I generally counsel nonprofits to call and thank their donors.
It’s personal, unexpected and just plain nice. We could all use a little more “nice” in our lives.
But there’s a right and wrong way to express gratitude
One is authentic and meaningful.
The other is robotic and meaningless. Maybe even off-putting.
A Thank You Phone Call/Message Gone Awry
Here’s a transcription of a voicemail left for me last week from a well-known national charity with local branches:
“Hi this is [first/last name I didn’t recognize] for the mumble, mumble [had to listen twice to understand the name of the organization]. I’m calling to say thank you for your recent and generous gift. Together we’re fighting to mumble, mumble [list of at least five different areas covered by their mission statement; had to listen three times to understand them all, and none were for the purpose for which I gave my gift.] We welcome your feedback and value your partnership. If you have any questions, please mumble, mumble [honestly, had to listen eight times to understand what I was supposed to do or who I was supposed to contact; never figured it out] at [non-local phone number]. Thank you.” [Ended on a down note; tone of voice was flat, with no sense of joy or passion.]
This voicemail should not have been left.
At first blush it may appear swell to you (assuming the mumbles were taken care of). And it does get some things right. But, overall, it’s a big DON’T. And here’s why:
- I’ve no connection to the person calling. It’s not a familiar name. They don’t say they’re staff, board or another donor or volunteer. They don’t say they’re a member, client, student or other affiliated person who I might appreciate hearing from. It’s just a name; I assume it’s a paid caller. I wonder: How much of my donation was spent on hiring this person?
- They don’t attempt to connect to me. They don’t use my name or mention the purpose of my gift. The only good thing is the use of the word “together,” which at least includes me in the execution of the mission.
- It’s not timely. My “recent” gift was made long enough ago that I had to look it up. I’d already been thanked for this gift (a major one for me) in more meaningful ways. I wonder: Did I make a smaller additional gift I don’t recall? This voicemail just felt like they were going through the “check this off the list” motions.
- There’s no passion or joy involved. The caller appears to be reading a script, and it really feels like a chore. Obviously, they didn’t put a smile on their face before punching in my phone number.]
- They left a national phone number. I give through the local chapter. And I’ve already reached out via an in-person visit to let them know that’s where I feel most connected. The right hand didn’t give the left hand the message?
Why Would You Call a Donor?
The point of a phone call, and message if you can’t reach your donor in person, is to make the donor feel good. You’re in the happiness delivery business, after all.
Phone calls are a donor retention and donor upgrading tool. Because giving is not always its own reward. You use calls to let people know:
- The gift was received,
- The gift will be put to use as intended, and
- To make the donor feel like a member of your family.
If the call does something else, that’s a fail.
In this case, while the message left wasn’t awful, it missed the mark. I would have felt better about the organization if I didn’t receive it. Why? First, it was work for me to decipher it. Second, once I did, I concluded they were unnecessarily spending donor dollars [I feel the same way about glossy reports that come without a warm, personal note]. Luckily, I’m pretty invested in them, so I’ll give them a pass. I’ll still keep giving to them, but someone else might not.
How Do You Do it Right?
The right phone call is:
- Within 48 hours, ideally. At least within a week.
- From a person the donor will appreciate hearing from.
- Indicative of the impact the donor made. As specific as possible.
Since you put time and energy into creating a script and picking up the phone, I also advocate leaving a message when you encounter voicemail. It’s still a human connection and, done well, it communicates a lot of important information.
But… it must be done right.
The right voicemail is:
- Person to person. Generally familiar names are used, and the caller’s connection to the organization is revealed upfront. [Example: “Hi Claire and Mark, this is Noah, a student at XYZ University.”]
- Prompt. If you thank for their “recent” gift, and more than a few months have elapsed, the donor may be confused. [Example: “I just want to thank you for your renewed/meaningful/generous gift last week.”]
- Pointing forward. Even though thank you calls benefit from their purity of purpose (no solicitation involved) it’s still nice to include something people can do if they want to feel further engaged. In this example, they tried by telling me they welcomed my feedback. But it didn’t feel that welcoming when all they offered was a national phone number for “questions.”
Some of the things I like to incorporate to point forward are:
“Here’s my phone number if you want to offer feedback or have any questions.”
“I’m sending you an email with a link to a survey if you’d be willing to participate.”
“We’ve got a poll going on our website, and would love your feedback. I’ll text you the link.”
“We’ve got a members’ event coming up next month and would love to have you join us. I’ll email you the details. Hope to see you there, and thanks again!”
We’ve got some new volunteer opportunities you may be interested in. They fill up quickly, so I want to be sure you get first dibs. I’ll send you the info.”
Remember: your prompt, personal thank you builds a bridge to future support and deeper engagement. Do it well, and you’re on your way to future fundraising success.
NOTE: If you’re the charity who left this voicemail for me, feel free to reach out. I’m happy to offer a free consultation. I care about you, and want you to succeed!
Saying Thank You… and Beyond!
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