During a recent Fund Chat, the topic was “Your Nonprofit Stinks at Donor Retention” and I tossed out something I had done, engaging the board through thank you calling.

@FundraiserBeth: A1 Having Board members call “donor club level” and above donors to TY at time of gift. Also have done “Thank-a-thons.”

We all know that thanks and gratitude is key to donor retention. Why not have your most important volunteers do some thanking? Having board members call to thank immediately after the gift has been received is the most common way I’ve used (see my post here), but I’ve also organized once a year group “Thank-a-Thons” with board members. That’s what I’ll cover today.

telephoneThe first time I was working at a Level 1 trauma hospital. We were a team of three. Since the fundraising office had lain fallow for some years, at the end of our first year we decided to ask foundation board members call some of the larger donors who had given over the last 18 months.

After polling a few key individuals on our board with the idea, we took it to the larger board and proposed two evenings of calls (a Tuesday and Wednesday in two weeks). Board members could come to one or both.

I also contacted a few of the key “front line” personnel and two nurses agreed to join us. They were supporters of us and we thought having them there not only would be helpful if there were any questions about care and for the enthusiasm they offered.

It was a great evening – we had six available phones, with one nurse and four board members each evening. We called using our office phones so the caller id showed the hospital.

It was key for callers to make any notes whatsoever – why they gave, any information about their experience at the hospital, updated record information like phone number. If there was no answer, we asked them to leave a simple message of thanks, their name and that they were part of the board and the number of the foundation.

Most calls were short – people are often surprised to get a call of thanks – and pleasant. And most people had been in seriously life threatening situations (or a loved one) and the gratitude was overwhelming. We considered it a success and it felt great to those who participated.

How can you  make a similar plan?

Find your board champions and run this idea by them. I believe you need to have at least one board member who is willing to support your efforts – it will help you and they will already be “signed up”.

Invite a few key front-line staff. They are the ones working with clients, providing the care, changing the world. It is heartening to hear their and for board members to see their dedication.

Participate if you can. Sit down and make calls yourself – it adds to the team spirit. But at least one fundraising staff member should be available and listening for questions or concerns that may come up.

Set aside at least 90 minutes. This will give the group a solid one hour of call time and feels like a reasonable amount of time. You might be able to stretch it to 2.5 hours, with members dropping in when they can. With two evenings you will be able to thank a great number of supporters.

Check the calendar. Do not call on any religious holidays – any. Ensure it is away from any important community events (elections, holidays, etc.) and check with your community relations department or people who provide services – do they have something planned?

Carefully review the list. Pull the list first with some gift history and information for staff to review. If you have former board members or staff, be sure you note that for the callers – you don’t want them negatively surprised by the donor mentioning they work at the hospital or started the board. Meet again with your data lead to ensure you haven’t forgotten to include or exclude important groups. Create the final list into a call sheet; you may need to merge into something easy for your callers to use (not what is easiest to print from the database.

The “call sheet” should have ample information and room for writing notes. Provide the donor names (as you know them), marital status (should another adult answer the phone), phone number, city and any details about why the gift was given (we did not provide gift amount, just that they were $500 or more). We had a number of out-of-state calls, so it was important to put those first to be called. Keep the font large!

Provide snacks and beverages. This gives people a chance to get up move around and to nibble as you get the evening going. And it is gracious – it doesn’t have to be fancy.

Provide a script. It just needs to be an outline of thanking and what to do if the person doesn’t answer. At the time at the hospital, we knew very little about many of our donors and this was a great way to thank and understand why they gave.

Thank your board members that night and send a note after. You already knew that, right?

Talk about the success at the next board meeting. Either call board members after to get a bead on how they enjoyed the experience and what you might improve for next time (or send a survey, but there will be a lower response). At the next board meeting, get board members talking about their positive experience – it is important to get them excited because thanking is the best start to donor retention!

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