This article originally appeared in our November/December 2015 issue of Nonprofit Hub Magazine, a free bi-monthly magazine. You can reserve your free copy today.
In the world of fundraising, making the ask is one thing; sealing the deal is another. Even if you’ve grown entirely comfortable with the process of approaching people for money (and if you have, kudos to you), closing an ask can still be a challenge.
Should you end with a question or a statement?
How hard should you work to overcome an objection?
How much silence is too much? Should you talk? Should you listen?
If they say “no,” what do they really mean? No forever? No, not now? No, not that amount?
So many factors, so few concrete answers. The truth is, there’s no formula for the perfect close. Every donor is different and every situation unique. Yet it’s during the close that you need to be particularly confident about why you’re asking for money and especially in tune with your donor—if you’re not, you’ll have a difficult time getting a yes from anyone other than those who were likely to give anyway.
Before we talk about the close, let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to the ask. To be clear, mentioning that your organization needs money is not an ask. Talking about why you need money is not an ask. Explaining your nonprofit’s financial status is not an ask.
Specifically defining how much you need, why you need it and then directly asking someone to give a certain portion of that amount—that, my friends, is an ask. No doubt, you’ve heard that one of the main reasons people cite for not supporting an organization is, “They didn’t ask me to.” So let’s start on the same page and define an ask as a deliberate and well thought-out request to a donor for a specific financial gift.
For the record: An ask is not about wrenching a check out of some guy’s hand. Your job is to ask, and it is his job to decide. That takes the pressure off both of you if you understand the role each of you plays in the donation process.
That said, there are ways to approach the close of your ask in order to turn the tide in your favor.
1. Focus on emotions, not reasons.
We all like to think we’re logical when it comes to making financial decisions, but if that were the case, brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Porsche would be out of business. People who can afford luxury brands don’t buy them because they need them; they buy them because it makes them feel good. Stick with me here because believe it or not, you can transfer a similar line of thinking to your donors.
Your donors don’t inherently need to support you; giving you money doesn’t put food on their table. They do so because they want to—it makes them feel good. It satisfies an emotional need, whether it makes them feel kinder, more significant, more connected or more passionate. Emotions almost always play a major role in arbitrary financial decisions. So while you might want to use logic and reason in closing your asks (because logically your organization needs money in order to operate), focus on the emotional aspect of giving and how it will make your donor feel to partner with you financially. Emotional satisfaction is a more compelling motivator.
2. Focus on them, not you.
You need revenue. You have bills to pay. Maybe your donations are down for the year. Guess what? Your donor doesn’t care, nor should she. Declining revenues and increasing internal demands are not her problem. It’s very easy for those factors to creep into how you approach your donors for money because those are the issues weighing heavy on your mind, but they have no place in your close.
Desperation is the mother of pushiness, and the average donor doesn’t want to feel coerced into giving. They want to be inspired. Instead of ruminating on how much you need her gift, shift your thinking to, “What’s in this for my donor?” A chance to connect with others? An opportunity to support a cause that’s personal to her? A safe, trusted place to leave a legacy gift? A tax benefit? Changing your focus from you to your donors will help you close your ask with less desperation and more relevance.
3. Focus on educating, not selling.
An organization that teaches a donor about an issue has a much higher chance of success than one that just pitches a cause. For example, if you’re a nonprofit that funds research and helps families affected by pediatric cancer, don’t just stop at, “Here’s what we’re doing, will you please write us a check?” Educate. Talk about the families you’ve helped and what they’ve gone through. Show why there’s a need for funding. Similarly, give donors a firsthand experience by inviting them to volunteer, attend an event or get involved in a way that gets them up close and personal with your organization.
When you close your ask, it doesn’t have to be all about money. They may say no to a donation right now, but yes to getting involved in another way—and that will increase the chance of a future donation, maybe sooner than later. Your close isn’t just the final step of your ask; it’s a chance to deepen your relationship and explore new opportunities for the future.
4. Focus on listening, not talking.
This may be the toughest point yet, but it’s crucial: You must be okay with silence. Once you’ve made your ask, stop talking. A lot of us get into a mode where we feel the need to convince, as if our donor doesn’t fully understand the need. Or the ask. And so we keep going on and on, reiterating the same points and asking for the same gift in ten different ways.
But there comes a point in your close when the best thing to do is stop, focus on your donor and just listen. Give him time to respond. He may need to think for a few minutes—that’s perfectly fine. Or he may have a few questions. Give him time to formulate them. The more comfortable you are with giving your donor space and allowing him to respond without trying to dodge a “no,” the less desperate you’ll seem. Plus, listening will help you understand what his “no” means if that’s his initial answer. Not every no is a dead-end; some mean “not right now” or “not that amount” or even “I want to do more.” But you’ll never be able to decipher if you keep trying to convince.
Like most things in fundraising, mastering the art of the close is about staying donor-centric. Resist the urge to push. Listen. Stay relevant. And make him a partner in your conversation, not a skeptic you’re trying to win over. That’s ultimately what you want in your donors anyway.