Does phoning your donors weigh you down?

publication date: Nov 27, 2013
author/source: Samantha Laprade

As professional fundraisers, we have all experienced the fear of phoning donors.  Many times the phone feels like it weighs 500 pounds! Samantha Laprade photo

The reality of fundraising in this competitive and economically challenging time is that we must connect with our donors more than ever.

There are only a few usual communications tools for donor stewardship: letter writing, special events, newsletters and emails.  However, relationship building and stewardship is very difficult to do through these methods.  The phone is a valuable and seldom-used stewardship tool. 

Whether I speak to fundraising staff in shops of 25 or to one lonely staff member, they all say the same thing to me: “We are scared to phone donors.” 

Nothing to reject in a stewardship call

Why are they scared? Rejection? Upsetting donors? Don’t know what to say? 

Let me be very clear.  I am not talking about calling donors to ask for money.  I am talking about the phone as a donor stewardship tool. 

I am calling donors to thank them.  I am reaching out and asking what inspired them to give.  I am reviewing their gift history and thanking them for giving for five or ten or 15 years.  I am calling to thank them for their loyalty. 

But most importantly I am listening. 

Four simple steps

These are the four steps of the phoning process that I use;

1)      Thank the donor.

2)      Show accountability for how your organization used their gift (whose life you changed or saved).

3)      Show vision for future gifts.

4)      Listen to the donor.

The listening step is crucial.  It is the “sweet spot” of fundraising because it gives a donor a chance to share their story.  Storytelling and listening to stories builds relationships and puts you on the same page.  Magic happens when a donor starts to tell you their story of giving and why your organization is important to them. 

As we know, second-gift conversion rates are at an all-time low.  Donor attrition rates are at an all-time high.  Reaching donors through the phone and engaging them is a solid step towards developing those relationships and keeping your donors engaged. 

Where to start

Once I convince fundraising professionals to phone their donors the next question is “where do I start?” Donor databases can be scary too.  If you have a database of 7 million or 7,000 donors, it is still a daunting task. 

My two favorite donor groups to contact are new donors and lapsing donors.  I love welcoming a donor to the organization.  The reaction of new donors to receiving a thank-you call is very rewarding.  I find it just as rewarding to reach out to lapsing donors.  Connecting with donors who have given in the past and giving them a reason to be in touch again with your important cause is the one of the best moments a fundraiser can experience. 

We all know how expensive it is to get a new donor … but how expensive is it to lose them after just one gift?  The answer is – very expensive! If we are not talking to our donors, what are we doing to give them reasons to stay?

A fundraiser since 1991, Samantha Laprade is Director of Advancement at the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. Her portfolio includes fundraising, marketing and communications. She has worked in all aspects of fundraising as well as media relations and public relations. She is a highly sought-after speaker in the area of donor database analytics and donor stewardship, and a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Canadian Association of Gift Planners.

Contact her by email.

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