When it comes to fundraising, nothing can compete with in-person meetings and one-on-one phone calls. E-mails, direct mail, newsletters and other mass communications have an important role to play in non-profit development, but having direct, personal conversations with donors on a regular basis is what will have the most impact on your fundraising revenue.
The non-profits that have the most success with individual and major giving are those organizations that spend the most time building personal relationships with their donors and prospects. If you really want to supercharge your non-profit’s fundraising, you and your fundraising team need to pick up the phone and make calls… and you probably should be making calls every week, if not every day.
Cultivation Calls… Not Ask Calls
Most of these calls will not (and should not) be “ask” calls. The vast majority of the calls your fundraising team makes will be cultivation calls… short calls to check in with donors and prospects, to give updates, to ask for advice, to connect donors with other donors who might be able to help them, etc. These cultivation calls are extremely important for building strong relationships with your donors and prospects.
Perhaps you know you should be calling your donors, but you wonder who to call, how often to call, and what to say. Here are the guidelines I use when working with a non-profit:
Who Should I Call?
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to talk with as many of your donors on the phone as possible. Of course, as a non-profit organization, you likely have limited resources for fundraising… including a limited number of team members to make calls, and a limited amount of time to devote to donor cultivation.
Thus, your fundraising team should build a development plan that details how many of your donors you will be able to meet with and how many you will be able to call, based on the bandwidth of your organization. For example, you might decide that you have the time and manpower to be able to meet with 120 donors per year (10 per month), and to be able to call 360 donors per year (30 per month)
Don’t stress out about the actual numbers, if you find out you have time to call / meet with more donors, you can always increase your number for next month… or decrease it, depending on your results.
Once you decide how many donors you can meet with, and how many you can call, start at the top of your donor and prospect lists, based on giving capacity (e.g. start with your major donors). If you decide you can meet with 120 donors and call 360, try to meet with your top 120 donors, and then set up calls with the next 360 highest-capacity givers.
How Often Should I Call?
When calling donors, your goal should be to call donors on your “call list” at least twice per year. The same is true for those donors you are meeting with in person… your goal should be to reach out to them twice per year for meetings, realizing that many of them will only be able to meet once per year (which is ok).
The reason you want to reach out to donors on your “cultivation by phone” list at least twice per year is because you want these donors to get used to talking with you. The purpose of your calls is to build stronger relationships with your donors, and relationships are built through repetitive contact. Ideally, your donors should look forward to your calls, and be glad to spend a few minutes chatting with you several times per year.
Should I Arrange the Calls in Advance?
I have found that most donors appreciate it when you arrange phone calls with them in advance. Generally, this means sending the donor a short e-mail that says something like:
“Susanne, I have some updates for you about the new playground we are building on Cottman Avenue, and I want to get your advice on something else we are working on. Would you have time for a call next week? If so, let me know what times are good for you! Talk to you soon.”
These e-mails can be short – just tell the donor / prospect that you’d like to chat, give them a brief overview of what you want to talk about, and invite them to set a time for the call.
What Should I Say?
As noted above, the purpose of most of your donor calls should be relationship-building and cultivation, not making asks. You can talk with your donors about any number of things, but primarily, you will be talking with them about one of the following things during your calls:
- Giving updates on your work or programs
- Thanking the donor for their support
- Asking for advice on something you are working on
- Talking about ideas you or the donor has for upcoming events, programs, etc.
- Telling stories about your work
As you make donor calls a regular part of your donor cultivation routine, log the calls in a spreadsheet or in your donor database so that you can keep track of the donor’s interests, advice, and ideas… and so you can quickly check on conversation topics prior to your calls. For example, if the donor you are calling donated to your scholarship fund (or asked questions or gave you advice about your scholarship fund), you can give him or her updates on the progress of your scholarship program.
Phone Calls are Powerful Tools… Use Them!
Far too many non-profit fundraisers think that the only ways to connect with donors are through in-person meetings, snail mail letters, and e-mails. These fundraisers are missing out on one of the most powerful tools in the development arsenal… phone calls. I guarantee you that once you start making donor phone calls a habit, your relationships with your donors will become stronger, the calls will become easier, and your non-profit will raise more money than ever before.
Photo Credit: H.L.I.T.