the new site and see how they're changing lives.

And most importantly, lives will be changed.

The lessons learned
  • Saying "no" isn't always a bad thing, particularly when it's attached to a personal phone call that includes a heartfelt thank you (for the invite).
  • Ensure we make supporters feel special, part of a unique and exclusive group.
  • Make everything easy.
  • Hold a donor teleconference really soon.

Jonathon Grapsas is the founder and director at flat earth direct, an agency dedicated to fundraising and campaigning for good causes. Jonathon spends his time working with charities around the world focused on digital, direct response and campaigning stuff.

If you'd like to chat to Jonathon you can drop him a line, follow him on twitter  or check out

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