In the social sector a significant amount of our world runs on “no.” Much of the work of a community leader is raising capital and — as anyone who has done this work knows — we expect to receive far more noes (whether implicit or explicit) than yesses.

For many in our line of work, “no” is scary.  The possibility of “no” is one of the reasons it’s often tough to motivate board members or other supporters to leverage relationships to develop funds and resources. When you’re making an ask for the first time, hearing no can feel like a personal failure.

Seasoned leaders eventually learn to live with “no” and plan for it.  That which we experience everyday just becomes background noise. If being an executive director is (as I’ve heard it described) like drinking from a fire hose, eventually you get used to it and learn to pack a poncho for when the rush of no from the proverbial fire hydrant starts.

Being turned down for a gift, a grant proposal or a partnership isn’t a stopping point — it’s the beginning of a conversation. Why aren’t we a fit? Where do you see potential? Even if this opportunity doesn’t feel right, how can we work together?

A donor might say it’s just not the right time for them to make a gift. Or that they need more information. In which case we learn more about that person and build a relationship.

A funder might say your proposal wasn’t exactly the right fit. But they are intrigued by your project, and you begin a collaborative conversation.

A restaurant might say they’re out of chicken fingers. So you have a salad instead. We all need more salad.

In our sector, “no” is frequently a pathway to possibility. If we can be courageous in the face of being declined, and stick around to ask the right questions, we get something even more valuable than what came to ask for in the first place.

Tell me about a time “no” led to a better outcome for you at work!

– Michael Tipton
BCBSLA Foundation President and Head of Community Relations



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