Making The Ask, Closing The Deal

I’ve spent almost equal amounts of time asking people to make a charitable contribution to a nonprofit organization and to purchase a good or service from a for profit company.  And what I’ve noticed is that there is not much difference in how you need to go about making an ask or closing a deal. There’s also not a lot of difference in the resistance many people have in asking someone to do something—whether to become a supporter, a purchaser, or a client.

In fact, across all sectors, from everyone from volunteers to staff, what I hear most frequently is “I’ll do anything except ask someone for money.”  While we talk more about this in the nonprofit sector, we are not the only ones who fear asking.  Why is that?

Fear of hearing NO is by far the biggest bugaboo in asking someone for money.  It’s followed by:

Fear of being seen as pushyNO

Feeling uncomfortable

Not knowing who to ask or when to ask

Not knowing how to ask

The best way to deal with all these fears is being straightforward.  In other words, be direct and clear about your intentions.

That means if you are approaching someone about a charitable gift, you clearly tell that person you are there with your fundraising hat on.

If you are talking about a business deal, be upfront with your intentions—and your intention will typically mean that you are trying to sell something.  And that means talking about money.

Warren Buffet says that you have to be clear about money from the beginning. You don’t want “to waste [their] time or that of the [other party’s time] by talking, even preliminarily, about a transaction when price is unknown.”

This is equally true about gifts. You don’t want to be spending time with a prospect—business or charitable—who doesn’t have the capacity you are looking for.

Consequently, you not only need to know what they can afford, you have to understand why a gift or a deal makes sense to your prospect.

You do that by finding out what they want/need to accomplish.  And this happens via conversations and by asking and listening to the answers to open ended questions.

Questions to prospective donors like:

  • How did you first learn about us?
  • What is about our mission that interests you
  • How well do you know our programs?
  • What do you hope to accomplish with your philanthropy?

Or to possible buyers:

  • What do you need to accomplish?
  • Tell me a little about why the service/product you are using isn’t working for you right now
  • What do you hope to get from our meeting?
  • If you don’t solve the problem you are trying to solve, what kind of difficulties will you face going forward?

So I mentioned money before.  And, as Warren Buffet says, you should be mentioning money from the get-go.  At the beginning you may need to talk in ranges—but those ranges should shrink as you get closer to making an ask or closing a deal.  And when you do make an ask, make it specific. This is usually not a problem for people selling product—(and that includes tickets to events!)—the price is the price, or thereabouts.  But for services as well as charitable gifts, you need to have clarity what your expectations are.

Simply asking “for a gift” is not good practice; nor is offering your services or product ASK-1without attaching an amount.  And yes, you might ask for too much—but you can always negotiate.  And believe me, it is more stressful for the donor/client/customer if they don’t know what you are expecting.  Think about it—if I tell you it is Linda’s birthday and I’m collecting for her gift, what is the first question you ask?  Right “How much?”  Likewise, if I go into a store and there are no clear price tags, I don’t know about you, but it immediately makes me uncomfortable.

Whatever your money issues are—deal with it, and help your prospect know what the costs will be so they can move forward to yes.

So, we’ve been clear about our purpose; we’ve discovered what matters to our prospects, we’ve spoken openly about money and now we have to ask if they will indeed make that gift, buy our product, engage our service!

In real life, of course, you will run into objections.

Whether you are a nonprofit or for profit, selling a product or a service, objections tend to cluster around: Price/amount

  1. Trust  (I’m not comfortable with your mission; how do I know that you can do what you say)
  2. Personal politics (I said I would use my controller’s/board chair’s wife; I’m overcommitted—on the board of…..)
  3. Organizational (be that business or home) politics (I don’t make the decision)(I need to talk with my spouse)
  4. Timing

How do you deal with most objections?  Simple:

  • Acknowledge what has been said: I hear you John, it IS a lot of money. But let me ask you this:  If money were no object, would you be interested in…….?  I understand, you don’t know if we can really do what we say we can.  What would you need to feel confident about our expertise/professionalism/ability to do what we say we will do?
  • Educate, don’t debate: You want to get the gift/close the deal, not win the argument. If what they are saying is wrong, talk about what is correct.
  • Keep on the same side; it’s “us” together.  Don’t get into finger pointing—you think; you…….

Keep coming back to your main point. Remember why you are there.

And sometimes simply let it go—if our mission doesn’t resonate, and you’ve clarified that truly it does not, thank them for their time and move on.  If they are going to use someone else—well truth be told, 50% of all sales or jobs are already committed to someone else.  They needed to meet with you to show they are doing due diligence (even though they they are not)

ShhhAnd then—be quiet.

If you don’t get a yes, learn more about the no.

Let’s face it, if you’ve gotten this far, you must have had yeses along the way.  Revisit those:

  • Do they still feel positive toward your company, your product, your organization?
  • How about the vision?
  • They are interested in buying, need your service, or believe that philanthropy is important.
  • They’ve had their concerns—whatever they are—addressed.
  • They agree with the scope and the price.  They like the purpose, the product, the solution.

SO…..ask again: Will you consider….buying, signing a contract for, making a gift of?

There is one last thing that is needed to close a deal/ask for a gift.  And it has to do with how you feel about the organization, the product, the service.  You cannot ask for a charitable gift if you have given; you can’t ask someone to buy a product if you don’t think it is quality; and you cannot ask someone to use your service if you don’t think it provides something excellent.  Only when you can say, “Join me” in supporting this cause; buying this item; using our services; can you close the deal you want to close and get the best gift your donor can give.



Janet Levine works with nonprofits, moving them from mired to inspired and helping them to raise more money. Find out more at While there, sign up for the monthly newsletter. And now, buy Janet’s new book, Compelling Conversations for Fundraisers, available  at Amazon.