Making the Call: Board Members and Thanking Donors



For most people, the answer to the question “who put the FUN in fundraising?” is “NO ONE.”


Asking for money incites feelings of dread in most people, even nonprofit development team members.


And your board of directors? Well, I’ve heard many nonprofit professionals say that getting board members to participate in fundraising is like pulling the proverbial teeth – hard and painful.


But there is good news! What if I told you that your board could help your organization raise 39% MORE without making a single ask?


It’s true. How? By participating in THANKING. And one of the best forms of thanking is a simple phone call.


But Julie, you say, that sounds too good to be true. Maybe so, but research exists to back up this claim.


For example, fundraising pioneer Penelope Burk performed original research on board member thank you calls, and the results of her study showed:

  • Donors who received a thank you phone call from a board member within 24 hours of receiving the gift gave 39% more than the other donors who did not receive a call the next time they were solicited.

  • After 14 months, the donors who received a thank you phone call from a board member gave 42% more.

Those percentages are impressive and not to be dismissed. Sharing that information alone should be enough to motivate your board to thank donors.


So now let’s break down the who-what-how of having board members make calls.


WHY PHONE CALLS

As you can see from the research notes above, thank you phone calls yield pretty impressive results regarding future gifts. The other plus for phone calls is they are quick and easy, and the results are similar whether you talk to the donor in person or leave a voicemail.


Phone calls also make your organization stand out. While many nonprofits send thank you emails and letters, to receive a phone call is still pretty rare and can really “WOW” a donor, especially in a world where personal communication is not the norm.


IMPORTANT NOTE: If you currently are not asking for a phone number on your donation landing page and direct mail response devices, add the request today! It’s essential to collect this information in case there are issues with the transaction and to thank the donor.


WHO MAKES THE CALL

No matter how sincere the call, team members making thank you calls don’t impress donors as much because they know you are paid for your time. But when a board member is the one thanking the donor, there are several advantages.

Board members are volunteers giving their time because they are passionate about your organization and its mission. Also, donors feel valued and important when someone who holds a leadership position makes a thank you call.

WHEN TO MAKE THE CALL

Making a thank you call within a few days after a gift is best, but making the call within 48 hours (per Burke’s research) of the gift is optimal. Ideally, you would call to thank all donors any time a donation is made, but if you cannot contact EVERY donor (or every donor within 48 hours), then strategically focus on making certain donor groups a priority. Priority donors would include:


  • Major Donors, which for most nonprofits is anyone making a $1,000+ one-time gift.

  • First-Time Donors, because prompt thanks increase future giving potential.

  • Recurring Donors, either monthly (when they make their first gift or once a year, say at the holidays) or those who give multiple significant gifts throughout the year.

  • Upgraded Donors who recently increased their average donation amount.


HOW TO MAKE THE CALL

To stay on top of making calls as quickly as possible, individual “assignments” are usually best. I recommend asking all board members to participate, then hosting a simple training for the ones who volunteer in person or via Zoom.


I kept my board members who made phone calls in a group email, and when calls needed to be made, I would send a blast and ask for a reply about who could call within 48 hours and how many donors they could call. Then I would send the donor names and phone numbers out to those who committed to calling.


WHAT TO SAY

Even with training, it’s a good idea to give board members a “script” they can follow as a reminder. Every call will be different, but the basics of what is said will be the same. It should be simple and to the point, such as:


“Hi, [donor name]! This is [caller name], and I’m a board member calling from [organization name] to thank you for your recent donation. I’m so grateful for your generosity, and [organization name] appreciates your support. We can’t wait to see the difference your gift will make for [cause/campaign name]! Thanks again, and enjoy the rest of your evening!”

Remind board members it’s important to put a smile on their faces (this will put a smile in your voice). If they don’t reach the donor, tell them to leave a message, especially if they cannot try again within 48 hours. Voicemails can follow the same script as calls.


AFTER THE CALL

Ask your board members to record the day and time of the call (you can provide a spreadsheet to assist with data gathering – Google Sheets work great because they can be shared between multiple people!) and any comments or questions from the donor, or whether they talked with the donor or left a voicemail. Then make sure the results of the call are recorded in your donor database on that donor’s record.


A win-win to having board members call? It can give them valuable insights into the importance of building donor relationships and how donors perceive the organization. It may even encourage them to participate in fundraising in other ways.


I also recommend asking your board members who make thank you phone calls to provide a short report at board meetings, especially if they had a meaningful exchange. It’s good for other members to hear this feedback and may encourage them to participate.


In closing, a little effort goes a long way – remember that and remind your board. A simple acknowledgment phone call could be just the thing a donor needs to become a loyal, lifelong supporter of your organization!

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