This is my second post about engaging the board through thank you calling (you can read the first one here). The tweet that related to it:

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

I realize I go on and on about thanks and gratitude, but it really does make all relationships run more smoothly. It is key to donor retention. That has stuck with me ever since I first heard Penelope Burk speak in Toronto in 1999 to our local AFP chapter during my first year in Canada.

If you haven’t purchased her book, Donor Centered Fundraising, please do. I strongly urge you; it covers thank you letters, calls and they type of thanks that donors find meaningful – all done as interviews, studies and tests. It is a foundational book for any fundraising library, and a must for anyone starting out in the profession.

TelephoneEarly in the book, Penelope details “The Controlled Test of Personal Thanks” where she worked with a nonprofit and had their board members call donors within 24 hours of receipt of the gift (224 out of a total of 2,240). The team then studied the fundraising revenue results more than a year on. (The solicitation letter and resolicitation methods were all these same in the test and control groups.) Penelope sums it up by noting that this method is, “So easy… and so effective.”

The results were significant: The test group gave, on average, 39% more than the control group. And after 14 months, the average gift level of the test group was 42% higher. (I don’t know about you, but the number of times over my career that in the annual giving area I’ve been asked to increase, year over year, 25% – 50% more in revenues with little or no budget increase makes those average gift lifts head turning.)

It took me a while to implement this myself (2003 when I was at the Vancouver Art Gallery) because you cannot do it without board involvement. Thank you calls from staff members are fine, but not as effective; you are not a volunteer. Your board members are your nonprofit leaders, and who doesn’t feel special getting a call from the leadership of your favorite charity?

For this strategy, you need to have your board chair keen as well, and understand the importance of donor retention. This will provide long-term stability for your organization, when it gets focused on relationship building and long-term fundraising results. Most board members can get behind that idea.

Here key points and steps for implementation:

Have the systems in place to smoothly begin and continue the process. This is vital. What is the turn around time now for receipt of gift to entry into the database? If it is more than 24 hours, is there another way to capture the information (donor name, amount of gift, length of giving) to ensure the thank you call is made within 24 hours of a gift being received? My suggestion is you try this real-world (creating the lists for yourself) for two weeks or more. The thank you letters may actually take between 3 and 10 calendar days (real talk, here) from receipt of gift – to be most effective, the calls need to happen within 24 hours.

Make a good estimate of the number of calls needed on a weekly or monthly basis. If the major gift level of your charity is $1,000+ and you get 300 gifts at this level a year, using this as the level to start thanking may well work. But if your nonprofit is receiving 3,000 a year, then change the criteria. Perhaps have board members call donors giving $6,000+, new and upgraded monthly donors, and/or donors giving 8+ years. Think about the types of relationships your charity wishes to maximize, not just the top dollar givers. I usually give the board member one to three calls to make with each request so s/he is not being asked to make a call several times per week.

Determine who on your team will be the contact. Who will be the point of contact from the internal team? This should be able to retrieve the information him- or herself. Every additional person with a hand in the process will eventually slow down and erode the effectiveness of the calls.  [If you are an Executive Director and don’t trust those working for you to be in touch with members of your board, I believe that warrants some self-reflection as to why.] Your commitment is to send the list of donors to the board member(s) each day gifts are received, by the end of that day.

Ensure your Board Chair is on board and will encourage colleagues to commit. Your board chair should be the first name on the list of people willing to make calls. I believe you need to have at least half the board members agreeing to do so; depending on the board composition you may have members traveling or otherwise unable to make calls at any given time. Don’t put this all on a few board members.

Keep track of who is calling and who is being called. You need to know which donors are being thanked to track your results. You also need to be sure you are rotating the board members being asked to call, so the same, go-get-’em board member doesn’t get asked to do every call. Board members need to reply to the email afterwards to let you know if they spoke with the donor (and any information) or if they had to leave a message after 2 – 3 attempts.

Be clear with the board callers about the types of donors they will be thanking, but discrete about the actual gift. I usually inform the board member: “Donor X is new to the Gold Club giving or above,” or “Donor Y is a new monthly donor at the Gold club or above,” or “Donor Z has just made a gift, giving 10 years in a row.” This way, the donor is afforded appropriate levels of privacy.

Do not include anyone who has asked to be anonymous in their giving. At all. Have a staff member call these supporters. And do not include memorial donors.

Provide a small script. Again, just an outline of thanking the donor for his or her or their generosity. Be sure they identify themselves as members of the board and thanking the donor for the generosity (rather than the donation). Penelope suggests calling two or three times and leaving a message if you don’t get an answer – just a short message that the caller is a member of the board and was notified of a recent gift and wanted to say thank you. If the board member leaves her/his phone number for a return back, even better.

Provide enough donor details. The donor names (as you know them), marital status (should another adult answer the phone), and the type of phone number (office, home, cell). Send this in an email so the donor can read it easily. If the thanks is for a corporate or foundation gift, internally determine if the top person at the organization will be called or the person who facilitated the gift will be called (or both).

Matching board members with donors they know – yea or nay? At first I thought this was a great idea – we did track close relationships (connectors and friends) of board members on our database. I came to realize that it was actually better for the donor to receive a call from someone he/she didn’t know. First, sometimes it is easy for the that call to become distracted with other conversational topics. Second, it is easier for the board member to think, “I’ll just thank Donor X when I see him/her next.” The call must be made right away.

Retrieving the information back from the caller. It is important for the caller to make and share notes from the call. In my experience, having board members respond back to you about whether s/he made the call and the outcome was very, very difficult. You need to track this information and gather any new information about the donor and his/her relationship to your nonprofit. Following up on this information can be time-consuming, but must be done.

Be sure to thank those board members making the calls at quarterly board meetings. Your board member or Executive Director can note any interesting conversations and after some time may be able to talk about gift increases – but only if you are able to track the calls made. Share with your board that thanking is a very important part of retaining donors and increasing giving.

Consider using this method – or the Thank-a-Thon method – the share gratitude and appreciation with your donors. They say you should thank a donor seven times… just add this to your mix!

Have you had success with this?

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