Why You Should Respond, Even When the Answer is “No”


This post is courtesy of an Etiquette For Everyday fan, follower and all-around awesome community-minded person, Diane.  Diane wrote to me:


What is your take on responding to emails when the answer is ‘no’? Is it rude to not respond and just let the sender assume that your answer is ‘no’? I find it inconsiderate that people, and especially businesses, can’t simply say ‘no’ when you send out an email. Every now and then, I reach out to businesses for fundraising via email and ask if they would be interested. I request a reply, both positive or negative, and indicate that I understand that their resources are limited. I realize that email may not be the best avenue and that more personal approaches are often welcomed, but sometimes time just isn’t available and I don’t want to waste someone’s time by interrupting their day at work either. Most often than not, I do not receive any negative responses and I’m left wondering if the person got the message or not. I will sometimes choose to reach out again, asking for a response, one way or the other, and still nothing. It seems that many business owners are uncomfortable replying with a simple negative reply. I happen to think just as highly of an establishment or person when they respond with a ‘no’ as I would one that responds with a ‘yes’. At least they took the time to be polite. Maybe it’s rude of me to reach out via email? Correct me if my etiquette is less than appropriate, but this really frustrates me so I though you might help clear this up for me. Thank you.

Dear Diane,

It is totally acceptable to reach out to a business with an e-mail, as long as it’s personalized. Recently I received an e-mail from a person I’ve never met addressed   “To Whom It May Concern”, stating he was “networking” via a local Chamber of Commerce and wanted to get together to discuss how we could mutually benefit each other’s business. NO, No, no!

There have been plenty of other e-mails addressed to me, asking for a donation. Regardless of my answer, I DO reply. I’m with you: you should expect a response (even if it is a “no” ) if you send a personalized e-mail. In my little book o’ etiquette, this falls in the same category of people not RSVP’ing. It also reminds me of a blog post I wrote about the importance of the simple act of acknowledgment.

E-mails can be just one area of frustration when it comes to making contact.  Think of all the un-returned phone calls floating around in the world.

Replying back to people  is good from so many perspectives, but mostly because it builds relationships and connections.

Relationships and connections.

THAT is what etiquette is all about.

Diane, thank you for your question and allowing me to share it with my readers!



  1. This was a good question and it got me thinking about the fact that, as a small business, we are inundated with donation and sponsorship requests. We do what we can, but I don’t always send back a “Sorry, not this time” message when we decide we can’t “budget in” a particular cause. I will be more aware of the way I’m handling (or not handling) my responses in the future.

    • Kelly

      Jean, This question from Diane really made me think too. It was good to hear it from the other side of the table and reinforced for me that I should always respond. I understand your comment about being asked often for donations. As a small business,it’s just not feasible to be donating each time…but as Diane pointed out, she’d think just as highly of a business even if the answer is ‘no.” That too was nice to hear and demonstrates her understanding! Thank you for always being so reflective with your thoughts and actions Jean.

  2. I especially appreciated this post because it is impossible to respond to every request — which, often, is an unpleasant predicament. While I would like to be able to offer assistance to anyone who asks, reality does not match up. While I can not accept every opportunity that is offered, first and foremost, I thank the person for considering me or making the offer. If I can not directly respond to the request, I often consider if I can make a referral or a different contribution, if acceptable, that is within my means and/or capability. At times I have been able to contribute time or a resource, other than cash, that supports the request. Even if you have to say “No,” don’t endanger the relationship by being non-responsive. I’d also suggest that “No” is better delivered sooner rather than later.

    • Kelly

      Well said Barb! I like the options you presented AND your suggestion of “no” sooner vs. later. Thanks for reading and contributing!

  3. Hi Kelly,
    Thanks so much for posting my question and I’m glad to hear that I am not totally off-base with my approach. I do try to personalize my emails and not just ‘blast’ them out to a large group of ‘to whom it may concern’. I do see the other side of the coin as well and know that we are all busy and it takes time to respond. I was thinking that perhaps a business could come up with a coined phrase that they use for each negative response and keep it handy so that all they have to do is cut and paste their response and it’s done. This would also allow the business owner to allow a subordinate to reply and not have to worry about what is said, as long as they stick to the script. I really enjoy reading your blog and your insights on issues. I think it helps us all to take a different look at things that maybe we were not aware of. See you around town !


    • Kelly

      Diane, thank YOU for your fantastic question and for helping to raise awareness around this common interaction. Truly – it’s part of good relationships! Thanks for reading, contributing and the positive feedback!

  4. This is a great question and I love the answer because it’s an important reminder that there are actual human beings on the other end of that email:-) I’m not going to be popular with this statement but I’m going to point out that small business owners need to be careful to set boundaries around their time. It’s often a poor use of their time to respond to emails – especially ‘cold calls’ or requests from strangers. While I understand that relationships and connections are important, I often protect my time by simply deleting emails that I don’t have time to respond to. And strangely enough, I’ve found that sometimes even a firm ‘no’ in response opens the door for a time-consuming and unproductive email dialog.

    I use Diane’s trick by having a pre-written response to common requests – so I don’t have to think it through each time. I know that sounds impersonal but sometimes that’s the only way I can respond to people. Some of my pre-written responses include referrals to others who may be able to help.

    So yes, I’m guilty of not responding to unsolicited email requests (and phone calls as well). And yes, this post will make me think twice about whether or not the request demands a response. But I personally don’t feel obligated to respond to every single email request. Just my two cents;-)

    • Kelly

      Theresa, All excellent and valid considerations to the decision to respond or not. Thank you! Knowing Diane’s reference was key in this post and I may not have done a great job in illustrated that knowledge in my reply. I do think that when you are asked directly by name (vs. To Whom It May Concern or Business Owner) via e-mail or phone by a community member for a donation for a community event (especially when your community is small like Mt. Airy where Diane and I live), the least you can do is respond with a “Thanks for thinking of my business. At this time, I can’t help with a donation, but wish you the best of luck with the event.” As you pointed out, having pre-written responses can save time AND it is SO important that boundaries are set. Replying to every unsolicited e-mail could be a FT job! In this small world of ours, where my brief response will maintain the positive flow of a relationship and generate respect for me and my business, I’ll take two minutes to respond. I totally appreciate your sharing of an additional perspective and considerations!

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