7 steps to decline donations you can’t accept

She was really ticked off because they wouldn’t accept her gift.
One of my customers got the following response to a survey request:

“Why on earth would I respond to this survey when the gift of property I offered to the university was declined (which I sold within the year for $150,000.00). In my opinion your refusal speaks to the shortsightedness and ineptness of those who review such proposed gifts.”


That led me to wonder, what is the cost of declining a gift you don’t want to (or can’t) accept?
The point here isn’t whether or not you should accept certain gifts, it’s how you should go about treating the donor as you decline them.

Nonprofits need to consider the cost of making a donor angry. They need to recognize that there are repercussions for treating a donor poorly.

It’s not about whether or not you should accept certain gifts, it’s how you should go about treating the donor as you decline them.

Here are 7 ways to let ’em down easy so you still maintain a relationship that might lead to future giving:

  1. Be gracious. Thank the donor profusely. Tell them how amazing they are for wanting to make a gift.
  2. Be apologetic. Let them know that you are truly very, very sorry that you cannot accept their gift.
  3. Be empathetic. Say, “I really wish I could help. I don’t really always agree with these policies.”
  4. Be clear and honest. Tell them exactly why you can’t help.  “Here’s why we can’t accept the gift at this time.”
  5. Tell a story. Use storytelling to exhibit what happened that led the organization to decide not to accept certain gifts.
  6. Explain how the gift could actually harm the mission. Donors don’t want to unintentionally do more harm than good. So, if you detail what it would cost the organization or how it would harm it to accept the gift, the donor will be more likely to understand the reasoning.
  7. Help them achieve their goals. Refer them to an organization that will accept their gift.

Related Posts:

>>16 simple things your best donors want
>>7 simple ways to engender fondness among your supporters for yourself and your nonprofit’s cause

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John Lovell
6 years ago

I like Greg’s post but I have a problem with #3. I would never tell a donor that I have a problem with my organization’s gift acceptance policy. For example, we don’t accept timeshares as donations under any circumstances and telling the donor that I don’t agree with that policy is very counter-productive. I would go right to step 4 and explain why we can’t accept the gift.I think that it is better to empathize with the desire to give a gift and explore ways that they could monetize the gift on their own.

6 years ago
Reply to  John Lovell

Thanks John. Your input is wise. Got any other ways to show empathy though?
Maybe simply saying, “I really wish I could accept it but these policies were created and approved by donors just like you who care so much about our shared mission. I am sincerely sorry and hope you’ll accept my apology.”

5 years ago

Do you have a sample letter?

4 years ago

I agree that you should not say you disagree with the policy. You can express empathy by letting them know that you understand their motivation. I volunteer at a fundraising bookstore and have to field emails from people wanting to donate large quantities of unsellable books that they think are just wonderful. One of my “empathy” statements (which also indicates how the donation can do harm) goes something like this:
I really appreciate your offer. I know how hard it is to purge books and how much you want to see them put to good use!
I always find it really difficult to refuse donations, but we have to haul things to the dump occasionally and I’m afraid we just can’t find room for your donation at this time.

David Barker
3 years ago

Maybe for #3, we could say, “Unfortunately, I have encountered this same situation, and I know it is not the response you wanted to hear.”

Esther Landau
3 years ago

We have a donor who is holding his donation hostage unless we change our investment strategy or unless HE can manage our investments. 🙄 No thank you!

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