With lockdowns and social distancing in place across much of the world due to the Coronavirus, most non-profit fundraisers are turning to phone calls and video chats for cultivation and solicitation. Thus, now is a great time to brush up on your donor call skills.
My goal for this article is to present you with a simple, step-by-step script for your donor calls and video chats so that you know what to say during this unique time. Remember, donor calls and video conferences are fantastic donor touches… meaning that they are great opportunities for you to build stronger relationships with your donors and prospects.
(If you’re not staying in touch with your donors via phone and video conferencing, you should be. Be sure to read our article Fundraising, Coronavirus, and Your Non-Profit for more on what changes you should be making right now to keep your fundraising going strong during this crisis).
The Basics of Great Donor Calls
Over the past few years, we have posted lots of articles here on our site about how to make great donor calls. Calling your donors is important every year and every season, even when a global pandemic isn’t forcing you to cancel meetings and other development travel.
Rather than rehash the basics of making great donor calls, I’ll point you to some of the articles we have posted on the topic in the past:
To learn the fundamentals of making donor calls, read To Be Successful in Fundraising, You Have to Pick Up the Phone.
If you want to understand how to make great donor thank you calls (calls made right after a gift is received), read Donor Thank You Calls: Your Key to Raising More Money This Year.
For ideas on one of the most powerful tactics in donor cultivation and stewardship, read Want to Raise More Money? Call Your Donors and Ask Them for Advice.
The Big Question to Answer Before You Make a Call
Before you make a donor call or hop on a video chat with a donor, you need to answer one big question: what is the purpose of this call? If you don’t know the purpose of your call, you won’t know what to say or how to direct the conversation.
There are any number of answers to that question, but almost all of them break down into four main categories:
Thank You Calls
As noted in the article linked above, these are calls you make to a donor immediately after receiving a gift in the mail or online. A script for these simple calls can be found in that article.
Cultivation / Stewardship Calls
These should be the bulk of your donor calls and video conferences. Donor cultivation and stewardship calls have relationship-building as their central goal. During these calls, you aren’t asking for money, but simply providing updates on your work and strengthening the bond between your donors / prospects and your non-profit.
These calls are probably the rarest of the four call types, though if social distancing continues for more than a few weeks, they will become more common and more important. Pre-ask calls are calls where you are setting the donor up for an ask, but not yet making the ask.
For example, you may be hoping Mr. Smith or Mrs. Williams will be interested in a certain program, and you are calling to feel them out. Or, perhaps you know that Mr. Jones is ready to make a gift, but you are not sure where his interests lie, so you will use the pre-ask call to figure out what the ask should be for.
The goal for your pre-ask calls is to come out of the call with a clear picture as to what your ask will look like. Generally, your next conversation with the donor will be an ask.
As the name implies, ask calls are calls or video chats where you make an ask to a donor. If you get nervous when making asks, read Asking for Donations Without Stress or Fear. The article focuses on in-person asks, but most of the tips apply to phone and video conference asks as well.
The Call Script
As I noted above, most of your calls will be donor cultivation and stewardship calls. This is true all of the time, and will be particularly true during the Coronavirus shutdown. For that reason, we will focus on cultivation and stewardship calls for our sample call script.
When picking up the phone and calling a donor (or hopping on a video conference with a donor) for the purpose of maintaining or building your relationship, what should you say? You’ll obviously need to tailor the conversation to the specific donor, but here’s what I would suggest:
#1 – Get the Elephant Out into the Open
When making calls over the next few weeks (or even months), the elephant in the room will be the Coronavirus. So get it out into the open right from the get-go. Ask about the donor’s health, his or her family’s health, and how they are holding up in the current environment. Then, assure the donor of your own health and the health of your coworkers.
#2 – Update the Donor on Your Non-Profit’s Coronavirus Response
Make sure that the donor knows that your non-profit is still operating and still focused on its mission (even if some of your programs are temporarily suspended). Reiterate the importance of your mission and your commitment to seeing the job through. Update the donor on any changes you have had to make (or are planning to make) because of the pandemic (e.g. have you rescheduled or cancelled some events? Are you limiting field work? Have you moved programs online? Etc.) Be positive and upbeat about the future of your organization! If appropriate, now would also be a good time to ask them for their advice on something at your organization.
#3 – Thank the Donor for Their Support or Interest
If the person on the other end of the line is a current or former donor, thank them for their past support, give them an update on the specific programs they have supported (if any) and remind them of your gratitude. If the person you are talking with is a prospect who has not yet donated, thank them for their continued interest in your work and programs.
#4 – Assure the Donor You Will Keep Them Updated
Let the donor or prospect know that you consider them a key part of your non-profit’s family and assure them that you will keep them updated on your non-profit’s work as the pandemic progresses. Ask them one last time if they have any questions or need any additional information. Give them a way to contact you via phone or e-mail, even while your office is closed. Then say goodbye, and move on to your next call!
This simple, four-step donor call script will keep your donors informed and help you build a stronger relationship with them, and should take no longer than 15 minutes per call, depending on how talkative your donors are. Remember to make the conversation a two-way street… don’t just talk at your donors, talk with them. Also, don’t be afraid to deviate from this script to talk more about things that your donors bring up!
A Note about Setting Calls and Meetings
One last thing to note… you’ll likely be sending your donors an e-mail to try to set up a time for a phone call or video meeting. You may be wondering what your e-mail should say to encourage your donor to set up a time to talk. My advice is to be direct:
Hi Jim, I hope you are doing well and that you and your family are healthy and safe during this unique time. Here at St. Mary’s Shelter, our work continues, despite the challenges.
I’d love to set up a time for brief call or video meeting to update you on how we are dealing with the Coronavirus and let you know about some key changes we have made. It should take no more than 15 minutes. Would you have time to talk on Wednesday or Thursday of this week? Please let me know a time that would work for you!
Thanks for all of your continued support. We couldn’t do it without you!
Talk to you soon,
Simple, short, and to the point. Don’t be afraid to follow up if you send an e-mail and don’t hear back. I often find myself needing to send 2-4 e-mails over the course of a week or two in order to break through the clutter and get the call set up.