We're honored to welcome Tina Cincotti newest guest contributor here!Expert Author Tina Cincotti

If you've been following my work for a while or, really, if you've ever heard me say anything about fundraising, you know how important it is to thank your donors.

And don't just take it from me. There is research to prove it...

One study showed close to a 40% increase in giving from donors who received a "thank you" call from a board member within 48 hours of gift receipt.

So, what does thanking your donors look like?

Thanking supporters can take many forms.

  • It's a sincere, personal acknowledgement letter that is sent promptly (read -- within 48 hours; 72 MAX!).
  • It's a report or newsletter that tells your donors what they've made possible by giving.
  • And, if you really want to stand out, get to know your donors, and encourage future generosity, you've got to (gulp) pick up the phone and thank them.

What do you say when you call to thank a donor?

Not every thank you call sounds the same, but it usually starts like this:

Hi, this is _____________. I'm a _________ (volunteer board member, program staff, etc) of __________ (org name). I'm NOT calling to ask you for money. I'm just calling to thank you for the donation you made to ________ (latest fundraising appeal, specific project, etc). It will really make a difference and I wanted to tell you personally how much we appreciate it.

After this, you've got to pause for a second or two. One of these things is likely to happen next...

  1. The donor will be silent, caught off guard, or openly confused about what to do or say.
  2. The donor will say something in response but won't be particularly effusive or seem interested in chatting.
  3. The donor will say something wonderful about your organization or about how much they appreciate the call.

If it's option #1 or #2, simply say -- "Well, I don't want to take up any more of your time. Thanks again for your support, and have a wonderful day/evening/weekend." Then move on to the next call.

If it's #3 and the supporter is particularly engaged or enthusiastic, you can have a short conversation about their connection to the organization, why they give, etc. But gauge their interest level and don't overstay your welcome.

The vast majority of these calls will be nothing more than a quick "thank you." In fact, many will be messages left on voicemail.

But if they do want to talk... what should you say next?

For that donor who seems chatty, you can say -- "I don't want to take up much of your time but would you be willing to share with me what inspired you to first give to ___________ (org name)?"

You can also ask things like:

  • Why does this cause matter to you?
  • What interests you most about our organization?
  • What expectations do you have of the organizations you support?
  • How often do you want to hear from us?
  • Would you like to be involved with us in other ways beyond being a donor?

Some of these questions may not feel appropriate to you. And you may have ideas for other things you want to ask. Do what feels right to you.

And always err on the side of asking less rather than more. These calls should be a pleasant experience for the donor -- you don't want them to feel like they're being peppered with questions.

After the call...

Whether you just leave a voicemail or have a 20-minute conversation with a donor, you want to report in to the development office with the results of your calls. Results like...

  • Did you talk to someone or leave a voicemail?
  • How did the donor respond to being called?
  • Did you learn anything about why they gave?
  • Are there changes or additions to their contact info (wrong number, email address, etc)?

It's important to record this information in the database for two reasons:

  1. You can use it to personalize future communications and focus more on the areas of your work that a particular subset of donors is most interested in.
  2. You can use it to measure the impact of these kinds of calls and learn what's working and what's not. For example, how is giving next year different among people who received thank you calls vs. those who didn't? Are the results different between those who actually spoke to someone vs. those who just received a voicemail message? And so forth.

Who should make these calls?

The best people to make these calls are board members. Having staff call is better than nothing. But getting a call from someone who's not a paid employee is ideal.

Not receiving a paycheck gives board members a moral high ground that even the most committed staff lack. Board members are driven by the mission, and they're taking time out of their personal schedules to call. That sends a powerful message.

These calls are also a great way to get board members who are reluctant to fundraise to dip their toe in the fundraising pool.

If we can't call everyone who gives, what's the top priority?

Prioritize your calls in this order.

  • All donors giving their very first gift must get a call -- regardless of gift size.
  • After that, call anyone who increases their donation over what they gave last time.
  • Next, call those who are giving their second (or third or fourth) gift that year.
  • Then, decide on a cutoff point based on a dollar amount for the rest.

And don't forget your recurring donors who give quarterly or monthly. These are some of your most dedicated supporters, even if they're only giving $5/month. And they should all get a "thank you" call at least once/year.

Last thoughts...

Organizations lose donors all the time because supporters feel disconnected and don't understand the impact of their gift. Thank you calls are a great way to let them know that their support makes a difference. You'll be glad you did!

Tina Cincotti, owner and principal consultant of Funding Change, is a fundraising consultant, trainer and coach. She is committed to helping organizations raise more money by building stronger relationships with their donors. Tina can be reached at tina@fundingchangeconsulting.com, at 617-477-4505 or or follow her on Twitter at @TinaFCC. To get more expert fundraising advice, sign up for her free monthly e-newsletter at http://www.fundingchangeconsulting.com.

Want more ideas on donor engagement?

Check out this great training by Bloomerang's Jessica Hartnagle - "Crafting powerful donor engagement surveys"