Contrary to the popular adage, fundraising is not the art of asking but the art of communicating that includes asking.
—Penelope Burk, Donor Centered Fundraising
The way that you thank your donors can have tremendous impact on donor renewal rates and long-term giving (as much as anything else you do throughout the year!). More than receiving their thank you note in the mail or seeing their name in the Annual Report months after their gift, personal contact now is an important step toward growing your donor file and overall results.
Thank you calls are proven to increase donor retention rates.* Keep in mind, your communication with most of your donors up to this point has been through mail. A personal phone call will stand out—and it isn’t as daunting a task as you may think.
Thank you calls: Who? What? When? How?
- Who makes the calls? It depends. You might want to have a Board Chair or Member call your major donors and staff or volunteers can call others. It will be different for every organization. Whomever you choose, make sure they are comfortable on the telephone—you don’t want this to sound like a robo-call. This is a genuine and heartfelt thank you.
- Who should you call? Major donors, all first-time donors, recaptured donors who were lapsed 1+ years, those who upgraded to the next giving level, donors who made gifts of stock, and monthly sustaining donors. Make sure you acknowledge them as individuals: “Thanks for joining us!” “It’s great to see you back!” “We appreciate your ongoing support!”
- What are you going to say? Working from a prepared script is not only okay, it’s encouraged. Rarely do people receive phone calls that simply say thank you. Using a script will help you guide the conversation and prepare you for anyone who is caught off guard.
Use this sample script as a guide and adapt it as needed to address your various types of donors.
- When are you going to call? This depends on why you’re making thank you calls. If it’s to follow up on a recent gift after a thank you letter has already been sent out, call within a few days—maybe a week—of receiving the donor’s gift. If you’re reaching out after the close of the calendar or fiscal year to thank prior year donors, do it early in the new year, before you begin your next appeal.
- How? Be brief and take notes. This call should be a pleasant surprise to the recipient, not an aggravation. Be sensitive. You should ask, “Is this a good time?” And record results. If the donor is more talkative and offers you feedback, record their thoughts and share with your team.
Here’s something else you will want to prepare for: regardless of what time of day you call, you’ll mainly be having this conversation with someone’s voicemail. This will make the process move much more quickly than you think. Just make sure you have an adapted script on hand for leaving a voicemail.
And if you find that you don’t have very many phone numbers on file for your donors, it’s time to think about ways to update your reply card or online donation page, encouraging donors to add or confirm their contact info.
A short phone call goes a long way. Take some time to incorporate thank you calls into your best practices—improved donor retention is right around the corner for your organization!
This post was adapted from the Five Maples resource A How to Guide for Keeping First Time Donors.
* Burk, Penelope. Donor Centered Fundraising, Cygnus Applied Research, Inc. (2003): pgs. 56-59.