The Art of Saying “No” by Hilary Grunewald

A few days ago, in the wake of all that has happened with Lance Armstrong, I wondered if Livestrong, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, has seen the same backlash.  After a bit of research, this USA Today article stated that Nike, Trek, and Anheuser-Busch have all committed to continue their work with Livestrong. I can practically hear the sigh of relief all the way in Chicago from their Austin, TX headquarters.

The second-worst part of being in development is losing a sponsor for reasons out of your control. Now, you’re probably wondering what the first-worst part of sponsorship?? For me, it’s saying no, turning down money that you know could make an impact in your community.

I hate turning down sponsors because: a). They are offering money that will help to fuel the organization’s mission. b). No one likes to feel rejected or to reject someone, and c). You are usually talking to the most passionate person who has a direct connection to the cause, has a stellar personality, and won’t take no for answer. There are a million reasons why it is necessary to say no but this post is going to cover HOW to do it.

1. Express your concerns but do not give an immediate “yes” or “no.” Listen to the conversation. Take notes. Be polite. After the potential partner has explained what it is they would like to do say, “you know it is generally against our policies to partner with a [fill in the conflict blank].”

2. Set up a time for your next conference call or meeting. If you don’t set an immediate time and step 4 doesn’t yield any successful results you will end up putting this hard call/e-mail off. In the end, now you are not only turning down a partnership but you have also wasted their time. On your first call, set a follow-up phone call. Simple as that.

3.  Be thankful. Saying ‘thank you’ should be about as natural to a development person as it is for a dog to bark.

4. Brainstorm some other options. In what other ways can you engage this company other than a public partnership? Can you do an employee fundraising or education event? Any and all of these things will work. Just because the company isn’t great for a partnership that doesn’t mean that the people working there aren’t either.

5.  Rip off the Band-Aid. This is my least favorite part. So, I down a piece of chocolate because endorphins make you happy (thank you Legally Blonde) and make the call. I prefer calling because it allows for me to present multiple options for a mutually beneficial partnership and you can judge the potential partner’s tone and interest. Additionally, sometimes the company might misread your e-mail and see it as a rejection letter.  If you expressed concern from the beginning, they won’t be completely shocked and will be happy that you want to work with their company in one capacity or another. Voila! You’re done!

6. Remind yourself that it is OK to say “no.” In the long run, you will be happy, your constituents will be happy, the company will be happy, and most importantly, your mission will thrive.

Wishing you all tons of “yes’s” and very few “no’s” during your development journey. May the odds be ever in your favor!

Hilary Grunewald is the Development Coordinator for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure where she is responsible for organizing, planning, and executing a myriad of fundraising and development activities for the affiliate.

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