Have you ever made a phone call hoping to talk with someone, but instead reached voice mail?
Of course you have!
Does that mean you don’t ever make phone calls?
Of course not!
What do you do?
You leave a message and ask the person to call, email or text you back.
Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.
But at least they know you reached out to them. If they want to connect with you, they now have an invitation to do so. And if they know you, and like you, they’re very likely to return your call.
Donors know you. They like you. Otherwise they wouldn’t have made a gift to you.
So why are you, or your board members, so afraid to pick up the phone to thank them?
All the time nonprofits tell me “Asking our board members to make thank you calls won’t work, because people screen their calls these days; they won’t pick up.”
Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t.
Either way, you’ll have accomplished something important merely by proactively reaching out.
Stop worrying about how your donors will or won’t behave. Instead, worry about how you’re behaving. Or not.
Don’t donors deserve thank you calls?
Of course they do!
Penelope Burk, author of Donor-Centered Fundraising, found 91% of donors said this is their number one preferred method of recognition.
Thank you phone calls, IMHO, are the number one underutilized strategy in your fundraising toolkit.
Gratitude is not fluffy stuff.
It affects your bottom line. Research shows donors who receive thank you calls renew at higher rates and give larger subsequent gifts than donors who are not called.
- Thank you calls reduced donor attrition by 33% and more. Pell & Bales, UK study
- Thank you calls achieved 15% higher retention. Roger Craver, Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life
- PBS programs making thank you calls retained 56% more donors and 72% more dollars WGBS and others, calls to new donors
The best thank you calls are prompt.
Ideally make calls within 48 hours, especially if the donors are new. First-time donors are ardent, but their ardor cools quickly. Many first time gifts are “tests.” Donors are waiting to see how you treat them.
- The most efficient way to handle these calls is to have staff make them as part of your routine acknowledgement process. If you have a small amount of donations daily, there’s no reason you can’t call every donor.
- If you have too many donors for one person to call, you can prioritize new donors and larger donors. Or you can farm calls out to other staff. Consider having the executive director make calls to all major donors. Or ask program staff to make calls for gifts donor-designated for their program. The level of gift you choose will depend on your major gift level; $1,000 is common. Err on the side of calling more than less.
- If it’s been a while since the donation, and no calls were made, consider asking board members to make belated calls. If this is the case, suggest an addition to the script for donors who gave more than a month ago: “We are catching up on business, so please pardon us for calling so late to bring you this personal thanks.”
By calling, you’ll stand out from the crowd.
Donors will be impressed you reached out, let them know their gift didn’t go into a black hole, told them it would be applied as they intended, and praised them for being wonderful, thoughtful, caring and generous. They’ll begin to feel (1) you’re likeable, because you did a nice thing and (2) you’re trustworthy, because you follow through. These two attributes, ascribed to you, will stand you in good stead to receive future gifts. Research shows when people like you they’ll associate other favorable traits, i.e. honesty, familiarity and trustworthiness, with you. And trust is the foundation of all lasting relationships.
Donors screening calls? Here’s what to do!
12 Strategies to Handle Thank You Calls When the Donor Doesn’t Pick Up
1. Plan ahead for how to handle leaving messages and following up.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you don’t have a plan for what you’ll do when donors don’t pick up the phone, you’ll sadly waste time and energy. Don’t be sad; make your donors glad! Know in advance it’s not a failure if the donor doesn’t pick up because you’ve planned all along to either chat or leave a message.
2. Put the plan in writing.
By putting the plan in written form, you’re more likely to follow through. As is everyone else involved. A written plan assures everyone who needs to know their role, and all the specific steps included in that role, actually does.
3. Flesh out and develop all pieces of the plan.
It’s nice to refer to a donor’s past support with some specificity if you can. Especially if you can thank them personally for things such as their loyalty over time, increasing their last gift, committing to become a monthly supporter, or recently volunteering or attending an event.
DONOR PROFILES: Penelope Burk’s donor-centered fundraising research largely boils down to this one thing donors want: “Show me that you know me.” Printed-out confidential donor profiles make this possible for your callers.
SCRIPTS: Write up a brief script template your callers can use. This is important to assure the thank you call is purely a thank you, and not a pitch for another gift. Get all the details by downloading my free Thank You Calls E-Book + Script.
INSERTS: These are optional, but if you have a nice client thank you note, snapshot or anything else you’d like to share – something likely to make your donor feel good – plan ahead to print these up and distribute them to your callers so they can insert them into their follow-up thank you notes.
SAMPLE THANK YOU NOTES: Prepare a note in advance so callers will have a template to use after their call. Have two versions: (1) “Thanks so much for taking the time to chat,” and (2) “Sorry I missed you today! I’m on the board and just called to thank you for your support. That’s it! As I mentioned on my voice message, I’m enclosing a note from one of the people your gift helped. Your support means a lot.” Here’s an example:
Dear Shirley and Bob,
While many people were driving to vacation getaways, you thought about the needs of seniors and others who couldn’t get to holiday celebrations and made an exceptionally generous gift. Thank you so much!
I was so excited I tried to phone you personally to express my thanks. Since I did not reach you, this little card will have to be my voice. Your giving really makes a difference!
As part of my work I have the pleasure of calling on special folks like you to thank you and hear your views on the needs in our community. I will be in your area several days later this month, and would so enjoy taking you for tea or coffee. I would be happy to hear from you at any time at 555/555-1355.
4. Recruit callers (volunteers and/or staff).
As discussed above, who you recruit to make phone calls will depend on how many donors you have to thank. If you can manage this internally, it’s most expedient to recruit staff. They don’t all have to be development staff. One of the best ways to begin to instill an organization-wide culture of philanthropy is to engage your entire team in reaching out to your donors. Breaking down the donor/staff wall prevents “othering” that can get in the way of building lasting donor relationships. And if you have board members who refuse to help with fundraising calls, this is a non-threatening way to introduce them to the process of picking up the phone.
5. Communicate the plan
It’s best to have someone who is well-loved and respected announce the plan to everyone expected to be involved. Depending on who you’re recruiting, you may want to begin by talking about the problem of donor retention. When folks understand how many hard-won new donors never make a second gift (81% per the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, and just 57% overall; of course, you should share your data), they’re better able to embrace a plan to improve on this result.
6. Provide a quick training (virtual or on-site); include practice time.
Once folks understand what’s about to happen, your job is to make it seem easy and pleasurable. If you’re able to gather everyone together in a shared physical space, do what you can to make the training fun. Share refreshments, or give each participant a little take-home gift (an advance thank you). This can be as simple as some home-baked cookies or a handful of Hershey’s kisses in a little bag. If you do the training virtually, consider adding an ice-breaker to warm up the group and get into the interactive mode. Role play how it’s done; discuss. Ask for volunteers to practice in front of the group; discuss what worked/didn’t work. Or break everyone into pairs (breakout rooms) to practice. Debrief.
7. Distribute collateral; respond to caller questions.
Hand out the donor profiles, scripts, sample thank you notes, stationery and inserts you’ve prepared. Review how they are to be used. Take some time to answer any further questions. If you’re planning to distribute calls to staff on a daily basis, agree upon a process. For example, you can provide them with an ongoing stack of stationery, stamps and inserts. Every morning you might divide a list of yesterday’s entered gifts among several staff who’ve agreed to take on calls. Give them the names, contact information and gift amount/relevant history for the donors they’ll need to call today. Ask them to report back to you immediately on outcomes so you can enter that information into your database.
8. Make thank you calls.
Be clear you want these calls made within a 24 – 48 hour time period. If you’re asking board members to make belated calls, ask them to have them completed within the week.
9. Follow up with donors you’re unable to speak with.
In addition to sending a follow-up thank you note after I’ve left a voicemail message, I like to promise donors I’ll send them an email with my contact information should they ever have any questions. It’s a way of saying “you’re too important to have to call the main number when you want to ask or tell us something.”
10. Follow up, as appropriate, with donors you spoke with.
Again, you can’t say thank you enough. Keep building the donor relationship by sending a follow-up note. Remember to include anything you promised to send. This may include an inserted thank you letter from a client. It may also include the answer to a question they asked after you researched your response.
11. Record your actions and anything you learned.
- Left message; sent follow-up note.
- Reached and said thank you; sent follow-up note.
- Reached and chatted; information learned: __________________________________
There are two reasons keeping a record is critically important:
- You want to be able to track whether donors who are called renew at higher rates than donors who are not called. If this works, it justifies putting more resources into this strategy next year.
- You want to be able to show donors you know them. If they tell someone who represents you (staff or volunteer) something important to them, such as they want their giving to be anonymous or they prefer to be solicited just once annually, they expect others within the organization to honor their wishes.
12. Make a note to remind you of your next touchpoint.
It’s always good to know what’s next. No strategy should stand in a vacuum. You may decide in advance on some general touchpoints. If this is the case, you should be able to automate a follow-up that comes from your CRM or email provider. For example, perhaps everyone who made a #GivingTuesday gift will receive a follow-up email two weeks later letting them know the impact of their gift. Sometimes it’s appropriate to do some specific follow-up. For example, if you spoke to a donor and promised to get back to them with an answer to a question, make a note to do this. Or if you learned they’re going in for surgery next week, make a note to check in on them. Or if they indicated they’d love to have coffee with your E.D., make a note to set this up and give the donor some possible dates.
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