How many times have you been told no?

Whether it’s a client who has decided not to work with you or a funder who chooses not to donate, hearing no is hard. For many of us, it can feel like failure. I know my initial gut reaction is to wonder what I’ve done wrong. Was it what I said, or how I said it? Was it the price? Did they not see the value? Did they not believe I could come through?

It’s so easy to spiral into a pit of self-loathing. Clearly, I’ve done something wrong if they don’t want to work with me or support my cause. Right?


The truth is, unless the person clearly articulates the reason for the no, you have no idea what’s behind it. And this is a problem in multiple ways.

First, is the spiral of self-loathing. It is toxic. Your mind can find a million things you did wrong to “lose the deal” and none of them are likely true. It affects your mood and mindset in the short term and erodes your confidence going into the next ask. It has to stop.

Second, when you don’t know why someone said no, you can’t do anything to fix it going forward. If your message wasn’t clear, it will continue to be unclear. If your price truly was too high, you don’t know to adjust it. If the donor doesn’t understand how you are different than the next organization, future donors won’t know either.

The simple solution to these problems? Ask the person why they said no.

I know. It’s so hard. In the moment you feel defeated and maybe even hurt or upset. Give yourself time to process and move through those initial feelings, but then follow up and ask why. It’s the only way to truly know.

I recommend sending an email that says how much you appreciated the person’s time and interest in your organization. Tell them you understand it wasn’t a good fit for them, but you would like to know if they have any feedback on the product or pitch. Ask what would have made it a better fit. Make it about your learning and development, not about their no.

Most people will appreciate your desire to grow and improve and will gladly provide feedback that will help you.

Once you have that information, you can adjust as you move forward. Change your message. Clarify your position. Rework your slides. Whatever you need to do, so that next time, you get the yes.

Because you are in the business of getting more yesses.