When I first entered the assignment of Chief Development Officer, my philanthropy coach taught me the best methods to ask for a major gift. She had great life experiences, raising millions from donors, and she walked on water when it came to teaching and exercising wholesome influence.

Early in my training the day came when we were scheduled to meet with a community philanthropist at his office. It was our strategy to ask for a six figure gift. My coach offered to present the close and suggested that I express some words to warm the discussion.

As we arrived for the meeting the tone was cordial and upbeat. My coach and I were well acquainted with our donor and he showed positive engagement. After a twenty minute discussion of pleasant exchanges my coach laid out our appreciation for his friendship, the case for a major gift, and asked for a pledge.

I was prepared for a favorable result, given all the positive signals. But, instead the philanthropist responded with “an awesome no” … Not a maybe, just a definitive no.

I thought I was about to fall out of my chair. I wanted to shrink and become invisible. It was a moment I did not expect. I felt really awkward.

However, my coach was so gracious. She showed empathy for his philanthropy priorities. She agreed that he could not make large gifts to every worthy cause. She kindly let him know that she understood his conclusion and how we still valued his friendship.

Before leaving the office we returned to some fun banter and then a few minutes later we adjourned. As we walked into the parking lot I looked at my coach in amazement and asked how she felt about what happened?

She replied with ease, saying that we did  good work. She explained that we gave him an opportunity that he was not ready to accept. She pointed out how much time we had talked about his potential gift as we had prepared for the meeting and getting to a clear result was important to our process. She treated the outcome as useful research. It was not distressing to her. Her point was simply that we could now shift the time we we were dedicating to cultivate him to another worthy donor.

How often in life are there circumstances when we need to hear an “awesome no,” so we can move on with our purpose? How often do we resist calling for the decision because we fear the “awesome no?”

I learned a lesson from my coach that day about the value to hear the word “no.” If an “awesome no” is coming, it seems useful to get that understood. The word “no” can open new paths for making healthy adjustments as we navigate our responsibilities in work and life.