How to Call Donors Just to Say Thank You for Donating

A young woman making a phone call to a donor.

Frankly, I rarely get a thank you phone call from a charity. And that's too bad. However, because thank you calls are so infrequent, I am always pleasantly surprised. Those hackles that immediately rise when I hear a voice say “This is Susan calling for XYZ charity,” magically convert to a smile. I put the brakes on my at-the-ready “no,” and respond with something like, “Oh…well, thank you for calling.”

I’m not alone. Penelope Burk reported that, in her donor research, when a first-time donor received a phone call from one of the charity's board members, their subsequent donation increased by 39 percent. After 14 months those donors were giving 42 percent more.

Because retention of donors has been dismal and getting worse, anything that helps get donors to come back should be a tactic frequently used.

In another test, reported by The NonProfitTimes, a thank you phone call increased later giving by 47 percent. That test also revealed that calling even when a thank you letter had been sent improved subsequent giving by 22 percent.

But there are still right and wrong ways to thank a donor over the phone.

Here are just a few things to keep in mind when you call to say "thank you."

  1. Use my name.
  2. It seems obvious, but sometimes callers forget and just launch into their spiel. Using my name gives me a heads up and may reassure me that the call is benign.
  3. Also, ask if this is a convenient time to call. I've had calls where the caller starts talking and doesn't let up for a while. Be considerate by checking to see if I have time to talk.
  4. Mention my last gift.
  5. Or congratulate me for being a donor for ten years, or that I just upgraded to a monthly donation.
  6. Let me know that you know about me and my history with your charity.
  7. Don’t ask for another gift! Just stick to saying thanks.
  8. And don’t be rattled if I don't remember giving to your organization. Just say, “Well, we remember you! And we want to say thanks.”
  9. Leave a warm voicemail, if I’m not available.
  10. For me, getting a voicemail is almost as good as the real thing. These days, you’re more likely to have to leave a message anyway, since people don't always answer their phones. That should not daunt you though. Messages can be almost as effective. If you can leave a sweet message, consider it mission accomplished
  11. Ask me a couple of questions.
  12. Good questions include “what keeps me giving?” Or “how has the charity affected my life or the life of someone I know?” You might be surprised at the motives you uncover and stories that inspire you.
  13. Do not, however, ask for another donation or consider increasing my monthly donation. This call is for thanking only, not asking. 
  14. Have a volunteer or a board member call me.
  15. Set up a "thankathon" just for thanking. Make it an event and have fun.
  16. Donors particularly like it when they get a call from a board member. They feel honored and special when someone high in the organization calls them.
  17. But please, whether you have board members, volunteers, or people who use your services make those calls, do provide some basic training. If you ask people to make those calls from home, give them a list of tips and even let them do a practice run with you so you can provide feedback.
  18. If you don't always have a volunteer or board member available to make a call, do have staff members call. That is better than not making calls at all. All development staff could have a goal of making a certain number of thank you calls per week and month. Devise a system and schedule for making thank you calls throughout the year.

How do you collect phone numbers of donors?

The easiest way is to have a field on your donation form for telephone numbers. Most donors will provide them. If they don't, do not go looking for the numbers. It's kind of creepy to do that. And it may even be illegal because there are protections for people against unwanted phone calls. Filling in their phone numbers implies that donors are open to calls.

Which donors should you call?

It may not be possible to call every donor, but do call new donors who give more than just a few bucks. Set a threshold of perhaps $50 or $100. Do call major donors...always...and quickly. Call monthly donors at least once a year. You might consider also calling donors who have increased their gifts and long-time donors when they reach particular milestones. For instance, call a donor at their one-year, 5-year, and 10-year anniversaries. 

What about young donors? Do they care about phone calls?

Some research found that Millennials use their smartphones for just about anything other than making and receiving phone calls. 

That research applies to solicitations, and we don’t know how they would view a thank-you call, voice mail message or text.

If your donors are in this generation, line up callers in the same age group, and then test before you roll out a phone thanking program.

Even older, and perhaps because they are older, donors have become wary of phone calls. That's because so many are scam calls or someone selling dubious services or products. Donors you call may not pick up if they do not recognize the number. But, they do check their voice mail. So, don't be daunted. Leave a lovely voice mail, and those donors will hear and appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Add phone thank yous to your donor retention to-do list and see how those phone calls work their magic.