Making the Ask

Category Archives — Making the Ask

Major Gifts: Resist the urge to negotiate unless you hear an absolute “no”

Only negotiate if you hear a flat-out: “there is no way in the world I/we can do that” or “I/we can’t possibly afford that much.”  You are listening for an absolute “no” that will be expressed through words, voice tone and body language.

 The following are not negotiating triggers:

  •  “Wow, that’s a lot of money.”  [An observation, not a definitive statement that the donor can’t or won’t make the gift.  Respond with an “impact statement,” e.g., “With that gift, you will be <describe impact>.”]
  •  “I wasn’t expecting that.” [Surprise is not a definitive “no.” Donors are often surprised. Keep the focus on the project and help the donor determine how involved s/he wants to be in the opportunity.]
  • “How did you come up with that number?” [Respond with impact, not process: “We know how much you care about <nonprofit> and thought you would want to take a leadership role” [or thought this might be the level at which you would want to be involved].
  •  The classic: “Let me think about it.”  The donor may simply need time.  Your job becomes to understand what the donor is thinking about and to determine if you can help that process.  If not, let the donor think.

Donor-respectful Negotiation steps

  1. If you do receive a flat-out “no way” and want to negotiate:If you asked for the gift as a lump-sum, e.g., for an outright $50,000, test a timing solution:  “Would you be able to fund this project the way you’d like to if we spread your gift over time—would $10,000 a year for 5 years for a total of $50,000 make it possible?”
  2. If timing doesn’t get you to “yes,” then negotiate the amount.  Reduce the amount by 50% and re-ask using the “ask” format:  “So John, would you consider a gift of $25,000 to support this project?” 
  3. If a 50% reduction does not get you to “yes,” then shift to letting the donor tell you what amount will work: “So John, I can see that you want to support this project–what amount will make that possible for you?”

 Why 50%? 

  1. If the donor could come close to the amount you asked for, you wouldn’t hear an emphatic “no way.”
  2. You want the donor to feel listened to and respected.
  3. This is not a bazaar—you don’t want to be in the position of haggling.

Note:  There may be different advice for potential gifts of $10M+.  That’s not my space.

10 reasons I like the For Impact | Suddes Group Donor Engagement Tool

When you are visiting with donors, the conversation is the point.  Put away that Case for Support and pull out a donor engagement tool.

What is a donor engagement tool? 

It’s a large (minimum recommended size is 11×17) sheet of paper divided into 3 sections:

  1. 30,000’:  Why? Purpose simply stated plus 3 compelling core stories.
  2. 14,000’: What? 1000-day priorities. Three interlocking circles, each with a 1-2 word priority.  Additional information focused on impact and success around each circle—any combination of text, graphs, pictures.
  3. How? Funding Plan:  Champion, Invite, Support Today, Tomorrow, Forever. 

Why it is effective?

  1. You have to distill why you are doing what you do (purpose) and what your priorities are for the next 3 years (1,000-day priorities).
  2. You get to have 3 priorities, which keeps it simple for the donor.
  3. You are encouraged to include stories—and stories create emotion.
  4. The format invites having a conversation vs. making a presentation.
  5. It quickly reveals the initiative(s) of greatest interest to the donor.
  6. It promotes the use of a permission-based approach to discussing the funding opportunities. This means you may end up talking about a gift on the first visit–with the donor’s permsission.
  7. If the donor is hesitating along the journey, you go back up a level and find the point of commitment.
  8. The Today, Tomorrow, Forever format leads you right into legacy gifts without talking about death and dying.
  9. Today, Tomorrow, Forever also make it easy to make a double or triple ask.
  10. And finally, the tool captures some of the excitement of drawing on the back of a napkin with enough elements to structure the discussion, allow the donor to quickly enter your world, and support less experienced volunteers making donor visits.

Thank you, For Impact | Suddes Group. To learn more, visit:

Major Gifts: When a donor says, “Let me think about it,” don’t negotiate against yourself.

You’ve just presented a donor with a big opportunity—whatever that means for your organization. “Let me think about it” is a perfectly natural response.

Without knowing more, do not jump into negotiations (you will be negotiating against yourself) or rush to end the visit.

P.A.T. Yourself on the Back (Program, Amount, Timing)

Your goal at that moment is to better understand what the donor is thinking. It may be about the amount – but it also may be the timing or even about the project, itself. Project/program, amount and timing encompass much of the possible terrain. It is also possible that “Let me think about it” is a brush-off. If it is, you want to know that, too.

Step 1: Acknowledge the reply: “Yes, Susan, I understand you want to think about a gift like this. I would, too. But I would like to be sure that I have it right that: “

Step 2: Confirm that the donor is enthused about the project/program. Game over, if not. That said, it is unlikely that you have arrived at this point only to discover the donor doesn’t value the opportunity. Most of the time, this question will elicit a “yes,” returning the donor to positive ground. (There is a sales element to this work!)

Step 3: Is the amount a figure the donor will, indeed, consider, e.g., “I suggested $50,000/year for five years as an amount that you would consider for this project.  Am I right that $250K is a possibility here once you’ve given it some thought?”

  • You are listening for any form of “yes, I just need to think it over” (or talk to my spouse, accountant, etc.). With a “yes,” move to step 4.
  • Only negotiate if you get an absolute “no” about the amount, i.e., “There is no way we can/will do $50,000/year.” In response to a clear “no,” do a re-ask: “Let’s talk about the amount, then. Is $30,000/year for five years for a total of $150,000 an amount you would consider?”

Step 4: Timing issues sometimes pop right up when you make the “ask,” i.e., my daughter is getting married, I have two kids in college, I have other commitments, etc. If not: “Given your interest, I want to be sure the timing is not getting in the way.” If a timing issue is raised, try offering a start-date that is one year out or expanding the payment horizon, depending on the donor’s situation. Not everyone wants to make commitments out into the future. No matter what, you want to get permission to keep the donor updated and come back for another visit.

Step 5: Do not leave without a specific follow-up plan or you will find yourself chasing the donor. This is a certain path to frustration – for everyone.

  • Propose an in-person follow-up meeting to answer any questions that may have arisen and find out what the donor is thinking.
  • If the donor pushes back on an in-person follow-up visit, come to agreement on a time for a follow-up phone call.

Note: If the donor won’t agree to a specific time for follow-up, you may be getting the brush-off.


Continue the conversation when a donor says, “Let me think about it.” “P.A.T. yourself on the back” and learn more about what is on the donor’s mind – is it the Project, the Amount, and/or the Timing —while acknowledging that a gift like this certainly merits some thinking. Then, set-up a follow-up visit.

Major Gift Cultivation & Solicitation: Say “yes” to the coffee

When the donor offers you refreshments, say “yes.” 

The first few minutes of a major gift cultivation or solicitation visit set the psychological stage. With the offer of refreshments, the prospect is taking a step toward you.  Accept. Your acceptance is building the social bond. You are also modeling “yes” mode.

If the offer is generic, as in, “Can I get you something to drink?” pick something that is obviously available. Water is a safe bet if you don’t see cans of soda or the coffee pot percolating. If you are offered an array of choices, e.g., “Would you like coffee, a soft drink, or some water?” – feel free to select your favorite. 

If the prospect has made coffee or is serving tea, he or she will typically tell you: “I’ve made fresh coffee.” Say “yes” to the offer whether or not you are thirsty or a coffee drinker.

 Your only escape is a medical issue that precludes you from partaking, i.e., the prospect already made caffeinated coffee and you can’t have caffeine, in which case you should thank the prospect, wish you could join him or her, encourage the prospect to pour him or herself a cup and request water instead, e.g., “Thank you so much for making/ordering coffee. It smells great and I wish I could join you but I’m not permitted to have caffeine. But please do pour yourself a cup and I’d love a glass of water.”  Don’t forget the glass of water.

Beverages are the most frequent offer, but the same holds true if cookies, pastries or other foods are presented.

 Say “yes” to the coffee at the beginning of a donor cultivation visit or major gift “ask” and set the stage for success.

Major Gift Cultivation & Solicitation: Compliments Count

The prospect’s environment often reflects areas of deep passion. Build rapport quickly by paying an authentic compliment.

Whether you are visiting your major gift prospect in his/her home or office, notice what strikes you as you enter the environment and pay a genuine compliment. By complimenting your prospect’s gardens, decorating, artwork, antiques, jewelry, spectacular views or family photos, you are creating a positive connection.  Your compliment let’s the prospect know that you are attentive to what is important to him or her.

Plus, we all like compliments.  They make us feel good.

Get the positive energy flowing right away.  Start your visit with a prospective major donor with a compliment.