3 min Read
April 19, 2018

How one phone call can increase donor retention

Fundraising is about relationships. When it comes to finding—and keeping—donors, this is an idea we can’t emphasize enough. And experts have been telling us for years that one of the best ways nonprofits can start to build those relationships is by saying, “Thank you.”

But when, how, and who expresses gratitude to a new donor can make a big difference in whether or not they decide to give a second time.

In Penelope Burk’s book, Donor-Centered Fundraising, she uncovers a striking insight about the power of picking up the phone. Burk conducted an experiment and found that donors who received a thank you call from a board member within 48 hours of making a gift gave 39% more (compared to donors who didn’t get a call) the next time they were solicited.

Let’s unpack what’s at play here:

Donors want to be thanked ASAP.

Organizations with effective triage systems steward new donors into a communications plan to ensure they’re thanked promptly. And there’s typically a hierarchy: Smaller-dollar donors may get an automated thank you email immediately after making their gift, while mid-level donors could receive a handwritten note or customized letter.

The speed of an automatic thank you email is great, but the format often lacks authenticity and leaves an insincere impression. Not to mention that email overload is a real issue these days—especially for larger nonprofits communicating in silos—making the likelihood of a generic message actually getting opened very slim. Also, there’s a significant delay between the nonprofit receiving a gift and the donor receiving a letter in the mail, which can negate the personal touch.

Phone calls are quick and friendly.

Not only is calling new donors within the first few days after they give timely, it’s personal. A call puts a relatable, human voice to the organization and lends the caller a chance to learn more about the donor and build a deeper relationship with them.

Few nonprofits have the capacity to phone every donor, making prioritization key. Here’s a simple strategy to determine who gets one: The bigger the gift, the bigger the thank you.

Setting a gift threshold (e.g. new gifts between $500–$1,000) in the donor communications plan will processify which types of donors should be called and help you to identify a champion for the protocol. This champion—who could be a member of the fundraising, development, or communications team—won’t be making the calls, but coordinating with those who will.

Get grateful board members on the line. 

In a webinar all about improving donor retention, Steven Shattuck outlines why board members are the ideal people to make thank you calls.

First, they’re volunteers. Delegating thank you calls to board members saves development and fundraising staff time and energy. Also, although everyone connected to the organization cares deeply for the cause, the fact that board members aren’t on the payroll can be meaningful to new donors.

Because of their consistent involvement with the direction of the nonprofit, board members may be able to tell a more engaging story about why they believe in the mission, one that can connect with and inspire donors on a more personal level.

Finally, getting board buy-in on making thank you calls takes the pressure off those members who aren’t comfortable—or confident—fundraisers yet. Calling new donors to say thank you is an easy way for board members to express the nonprofit’s appreciation and increase donor retention without asking for more dollars. It may even warm them up to their role in raising money more generally, paving the way for more proactive fundraising downstream.

What should board members say? (Besides thank you!

Once you have established which donors are due for thank you calls and scheduled board members to make them, make sure they dial the phone with a scripted game plan. We recommend doing a practice run to make sure board members know exactly what to say during the course of the quick phone call.

The Big Duck team has developed a free one pager complete with talking points to guide board members through their thank you calls. Click here to download your copy as a PDF and equip your board members with what they need to ensure a fruitful thank you call.