Whether it’s a declined grant application, a potential donor saying “no,” or a campaign that falls short of expectations, rejection is part of the fundraising process. It’s not easy to deal with it! Rejection can leave us feeling let down, deflated… or it can lead to “imposter syndrome,” where you feel like you’re simply not up to the task(s). Rejection can open doors to learning about yourself, leveling up your skills, and creating healthy boundaries between you and your work. Chin up! Here are some tips to help you deal with rejection.
A Learning Opportunity
Every rejection offers a chance to learn and improve. Ask for feedback when possible. Figure out if there were factors outside of your control (there almost always are!) that led to the rejection; at the same time, figure out if you could have anticipated some of these factors and pivoted your approach or plan. Find a trusted colleague and ask for their advice, maybe someone with a bit more experience or a helpful complementary perspective. Can you adapt your strategy the next time around?
Not a Measure of Worth
Remember, a rejection is not a measure of your worth or the value of the cause you represent. It’s often just a mismatch of priorities or timing. You are passionate about your work, you care about your work… but you are not your work. A rejection of a fundraising ask is not a rejection of you.
Practical Tips for Coping
Take a Step Back
Give yourself permission to take a short break to regroup. Thinking about it is good, but turning it over and over in your mind is not so healthy. If you find that you are ruminating in a way that makes you feel down, defeated, and depressed, find a way to break the cycle both physically and mentally. Take a walk, and really see, hear, and feel everything that’s surrounding you. Draw or doodle. Take 10 truly deep breaths. Eat a delicious treat. Find ways to engage your senses in order to clear your mind.
Look at the Big Picture
Try to take what I call the 30,000 foot view: zoom out, and see this moment not as the end or culminating point, but as one moment on the long arc of your work.
I’ve developed an ability to separate setbacks in my work from how I perceive my own gifts and talents.
I recently shared some strategies for building resilience, including establishing boundaries, connecting with colleagues, and adapting a growth mindset. Resilience doesn’t spring up overnight. It takes practice, day by day and challenge by challenge, to develop that muscle.
My Reset Strategies
Over 30+ years of working in the nonprofit sector, I’ve faced plenty of no’s and disappointments. When I was younger and less experienced, each setback felt bigger and more difficult to overcome. Over the years, my mindset has shifted. People talk about developing a “thick skin” — to be honest, I’m not sure if I’ve really done that. But I can say that I’ve developed an ability to separate setbacks in my work from how I perceive my own gifts and talents. I still take rejection to heart, but I just don’t take it as personally as I used to. I give myself permission to feel whatever I need to feel, I regroup, and I move forward.
Rejection is a natural part of the fundraising process, but it doesn’t have to be a roadblock. By reframing rejection as an opportunity for growth and employing coping strategies, you can build resilience and set yourself up for future success. Remember, every “no” brings you one step closer to a “yes.”
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